DCCC Goes for Broke
New Site Hits Freedoms Watch
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to launch a new Web site today devoted to attacking third-party conservative group Freedoms Watch, which is expected to pour millions of dollars into House and Senate contests this fall.
The Las Vegas-themed site is aimed at portraying the 501(c)(4) organization as another extension of the Bush administration, funded by top GOP donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and staffed by Republican operatives. Adelson is believed to be the primary financial backer of Freedoms Watch, and the site is largely aimed at exposing him.
We think its very important that voters in all of these Congressional districts understand whos paying for and financing the ads theyre listening to and they understand that these are essentially surrogates of the Bush campaign, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in an interview Wednesday.
Freedoms Watch is expected to play heavily in Congressional races this fall as a supplement to the efforts of the cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee. At the end of June, the DCCC had close to $55 million in the bank, while the NRCC had about $8.5 million. The gap between the parties Senate committees was smaller but still substantial.
As a 501(c)(4) organization, Freedoms Watch is able to accept soft-money donations in unlimited amounts from individuals and is not required to report donors identities. The group cannot advocate directly for or against a candidate, but it can get involved in races as long as its activities are issue-based.
What youre seeing this time around is that the NRCC has essentially contracted out its operation to Freedoms Watch, Van Hollen said. They havent made any secret of how pleased they are that Freedoms Watch is throwing them a life preserver.
The DCCC initially plans to spread word of the site through the liberal blogosphere and via Democratic activists. But the hope is the site eventually will be a resource for local media once Freedoms Watch begins running larger-scale TV and radio ad buys and funding automated telephone calls.
When these ads start being run, this is a resource to folks who are following these races at the local level, Van Hollen said. We think its essential that voters understand what this entity is, what its all about, who the players are, whos financing it.
The site details ties between the group and prominent Bush alumni such as former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, a co-founder of the group; Bush political guru Karl Rove; and Tony Feather, who was political director for Bushs 2000 campaign and was recently brought on board to oversee Freedoms Watch involvement in Senate races.
It sounds like a brilliant ploy for diverting public attention away from the incompetence of Congressional leaders and $4 gas prices, said Freedoms Watch spokesman Ed Patru, a former staffer at the NRCC.
Freedoms Watch executive director Carl Forti is a former communications director and director of the independent expenditure program at the NRCC.
Patru joked that the site could also be part of the DCCCs plan for beating us in every Congressional district where were going to be on the ballot.
Freedoms Watch has been active in House races already, running ads in special elections in Louisiana and Mississippi earlier this year. At the time, the DCCC filed complaints against the group with both the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, alleging unlawful coordination with the NRCC.
Meanwhile, despite record fundraising hauls for the cycle, Van Hollen said that the DCCCs biggest challenge remains putting together enough money to fund opportunities on an expanding playing field that already includes 62 targeted GOP seats.
As well as we are doing financially, we have a long way to go to be able to support all of the terrific candidates that are out there that have been recruited, he said.
He also said he continues to be concerned about complacency and warned against an irrational exuberance on the part of Democrats over the partys massive cash advantage.
People are talking about a huge pickup of seats when the resources are not there as of today to do the job, Van Hollen said.
Money aside, Democrats look to be continuing to expand their playing field of competitive seats.
Van Hollen signaled that the rollout of another round of Red to Blue candidates is on the horizon. The program targets competitive GOP-held challenger and open-seat races for special help with fundraising and field operations. He said it is likely the committee will introduce two more rounds of Red to Blue candidates before the election.