Skip to comments.Groups Try to Raise 'Soft Money' for Dems in Effort to Circumvent Campaign Finance Reform
Posted on 08/13/2003 2:28:46 PM PDT by rface
Less than a year since a law meant to remove big money from politics took effect, Democratic-leaning interest groups are working to raise millions in large donations in hopes of unseating President Bush and promoting their issues.
The groups are emerging as a shadow party with an important advantage.
Unlike national party committees, they can accept soft money - contributions from corporations and unions in any size and unlimited donations from any source - for next year's election.
"Welcome to campaign finance reform," said Harold Ickes, a former Clinton administration adviser taking part in the effort. "The genesis of all these new groups in large measure is the need to raise soft money and to do whatever they can do in terms of voter mobilization, within the bounds of the law."
Democrats were key supporters of the law, in effect since November. But the soft money ban has hit them harder than Republicans.
In the last election cycle, for example, the Republican National Committee raised about $170 million in hard money, the limited donations from individuals and political action committees. The Democratic National Committee collected about $68 million in such contributions and $95 million in soft money.
From January through June, with soft money donations to national parties banned, the RNC raised about $55 million and the DNC $18 million.
Democrats expect President Bush to dwarf their presidential hopefuls' fund raising by collecting $250 million for the primaries, with the RNC also raising at least that much for the 2004 election, Ickes said. The new groups are an effort to counter that, he said.
Republicans, too, are creating groups that can raise soft money, but so far the Democratic effort appears broader. Democrats and Republicans say the GOP has less need for new outside groups because it can raise millions more than Democrats in hard money.
Democrats had "better be doing something on the other side because their party committees are basically dead at this point, and the Republican Party committees are actually doing decently," said Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"I think what you're going to see is a lot of money unreported, going out to the fringes of politics, that used to go to the parties."
The emerging network of Democratic-leaning groups covers a range of interests and spending:
-America Coming Together will register voters and urge them to get to the polls. Its projected $75 million in funds includes a $10 million pledge from multibillionaire George Soros and $8 million from labor groups.
-A different group will coordinate presidential get-out-the-vote spending among America Coming Together and trial lawyer, labor, environmental, abortion rights and civil-rights groups.
-A fund planned by Ickes will raise money for ads on Democratic issues, also focused on the presidency.
-New Senate and House groups will try to win Democratic control of Congress.
-A think tank will promote Democratic policy views.
Some groups are considering using the DNC's database of possible donors to raise money for themselves, then giving the DNC the names of those who do contribute, Ickes said.
Prospecting for new donors, often done through mailings, can cost millions of dollars. To comply with Federal Election Commission rules, such arrangements between the DNC and outside groups would have to be even exchanges or paid for at fair market value, among other conditions.
Republicans, too, are helped by special-interest spending, such as business groups' expanding employer get-out-the-vote efforts, and have set up groups that can raise soft money.
They include The Leadership Forum, run by a former chief of staff to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas; the National Committee for a Responsible Senate; the Republican State Leadership Committee, focused on state and local elections; and the Republican Governors Association.
Under the law, groups that raise soft money must operate independently of the parties. Many of the new groups are run by partisan activists and former party operatives who know the needs of the party and its candidates well.
Party leaders are aware of the efforts. America Coming Together's president, Ellen Malcolm, for example, said she phoned the DNC chairman, Terry McAuliffe, last week to tell him about the group.
DNC spokesman Tony Welch said the groups are independent of the party, and declined to comment on them.
"Even some favorable comment, I would assume, can be interpreted as support," he said.
Davis, the Virginia Republican, accused Democrats of "trying to evade the law they championed."
Malcolm denied that. "The law was passed and we're doing exactly what the law says. A political action committee can raise both hard and soft money," she said.
Soft-money groups can finance voter outreach and ads that mention federal candidates.
They cannot use corporate or union funds for broadcast ads identifying federal candidates in the weeks right before an election. They can use big individual donations to run such ads anytime if they keep the money separate, disclose the spending and do not call for a candidate's election or defeat, the FEC said.
Hillary! for president for 2004.
Since when was Ickes or any other Democrat associated with clinton at all concerned about 'the bounds of the law'?