Soros, Labor Pooling Efforts

Liberal Group Targets 17 States

Posted September 17, 2003 at 6:33pm

Beginning Oct. 1, the bulk of operations of the Partnership for America’s Families, a fundraising entity with strong ties to organized labor, will be folded into a broader group funded by financier George Soros.

Originally envisioned as a liberal voter identification and mobilization operation targeting three to five states in the 2004 elections, the remaining resources of the labor group will now focus almost exclusively on registration efforts in urban areas, officials said Wednesday.

The larger-scale targeting operation will fall under the purview of Americans Coming Together, a conglomerate of labor, environmental and women’s groups that plans to spend $75 million developing turnout organizations in 17 states for the 2004 election.

“This kind of focus on retail politics, the nuts and bolts of talking to voters personally, is unprecedented,” said partnership spokeswoman Sujata Tejwani. “The partnership is very excited about its role in increasing the number of progressive voters across the country with our registration and mobilization projects. Our efforts will complement the larger statewide efforts that ACT is implementing.”

Questions still remain, however, about how the partnership, ACT and a number of other organizations founded by prominent Democratic operatives will synchronize operations and share responsibilities.

Steve Rosenthal, a former political director at the AFL-CIO, will serve as CEO of ACT but will retain his post as president of the partnership. Tejwani, as well as partnership Political Director JoDee Winterhof, will play similar roles with ACT.

Although the existence of ACT — and Soros’ financial commitment to it — has been known since August, few details had previously emerged about its structure and goals.

The group will have two components: a federal political action committee that will report its donation and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission and a nonfederal, 527 arm that will file its activities with the Internal Revenue Service.

The federal end of the operation can only accept contributions totaling $2,000 per election cycle; the 527, however, can accept unlimited donations.

The group’s structure resembles those of two other Democratic fundraising groups established by high-level former Senate and House staffers.

Both the Democratic Senate Majority Fund and the New House PAC have actively been raising hard dollars into the federal portion of their groups but have done little nonfederal, soft-money fundraising to this point.

All of these groups are seeking to capitalize on the restrictions placed on national party committees by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, passed in the 107th Congress. Under the law, the committees can neither raise nor spend soft money.

A look at the fundraising for the first three months of the partnership shows strong fundraising potential for these groups.

Between April 1 and June 30, the partnership brought in roughly $1.3 million, largely from three major pillars of the labor movement: the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The $700,000 remaining in the partnership’s coffers at the end of June will not be transferred to ACT, sources said Wednesday, but money doesn’t appear likely to be a problem for ACT.

Seeded by $20 million from Soros and a handful of other wealthy entrepreneurs, ACT is expected to be the primary conduit for huge soft-money donations from the labor movement as well as groups like EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters.

Already, SEIU has pledged $8 million to the effort.

Ellen Malcolm, the president of EMILY’s List, will take on the same role for ACT and is seen as the driving force behind the effort to organize the disparate Democratic interest groups into a cohesive unit.

Using its financial might, ACT is seeking to boost the progressive vote in 17 states: Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and West Virginia.

The reduced role of the partnership comes after a summer of controversy that pitted Rosenthal against AFSCME President Jerry McEntee.

McEntee resigned as chairman of the partnership’s board in May after accusing Rosenthal of not doing enough to reach out to minority voters.

After AFL-CIO President John Sweeney convened a meeting between Rosenthal and McEntee, the AFSCME president went on to form his own 527 group — Voices for Working Families. VWF was officially founded Aug. 8 but will not file a financial report until the end of 2003.

Some Democrats worry that with so many groups seeking to collect the soft money that had previously been channeled to the party committees the effectiveness of any individual organization could be limited.

Currently, ACT, VWF, partnership, America Votes (being headed up by Cecile Richards, a former deputy chief of staff to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards), and Grassroots Democrats, which is co-chaired by former Democratic National Committee official Joe Carmichael and Communications Workers of America President Morton Bahr, are all competing for soft dollars to fund activities surrounding the 2004 elections. And no blueprint has yet emerged separating power and diagramming which groups will handle specific activities.

One Democratic strategist compared trying to divine the roles of the various groups to a game of three-card monte.

“Which shell is the million dollars hiding under?” the strategist quipped.

Other Democrats noted that attempting to recreate an effective infrastructure outside the bounds of the Democratic Party is a huge undertaking that these groups are attempting to do in a compressed period.

Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Executive Director Howard Wolfson expressed admiration for the efforts so far.

“It is not easy to establish a new organization in the time frame these organizations have been established and they are doing a great job,” Wolfson said.