Republican 527s Narrow Gap with Democrats

Posted September 15, 2004 at 5:24pm

With just seven weeks to go before Election Day, Republican-oriented groups that air issue ads are quickly closing the fundraising gap with their Democratic counterparts.

“The Republican groups got a late start, but I think what we’re seeing now is that they are becoming very active and starting to catch up to the Democrats in fundraising,” said Larry Noble, the executive director of the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which is closely tracking the activity of 527 organizations this election cycle.

With such groups as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Progress for America Voters Fund “we’re seeing very aggressive fundraising and activity on the Republican side,” Noble said.

“All things being equal, the Republicans would have preferred all the 527s being shut down because Bush was being very effective in his fundraising,” he added. “Having lost that battle, they are going to clearly rival the Democrats with their fundraising.”

In a separate development on the 527 front Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Robertson rejected a request by the Bush campaign to stop activities by at least five Democratic-leaning groups, including MoveOn.org, The Media Fund and America Coming Together. In the ruling, Robertson said he lacked the authority to force the Federal Election Commission to act immediately on regulating 527s — something the FEC has consistently refused to do.

But the Bush camp apparently has a plan B, which is to outraise Democratic 527s. During the first six days of September alone, Progress for America, which supports President Bush, raised $6.8 million in contributions, pushing its total receipts to at least $25.2 million, according to reports just filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Recent donors to the fund include Amway Corp. founders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, who each gave $2 million to the group; Texas businessman Robert Rowling, who contributed $1 million; and Dallas real estate magnate Harlan Crow, who anteed up $500,000.

PFA President Brian McCabe told The Associated Press last week that his group had already raised about $32 million and expects another $15 million in coming days.

That puts Progress for America — an independent 527 group that has most recently been airing ads in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa — on par with such Democratic-oriented groups as The Media Fund and the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, which got a jump-start on their fundraising last year.

The Media Fund, an effort headed by former Clinton aide Harold Ickes, had raised about $17.7 million as of Sept. 8 for its television efforts, according to data gleaned from “electioneering communications” reports, which are filings required under the new campaign finance law.

The new electioneering reports provide a window through which the public can view a group’s fundraising and spending in a more timely fashion than reports filed with the Internal Revenue Service allow. The reports are filed only by those groups spending more than $10,000 on radio or television ads that refer to a clearly identified candidate within 30 days of their primary or 60 days of the general election.

The Media Fund’s most recent electioneering communication report listed receipts of about $540,000. Of that, $500,000 came from Austin, Texas, native Jonathan McHale. MoveOn.org’s Voter Fund, for its part, tallied about $9.3 million as of late August, FEC electioneering records show.

Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has raised nearly $2 million in donations from individuals around the country, according to an electioneering filing the group made to the FEC on Sept. 10. Most of that money flooded in after the organization generated significant free-media overage with its ads attacking Kerry’s military record in Vietnam.

Among the Swift Boat group’s donors are Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly, who each chipped in $10,000. During the 2000 presidential primaries, the brothers became well known for financing a group called Republicans for Clean Air that ran ads disparaging Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), then a candidate running for the Republican nomination.

Progress for America’s latest ad also focuses on Kerry’s war service. The 30-second commercial features recent veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan comparing Bush’s strengths and Kerry’s lack of “resolve.”

The 527 groups are encountering stiff opposition from reform advocates, who argue that such committees are using a loophole to evade campaign finance laws by dumping millions of dollars of unregulated soft money into the campaign-finance system.

Reps. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) and Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the FEC, claiming that the agency has been derelict in its duties by not policing these groups as it would other political committees.

Next week, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the House Members will file legislation seeking to rein in the independent groups.