‘527’ attacks change how elections can be won

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Commentary by Gary Palmer

Political campaigns have always been untidy affairs in America and no major candidates, at least that I can recall, have gone without splatter from their opponents’ mud-slinging.

Some of the worst personal attacks ever in elections were leveled against presidential candidates Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, and even our two most revered presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were scandalously attacked and ridiculed.

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Fortunately for them, they only had to contend with rumor mills and the printed page which pale in comparison to the non-stop deluge of negative TV and radio ads that are running incessantly through some parts of the country today. The barrage of scandal ads will reach an unprecedented scale.

The vast majority of the attack ads are being financed through “527” organizations. These organizations are legal entities defined by the IRS as organizations created to receive and disburse funds to influence or attempt to influence the election, appointment, or defeat of candidates for public office. They are not regulated by the Federal Election Commission so these organizations do not have the same limits placed on them as would a Political Action Committee (PAC), a candidate or a political party.

While a 527 cannot provide financial support to a candidate, 527s can attack political opponents through TV, radio, newsprint, direct mail and other forms of communication including protest rallies. Because there are no limits on how much can be given or spent by 527s, they have become the left’s weapon of choice, particularly so by left-wing activists trying to defeat President Bush.

Already some analysts estimate that over $400 million will be spent this election cycle by left-wing groups through 527s. Three such groups, MoveOn.org, Americans Coming Together (ACT) and the Media Fund, received $15 million from billionaire George Soros who is determined to see President Bush defeated. He is obviously backing up his hatred with his money. Other major donors to these groups look like a Who’s Who listing of hard-core leftists, big labor interests and Hollywood liberal elites.

Consequently, many or perhaps most of these groups are really fronts for the leftist fringe of the Democratic Party that is being run or advised by well-known Democratic operatives including Jim Jordan, who was a senior political advisor to John Kerry, and former Clinton advisor, Harold Ickes, who founded the Media Fund.

These organizations are not only behind many of the attack ads, they are also actively engaged in major grassroots efforts to register voters. Americans Coming Together (ACT) incidentally has come under criticism for hiring convicted felons, including some that were convicted of burglary, assault, drug dealing and sex offenses, to conduct door-to-door voter registration in at least three states critical to the Kerry campaign-Florida, Missouri and Ohio. ACT admitted that they may have felons working for them in 14 other states that are considered swing states.

The 527s will also be a major source of money for funding voter turnout efforts in these critical states on Election Day.

The proliferation of leftist-dominated 527 groups and the enormous amounts of money that they have raised in the last year is raising some concerns that these groups may one day replace the Democratic Party. In the short term, the 527s have given the Democrats a vehicle through which to catch up to the Republican Party in fundraising. For the last few years contributions to the Democratic Party at the national level have lagged behind those to the Republicans because, in the opinion of some, they are so out of touch with mainstream American values. Conservatives have been slow to realize the value of the 527s and have thus far have not been able to generate substantial funding for the few conservative 527s that exist.

At the moment the 527s seem obsessed primarily with the defeat of President Bush. But they are also engaged in some key U.S. Senate races. These races are critical to the left because of the Senate’s tremendous role in the appointment and confirmation of federal judges. However, little effort is being made by these groups to build the Democratic Party at the grassroots level, leaving some to question the future of the Party.

If the Democratic Party is assimilated into a new order of 527 organizations dominated by left-wingers, it is possible that Democratic Sen. Zell Miller’s contention that the Democratic Party will no longer be a national party will prove true. The 527s may have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal. But they will not have the hearts and minds of the majority of Americans or even grassroots Democrats.

Still, for this election at least, the 527s have leveled the playing field and given the Democrats a source of money that they wouldn’t otherwise have had for this election. The outcome of November 2nd will tell us whether or not the millions of dollars spent by the Bush haters paid off of them.

Gary Palmer is president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.