New Group to Join Social Security Battle

Posted March 15, 2005 at 6:44pm

Building on the model employed by liberal groups during the 2004 presidential campaign, opponents of Social Security reform have adopted a two-pronged approach in their efforts to defeat the issue.

A new group, as yet unnamed, is being organized by Harold Ickes, a former Clinton administration adviser; Erik Smith, a former aide to then-House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.); and Jim Jordan, the former presidential campaign manager for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

In addition, Diana Rogalle, a longtime Senate fundraiser, and Michael Powell, a former chief of staff to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), will also be involved in the effort. Powell is a partner with Smith and Jordan at Westhill Partners, a Democratic consulting firm.

The Ickes organization will twin its efforts with the ongoing operations of Americans United to Protect Social Security, a grass-roots organization being run by a handful of former Democratic Senate campaign operatives.

The effort builds on the blueprint developed by America Coming Together and the Media Fund, the two largest liberal soft-money organizations operating during the 2004 presidential campaign.

In that race, ACT handled voter registration drives and other grass-roots activities in targeted states, while the Media Fund managed the massive advertising blitz.

Ickes, Smith and Jordan were intimately involved in the ACT/Media Fund venture. Ickes was the chairman of the Media Fund while Smith served as the group’s president. Jordan was the primary consultant to ACT.

According to sources familiar with the groups, Americans United will handle field organizing on Social Security while the Ickes-Smith-Jordan group will oversee the media side.

“The mission is to conceive, produce and place advertising to affect the debate on Social Security and complement the efforts of AUPSS,” said a source familiar with the new group.

On Tuesday, leaders of the two groups presented a blueprint of their plan to representatives of 75 to 100 like-minded groups at the AFL-CIO’s headquarters in Washington.

On the fundraising front, the new groups will also mimic the ACT and Media Fund model; that framework raised $200 million last cycle.

Much of that money was placed into a joint campaign account known as Joint Victory 2004, which allowed donors to write a single check that would be divvied up between the two groups.

A similar arrangement is being explored between Americans United and the Ickes group, though sources say that nothing has been finalized. Both organizations will do fundraising on their own as well, the sources said.

Americans United has set a budget of $50 million for their effort, and fundraising has already begun in earnest for the Ickes endeavor.

Ickes has also met with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and top aides to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in recent weeks to discuss the goals of the new group and the role that Members can play in it.

Unlike ACT and the Media Fund, Members can be involved in helping to raise money for the Social Security groups because of the way they were organized under Internal Revenue Service codes.

ACT and the Media Fund were organized under Section 527 of the IRS tax code. Under that code, the groups could accept donations in unlimited amounts from individuals and labor unions so long as they documented those donations in filings with the IRS.

Americans United and the new group are 501(c)(4) organizations, not-for-profit groups focused on influencing debate on an issue. They can accept unlimited contributions but do not have to disclose their donors. However, they may not directly advocate the election or defeat of specific candidates, however — not an insurmountable obstacle in a largely issue-driven debate such as the one on Social Security.

Though the committees are different in legal structure, those close to the Social Security reform efforts plan to coordinate as closely as did ACT and the Media Fund.

The two groups share the same media consultant and pollster: GMMB’s Jim Margolis and Garin Hart Yang’s Geoff Garin, respectively.

In addition, all decisions relating to the field effort, as well as scripts for the television ads and other logistics involved with the effort, will be vetted by officials in both groups.

“This is going to be a strategic collaboration that harnesses all of the energies of the anti-privatization forces to defeat the president’s privatization plan through grass-roots mobilization and paid media,” said Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse.