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They (Better) Work For Us

A handful of heavy hitters in progressive politics have formed a new organization aimed at forcing congressional Democrats to vote and act more like Democrats on economic issues.

The group, which includes a political action committee called Working For Us and a nonprofit entity named They Work For Us, carries the backing of people like Steve Rosenthal, a past political director at the AFL-CIO, Tom Matzzie, the Washington director of and -- most intriguingly -- blogger icon Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the influential Daily Kos Web site.

Working For Us is modeled explicitly on the Club For Growth, an independent organization that over the last several election cycles has transformed itself into an electoral force by endorsing fiscally conservative candidates in contested primaries and then pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into districts to help those candidates win. (I've written extensively about the Club both in the space and elsewhere.)

"There is a frustration by many of us in the Democratic Party that some members of Congress have taken a powder time and time again and that there are no consequences," said Rosenthal.

Conscious of the fact that the Club for Growth has been criticized in Republican circles for spending time and money eating its own, Rosenthal said Working For Us is not an attempt to destroy the new Democratic majority from within but rather is aimed at finding Democrats in strongly Democratic districts who are committed to progressive causes.

An example of a lawmaker the group may target is Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Rosenthal said. Cuellar has been a favorite target for some within the party ever since he ran and beat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) in a 2004 primary. Democrats were skeptical that he was a stalking horse for the GOP as he had been appointed Secretary of State by Gov. Rick Perry (R). Several Democrats made noise about challenging Cuellar in 2006 but a court-ordered redrawing of several south Texas districts left him without a real opponent.

If Working For Us decides a congressman is not adhering closely enough to Democratic principles on economic matters, the group will use its nonprofit organization --They Work For Us -- to till the soil in the district by disseminating alternative policy proposals via e-mail, phone calls and other traditional grassroots means like door-knocking. They Work For Us, which can accept unlimited donations and is not required to disclose the identities of their contributors, already has raised $200,000 with a goal of collecting $3 million.

Should the targeted lawmaker not respond to the grassroots campaign to sway his or her vote, Working For Us -- the PAC -- will step in to recruit and financially support a primary challenger. "We'll make sure they are well funded -- and will do all we can to educate constituents about the true track records and beliefs of both candidates," Rosenthal said.

One major question mark for the group is whether it can raise enough money to have a real impact on races. The secret of the Club for Growth's success is its bundling program, in which Club members send checks directly to a candidate that the Club has endorsed. (Bundling political contributions was pioneered by EMILY's List, which continues to use it to great success.) In 2006, the Club bundled $600,000 to Tim Walberg (R) in his successful primary challenge against Michigan Rep. Joe Schwarz. It spent another $500,000 in ads in the district.

Can Working For Us find that sort of money from donors who have typically been uninterested in House races? And are donors ready to give to a group that aims to defeat some of their own rather than turning their fire on Republicans? The answers to those two questions will define whether Working For Us becomes the Democrats' answer to the Club For Growth or fizzles into obscurity.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 23, 2007; 10:43 AM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party  
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Posted by: Kevin | January 26, 2007 11:23 PM | Report abuse

The entire point of this organization is to only attack safe Democratic seats. In their press releases, they explicitly note that they are NOT going to challenge moderate and conservative Democrats who are in touch with their constituents -- which means people like Peterson and Mike Doyle. To me, that makes the entire venture quite different from the GOP's approach.

Posted by: Colin | January 24, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Peterson's district is not that safely Democratic, I don't think; though certainly he's worthy of criticism from the left. Wynn and Cuellar are certainly deserving of being targets. I don't know much about Tauscher. I'd put Jim Moran on such a list. Ethical problems, idiotic comments (e.g. Jews are to blame for getting us into Iraq), and a DLC waste of a safe liberal seat.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | January 24, 2007 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Wouldn't some like Colin Peterson of Minnesota be a more likely target for They Work For Us. He is awfully conservative.

Another target might be Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania. He represents the older, blue collar ethnic parts of his district pretty well, but he seems to be poor fit for the some of the more socially progressive parts of his district.

Ellen Tauscher has been the Democratic Party liason to the business community. I understand that she and Nancy Pelosi dont get a long, but I would think her business background would be invaluable to Democrats.

