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.
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.
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.
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