Launched July 15, 2003
America Votes is an umbrella group encompassing a national coalition of grassroots, get-out-the-vote organizations. It was formed on July 15, 2003 to help coordinate the activities of the growing number of non-profit groups that now constitute the Shadow Party. According to its Web site, America Votes now commands the political loyalty of “more than 20 million Americans in every state in the country,” through its 33 member organizations.
The McCain-Feingold soft money ban took effect on November 6, 2002. Shortly thereafter, Democrat operative Gina Glantz called a meeting at the Washington restaurant BeDuCi’s. Glantz was then an official for the leftwing government union SEIU. She later became a key strategist for the Howard Dean campaign. According to The Wall Street Journal, attendees at Glantz’s meeting included Clinton operative Harold Ickes; SEIU president Andrew Stern; Steven Rosenthal; Ellen Malcolm and Carl Pope. Glantz argued that the proliferating Democrat 527 committees needed a central command structure – an “umbrella group” – to avoid duplicating efforts and wasting money. Everyone liked her idea, but no donors stepped forward. Glantz’s idea for an umbrella group languished for the next eight months.
In describing the genesis of America Votes, The Texas Monthly lists a cast of characters similar to those who attended Glantz’s meeting – but with one puzzling addition: Jim Jordan. When the Shadow Party launched America Votes, Jordan was still John Kerry’s campaign manager. He was not fired from that job until November 9 – nearly four months later. If indeed Jordan helped launch America Votes while working as Kerry’s campaign manager, he violated FEC regulations, which bar coordination between campaign officials and independent political committees.
The Texas Monthly further reports that the group decided to appoint Cecile Richards – then deputy chief of staff for minority leader Nancy Pelosi – to head America Votes. “We wanted to find a way to bring progressive groups together for the election. … It was a monster coalition, and we universally agreed that Cecile was the best person to coordinate it,” said Ellen Malcolm. Richards’ primary job would be to keep the organization’s thousands of activists from duplicating efforts and stepping on each others’ toes. “With America Votes, we really have a way now to settle who is in which neighborhoods, who is taking which precincts,” Richards explains. “And the role of our state directors is to hold those folks accountable for what they said they'd do.” Member organizations of the America Votes coalition are listed below:
1. ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)
2. ACT (America Coming Together)
3. AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations)
4. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees)
5. AFT (American Federation of Teachers)
6. ATLA (Association of Trial Lawyers of America)
7. Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
8. Clean Water Action
9. Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund
10. Democracy for America
11. EMILY’S List
12. Environment 2004
13. The Human Rights Campaign
14. League of Conservation Voters
15. The Media Fund
16. The Million Mom March
17. MoveOn.org Voter Fund
18. Moving America Forward
19. Music for America
20. NAACP – National Voter Fund
21. NARAL Pro-Choice America
22. National Education Association
23. National Jewish Democratic Council
24. National Treasury Employees Union
25. Partnership for America’s Families
26. People for the American Way (PFAW)
27. Planned Parenthood Action Fund
28. Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
29. Sierra Club
31. Voices for Working Families
32. Young Voter Alliance
33. 21st Century Democrats
Cecile Richards has a personal as well as an ideological ax to grind against President George W. Bush. She is the daughter of former Texas governor Ann Richards, whom Bush soundly defeated in 1994, ending her political career.
Like many of Bush’s harshest critics, Cecile Richards harbors a deep antipathy toward the so-called “Christian Right.” After her mother’s 1994 defeat, Richards founded the Texas Freedom Network, a grassroots organization aimed at countering the political influence of conservative Christians, especially on school boards. Richards subsequently moved to Washington, DC, where she served as organizing director of the AFL-CIO, then as a pro-abortion activist for the Turner Foundation and Planned Parenthood, and finally as deputy chief of staff for Democrat minority whip Nancy Pelosi, soon to become minority leader. Richards held that post for eighteen months, before joining America Votes.
George Soros’ son, Jonathan T. Soros, has donated $250,000 to America Votes. Several of the organization’s top donors, such as Rob McKay and Robert Glaser, are also close Soros associates.
America Coming Together
Launched July 17, 2003
Only two days after the team from BeDuCi’s restaurant launched America Votes, George Soros held his much-publicized July 17 meeting in Southampton, where he and his associates pledged $23.5 million to America Coming Together (ACT) and $3 million to “the official Hillary Clinton think tank,” the Center for American Progress (CAP). IRS filings give July 17, 2003 as ACT’s official launch date. However, the public announcement did not come until August 8, 2003, when The Washington Post announced the roll-out of a new political action committee called America Coming Together (ACT), naming as its co-founders Ellen Malcolm and Steven Rosenthal.
