The Beat Bush Brigades
So far the Media Fund has drawn most of the attention. After Super Tuesday the Bush campaign launched a $10 million ad campaign in swing states with the goal of defining the President (positively) and Kerry (negatively) at a time when Kerry was low on funds. But the Media Fund countered with ads criticizing Bush, as did the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, another 527 group. Though the Media Fund and MoveOn cannot coordinate with the Kerry campaign, the combination of their ads and Kerry's in key media markets such as St. Louis and Milwaukee actually gave anti-Bush themes more airtime in those markets than those of the President. That got Republican National Committee chair Gillespie screaming about how the ads represented "one of the dirtiest campaigns in modern presidential politics."
Since then, almost every time the Media Fund or MoveOn has put up a new ad, lawyers for the Bush campaign and the Republican Party have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and "warned" television stations that the ads may violate FEC rules. The Republicans, who have been less aggressive about setting up 527 committees, are pressing the FEC to tighten controls on advocacy organizations; in May the FEC will consider proposed rule changes that would restrict the shadow groups' media and grassroots campaigning. While there's no doubt about the need for regulation--and real campaign finance reform--it does not look as though the FEC is prepared to shut down the 527s. In fact, Republicans say they're busy tracking down "our billionaires" to set up conservative 527s, like the already well-funded Americans for a Better Country.
But the real action will be on the streets. ACT is there already, and so are a lot of its allies. Organized labor has developed strategies to counter the Bush campaign's efforts to re-create the old "Reagan Democrat" phenomenon, which saw white male union members casting votes based on their conservative social views rather than their economic best interest. Unions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri and other key states have identified regions where their members will need an extra push, and they're providing it--with phone, mail and personal contacts designed to remind workers three times each month between now and the election of the failings of the Bush economic agenda. But if the last several election cycles prove anything, it is that union members are not the only base voters who need a push. So unions have created associate member programs to expand their reach beyond traditional boundaries. At the same time, ACORN, USAction, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the Sierra Club and other groups are all implementing unprecedented voter registration, identification and mobilization strategies. And they will have plenty of company at the doors.
Dozens of nonprofit and community groups associated with the National Voice coalition are also organizing voter registration and education drives. The National Voice groups are not 527s; rather, they operate under a different tax status that strictly bars them from advocating for or against candidates for federal office. But these groups can make sure that their members and allies are registered to vote and that they are aware of what's at stake. That's exactly what groups like Women's Action for New Directions have done. WAND's Vote 2004! project is working to get organizations that were active last year in passing "Cities for Peace" resolutions in Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, to make sure their members and allies are registered to vote. As the year goes on, WAND will distribute educational materials in those and other communities to insure that activists know where candidates stand. Explains WAND's Shaer, "There are a lot of people out there who have been lectured to, who have been advertised to, but who haven't been touched in a long time. They care about issues, but not so much about parties. What we're doing invites them to get active without then saying, 'Vote for this guy.'"