Liberals to Spend $150 Million on '08

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A loose coalition of liberal and labor organizations expects to spend about $150 million this fall to push its causes and help Democrats win the White House and strengthen their grip on Congress.

Participants include the two main labor coalitions - the AFL-CIO and Change to Win - as well as MoveOn.org and voter mobilization groups for minorities and young people. Organizers were announcing the effort Tuesday during conference sponsored by the liberal Campaign for America's Future.

Liberal and labor strategists say an animated Democratic electorate and a dispirited Republican base have created a political environment tailor-made to advance their agenda.

"In '04 the right mobilized its base and its resources," Bob Borosage, a co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, said in an interview. "Liberals mobilized, although we were still building at the time. Well, we've continued to build and expand and gotten more enthusiastic and more mobilized and their coalition has collapsed."

While the commitment of money is sizable, the amount spent by Democratic-leaning groups is likely to grow after Democrats choose a presidential nominee and large donors turn their attention to mobilizing a fall campaign. An independent fundraising group, the Fund for America, plans to raise $100 million to help Democrats win in the fall, primarily to finance advertising in support of the Democratic presidential candidate or against Republican John McCain, the GOP nominee-in-waiting.

"Assuming we get a nominee sometime, you'll see a very large amount of money pouring into that," Borosage said.

The various organizations will have different functions, some of them restricted by law because they are not organized as political groups.

The housing advocacy group ACORN, for instance, is a nonprofit that cannot advocate for a candidate. Instead, it plans to spend $35 million to run a voter registration drive aimed at low-income minorities and to promote its "working families agenda," according to its political director, Zach Polett.

MoveOn.org Political Action, on the other hand, plans to spend $30 million on the presidential race and in key House and Senate races. The group, which is supporting Democrat Barack Obama, is already soliciting entries for an advertising contest and plans to select a winner before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary.

Other participants are Rock the Vote, Women Voices-Women Vote and the National Council of La Raza.

The AFL-CIO plans to spend more than $53 million on outreach to union voters and wants especially to target McCain, hoping that a weakened top of the Republican ticket will hurt Republicans in Senate and gubernatorial races.

Individual unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a coalition of seven unions representing about 6 million workers, also are expected to spend about $300 million on politics overall this year, from mobilizing members to candidate contributions to independent expenditures in specific races, according to officials.

"This will be the biggest labor effort in history," said Greg Tarpinian, executive director of Change to Win. "This will dwarf anything we have seen in the past."

While the groups cannot coordinate with candidates, they can coordinate with each other - a change from 2004 when top Democratic donors relied on newly formed groups to influence the presidential election.

Then, liberals had America Coming Together and the Media Fund and conservatives had Progress for America and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that operated as special political entities to help presidential candidates. This year, the Federal Election commission, in separate cases, fined several of them for violations of campaign finance laws.

That, together with a desire to have longer-lasting influence on politics, has prompted the creation of new coalitions of already established groups.

"The progressive infrastructure was really evolving in '04," said Ilyse Hogue, campaign director for MoveOn.org Political Action. "Now what we've got is not only really good establishment roles, but also the kind of relationships and trust and confidence in each other that comes from working together in the trenches."

But there will be new groups making their cases, too. The Fund for America, with a goal of raising $100 million, was set up last year by John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Clinton; Anna Burger, the secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union; and Rob McKay, a California philanthropist. Among its donors are multimillionaire financier George Soros, who gave it $2.5 million last year, and the SEIU, which also contributed $2.5 million last year, according to Fund for America's IRS records.

The fund has helped finance another new nonprofit group, the Campaign to Defend America, which already has run anti-McCain ads.

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