On the surface, ACT is simply one of 33 member organizations under the umbrella of Cecile Richards’ America Votes. However, ACT plays a special role among the affiliate groups. As Richard Holbrook explains in The Wall Street Journal, affiliates such as Planned Parenthood and the NAACP pay $50,000 apiece for the privilege of joining America Votes. What do they get in exchange for that money? Holbrook suggests that at least one important benefit is gaining access to ACT’s high-tech, get-out-the-vote system.
He relates an encounter between Rebecca Barson, an official at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and cyber-activist Rob O’Brien from ACT, whom Holbrook describes as a “tattooed young man sporting a black t-shirt and earring” with a laptop computer. Ms. Barson wants to canvass single, local young women, ages 18-30, who are registered Democrats and likely to respond to a pro-abortion message. Mr. O’Brien hits a few keys on his laptop and, voila, up pop the names of 812 local women answering Ms. Barson’s target profile to a “T,” their addresses marked by dots on a street map. From that point, Harwood explains, “it was up to Planned Parenthood – and a host of affiliated liberal organizations working with ACT to divide up the terrain – to reach the voters, assess their political inclinations and cajole supporters to vote on Nov. 2.”
“This is the first time we’ve really done field work on this level,” Ms. Barson told the Wall Street Journal. “We would never be able to afford the voter file and mapping software on our own.” It all sounds so exciting and cutting-edge – applying state-of-the-art splinter-group marketing techniques to a political campaign. But columnist Craige McMillan of WorldNetDaily.com sees a more sinister dynamic at work. Voter registration drives are considered non-partisan, and therefore permissible to 501(c)(3) non-profit groups such as Planned Parenthood. Thanks to ACT’s software, however, Democrat activists such as Ms. Barson can now go through the motions of pretending to carry out a non-partisan voter registration drive while in fact targeting only single Democrat women who, if they can be prodded to vote at all, will surely vote only for Kerry. “Is this your idea of nonpartisan activity by a public charity?” McMillan asks rhetorically.
In McMillan’s view, the transaction between Ms. Barson and her be-earringed young friend from ACT constitutes but the tip of a giant iceberg of corruption. When they fork over their $50,000 membership fees to America Votes, what those Democrat non-profit groups really appear to be purchasing is access to an orgy of what McMillan calls “illegal coordination” via “private cell-phone conversations, within encrypted e-mails, and on password-protected websites.” In short, their fees buy access to the Shadow Party and its resources.
On its Web site, America Coming Together claims to be running, “the largest voter contact program in history.” ACT coordinates, facilitates and provides foot soldiers for the Shadow Party’s “ground war” – its grassroots voter mobilization drives, using manpower both from its own ranks and from its “partner” organizations in America Votes. ACT claims to employ over 1,400 full-time canvassers, as well as thousands of volunteers working from 55 offices throughout the battleground states. ACT’s Web site boasts that the voters it mobilizes “will derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush and electing Democrats up and down the ticket.”
In order to ensure that the voters it mobilizes will cast their ballots only for Democrats, ACT canvassers focus on “swing” voters (which it defines as “pre-retirement women” and “younger voters,” whom the ACT Web site describes as less likely to be politically informed than other demographic groups). It will also target what ACT calls “Democratic base voters” – such as African-Americans and Hispanics – “who vote Democratic but need extra contact to persuade them to vote.”
ACT and its affiliate groups use intrusive, high-pressure tactics to register and mobilize voters, both by phone and by door-to-door canvassing. Not only do its canvassers register voters, but they compile extensive personal dossiers on them – including such private information as their drivers’ license numbers, social security numbers, and favored candidates in the election – information which can be retrieved on demand through canvassers’ hand-held Palm Pilots. Follow-up is key to ACT’s get-out-the-vote strategy. According to ACT’s Web site, its canvassers extract firm “promises” from individual voters, then follow up to make sure that “promises are kept.”
ACT’s Web site does not explain precisely how its canvassers will enforce the “promises” they exact. However, the menacing demeanor of at least some ACT canvassers will no doubt prove motivating to many voters. On June 23, 2004, the Associated Press revealed that an undetermined number of ACT’s fulltime canvassers were felons, convicted for crimes that include burglary, assault and sex offenses.
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Jeanne Cummings, “A Hard Sell on 'Soft Money',” The Wall Street Journal, 2 December 2003; Michael Crowley, “Shadow Warriors ,” New York Magazine, 12 August 2004
David A. Leib, “Political Group Paid Felons for Door-to-Door Voter Registration Drive,” Associated Press, June 23, 2004