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The Nation

Unregulated Groups Wield Millions To Sway Voters

Special interests, millionaires skirt campaign limits.

INFLUENCE THROUGH 527s

`The new way to do business in politics.'

October 30, 2006|Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writer

In 2004, Democrats dominated 527 fundraising, led by financier George Soros and insurance magnate Peter B. Lewis, who each contributed more than $23 million. This year, Soros and others are focused instead on long-term party-building efforts, such as strengthening liberal think tanks and building a national voter database.

Two Republicans now top the donors' list compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research firm based in Washington.

Homebuilder Bob Perry, who financed the Swift Boat ads, has pumped $5 million into TV ads attacking Democratic congressional incumbents in Georgia, Iowa and Oregon as tax-and-spend liberals. GOP backer A. Jerrold Perenchio, who owns the Spanish-language television network Univision, has spent $5 million on ads in Missouri and Ohio featuring images of terrorism and warnings about those who would "cut and run" in Iraq.

Here in Colorado, the 527 targeting Musgrave is funded by siblings Patricia Stryker and Jon L. Stryker, billionaire heirs to a medical-supply fortune, and by Tim Gill, a software developer.

They bankrolled a similar effort in 2004, with TV ads that portrayed Musgrave picking soldiers' pockets as an announcer accused her of voting to cut veterans' benefits.

Their TV campaign this year has been far less dramatic but still controversial, accusing Musgrave of cutting a program that protects clean drinking water. In fact, Musgrave did not vote on that issue, though she has cast other votes that environmentalists say would weaken water protection.

Thanks, but no thanks

Musgrave's Democratic challenger, Angie Paccione, watched the water ad with a sinking heart. Like many candidates, she regards 527s as a mixed blessing. The independent group has undoubtedly given her campaign a boost; when the national Democratic Party canceled $630,000 worth of TV ads in the district, Patricia Stryker wrote a check for $720,000 to keep anti-Musgrave spots on the air.

But Paccione has no control over the message. Attacks such as the pickpocket dramatization could alienate voters. She considers ads like the one on water a waste of money.

"Clean drinking water?" Paccione said. "Holy smokes! There's a litany of things you could do against Marilyn Musgrave. Clean drinking water is not one of them."

Paccione's own ads portray Musgrave as a conservative ideologue.

A lawsuit pending in federal court aims to rein in 527 activity. But political analysts say they don't expect much to change, even if the case succeeds.

"Political money is like water. It will find an outlet," said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University. "If 527s are banned, will another vehicle pop up? Absolutely."

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stephanie.simon@latimes.com

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Midterm 'soft money'

Unregulated political groups known as 527s have received nearly $300 million this election cycle from unions, corporations and wealthy individuals. These groups can influence how voters view candidates, specifically through advertising. Here are some 527 figures for the 2006 election cycle*:

Top individual contributors to 527 committees

Donor: Bob Perry

Business: Perry Homes

Location: Houston

Primary support: Rep.

Amount: $5,150,000

*

Donor: Jerry Perenchio

Business: Chartwell Partners

Location: Los Angeles

Primary support: Rep.

Amount: $5,000,000

*

Donor: George Soros

Business: Soros Fund Management

Location: New York

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $2,942,500

*

Donor: John R. Hunting

Business: Dyer-Ives Foundation

Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $1,632,000

*

Donor: Peter B. Lewis

Business: Peter B. Lewis/Progressive Corp.

Location: Cleveland

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $1,624,375

*

Donor: Tim Gill

Business: Gill Foundation

Location: Denver

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $1,276,355

*

Donor: Linda Pritzker

Business: Sustainable World Corp/Linda Pritzker

Location: Houston

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $1,231,000

*

Donor: Jon L. Stryker

Business: John Stryker Architecture

Location: Kalamazoo, Mich.

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $1,151,313

*

Donor: John Templeton

Business: Templeton Foundation

Location: Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Primary support: Rep.

Amount: $1,062,979

*

Donor: John A. & Lawrie Harris

Business: Changing Horizons Fund

Location: Berwyn, Pa.

Primary support: Dem.

Amount: $1,050,500

*

Top 527 committees, by expenditure

Committee/Party leanings- Expenditures (in millions)

Service Employees International Union (Dem.) - $23.2

American Fed. of St/Cnty/Munic Employees (Dem.) - $16.3

Progress for America (Rep.) - $12.2

America Votes (Dem.) - $9.1

College Republican National Cmte (Rep.)- $8.6

Emily's List (Dem.) - $8.1

America Coming Together (Dem.) - $6.9

Club for Growth (Rep.) - $6.9

GOPAC (Rep.) - $6.5

Citizens United (Rep.) - $4.9

*As of Oct. 23

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Source: Opensecrets.org, Center for Responsive Politics

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