In this week’s Capitolism column I spotlight a new coalition of various progressive groups called Americans for Financial Reform. The idea is to be for the upcoming fight over financial regulation, what HCAN has been to the healthcare reform battle: a well funded coalition pushing on the side of progressive policies. (There’s a whole tangential debate to be had about HCAN’s lack of support for single payer, but that’s another story)

Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake excerpts the piece and writes this:

Great. Glad to hear it. Another group that will redouble every mistake made by every such liberal group since the 1970s. They’ll put together a bunch of experts, issue some “white papers,” nobody will care but they’ll raise a lot of money.

They’ll make no attempt to figure out why this doesn’t work, or why the model has been such a colossal failure in the past. Because for them, it’s not a failure — big donors love big names. Congress doesn’t give a flying fuck, you say? Well, you have a point. But failing to have even a remote hope of success is not necessary to keep the funding stream flowing.

I can understand the skepticism: it’s entirely unclear whether AFR will be able to do any good. They’re only a few weeks old. I will say that the plan at least (and who knows whether it will be executed) is to do some nationwide grassroots organizing around the issues. There are groups like NTIC/NPA that are very active in the coalition who actually do grassroots organizing and have been doing it for a long time. They’re not just some inside-the-beltway donor siphon. Also: the status quo as it stands is there is basically nothing pushing against the banks on the Hill. So from the perspective of triage it seems like something, anything, is an improvement on the status quo.

But there’s a broader critique being laid out here and it’s of what one very sharp DC progressive organizer calls “campaign-in-a-box organizing vehicles,” which has a lineage going back to the (successful)’05 Social Security fight and extends through the very expensive (and unsuccessful) Americans Against Escalation in Iraq to HCAN and others. Each of these, critics contend, have had diminishing returns, and they’ve all sucked up quite a bit of resources that would have better been spent elsewhere.

The question I have, and it’s not a rhetorical one, is whether this is an issue of personnel (more or less the same cast of Beltway progressive characters) or model. If it’s a question of the model, one which includes a coalition approach, ad buys, Congressional lobbying, press releases, events, maybe some field, what is the alternative? I don’t meant that to suggest there isn’t one, but I’m too unimaginative an organizer to conceive of what it looks like.