July 26, 2004,
Boston, Mass For months, some Republicans have warned of the threat to the Bush campaign posed by pro-Democratic "527" groups that are raising millions of dollars in unlimited contributions for the purpose of electing John Kerry. Today, at a posh hotel not far from the site of the Democratic National Convention, officials of America Coming Together, the largest of those groups, gave Republicans much more to worry about.
"There has never been anything of this magnitude in terms of voter contact in the history of this country," Ellen Malcolm, head of ACT, said as she gave a confident progress report on the group's work so far. Malcolm told reporters gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel that she is confident ACT's get-out-the-vote efforts will "win this election for Democrats up and down the tickets in battleground states."
Steve Rosenthal, the former AFL-CIO political director who is now the chief executive officer of America Coming Together, said the group has 320 full-time organizers at work in 15 battleground states. In addition, Rosenthal said, an additional 220 full-time organizers from the Service Employees International Union are working for America Coming Together as a so-called "in kind" contribution from the union. Beyond that, ACT has organized hundreds of unpaid canvassers who meet with individual voters. Rosenthal said that at this moment, ACT has "1,500 canvassers every night talking to voters one-on-one at their doors."
To give one specific example, Rosenthal said that ACT has 77 paid staff in the key state of Ohio, along with 42 organizers from the service union. One hundred sixty canvassers knock on doors in Ohio each night. "Our goal is to become the largest employer in Ohio," Rosenthal quipped.
Rosenthal described a sophisticated operation in which each canvasser is given a Palm Pilot device with information about the potential voters he is assigned to contact. While talking with the potential voter, the ACT canvasser enters more information into the Palm Pilot about which issues the voters considers important. That information is then fed into ACT's computers so that the potential voter can receive specially targeted appeals in the future.
The ACT canvassers stress economic and health care issues, Rosenthal said. The canvassers also use the Palm Pilot to show the voter a very brief 16 second video on one of those issues. If a voter brings up an issue like abortion or gun control, Rosenthal said, the canvasser attempts to steer the conversation back to ACT's core issues.
Also at the news conference was Harold Ickes, the founder of the Media Fund, a group that is raising unlimited contributions to pay for television and other ads. Ickes is now chief of staff for America Coming Together, and said that at one time he believed Democrats would not have enough money to compete with President Bush's campaign this year. Now, with the success of ACT and other groups, Ickes said, he no longer worries. "There is no question that Democrats are clearly competitive," he said, "on the air and competitive in a number of other ways."
Meanwhile, the new head of the Media Fund, Eric Smith, released figures showing that pro-Democratic organizations have far outstripped Republicans in advertising spending since early March. During that period, Smith said, the Kerry campaign has spent $86.5 million on media. The Media Fund has spent $27.2 million. The AFL-CIO has spent $9.2 million, and MoveOn.org has spent $6.2 million. In total, Smith said, pro-Democratic groups have spent $118.6 million.
Total Bush expenditures, according to Smith, have been $86.5 million.
Officials of America Coming Together, like those of other "527" groups, claim they are working independently from the Kerry campaign and the Democratic party. Reporters asked about the "appearance problem" of ACT officials working in the same hotel, and on the same floor, as Democratic finance officials. Not a problem, Malcolm answered. "There is absolutely no question that people can participate in politics," she said.