Sincerest Form of Flattery

DCCC Borrowing Tactics From MoveOn.org

Posted October 22, 2003 at 5:49pm

Seeking to capitalize on the successful fundraising and organizing techniques of MoveOn.org, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched an online petition drive centered on the recent Congressional redistricting plan approved by the Texas Legislature.

The “Justice for Democracy” effort is the first in a series designed to “reposition the committee to compete effectively through the Internet and create new activism,” according to DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards.

It will also help the committee harvest names for future fundraising pitches and develop potential national messages, she said. This is especially important to Democrats now that they are banned from raising soft money for their campaign committees under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

The DCCC brought on Peter Waldheim, an interactive media consultant, in April to oversee the overhaul of its Web site and organize various petition drives. Prior to coming to the DCCC, Waldheim was part of an Internet and politics working group that advised the House and Senate Democratic leadership.

Carl Forti, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, congratulated the DCCC on “joining the 21st century like the rest of us,” adding that the NRCC ran several petition drives through its Web site last cycle.

The recent passage of new Congressional lines in the Lone Star State serves as the first test of whether the MoveOn.org model, which began as a protest against Republican efforts to impeach President Bill Clinton, can be successfully transferred to House campaigns.

After months of partisan wrangling, Republicans in the state Legislature — with the firm prodding of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — passed a plan earlier this month that casts serious doubt on the re-election chances of as many as seven Democratic House Members.

The map is currently under review at the Justice Department, which must decide whether it conforms with the Voting Rights Act before it becomes law.

In hopes of influencing Justice’s decision, the DCCC is urging people to sign a petition asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint “professionals from the staff of the Justice Department’s Voting Rights section free from political interference or influence” to review the map.

The site then asks interested parties to sign up for various DCCC publications that offer “insightful analysis, biting commentary and a real insider’s look at what’s at stake in this election.”

Finally, it implores people to spread the word about the site to their friends.

This three-step approach is an almost exact replica of the procedure employed by MoveOn.org.

The DCCC and other Democratic leaders also clearly hope that the petition drives will serve as the breeding ground for a nationalized message in the 2004 elections.

At a news conference announcing the effort, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) portrayed the DOJ’s ruling on the Texas map as “a test of whether the Bush administration can enforce the law.”

When she was elected to the highest minority post in late 2002, Pelosi vowed that Democrats would never again enter an election without a national message.

This attempted nationalization of the Texas imbroglio is also reflected on a new Web site maintained by the DCCC (www.democraticaction.org), where the redistricting fight is placed in the context of the Florida presidential recount, the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis (D) and a similar Republican-driven re-redistricting in Colorado earlier this year.

“Republicans regularly put politics in front of people,” said Bernards in what could very well be a 2004 message preview.

Bernards downplayed expectations for the initial foray, saying it was “an ongoing process to bring more people to our site and create more activism around Democratic issues.”

She estimated that 8,200 people had already signed the online petition.

The DCCC has some distance to go before it can match the efficacy of MoveOn.org, however.

Formed five years ago, the group now boasts 2 million “online activists,” whom it utilizes for various grassroots and fundraising efforts.

MoveOn.org has proved to be a potent fundraising resource for Democratic causes, raising more than $1 million to fund an ad campaign attacking Republicans for their actions in Texas.

The group surrounded the entrances to the Old Executive Office Building on Wednesday, urging employees to sign statements swearing that they did not leak the name of a CIA operative to the media this summer.