It appears that 527s, the voter mobilization groups, are poised for a big comeback.
Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic reports that
There’s been a spurt of 527 activity on behalf of Sen. John McCain, but Barack Obama [sic] campaign has suddenly gone silent on the subject.
That’s because, after a year of telling donors not to contribute to 527 groups, of encouraging strategists not to form them and of suggesting that outside messaging efforts would not be welcome in Obama’s Democratic Party, Obama’s strategists have changed their approach.
An Obama adviser privy to the campaign’s internal thinking on the matter says that, with less than two months before the election and with the realization that Republicans have achieved financial parity with Democrats, they hope that Democratic allies — what another campaign aide termed “the cavalry” — will come to Obama’s aid.
The Obama campaign can’t ask donors to form outside groups; it can only communicate, through the public and the media, with body language, tells and hints.
The upshot: Obama’s campaign will no longer object to independent efforts that hammer John McCain, just as, in their mind, the McCain campaign has not objected to those efforts targeted at Obama. “I assume with their 527s stirring, some [Democratic] ones will as well,” another senior campaign official said.
The Obama campaign, Ambinder reports, is concerned that “a major 527 effort by Republicans could tilt a balanced electorate toward McCain and erase the resource advantage that Obama and Democrats have accumulated.”
Conservatives are indeed raising money. A new 527 group called Leadership for America’s Future is planning to run ads attacking Obama’s themes and emphasizes McCain’s strengths, the New York Sun reports.
Ambinder notes that the American Issues Project, which is actually a 501(c)(4) organization that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, has a $3 million budget for ads in battleground states that stress Obama’s ties to unrepentant terrorist William Ayers. Freedom’s Watch, another 501(c)(4), has spent $500,000 on anti-Obama ads. Vets for Freedom, a political action committee (PAC), intends to spend $10 million on ads supportive of President Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Republican Majority Campaign, another PAC, has spent more than $1.3 million to defeat Obama.
The dramatic reversal by the Obama campaign comes less than three months after left-wing pressure group MoveOn.org dissolved its 527 group in deference to Obama’s wishes. MoveOn commissar-in-chief Eli Pariser gushed at the time that there was no longer a need for the MoveOn.org Voter Fund because a new era had dawned in America:
But in light of the new politics offered by Barack Obama, I’ve come to believe it’s time to close the 527 forever-and to challenge organizations on the right to do the same. Not relying on big donors means that all of us, together, have to take responsibility.
Ahhhhh, how touching.
Although fundraising by 527s in the current election cycle is lagging, with John McCain rising in the polls and quickly erasing Obama’s formerly formidable fundraising advantage, 527s may yet come back into fashion.
And even David Brock’s fizzled 501(c)(4) group, Progressive Media USA, a left-wing hate factory, may yet rise from the ashes. (The Politico’s Ben Smith reported June 6 that the group was to be folded into the Center for American Progress Action Fund and into Brock’s signature venture, the character-assassinating Media Matters for America.)
As of September 2, in the 2008 cycle, all 527s had raised $308,875,318, which is well below the $384,848,245 and $599,202,432 raised in the 2006 and 2004 cycles respectively.
The top two 527s are the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and America Votes and they’re both on the political left. SEIU donates to other 527s and America Votes plans to spend big on what it calls the “largest grassroots voter mobilization” in history. In the current cycle, SEIU has taken in $18,090,802 compared to the America Votes figure of $15,610,750.
The fourth 527 on the list, The Fund for America, was created last November by Democracy Alliance chairman Rob McKay and his lieutenants, SEIU’s Anna Burger and the Center for American Progress‘s John Podesta (President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff). The new entity has raised $12,141,946 but last fall Roll Call reported that it could pump “perhaps $100 million or more into media buys and voter outreach in the run-up to the 2008 elections.”
The fifth-largest pot of money, $9,110,151 has gone to EMILY’s List, the 527 group that supports pro-abortion rights female Democratic candidates.
In the top five, only Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions for Winning the Future is on the political right. The 527 has taken in $14,723,084.
Liberal names top the list of top individual and organizational donors to 527s.
Hollywood mogul Steven Bing is number one, having given $4,850,000. Second is George Soros at $4,650,000. Fourth is philanthropist John R. Hunting at $1,243,000.
The third and fifth names belong to conservatives. They are Sheldon Adelson ($3,597,632) and Fred Godley ($1,100,000).
Of the top five organizations to give money to 527s, the top four are liberal.
They are SEIU ($24,014,524), Soros Fund Management ($4,900,000), Steven Bing’s Shangri-La Entertainment ($4,850,000), and The Fund for America ($3,770,000).
The fifth is conservative Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. ($3,597,632).
All 527s have to be especially careful not to violate the Federal Election Commission’s confusing rules on electioneering, which Swift Boat Veterans for Truth founder Roy Hoffman has called “unconscionably vague.”
The FEC fined a slew of 527 groups, namely, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, and the two 527s of the League of Conservation Voters, a total of $629,500 for crossing the line in 2004. The FEC found that the veterans “expressly advocated” the defeat of presidential candidate John Kerry in ads and direct mail, while the LCV advocated Kerry’s election and the defeat of President Bush through voter canvassing. MoveOn made TV ads targeting Bush. If the 527 groups, which may receive unlimited contributions but are not allowed to advocate for candidates or coordinate activities with them, wanted to become involved in the election campaign as advocates, they should have registered as political action committees and filed the required disclosure statements, the FEC said.