Amid the teeth-gnashing about the gusher of big checks shaping this year’s campaign, some liberal activists see an opportunity.
A new “super PAC” called Friends of Democracy aims to tap into the distaste voters have for money in politics by making that the theme of their attacks against House incumbents in tight races.
“You’re not going to accomplish the kind of reforms that are needed unless politicians believe there is a consequence to inaction,” said founder Jonathan Soros, son of billionaire liberal financier George Soros.
The organization plans to target 10 to 15 House incumbents whom the group sees as captives of big-money interests. Using mail, phone and Internet ads in competitive districts, the super PAC believes it can swing some races by going after independent voters.
“Issue after issue will touch on where the candidate has gotten their money, issues of trust,” said David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, who is co-directing the new super PAC with former MoveOn communications director Ilyse Hogue.
The organizers said the super PAC is nonpartisan, but admit most of its targets will likely be Republicans, who have been largely hostile to campaign finance reform. Among the incumbents it initially plans to go after are Charles Bass (R-N.H.), Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.), Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio).
A sister organization, set up as a traditional PAC, will support House challengers who share the group’s views.
The ultimate goal: to elect a cadre of lawmakers who will push a new package of campaign finance reform, including measures that will elevate the role of small donors and bring more transparency to outside groups active in politics.
While the super PAC’s plans for 2012 are relatively modest, organizers said they hope to build a foundation for a more robust program in 2014.
“If another election goes by without some clear statement that enough is enough, you could very quickly establish a new normal that is really a danger to the health of our representative democracy, where people simply give up and think we as voters are not relevant to the process,” Soros said.
He personally contributed $100,000 to the organization and hopes to ultimately raise $5 million to $8 million. (So far, George Soros – who has made limited donations to Democratic super PACs -- has not ponied up any money. Jonathan Soros said he told his father about the effort, but has not asked for a donation.)
Jonathan Soros noted that Friends of Democracy is not seeking to do away with super PACs, which other campaign finance reform advocates have sought to constrain. But the group is seeking to make super PACs and their unlimited donations less influential by helping small donors have a larger footprint in campaigns.
“We see the irony in what we’re doing,” Soros admitted.
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