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From top White House operative Karl Rove to two of the party campaign committees, Republicans have launched a full-scale attack on MoveOn.org, questioning the liberal group’s patriotism and worldview.
These attacks appear to have two purposes: One is to put the group and its Democratic allies on the defensive over support for the war on terror. And the second is to drive a wedge between Democratic candidates and the millions of dollars that MoveOn’s supporters have pumped into their campaigns.
With MoveOn fast becoming one of the Democratic Party’s most important fundraising sources, the second goal may end up being the more important one.
The 2006 Pennsylvania Senate race provides a window into the developing battle over MoveOn.org.
State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) was featured recently in a MoveOn e-mail designed to drive donors to support his challenge to Sen. Rick Santorum (R). Within the first 24 hours, the appeal brought in $150,000 for the Casey campaign.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee immediately went on the offensive with a release titled, “Casey Moves In With MoveOn,” alleging that the group’s e-mail on behalf of Casey shows how closely he is aligned with the “ultra-liberal left.”
John Brabender, Santorum’s media consultant, predicted that if Casey continues to accept MoveOn money, he will have to answer for the group’s controversial policies, which include opposing military intervention in Afghanistan.
“You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep,” Brabender said. A group like MoveOn “will have a lot of trouble in Pennsylvania, particularly in the middle part of the state. The group will be hung around Bobby Casey’s neck.”
The rhetoric from Brabender and the NRSC is aimed at forcing Casey into a no-win choice: He could pass up a generous source of campaign cash, or he could accept MoveOn’s ample resources, yet face an assault over the group’s issue stances.
Refusing MoveOn money is no small financial decision. In less than 48 hours, the group raised $800,000 for the re-election campaign of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd (D) — almost single-handedly quieting rumors that the octogenarian would retire his seat in 2006.
Eli Pariser, executive director of the MoveOn.org political action committee, called the Republican tactics “smart.”
“This is a very pure, very stable source of funds,” said Pariser about his organization. “It is totally unlike the rubber chicken model of fundraising.”
Leading Senate Democrats agree. “They are trying to discredit and smear MoveOn because it’s so successful,” said Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who added that the group is “one of our most important” fundraising avenues.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) said MoveOn has grown to be so important because the group, through the use of e-mails, has turned grass-roots fundraising upside down.
Long a bastion of conservatives, direct mail used to be the most costly form of fundraising, barely yielding $1 raised for every $1 spent but generally bringing in lots of cash and spreading a sharply worded, partisan message in the missives.
But the costs of MoveOn’s e-mails are negligible, and their haul is often astounding, as Byrd discovered at the end of March.