“I’ve been friendly to those groups as I have with others,” Mrs. Thomas said. “But we’re also connected with chief executive officers and small-business owners. And we’re a little larger than the tea party, if I may. Our five principles include national security and personal responsibility issues, such as marriage and family.”
The site has an online training program to help voters engage lawmakers and polls from which Mrs. Thomas says she gleans “data points” from participants to use during interviews.
“An activism how-to website to help citizens prepare to hold members of Congress accountable for their actions in Washington when they return home for summer recess,” is how Liberty Central describes the online program, a joint venture with the Leadership Institute.
Liberty Central got a running start last year with donations of $500,000 and $50,000, the IRS filings also show. Mrs. Thomas has been active in public policy for about 30 years, including work as legal counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and policy analyst for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
Heritage Action officials only said they receive fundraising help from the foundation and they have enough money to compete in the political debate.
Critics say the new hybrid nonprofits are really think tanks seeking the clout and freedom of traditional lobbyists. The new groups on the right, they say, are a response to the Center for American Progress Action Fund - the liberal advocacy group started in 2003 by the Center for American Progress think tank. The group was instrumental in providing research and talking points for the Obama campaign in 2008 and for the president’s agenda since taking office.
“I appreciate the fact some groups really are skirting the limits, but that’s not what we do,” said Neera Tanden, chief operating officer for both of the liberal groups. “We have the [action fund] to better promote the ideas of the [foundation] and we take every precaution to preserve that difference.”
Ms. Tanden said the issue is not whether other groups have mirrored American Progress or have adopted better messaging strategies.
“It’s about having good ideas that make this country better,” she said.
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