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D.C. Democrats Launch Big 527

Prominent liberal activists last week laid the cornerstone for a network of unregulated Democratic-leaning political groups that are expected to dump perhaps $100 million or more into media buys and voter outreach in the runup to the 2008 elections.

John Podesta, chief of staff in the Clinton White House and now president of the liberal Center for American Progress, Anna Burger, chairwoman of the labor coalition Change to Win, and Taco Bell heir-turned philanthropist Rob McKay filed paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service for The Fund for America, a group registered under section 527 of the federal tax code.

Representatives for Podesta, Burger and McKay all declined Roll Call’s request to discuss the new group, but several knowledgeable Democratic strategists confirmed that the The Fund for America will become a clearinghouse for soft money political contributions, limit-free gifts that are known for bankrolling television spots such as the “Swift Boat” television advertisements that during the 2004 presidential campaign questioned Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) Vietnam War service.

The strategists said it’s too early to know which specific campaigns the new group will underwrite but that it is expected to focus exclusively on issue-based television and radio campaigns, door-to-door canvassing and direct mail.

The fund also is expected to be distinctly different from its 2004 liberal forefathers in two ways: The group will not have employees and it is not expected to magically disappear after the election.

“They don’t intend to replicate America Coming Together or the Media Fund; they intend to raise money and spend money on soft money operations, voter contact through existing organizations or new organizations,” a well-placed source said. “There’s been discussions of creating an organization along the lines of the Media Fund, where they would produce and air TV and radio spots.”

“They intend to raise money and fund existing organizations, such as the Sierra Club — phone, canvassing and mailing,” the source continued.

The source confirmed that one possible recipient of the group’s funds could be First Tuesday Media, a group first unearthed by washingtonpost.com in September. The group is a collective of prominent Hollywood television and film executives.

The unveiling of the new liberal 527 comes on the heels of the Federal Election Commission’s yearlong attempt to crack down on the outside political groups.

Last December, the FEC began handing down hefty fines to 527s active in the 2004 election cycle such as the GOP-leaning Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, its Democratic counterpart, America Coming Together, and roughly a half-dozen others.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was fined almost $300,000 by the FEC for its part in a $20 million TV ad buy and direct-mail campaign in key battlegrounds Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In late August the FEC handed down its third-largest penalty ever to America Coming Together, slapping the liberal-leaning 527 with a $775,000 fine for violating campaign finance law.

In the runup to the 2004 election, ACT raised $137 million for get-out-the-vote and voter registration activities in 17 states.

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