DSCC Embraces ‘Blog’

Posted January 21, 2004 at 6:20pm

Hoping to expand its base of contributors in the new campaign fundraising era, Senate Democrats have launched a Web site designed to tap into the growing community of Internet-savvy contributors unearthed in the past year by presidential candidate Howard Dean.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee “soft launched” fromtheroots.org on Wednesday to a select group of loyal contributors and lobbyists — the first step in its attempt to create a cyberspace community for Democratic activists and donors. A broader roll out, perhaps including banner advertising on other Web sites, will occur at a later date.

The DSCC hopes to raise between $500,000 and $1.5 million and attract up to 500,000 new donors and activists in the coming months, Senate leaders wrote their Democratic colleagues in a recent letter.

“[B]y tapping into the online community, this Web site will introduce individuals who we would be unlikely to reach through our traditional means to the DSCC,” the Senators explained in the letter.

DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.), Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) signed the letter.

“We want to make sure that we are capturing this broad development that is going on with fundraising through the Internet,” Corzine said in an interview. “I think it is important that we implement this program and that is one of my most important strategic objectives, to get that done.”

The DSCC is launching this project at a time when the Democratic presidential primary field is beginning to winnow down and officials hope to lure people currently visiting losing candidates Web sites to fromtheroots.org.

The Web site is anchored by a section that encourages visitors to “blog,” an ever-growing phenomena on the Internet that allows users to post their thoughts and opinions in an open forum. Other features will help promote Democratic Senate candidates by instructing them to post campaign schedules and biographical sketches.

This feature allows “you and your campaign to share press releases, notification of upcoming events and ways in which online activists can support and be involved in your campaigns,” the Senators stated in their letter.

In the event there is a crowded primary field in a Senate contest, visitors to fromtheroots.org will be allowed to debate their views on who is the strongest candidate for the nomination.

The Web site also offers its share of “red meat” content, including blogs by Senators criticizing the policy decisions and questioning the political motivations of President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress. There is little doubt about the Web site’s goal, which is prominently displayed on its first page.

“How do you remove a Bush? From The Roots,” it states. “How do we win elections? Grassroots. Join us by signing up, posting your ideas, spreading the word, and establishing your roots.”

The Web site also posts online surveys that offer less than objective options.

For example, a poll question currently posted on the Web site asks, “What is the true goal of Bush’s new Space Program?”

The multiple choice answers include: “Enrich Halliburton and other military contractors; Find creative ways to spend money the government doesn’t even have; Search for space ice to melt for arsenic-free drinking water; Conduct further research on evidence of global warming; Look for weapons of mass destruction; and Find Osama bin Laden.”

“That type of stuff will help populate the site,” said Brad Woodhouse, a DSCC spokesman. “But there is a fair amount of commentary on our Senate races and what is going on in the Senate and in the Congress.”

Democrats are not alone in distributing material over the Internet that will be embraced by its base. Senate Republicans engage in a similar fundraising strategy. The National Republican Senatorial Committee offers people the opportunity to receive e-mail updates on the political and policy maneuvering of Daschle and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

While the DSCC hopes to attract a new generation of young, Internet-savvy voters, fundraising remains its top priority.

Democrats trail Republicans badly in the chase for hard dollars, the only legal tender that can be used to fund federal campaigns in the wake of the enactment of the new campaign finance laws.

For years, Republicans have successfully executed a dual fundraising strategy that relies both on the largess of big business and the generosity of small donors who contribute the much sought-after hard dollars. Conversely, Democrats have heavily relied on a much smaller base of wealthy Democratic donors, who fueled Democratic campaign efforts through large soft-money donations, which are unlimited and unregulated. Soft money is now outlawed.

The letter explaining the DSCC’s plans to colleagues never mentions Dean by name, but rather notes the success of “Moveon.org, Meetup.com and our presidential contenders” in using the “Internet … for political fundraising,organizing and message dissemination.”

But Corzine acknowledged in the interview that it was Dean who discovered this new fundraising portal and said it only made sense for the DSCC to follow suit.

“I am not smart enough, I don’t think anybody in the Dean campaign was smart enough to predict how that would unfold,” the DSCC chairman said. “But we do see Internet fundraising as being a meaningful part of campaign finance, and I think it is a positive thing because it really brings a broad group of people into the DSCC.”