After Quiet Season, MoveOn.Org Makes Presence Felt

With the polls looking dire for many Democrats, the liberal group MoveOn.org is launching ads in 28 different races.

The group has been getting a lot of exposure recently, oddly enough from Republicans. When conservatives are asked how they justify the massive amounts of spending this year from independent groups, they say they learned everything from MoveOn.

Alex Castellanos, a Republican media consultant, says that's why this year feels different. "If you are a Republican and you've been outspent by [George] Soros and MoveOn and all the Democratic groups ... this year is the first year we're really competitive," he said.

GOP Attention

Karl Rove, former adviser to President George W. Bush, likes to include MoveOn and unions in his explanation of why his nonprofit advocacy group doesn't reveal its donors.

"Once we copied what liberals did, liberals got upset," he said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.

But for all the talk about MoveOn as the original independent movers of elections, the group itself has seemed oddly quiet this election season. But last week, it launched a series of ads in eight Senate and 20 House races. The topic of the independent ad was independent spending itself.

A Focus On Money

The ads show the pictures of MoveOn members from, in one case, the 8th District of Wisconsin, and then it goes after the Republican in the race, pointing out that front groups are supporting the GOP candidate.

It turns out MoveOn has been concentrating its money this cycle on talking about money.

"I think this stuff wasn't sexy until the last two weeks," said Justin Ruben, the group's executive director.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this spring in the Citizens United case that corporations and nonprofits could spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, MoveOn felt this was going to be the issue of 2010.

"We knew that intuitively and we polled on it and it turns out this is really a really potent electoral issue," Ruben said. "People don't trust; people trust candidates less if they know they are being supported by these shadowy corporate front groups."

Group's Past

Rubin uses the word shadowy a lot; it's a word Republicans used to attach to MoveOn.

The group got its start during the Clinton impeachment hearings. That's what the name originally meant: Move on, everybody. But after George W. Bush won the presidency, the group grew to millions of members and was one of the leaders in opposing the war in Iraq — a different meaning of move on.

Eventually, the group became an election powerhouse, running national ads and mobilizing young voters in 2006 and 2008. This year, Ruben says the group is spending less on TV and more on get-out-the-vote efforts across the country.

Source Of Funds

But in the end, it is spending what it did for the last midterm election: about $27 million. The difference, Ruben says, between MoveOn and groups like Rove's independent organization is where MoveOn gets its money.

"A lot of people aggregating small amounts of money ... [is] fundamentally different from a few corporations and millionaires who decide they want to take over Congress and they're going to fund a hostile takeover attempt," Ruben said.

That said, Republicans still like to point out that MoveOn got millions of dollars from billionaire Soros in 2004. Now the group, as a PAC, can't take more than $5,000 from any one person.

It's a distinction that MoveOn hopes the voters make when they watch the one brand of rich independent organization take on the others.

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