Posted by: Conan The Librarian | January 23, 2007 11:56 PM | Report abuse

This is exactly what we need. Democrats working to defeat Democrats.

For those of you who think this is a good idea, how did all that work to defeat Joe Lieberman work out?

Democrats should be working on defeating Republicans, not copying one of their bad ideas.

As someone who has watched a solidly Republican Kansas turn purple thanks to the ideological witch hunts of the far right, I am appalled that Democrats are aping this self-defeating strategy.

Posted by: Purple State Dem | January 23, 2007 10:48 PM | Report abuse

I think that its interesting the democrats are making a lot of the same mistakes the republicans made. When Republicans got some power they automatically went to the extreme of their party. Now the democrats are doing the same thing.

I wonder how this will play out.

Posted by: George | January 23, 2007 7:12 PM | Report abuse

JimD -- my understanding of this group is that it is quite different from the Club for Growth. Specifically, their goal IS NOT to eliminate moderate or conservative Democrats who represent their districts. Rather, they want to target folks like Tauscher and Wynn who are fare MORE conservative than their constituents.

With respect to Tauscher, she was a good fit for her old district before California engaged in its most recent round of redistricting. Her new district is MUCH more Democratic and progressive than her voting record would lead you to think.

For what it's worth, i'm not sure if this group is good or bad. It may be that they DO end up pushing out principled moderates, in which case I agree that they're doing more harm than good. If, however, they're looking to create more discipline within the caucus on CORE issues by challenging folks who are out of touch with their districts, then that may be helpful. I suspect time will tell.

Posted by: Colin | January 23, 2007 3:20 PM | Report abuse

the Club For Growth, an independent organization that over the last several election cycles has transformed itself into an electoral force

You want to run that by me again!

Posted by: Steve Laffey | January 23, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

JD: I'm not convinced by wages being the primay factor in the loss of jobs here in this country for the lower earners. I do think the top, CEO's etc. is where the bigger problem can be found. My reason for thinking this was seeing and hearing about some of the "obsene" amounts paid to so many at the top in recent years. The "bottom line" is not in the best interest for our country in so many cases and the war in Iraq would be example #1.

Posted by: lylepink | January 23, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who sees that a few of the stated goals of this fringe group are mutually exclusive (as quoted by Truth Hunter)?

A living wage for all workers.
More domestic jobs.
Retirement security.
Sound corporate governance.
Access to affordable health care.
Keeping jobs here instead of shipping them overseas.

Um...forcing the raising of wages will eliminate (marginal) jobs, not increase them. In fact, increasing the minimum wage will guarantee that some of those jobs go overseas, to companies for whom the low wage is a competitive advantage. It's basic economics.

FWIW, I'm in favor of some of these goals, especially increased corporate governance.

Posted by: JD | January 23, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Donna Edwards could have beaten Al Wynn in the primary if she had been able to raise any money. She got more than 45% of the vote and basically the only air time she got was on Hardball.

As for Tauscher unless Contra Costa County has dramatically changed since I lived in the Bay Area (about 8 years ago), she actually represents her district well. It's extraordinarily pro-business and she's probably even a bit too liberal for the constituents.

Posted by: the K | January 23, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Donna Edwards could have won the primary if she had been able to raise any money. She got more than 45% of the vote and basically the only air time she got was on Hardball.

As for Tauscher unless Contra Costa County has dramatically changed since I lived in the Bay Area (about 8 years ago), she actually represents her district well. It's extraordinarily pro-business and she's probably even a bit too liberal for the constituents.

Posted by: the K | January 23, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it be great if Al Gore won the Oscar, got up there and announced his presidential run right there? I know he's not running...I railed just yesterday about the hopefuls speculating on something that very very likely won't happen. But still...that'd be a good moment huh? :)

Posted by: S | January 23, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

As a member of the "angry middle", I am deeply suspicious of any group whose mission appears to be to enforce ideological discipline. One of the unfortunate political trends of recent years has been the tendency of the two major parties to move further away from the center. This has been much more pronounced on the Republican side and Club for Growth has been a player in that transformation. Incumbent protection agreements during re-districting has also resulted in a lot of artificially drawn congressional districts that are safe Republican or Democratic seats. The more safe seats, the greater the opportunity for ideologically driven groups with an axe to grind to influence the election since the primary is the real election and that attracts the most committed pary members who tend to be far more conservative or liberal than the general public.

