Friday, August 20, 2010

The enthusiasm gap hits Democratic independent groups

In the past two election cycles independent groups helping Democrats swamped the Republicans in raising money to spend on ads touting their candidates and trashing the Republicans. But the dissatisfied languor that has hit many Democrats this election year, as Politico reports, extends to these same groups.
But Democratic operatives trying to raise money for expensive ad campaigns report that the wealthy liberals (and, to some extent, labor unions) who wrote huge checks to independent groups for advertising campaigns in the past three election cycles are sitting on their wallets.

Democrats attribute the stinginess to a variety of factors, including the lingering recession, the absence of a single unifying enemy such as former President George W. Bush and fatigue among the wealthy donors who wrote big checks during the past two election cycles.

There’s also a degree of disenchantment with the Obama political operation, which discouraged big-dollar independent activity when then-Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign was shattering fundraising records during the 2008 presidential campaign and has done little to revive it since. In addition, tension between the White House and organized labor, a traditional Democratic ally and source of political cash, has suppressed the totals.

Partly as a result, some of the big donor-funded groups that had spent millions in past elections on ads boosting Democrats are largely dormant, and new liberal groups created to take advantage of a January Supreme Court decision loosening campaign rules have yet to fill the vacuum.

“The Democratic Party’s enthusiasm gap is not only a grass-roots phenomenon, it’s a donor phenomenon as well,” said Mark Longabaugh, who founded and runs Majority Action, a liberal nonprofit group established under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Service code, allowing it to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions.

Majority Action spent about $6 million on so-called independent expenditures boosting Democratic candidates during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. But it has not reported raising a penny so far this cycle and has scaled back its operations, and Longabaugh did not sound confident that it — or other groups — would be able to ramp up in time to match the anticipated conservative deluge.
And some groups like Emily's List and have raised a lot less this year than previously. Unions seem to be sitting on their own money and planning to run their own ads as rather than giving to the independent groups. Meanwhile, Republicans have been busy trying to close the gap that had existed in the previous two cycles. And discontent with the Democrats' policies is fueling those efforts.

There is a general principle in military history that the victor of the past war gets complacent while the loser reexamines what went wrong and tries to correct those strategic errors. Witness the German advances between World Wars One and Two. Perhaps some of that complacency has seeped into these independent groups. Or maybe it's just harder this year to get people to fork over the big bucks. Will George Soros come to their rescue?