- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

Democratic fund-raising groups are getting ready to reap the unlimited soft-money donations that their party will be unable to accept when the new campaign finance reforms take effect after the November elections.
These groups, along with those on the Republican side, will become what campaign analysts call "the new miniparties" that will take over the party-building and issue-promotion activities that the parties have long financed with big soft money contributions from business, labor unions and other wealthy campaign donors.
New Democratic fund-raising groups have sprouted in recent weeks, while existing groups have begun to flex their muscles in anticipation that, after the Nov. 5 elections, they will be among the only political organizations that can still accept soft money. Among the new groups:
The new Bay Area Democrats met last week in San Francisco, drawing prominent politicians who hope they will support their campaigns, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.
The Progressive Donor Network, connecting about 150 liberal Democratic groups, held their inaugural campaign strategy meeting here late last month coordinating the fund-raising power of groups like Emily's List, a pro-choice advocacy group, People for the American Way and a variety of environmental organizations.
The New Democrat Network, created by supporters of the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, hopes to steer large soft-money donations to DLC-type candidates to prevent the party from shifting further to the left. Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joseph Andrew are among its advisers. They hope to raise $9 million in the next election cycle.
"The significance of these groups is that they are basically organizations that are designed to replace the formal Democratic National Committee because the campaign finance reforms will not allow the DNC to raise or spend soft money," said campaign finance attorney Jan Baran. "So this type of activity has to be done outside the party."
"We will see existing organizations thrive and new organizations being created to fill the vacuum left by the soft-money ban on national parties," Mr. Baran said.
Until now, there has been less visibility among Republican fund-raising groups, but many say they are preparing to go after the big money donors once the elections are over.
The Republican National Committee and the party's other campaign committees can raise much more hard money than the Democrats, and officials say they will substantially expand their party's fund raising to take advantage of the law's higher $2,000 hard-money limit.
Independent groups say they are going to target the big donors who can no longer directly give large five-figure sums to the Republicans.
"Our strategy after November 5 is to get the large Republican campaign committee donors who have given $50,000 or more to the party," said Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth, which supports tax-cutting candidates.
Supporters of the campaign finance reforms said that the ban on soft money was needed to take the influence of big money out of political campaigns, but even some of its targets say that it will likely have the opposite effect.
"The thing that is ironic is that Sen. John McCain said a number of times that the bill was needed to keep well-funded groups like Club for Growth from influencing House and Senate races," Mr. Moore said.
"He doesn't understand his own bill. We largely benefit from this bill. It's a lousy piece of legislation, but if people want to give large contributions, they can do so through us," he said.
Officials in both parties are waiting to see what the final effect of the new law will be and how much influence these unrestricted, independent groups will have on campaign financing. The Federal Elections Commission has been holding hearings to determine what the new rules will be.
"In the short term, the effect clearly will be negative to political parties. You cannot take half a billion away in resources and not have an adverse effect on party organizations. They will have fewer resources and be able to do fewer things. That's the bottom line," Mr. Baran said.


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