Obama: Don’t Fund the Outside Groups

Ben Smith at the Politico is now reporting what Matt Stoller blogged as rumor earlier this week: that the Obama campaign is telling progressive donors to withhold funds from "outside" 527 organizations. At this point it's inclear whether this means all 527 organizations or all just the media organizations that might run negative campaigns in the fall.

Senator Barack Obama's campaign is steering the candidate's wealthy supporters away from independent Democratic groups, calling into question what had been expected to be the groups' central role in this year's Democratic offensive against Senator John McCain.

Obama's national finance chairwoman, Chicago hotel mogul Penny Pritzker, told supporters at a national finance committee meeting in Indianapolis May 2, and in other conversations, not to give money to the groups, people familiar with her comments said.

From the perspective of the Obama campaign, this makes sense. It reinforces their message of rejecting the partisanship of the past and don't need anyone muddying their message with negative ads. They have a large enough volunteer base geographically dispersed enough to run their own 50-state field campaign (which they already launched this last weekend).

That's a short-sighted view, however. The Obama campaign isn't the end-all, be-all of progressive, or even Democratic, politics. He may well have the money and volunteers to pull this off all by himself this year, but will he do the same next year, while he's busy pushing policy and his name isn't on a single ballot? Will he lead the media and field campaigns during the 2010 midterms? What happens when Obama is no longer on the ballot? Or if Obama should become an unpopular president and can no longer muster the same forces as we're seeing now?

One of these things will eventually come pass, and when they do, we will need those "outside" organizations to step up and fill the gaps as they have these last years.

In the realm of youth organizing, there was nothing happening outside of non-partisan voter registration prior to 2003. That was rectified by the creation of numerous 527 and 501c4 organizations during the last election cycle. Presumably these, too, would be defunded if the Obama campaign has its way.

Not all campaigns, will be as successful with youth as Sen. Obama. The state parties are still quite bad at targeting young voters. We will have a hard time maximizing youth turnout without those organizations, and I worry that if these new institutions have funds withheld this year, they will wither on the vine and in a few short years we will be back where we started pre-2003.

Some might argue that Obama is posturing. That this is just a pose to maintain his post-partisan image. That all depends on how serious the donors take him and what they decide to do with their money this cycle. If donors ignore Obama's statements and give anyway, then no-harm no-foul. The article makes clear, however, that some donors are taking him seriously:

The donors have been considering entreaties from Progressive Media USA, run by conservative-journalist turned liberal media critic David Brock; from former Clinton aide John Podesta's Fund for America; and from America Votes, a group backed by billionaire George Soros that focuses on voter mobilization, among other efforts.

But in recent days, major donors have begun to conclude that Obama is serious in trying to cut off funds to the outside groups.

"It's given donors pause," said one prominent Democratic donor of Pritzker's words.

Youth organizing is supported by so few donors. Indeed, the big struggle now is to find mid-level donors to help make our new infrastructure more sustainable and less dependent on the whims of one or two funders. If even a few of these funders heed the Obama campaign's words, it could have drastic effects on the sustainability of our nascent youth movement.

I hope that doesn't happen.