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"Softer Voices" for Santorum

Ohio River Ramble

Chris Cillizza

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- One of the highlights of the Ramble so far has been the chance to see the variety of campaign ads running in various districts throughout the Ohio River Valley.

Last night after a long drive through the dark and twisty roads of northern West Virginia, The Fix settled into our hotel room. No sooner did we turn on the television than up popped an ad accusing state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) of opposing welfare reform and telling the story of a young African-American woman who was hired by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) as part of his "welfare to work" program.

The disclaimer at the conclusion of the ad said it was paid for by a group called "Softer Voices." Our curiosity piqued, we spent the morning trying to find out more about this group. A Google search turned up the group's Web site, which describes it as a "conservative issue advocacy organization representing citizens concerned with national security, the economy, policies affecting families and society, and maintaining a free and democratic society."

Softer Voices also pops up in a search of 527 groups on the Internal Revenue Service site. It has been in existence since July 2004 and for most of that time the contact person on the IRS forms was Cleta Mitchell -- a high-profile election lawyer with long ties to the national Republican Party. As of Sept. 20, Lisa Schiffren, a former speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle, is listed as group's director. Its mailing address is a post office box in Washington, D.C.

While Softer Voices reported raising no money as of June 30, a look at its activity last cycle provides some information on its donors. In the five months between its founding and the end of 2004, Softer Voices reported that it raised nearly $650,000 and spent approximately $730,000. Major contributors included New York-based financier Richard Golder, mutual fund guru Foster Friess and hedge fund manager Bruce Kovner -- the 85th richest man in America, according to a recent Forbes magazine report.

Softer Voices' new ads have drawn some buzz in the conservative blogosphere, but have been largely missed to date by the more mainstream media. We continue to believe that the activities of groups like these is one of the most important -- and untold -- stories of the 2006 election. These groups can pop up in an individual race, secure several hundreds thousands dollars in funding, and use the money run a slew of ads.

Keep an eye out for ads like these in your own states and if you happen to catch one, feel free to send me an e-mail and we'll try to get to the bottom of it.

UPDATE: A Fix reader notes that there is actually a bit of information available about who is funding the new set of Softer Voices ad. A report filed with the Federal Election Commission Sept. 20 shows that Friess donated $250,000 and Dr. John Templeton Jr. of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania chipped in $400,000.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 27, 2006; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  House , Ohio River Ramble  
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