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Western Democrats Eye Revival

A new regional party committee called Democrats for the West is seeking guidance from the Federal Election Commission on how the 527 group fits into the campaign finance regulatory scheme and whether the group — spearheaded by a coalition of nine Democratic state party committees — will be able to raise both soft and hard money.

The entity is intended “to develop regional strategy and research and to assist the Committees in developing regional thematic message and campaign tactics for electoral activity at both the federal and non-federal levels,” DFW lawyer Neil Reiff explained in a recent letter to FEC General Counsel Lawrence Norton.

“The Committees believe that the Western states share unique political attributes and values that are distinct from the rest of the country and wish to explore the opportunity to identify those attributes and successfully coordinate the development of those attributes with respect to message and strategy,” continued the letter.

The organization plans to initially fund its activities with transfers from the Democratic parties of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, but would like to subsequently raise a combination of both federal and nonfederal funds — that includes funds from labor unions, corporations and wealthy individuals — to pay for a variety of activities.

DFW plans to use research, polling, training and periodic conferences among and between the state committees to pinpoint those issues and campaign strategies that seem to work in the Western states.

“For too long, we have let Republican and non-westerners define what the ‘D’ after a candidate’s name stands for in the West,” explained a letter sent last month from the group’s Founders Committee to Democratic supporters.

The 13 members of the group’s Founders Committee are: former New Mexico Gov. Toney Anaya; former Idaho Gov. and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus; former Nevada Gov. and Sen. Richard Bryan; Bethine Church, the widow of the late Sen. Frank Church (Idaho); former Sen. Dennis DeConcini (Ariz.); former Idaho Attorney General Larry EchoHawk; former Utah Gov. Cal Rampton; ex-Rep. Karen Shepard (Utah); former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan; former Rep. and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall (Ariz.); former Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer; for Denver Mayor Wellington Webb; and former Rep. Pat Williams (Mont.).

Williams has said that DFW is not an alternative to other Democratic Party organizations, but rather a way to enhance those other organizations.

“This has made it all too difficult to elect Democrats in many parts of our region,” the March 24 letter stated. “We need to reclaim the mantle of the Democratic giants from the West, giants like Church, Mansfield, Matheson and Udall. Once again, we need to tell western voters, in a genuinely western voice, what the ‘D’ really means in the West.”

The group has said it does not plan to undertake any activities that would expressly advocate the election or defeat of any federal candidate, nor does it plan to undertake any other direct electoral activity, such as voter registration, voter ID or get-out-the-vote activities.

Among the issues DFW is already planning to focus on are: the strengthening of the economy of the West; managing urban growth in the region; addressing federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind, that they contend are hurting Western communities; improving access to public lands for hunting and fishing; and resolving natural resource conflicts, including water use and conservation and energy and development.

The group also plans to address the concerns of the American Indian and Hispanic communities.

An operational plan proposed by Reiff asks the FEC to treat the DFW as a state committee — with both federal and nonfederal accounts — and asks for guidance on what the contribution limits ought to be for those giving to the group’s federal account.

One scenario would be a straight $10,000 per person annual limit, but Reiff has asked the FEC whether such contributions would count toward the limit of each participating committee.

Alternatively, Reiff asks whether the DFW limit ought to be a combination of the limit of all the participating state parties, with the total contribution given allocated proportionately to each participating committee.

Reiff also makes the argument that the DFW should clearly be allowed to solicit soft money and asks whether national party officers, employees or agents, as well as candidates and officeholders, might appear as guests or featured speakers at DFW events. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, federal officeholders may attend events where soft-money donations are solicited but may not directly solicit the funds unless they explicitly state they are only raising federally permissible money.

Among the other questions that the DFW is asking the FEC is how the group should pay for its day-to-day operational activities, employees, research and polling, meetings and conferences, and fundraising events and whether particular allocation ratios are applicable.

The FEC will likely issue a response to DFW’s request in the coming weeks.

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