Alito Fundraising Machinery Gears Up

Unlike other recent Supreme Court nominees, fundraising is already under way for President Bush's most recent choice for the high court, Samuel Alito. Hardly any groups raised money for the John Roberts or Harriet Miers fights, which fizzled too fast to count as real battles.

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As Judge Alito works the halls of Congress, advocacy groups have started their own campaigns for and against his confirmation. These groups have been anticipating a Supreme Court showdown for several years, and they've saved up millions of dollars. The big fight didn't happen when President Bush named Chief Justice John Roberts or when he nominated Harriet Miers. With Alito, however, the war is on. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

The ways to lobby a Supreme Court nomination just keep multiplying. Take the current campaign by the Alliance for Justice, a cornerstone of the liberal coalition in these fights.

(Soundbite of music)

OVERBY: This time, along with the direct mail, the phone banks, the e-mails, the TV ads, the Alliance for Justice has a podcast.

(Soundbite of Alliance for Justice podcast)

Unidentified Man #1: Greetings and welcome to Supreme Court Watch number 29, news, views and insight on the future of the Supreme Court.

OVERBY: Podcasts are meant for iPod users, not for Washington policy wonks. So in this case the Alliance for Justice keeps its attacks on conservatives light and chatty.

(Soundbite of Alliance for Justice podcast)

Unidentified Woman: They aren't worried about what he's going to do on the court because they know what he's going to do.

Unidentified Man #2: Right. And I think...

OVERBY: Other advocacy groups are turning first to more traditional media.

(Soundbite of Progress for America advertisement)

Unidentified Man #3: One of America's most respected judges, Samuel Alito, nominated for the Supreme Court

OVERBY: Progress for America is the first group on either side to advertise on TV. Today it launched this ad with a $425,000 weeklong buy on cable TV. The ad ties in with a 20-state, grassroots campaign. The group's president, Brian McCabe, naturally won't say how much they plan to spend overall, but like other strategists in the judicial wars, he recognizes this is also a good time to raise money, when potential donors are juiced up for the impending battle, although he wouldn't quite put it that way.

Mr. BRIAN McCABE (Progress for America): Most of the people are now aware of PFA, and we have an opportunity to tell them about what our objectives are, what our game plan is and ask them to support us in getting our messages out.

OVERBY: Progress for America may be the best-financed group supporting the Bush administration and Alito's nomination. But on both sides, the race for dollars is on. Rich Galen is a Republican strategic and writer of an online political column called Musings.

Mr. RICH GALEN (Republican Strategist; Columnist, Musings): They will unload everything they've got to raise all the money they can and then spend, you know, some reasonable amount of it--or unreasonable amount of it--making sure that some stays in the coffers of the particular group. You have to be able to make sure that whenever the next fight comes up, you've got enough seed money to be able to run that.

OVERBY: MoveOn.org raises seed money every time it starts a new campaign. Advocacy director Ben Brandzel says energy is very, very high among MoveOn members for the Alito fight. At People For the American Way, another of the cornerstone groups in the liberal coalition, president Ralph Neas says the question isn't which side has more cash; it's whether each side has enough cash.

Mr. RALPH NEAS (President, People For the American Way): We could never expect to come anywhere close to what the right wing will spend to try to get their person on the Supreme Court for the next 20 or 30 years. But I do think we can raise enough money to make our message very competitive with their messages.

OVERBY: And, in fact, it may be that liberal groups will find the money spigots running wide open. That's what Richard Viguerie thinks. He's a founding father of the conservative movement and a professional fund-raising specialist.

Mr. RICHARD VIGUERIE (Professional Fund-raising Specialist): If I had to bet, I would say that probably the liberals will raise more money than the conservatives because they have more at stake. Dr. Johnson said, `Nothing focuses the mind like an impending hanging,' and I think that the liberals see their world passing in front of them here now.

OVERBY: And as every fund-raiser knows, nothing beats fear for raising money. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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