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Leadership Forum Makes Push for GOP

Less than two weeks after the Federal Election Commission flashed the green light to so-called 527 political organizations, a GOP-backed entity today announced that it will accelerate plans to raise and spend millions of dollars in support of Republicans this fall.

The Republican group, the Leadership Forum, announced this afternoon that Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has agreed to headline a July 6 dinner for the group.

The dinner will not be a fundraiser, but will be open to individuals and corporations that have contributed to the Leadership Forum, a distinction that will allow Hastert to participate.

Senate Republican Conference and a number of governors and state lawmakers will appear at similar “briefings” in the future.

The Leadership Forum’s founders, former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) and onetime Republican aide Susan Hirschmann, also unveiled a list of nearly three dozen Republican lobbyists, former lawmakers and state representatives who will help in a broad fundraising push for the organization.

“It’s time for Republicans to step up to the plate and participate in 527s,” Paxon said. “Sitting on the sidelines any longer is not possible in the face of the liberal Democratic 527 actions of the past months.”

Nine of the members of the fundraising committee are former Members of Congress, including prominent ex-Reps. Bob Michel (Ill.), Bob Livingston (La.), Bud Shuster (Pa.), Bob Walker (Pa.), Susan Molinari (N.Y.), Tillie Fowler (Fla.) and Paxon as well as former Sens. Launch Faircloth (N.C.) and Tim Hutchinson (Ark.).

Others include some of the most prominent Republicans on K Street, such as Ken Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff now with the Duberstein Group; Gregg Hartley, a one time aide to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) now with Cassidy & Associates; Dave Hoppe, a former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.) now with Quinn Gillespie & Associates; and Tim Rupli, a close adviser to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Hirschmann, a former aide to DeLay, and Paxon founded the Leadership Forum last year in the hopes of raising millions of dollars to support Republicans in this fall’s elections.

But the organization has not raised much money — just $325,000 so far — because many of the GOP most reliable benefactors in the business community have been spooked by the new campaign finance reform rules.

However, the founders of the Leadership Forum and other Republican groups say ruling by the Federal Election Commission two weeks effectively clears such 527 organizations to raise and spend unlimited funds on this year’s elections.

Their challenge now is to convince many risk-averse businesses that writing large checks to the GOP’s various 527 organizations does not violate the election law.

In a press release announcing their fundraising plans, the Leadership Forum pointed to comments made by Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and Bush-Cheney Chairman Marc Racicot shortly after the FEC issued its decision as evidence that contributing the 527 groups is now legal.

In a statement moments after the FEC decision, Gillespie and Racicot said:

“Groups like the Leadership Forum and others now know that they can legally engage in the same way [Democratic] leaning groups have been engaging.”

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