Posted by: JimD in FL | January 23, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

My problem with this and the Club for growth is that they don't defend 'our' beliefs they defend 'their' beliefs.

If they hold certain politicians hostage with the threat of financial attack it will create a great environment for those Politicians to give you exactly what 'they' want. I don't want my represenatative making his or her decisions based on ANY financial reprecusions for themselves or their campaigns. That leads to corruption, and corruption leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side.
And next thing you know we have the Democratic Equivalent of Dick Cheney.

In my opinion all of these groups need to be regulated just like campaigns or National comittees.

Posted by: Andy R | January 23, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

'With his presidential hopes tied to an administration whose Iraq policy he supports but cannot control, John McCain for the first time blamed Vice President Cheney for what McCain calls the "witch's brew" of a "terribly mishandled" war in which U.S. forces are on the verge of defeat.

McCain also for the first time opened the door to the possibility of a U.S. troop pullback to the borders of Iraq should the president's planned troop surge fail.'

Posted by: oh my | January 23, 2007 1:01 PM | Report abuse

' Gore Sells Out Idaho's 10,000 Seat Taco Bell Arena "Faster Than Elton John"...

This is a big day for Al Gore: this morning his global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, was nominated for two Academy Awards -- and in the evening, he will learn how the guy who got the job Gore always wanted will address climate change in his State of the Union address. (And look who's sighing now, laughing boy...)'

Posted by: Go Al | January 23, 2007 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Jane, since this group is working closely with certain of the bigger bloggers, some of which are certainly women [see firedoglake and huffington post] I am assuming that some of the leaders ARE women, and that Chris chose not to mention them.

And Silent Cal, you are simply throwing up reflexive smears. Where did you see anything about union dues? And what are Dems supposed to do in the face of massive R ability to buy votes? Give up? Get into a gun fight with a ballpoint pen?

Right now, this is the only way we can fight to keep our representatives remembering who they represent.

I'm afraid you aren't really silent enough.

Posted by: drindl | January 23, 2007 12:56 PM | Report abuse

According to their web site, this is the list of the Working for Us issues that represent "real" progressive values:

A living wage for all workers.
More domestic jobs.
Retirement security.
Sound corporate governance.
Access to affordable health care.
Keeping jobs here instead of shipping them overseas.

There are three "targets" currently listed on the site:

#1. Ellen Tauscher, CA who has accepted over $2 million business PAC money and voted for the new backruptcy reform laws.

#2. Albert Wynn, MD who is also a bankruptcy reform bill supporter and voted for the Bush/Cheney energy bill with huge tax giveaways for big oil and gas.

#3. Henry Cuellar, TX who embraces Bush and his policies and received support from the Club for Growth.

Personally, I like the idea of holding our lawmakers ideological feet to the fire....

Can anyone shed more light on their three targets? For example, where do they stand on Iraq, immigration? Is there a baby-bathwater downside?

Posted by: Truth Hunter | January 23, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Awesome how you Democrats don't mind when it's YOUR side buying votes - that is all this is, pure and simple. Vote the liberal line, or else. And by all means, do it using dues stolen from union workers, who unlike Club for Growth donors don't have the luxury of large amounts of expendable income, to do so. Nice. You folks are swell.

And I loathe the Club for Growth, before you try to smear me with that line.

Posted by: Silent Cal | January 23, 2007 12:31 PM | Report abuse

drindl: I had not heard of this group and am basing my opinion on what I have learned over the years. Surely they can't all be bad. Lets hope this one will help the folks in need.

Posted by: lylepink | January 23, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I've got to say, I'm always skeptical when there are supposedly lefty groups that seem to have only men in the leadership.

Posted by: Jane | January 23, 2007 12:19 PM | Report abuse

'Club For Growth is again a good examlpe of this, where they claim to help mostly the middle classs, I find they are, for the most part, solidly behind the top % of earners.'

