Back in early August (nearly a lifetime, it seems, in candidate-years), I wrote about Accountable America, the latest effort by one-time MoveOn organizer Tom Matzzie.
Big-money people on the Left were worried that none of their independent groups seemed to be getting traction, and new Swift Boat-style groups on the Right might swamp them — and Barack Obama too. Matzzie's solution: Send letters to conservative high-rollers, warning them not to get tangled up with aggressive, fly-by-night organizations that might cross the legal lines.
That August post was titled "If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em?"
And now someone on the Right has started doing essentially the same thing.
It's Howard Rich, a libertarian real estate investor from Manhattan who's best known among politicos for bankrolling state initiatives. Now he's sent letters to, by his count, several thousand big liberal donors, warning them that he's watching. The key sentences:
As a donor to one or more of these organizations and efforts, you have been able to engage in these activities without notice, operating in relative obscurity. I am writing to inform you that this will no longer be the case.
Rich told me he's looking at groups that push the legal limits, because as a donor, "if you're supporting a group that's into some illegal activity, that, you know, might not be good for you."
As for Matzzie at Accountable America, he's thoughtfully posted both the letter and a two-page legal memorandum that Rich sends with it. He says he looks forward to citing the legal memo from a conservative law firm.
(Just to keep Accountable accountable, we checked into Matzzie's fellow board members. They are Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future and a founder of the lefties' annual Take Back America conference, and Zach Exley, former tech guru for MoveOn.org and John Kerry's 2004 campaign. The group was incorporated by the AFL-CIO's campaign-law attorney.)
There is a serious issue here: Whether Matzzie and Rich both are trying to chill free speech. They say no, of course; they just want everyone to play by the rules. But they and many donors are mindful of 2005, when the Federal Election Commission went after Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, MoveOn and some other groups. The commission sent subpoenas to donors, and donors didn't like it.
Rich is one of the lower-profile moneymen in American politics. He's launched this donor-surveillance campaign in his role as chairman of Americans for Limited Government. He's also on the board of Club For Growth. But if his name rings any sort of bell with you, it's probably because he financed much of the term limits movement in the 1990s. This cycle, he's focused on property-rights ballot initiatives in California and several other states.
And watchdogging all those limousine liberals with their checkbooks.