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Profile: American Bridge 21st Century

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The New York Times reports that wealthy liberal donors, after months of relative inactivity, are gearing up to make large donations on behalf of Democratic candidates. But unlike their Republican counterparts, these donors are not going to give millions to super PACs. Instead, the Times reports, they will give most of their money to organizations focused on grassroots organizing, voter registration, and “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts. The Times reports, “The departure from the conservatives’ approach, which helped Republicans wrest control of the House in 2010, partly reflects liberal donors’ objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), which paved the way for super PACs and unbridled campaign spending.” Also, donors and strategists do not believe they can go head-to-head with wealthy Republican donors who are giving to groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Instead, they say they feel Democrats can press an advantage in grassroots organizing. Rob Stein of the Democracy Alliance, a group of liberal donors, says that while super PACs “are critically important,” local efforts and social-media outreach “can have an enormous impact in battleground states in 2012.” Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros (see January - November 2004) will give $1 million to America Votes, an organization that coordinates political actions for environmental, abortion rights, and civil rights groups, and another $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that focuses on election research. Soros has not yet given significantly during the 2012 cycle. A Soros spokesperson, Michael Vachon, says: “George Soros believes the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to special interests’ paying for political ads. There is no way those concerned with the public interest can compete with them. Soros has always focused his political giving on grass-roots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote. His support of these groups is consistent with those views.” President Obama’s reelection campaign is in the process of unleashing a $25 million ad campaign against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney (R-MA), directed and financed by the campaign itself. Romney and other Republicans have relied more heavily on “independent” spending by American Crossroads, AFP, and other “third party” groups. An Obama-aligned super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raised relatively little money in comparison to its Republican counterparts, though it has been active in some battleground states (see May 2, 2012). Obama’s opposition to super PACs and his reluctance to have his campaign rely on their efforts (see January 18, 2012) has slowed super PAC fundraising efforts on his behalf, though he has recently given his approval for the group to operate at maximum capacity (see February 6, 2012). David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century and the liberal watchdog organization Media Matters for America, says, “The idea that we’re going to engage in an arms race on advertising with the Republicans is not appealing to many liberal donors.” While Priorities USA and two other groups founded to help Democrats in Congress remain on the list of organizations that the Democracy Alliance recommends to its members, Robert McKay, the chairman of the group and a board member of Priorities USA, says that much of the money expected to be spent this year—up to $100 million—by the group’s donors will go to organizing and research, and far less to television advertising. “There is a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” McKay says. “That means get-out-the-vote efforts” aimed at minority voters, women, and younger voters. Organizations involved in Democracy Alliance include Catalist, a voter database organization; ProgressNow, which organizes Internet-based groups in different states; and the newly created Latino Engagement Fund, an organization that works to organize Latino voting on behalf of Democrats. Groups outside Democracy Alliance will also be involved, particularly labor unions and advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club. San Francisco philanthropist Steve Phillips, who intends to spend some $10 million on efforts to increase turnout among Latino voters, says: “You can dump 10 or 20 million in TV ads in Ohio and try to reach the persuadable swing voters there, or you can up voter turnout among Latinos in Colorado and Arizona and win that way. It’s much cheaper.” [New York Times, 5/7/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, Steve Phillips, Willard Mitt Romney, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Robert McKay, American Bridge 21st Century, Rob Stein, New York Times, Americans for Prosperity, David Brock, Priorities USA Action, Michael Vachon, America Votes, George Soros, Democracy Alliance

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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