You are absolutely right about Club for Growth, Lyle, their constinuency is the VERY wealthy, their fellow travelers. They stick the tax burden to the middle class every time.

But to be fiar, I know some people who are involved in Working for US, and they worked really hard to get people like Joe Sestak and Jon Testor and Jim Webb elected -- people whom I genuinely believe are clean government, progressive types. They'r new, and who knows how it will work out, but really now, I really support them.

Posted by: drindl | January 23, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Blarg. I tried to post something similar -
the existential threat' nonsense made me spit my coffee -- for the Post to print this level of simplistic and childish drool -- [tell me how there are 'bad guys' out there, Liz] it really is an insult to our intelligence. I haven't talked to my child at this level since she was about 5.

Is there anyone in this administration who has an IQ above 40?

Posted by: drindl | January 23, 2007 12:09 PM | Report abuse

'Marines deployed in Afghanistan are not getting adequate nutrition from the Defense Department's standard combat ration, Meals Ready to Eat, the Marine Corps Center for Lessons Learned (MCLL) said in its January newsletter.

Marine and Army troops deployed to Afghanistan conduct dismounted operations - meaning they walk instead of ride - in mountainous terrain and MREs do not provide enough nutrition for their mission, the MCCLL newsletter states.

As a result, "many Marines and soldiers lost 20 to 40 pounds of bodyweight during their deployment," the newsletter states. It adds that at least one solider was evacuated because of malnutrition and a 60-pound weight loss. '

Posted by: supporting our troops? | January 23, 2007 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Joe, you're right. That is a heinously bad article.

"We are at war. America faces an existential threat."
No, we aren't. And no, we don't. There has been no declaration of war. The War on Terror is no more of a war than the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs. You can't fight an abstract concept. And there is no threat to our existence. There's a threat to our international standing, a threat to our allies, and a threat to a lot of innocent people. But not to our existence.

"In November the American people expressed serious concerns about Iraq (and about Republican corruption and scandals). They did not say that they want us to lose this war."
Of course they don't want us to lose! But guess what? We aren't winning in Iraq. We are, for all intents and purposes, losing. Whether we want to win has nothing to do with it. It's not even clear what it means to win! If we can't win, it doesn't matter if we want to lose.

"They did not say that they would rather we fight the terrorists here at home."
So if we weren't fighting Iraqi militias in Iraq, those militias would come here to fight us? Yeah, that sounds right.

"Our soldiers will win if we let them."
Our soldiers will also die if we let them. So far there's been a whole lot of dying. Not so much winning.

I could keep ripping this crap apart all day, but I don't have the time. Suffice it to say that, for Liz Cheney, coherent logical arguments are not an option.

Posted by: Blarg | January 23, 2007 11:54 AM | Report abuse

These groups are never for the working class folk of this country. Whether they are dems or repubs they are in most cases just the opposite of what they claim to be. Over and over again they will, IMO, go against the best interests of the folks they claim to represent. Club For Growth is again a good examlpe of this, where they claim to help mostly the middle classs, I find they are, for the most part, solidly behind the top % of earners.

Posted by: lylepink | January 23, 2007 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Based on what I have read on DailyKos, They Work for Us will not necessarily target 'conservative' democrats, but those that are more actively more conservative than their districts. I am not quite sure how they will decide, but it is an important distinction.

Posted by: ErFigone | January 23, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Interesting... I have twice been blocked from posting about the atrocious piece of kindergarten propaganda by Liz Cheney in the editorial section. It really is pathetically over the top, but I guess the editors don't want to talk about that...

Posted by: joe | January 23, 2007 11:09 AM | Report abuse

'The secret of the Club for Growth's success is its bundling program, '

Well, actually, the secret of their success is gargantuan contributions from deadbeat global corporations who don't want to pay taxes.

The question is not 'defeating our own' -- the question is good government, clean government. If a Democrat is not representing his or her constinuency well, nor contributing to the common good of the citizens of this country, they should be thrown out and replaced with someone who will.

The question always is for progressives, will there be enough money, because we have only the support of citizens, not vastly wealthy global corporations.

Posted by: drindl | January 23, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

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