Several prominent liberal activists have joined forces to form a group that’s expected to raise tens of millions of dollars to influence voters and support Democratic causes in the 2008 elections.
Last week John Podesta, president of the liberal research organization Center for American Progress and a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton; Anna Burger, chairwoman of the labor coalition Change to Win, and Taco Bell heir-turned philanthropist Rob McKay filed paperwork with the IRS for The Fund for America, a so-called 527 group.
A 527 group is named for a section of the tax code that allows such an organization to attempt to influence elections as long as it discloses donors and expenses.
Democratic strategists told Roll Call that The Fund for America will be a clearinghouse for soft money political contributions, and is expected to focus on issue-based TV and radio campaigns, direct mail and door-to-door canvassing.
The group will differ from similar 2004 liberal 527s in that it will not have employees, and instead intends “to raise money and fund existing organization, such as the Sierra Club,” a well-placed source told Roll Call.
The formation of the new liberal 527 comes after the Federal Election Commission’s yearlong efforts to rein in these groups. Beginning in December, the FEC handed down fines to 527 groups that were active in the 2004 election cycle, including the Republican-leaning Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the left-wing America Coming Together (ACT).
In the case of ACT, the FEC levied a fine of $775,000 for violations of campaign finance law. But that was a small sum compared to the $137 million the organization raised for get-out-the-vote and voter registration efforts before the 2004 election.
The Fund for Truth “creates at least an appearance that we’re headed for the same types of activities in 2008 that the FEC found illegal in 2004, but did it so late and with such relatively small fines that [the fines] appeared to be the cost of doing business,” Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21 — a nonpartisan campaign reform group — told Roll Call.
Political observers also expect to see the formation of a number of so-called social welfare groups, registered under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.
These organizations are permitted to raise and spend unlimited amounts from individuals without any disclosure, according to the New York Times, as long as they can argue that they are more concerned with the promotion of an issue than the election of a candidate.
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