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The Friday Line: Spending Big to Influence Campaign '06

The 2004 election saw an unprecedented level of involvement from third-party groups seeking to influence the outcome of the presidential race and key Senate and House races.

On the Democratic side, America Coming Together and the Media Fund raised nearly $200 million in their unsuccessful effort to end President Bush's political career.

The most renowned (and reviled) of all the outside groups was Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which ran a series of ads and spent $22.5 million questioning John Kerry's military service. Progress for America was the biggest spender of the pro-Republican entities -- dropping $35.6 million to help reelect the president.

While strategists on both sides concede that the 2006 midterms are unlikely to see third-party groups match the financial firepower they had in 2004, a number of organizations fueled by soft money donations will seek to impact House, Senate and gubernatorial elections across the country.

This week's Friday Line lists a handful of these groups across the ideological spectrum that political insiders will be watching closely over the next ten months. Some of these organizations will be familiar to many readers, others may not. But all of them are prepping to play a major role in who controls Congress after November.

The list is below with the organizations ranked in alphabetical order. What groups did we miss? Post additions in the comments section below.

America Votes: Originally a somewhat minor player in the ACT/Media Fund conglomerate, America Votes is set to play a higher-profile role in the 2006 elections than either of its two big brothers. The liberal group, which recently suffered a staffing loss with well-regarded operative Cecile Richards hopping over to Planned Parenthood, will report that it ended 2005 with $2.7 million in the bank and has commitments for $8 million more -- 75 percent of which will come from individuals donors aligned with the Democracy Alliance. America Votes's focus in 2006 is likely to be on grassroots and get-out-the-vote organization in key states, rather than television ads. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

Americans For Job Security: Unlike most of the groups on this list, AJS is not a 527 committee, but rather a 501(c)(6) in Internal Revenue Service parlance. What's the difference? AJS doesn't have to disclose how it raises or spends its money, but in exchange it can't directly advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate. In 2004 AJS ran ads in 40 media markets across 12 states, and has already spent a reported $1 million on two ads touting Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-Pa.). There's surely more ads where those came from -- especially with GOP incumbents being targeted in Rhode Island, Montana, Ohio, Missouri and Arizona. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

Club For Growth: People chose close to this group insist that the change in leadership (from Steve Moore to former Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Toomey) following the 2004 election has had no effect on  fundraising. In past cycles, the Club and its donors have shown a willingness to spit in the eye of the GOP establishment -- and this year promises more of the same.  The Club has endorsed Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (R) in his primary challenge to Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and is also strongly backing former state Rep. Tim Walberg (R) in his primary race against freshman Rep. Joe Schwarz (R) in Michigan. Look for television and radio ads from the Club in those primaries; the group will also bundle hundreds of thousands of dollars to Laffey and Walberg and a slew of other endorsed candidates. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

EMILY's List: At the end of 2004, EMILY's List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women, was the single largest source of campaign cash to candidates in the country.  The group helped direct $11 million from its members to endorsed candidates and raised another $30 million to finance other political activities.  EMILY's List will be a major player in a numbers of races, but watch Gov. Jennifer Granholm's re-election fight in Michigan and Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar's candidacy for Minnesota's open Senate seat in particular.  Most of EMILY's List's influence comes in the form of bundled campaign contributions, but the group now also does polling and airs television and radio ads. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

MoveOn.org: MoveOn is a name that should be familiar to almost every Fix reader as it has rapidly become a fundraising and public relations pillar of the ideological left. The organization spent better than $20 million in the 2004 cycle and has shown a willingness to target Republican members of Congress this cycle as it did with commercials over Thanksgiving taking eight House members to task for comments made in response to Rep. Jack Murtha's (D-Pa.) call to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. In the first six months of 2005, MoveOn raised $4.6 million through its federal, hard-dollar account and had $1.1 million left in the bank. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

U.S. Chamber of Commerce: The Chamber's political program has become increasingly sophisticated over the past few cycles, and given the organization's reach into local groups across the country, it is sure to be a major factor in 2006. In November, Bill Miller, the Chamber's political director,  predicted that the group would eclipse the $25 million it spent in 2004 in this year's midterms. The vast majority of that effort will benefit Republican candidates.

