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AUPSS Gets Cash Infusion

Facing serious financial woes, Americans United to Protect Social Security received a promise of a critical infusion of funding last week from a powerful labor organization — ensuring that the advocacy group will continue operating in 33 states for the foreseeable future.

The liberal-leaning Americans United was considering recalibrating its political plan by trimming down its field operations and laying off staff in the wake of the group’s continued struggle to raise money. But the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees pledged a donation in “excess of six figures,” sources said, to keep the organization’s grass-roots infrastructure intact.

Chuck Loveless, AFSCME’s director of legislation, said he was unable to provide a specific dollar amount because it was not finalized, but noted it could be signed off on as early as today.

Loveless said AFSCME is “committed” to preventing President Bush from establishing private accounts and said with this donation the union will have contributed “over $800,000” to the effort. AFSCME has pledged $1 million to help Americans United operate a nationwide campaign against Bush’s privatization plan.

Bush has had difficulty drumming up support for his proposal, which in turn has made it more difficult for Americans United to coax donors to open their wallets for an issue deemed already won. Congressional Democrats and strategists suggest the group has been the victim of its own success in helping to shape public opinion on the issue.

But the president’s efforts to reconfigure Social Security got a shot in the arm last week when House and Senate Republicans proposed a new way to create private accounts by unveiling legislation.

Congressional Democratic leaders were so concerned Americans United might be forced to scale back operations that they pledged to redouble their fundraising efforts on behalf of the group.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently met with the advocacy group’s leaders to assure them of the Democrats’ financial commitment to the project. On the strategic front, Reid’s Chief of Staff Susan McCue and Baucus’ top aide Jim Messina speak regularly with Americans United.

“I would like them to stay open,” Reid said. “I will help them in any way I can.”

So far, Americans United have laid off about half a dozen staffers, but some of those moves can attributed to strategic decisions, sources said.

The group also transferred a worker from its North Carolina office to Colorado to help in its campaign to persuade Rep. Bob Beauprez (R), a member of the tax writing Ways and Means Committee, to oppose privatization. Beauprez is expected to retire from the House to run for governor.

“If not for the generosity of [AFSCME President] Gerald McEntee and AFSCME, we would have had to make some tough choices about our current priorities,” said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for Americans United. “But we are still a fully functioning national campaign.”

Americans United’s struggle to raise money was first reported by Roll Call in May.

Before AFSCME’s most recent financial pledge, Americans United was evaluating in which states it might have to cease operations. While it is unclear which states Americans United was considering abandoning, the group was committed to keeping up the pressure on Republican members of the Finance Committee and Ways and Means panel, identifying them as “super priority targets.”

Reid said he planned on asking some of his Senate colleagues to help Americans United raise money for the 501(c)(4) organization. It is expected the Minority Leader will turn to members of his leadership team and request that direct pitches be made to their personal donor base.

The Democratic leadership’s commitment to help Americans United financially comes on the eve of an expected battle over a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Americans United will be vying for the same donors with advocacy groups directly involved in the nomination fight. This competition for dollars was evident in the recent showdown over the Republican leadership’s proposal to eliminate the judicial filibuster.

Baucus, who is heading the Democratic opposition efforts in the Senate, met with coalition members last week. While the breakfast meeting Thursday at the American Federation of Teachers was intended to be a legislative update, he made it clear that funding for Americans United was critical to their success, several sources at the meeting said.

“When it looks like you are winning there is a tendency to let your guard down,” Baucus said in an interview last week. “But my point is, in this business, it is never over until it is over and even then it is never over.

“We must all remind ourselves this is a huge battle still,” the Montanan added.

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