Honorable Mentions

AFL-CIO and Change to Win : The split in the labor movement over the summer has left many wondering what will become of the vaunted turnout operation that was widely credited with Democratic gains in Congress in the late 1990s.  Both groups are preparing major turnout efforts in 2006, according to knowledgeable sources within the labor movement.  Make no mistake though: 2006 is just a warm-up for the 2008 presidential in the eyes of organized labor.

National Rifle Association: The NRA's political prominence has shrunk slightly since former president Charleston Heston stepped out of the spotlight, but it remains a powerful political organization. The group appears more focused on beating back attempts to curtail gun rights in the states than electing members of Congress, at the moment but its grassroots influence and financial reach should not be underestimated.

New Democrat Network: NDN is focused largely on studying how the party (its candidates, consultants and staff) can best communicate to voters given constant changes in communications technology. NDN remains a potential fundraising force ($12.5 million spent in 2004) and will surely make a mark in 2006. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

Progress for America: The largest pro-Republican 527 currently operating isn't likely to play in individual states, but its national issue campaigns are sure to have an impact on the landscape in which competitive House, Senate and gubernatorial races are being contested. From the failed fight for Social Security reform to the confirmation battles over Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel A. Alito Jr., PFA has been on the airwaves serving as a relentless advocate for the White House.  Expect that to continue in 2006 -- especially after the president lays out his legislative priorities in his state of the union speech on Jan. 31. (OpenSecrets.org listing.)

Sierra Club/League of Conservation Voters: The two most powerful environmental groups in the political world spent more than $11 million combined during the 2004 election.  Both organizations regularly involve themselves in congressional races with endorsements and financial contributions. The coming midterms will be no different. (OpenSecrets.org listing for LCV and for SC.)

Aside from the groups mentioned above, there are likely to be a number of boutique third-party groups that form around a single race or a handful of races.  In 2004, a group of strategists with close ties to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (D) formed "Citizens for a Strong Senate," which raised and spent better than $10 million. The money funded direct-mail efforts and television ads in at least four targeted states. It's not clear whether CSS will re-form in 2006, but there will undoubtedly be mirror groups in both parties that will follow this model. 

Let The Fix know if there are third-party groups operating under the radar of the national media we should check into.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 13, 2006; 8:51 AM ET
Categories:  The Line  
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Comments

I know Bunning is up in 2010m but Dems hope to win the Govenors race and then have governors and several House seats. Fletcher use to be the best GOP candidate for the GOP, but he has faltered miserabley and has ran a corrupt administration. Hal Rogers is getting old and by 2010 will pass on a run. SO the Dems will poised to get Bunnings seat. Their one hope is to get Anne Northups seat in the Democratic column.

Posted by: db | January 15, 2006 5:17 AM | Report abuse

Jim Bunning?? He was just reelected in 2004! He's not up again until 2010!

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | January 14, 2006 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Chris, unlike others, I appreciate this information (ok so maybe it did not have to be the Friday Line lead). It is important to know which group is doing what. After all, if you want to know who is going to win the primaries, just follow the money.

It is this reason alone that I will repeat a refrain from previous posts, HRC will be the Democratic nominee because she will deliver the money to the local democratic officials via fundraising for local and state officials. Her visit to red state Kentucky was not a fluke nor was the $2 Million she helped raise. The Kentucky governor is in trouble along with a couple of House seats. Dems are licking their chops to get another shot at Jim Bunning in a couple of years.
Look for more HRC visits to Tennessee to assist Harold Ford, Ohio to help the Dem nominee and even to places like West Va to assist in the effort to bring these border states back into the Democratic column for 2008.

One final thing for Friday the 13th, one Poster above mentioned the PAC set up by Howard Dean. A lot of folks have criticized Dean for his lack of fundraising, but if they would hold back on the criticism long enough and look at what he and the DNC is actually doing is building a grass roots organization in each state which will focus on voter regisration, get out the votes, etc. In order for this to happen, other groups such as the PACs mentioned above are picking up the traditional role of the DNC, by assisting local candidates in getting elected. To date it has been successful and I suspect there will be a strong dem showing in tradionally red states like what is slowly happening in Virginia, TN, and Ohio as well as progressive leaning red states of Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The Dems may have abandoned the south, but look out at the border states and some of the Western States. By 2008, there will be a stronger built in advantage for a Dem president for the first time since LBJ.

Posted by: db | January 13, 2006 11:55 PM | Report abuse

This early in the year, I found this posting boring too.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | January 13, 2006 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

I love your blog, but like others have said I really look forward to your Friday line and interest groups just don't do it for me. Thanks for trying something different, but please bring back the races.

Posted by: Brent Parrish | January 13, 2006 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

I agree with the previous poster that you should stick with races for Friday line. The money is somewhat interesting, but it seems in an entirely different category. Maybe do some money round-up on Wednesday, which is otherwise bereft of anything exciting.

Posted by: SP | January 13, 2006 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

Thank you for talking about Citizens for a Strong Senate. I worked on a campaign in Oklahoma for the U.S. Senate. The Citizens for a Strong Senate produced the best third-party ad that I saw on both sides, but especially from the Democrats.

Posted by: Noah Klein | January 13, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Another group that has quickly become a real force in progressive politics across the nation is Democracy for America, http://www.democracyforamerica.com/, the PAC formed by DNC Chairman Howard Dean at the end of his Presidential Campaign and now run by his brother Jim Dean.

DFA has over 500,000 members and has already helped elect progressive candidates around the country.

In 2004, they raised over $5 million and they raised almost $2 million in the first half of 2005.

In addition DFA supporters have formed their own local groups, both formal PAC, 527's, and 501c's, and simple grassroots organizations that work locally to suppot and elect candidates to Town Boards, County Legislatures, as well as State and Federal representatives.

Open Secrets shows their 2006 federal numbers, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.asp?strID=C00370007

And their 2004 federal numbers, http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.asp?strid=C00370007&cycle=2004, as well.

Democracy for America is registered to work in almost every state in the nation and donates to state and local candidates as well (I don't think those contributions show up in the Open Secrets federal reports).

Posted by: Andrew C. White | January 13, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Ben's right, America Votes acted as an umbrella group to help progressive organizations better coordinate their advertising, GOTV operations, etc... i.e. so EMILY'S List, Sierra Club, etc. don't step on each other's toes going door to door or saturate the market too much with ads when one group better appeals to a certain demographic. From what I understand from a published study by David Magleby out of Brigham Young Univ. on advertising/GOTV operations in certain tight races in 2004, organizations paid a $250,000 entrance fee to show they were serious about getting involved in the game, and got a seat at the "table" in return with access to voting/demographic data etc.

Based on membership in America Votes and my knowledge of electoral politics, I would also include the Human Rights Campaign and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Posted by: Adam Bink | January 13, 2006 10:55 AM | Report abuse

America Votes isn't really a group in it's own right--it's an umbrella organization to coordinate the efforts of various non-profit outfits. Or at least that's how it worked in 2004. And there are limits on the sort of organizing it's allowed to do, by virtue of the fact that it works with 501 c's. Though even the people with advanced degrees in election law don't always seem to be able to say where the line really is, in practice.

Posted by: Ben | January 13, 2006 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Chris,

I wish you would focus simply on races in the Friday Line. Imagine my disappointment when I opened the page today to find financial analyses of interest groups. Money will be there from these groups on both sides, so it's pretty negligible. This nonsense is uber-boring.

Stephon Q.

Posted by: Jaleel White | January 13, 2006 10:22 AM | Report abuse

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