Our congressional system - indeed our entire political system, is designed to be slow and deliberate and to REQUIRE compromise for passage of new policy. So if we know that about the U.S. system, then ask yourself, who is it that gains from hyper-partisan policy, politics and campaigning? Not the environment, that's for sure.
The good news of this story is that there seems to be less enviro political activity in the "issue ad"sector. Maybe we can hope that environmental partisanship overall will lose its market appeal as well!
Enviro groups turn away from 527s in strategy shift
Alex Kaplun, Greenwire reporter - July 1, 2008
Environmentalists have mostly jettisoned the tax-exempt fundraising organizations that helped them raise record sums of money in the last presidential campaign, potentially reducing the total amount that the organizations could have to spend on this year’s contest.
A changed political environment and a changed donor base have diminished the role of so-called 527 organizations that once raked in cash without federal fundraising limits and were often used to buy negative issue ads.
The 527s allowed environmentalists to raise more than $20 million for the 2004 campaign, largely on six-figure checks from small numbers of donors. The cash, which paid for organization-building activities, as well as advertising, allowed environmentalists to spend more on the presidential race than ever before.
The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, in particular, were able to reach out to those donors late in the campaign and raise roughly $7 million through the 527s in just the last couple of months before the election.
But 527s this year are pulling in a fraction of what they did four years ago. Part of the reason, some leaders of environmental groups say, is that donors who were driven by a desire to oust President Bush four years ago have not given the same large sums to interest groups this year.
"It was a very much an anti-Bush campaign," said Cathy DuVall, the Sierra Club's national political director. "The day after the 2002 election, people started to gear up to beat Bush in 2004. ... That's dramatically different than the political climate of this year."
Another factor is changed enforcement by the Federal Election Commission. In the wake of the 2004 election, FEC started cracking down on some 527s, fining them for coordinating with presidential campaigns. Environmentalists' 527 activity dipped in the 2006 congressional campaign, with total spending topping $7 million, though campaign spending drops across the board in non-presidential election years.
And finally, environmental groups say, 527s are no longer as useful now that energy is one of the most important issues in the current campaign.
The decline of 527s is apparent in activities of the two most politically active environmental groups, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) and the Sierra Club.
Four years ago, LCV spent more than $5 million through its 527, with the majority of that cash, $3.7 million, going toward advertising, according to records from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Much of the remaining cash went toward other campaign activities: polling, political consultants and various administrative expenses.
Since then, LCV has essentially shut down its federal 527 efforts, and though the organization still pulls in dollars that are technically under that umbrella, that money goes toward funding state-level initiatives.
And the Sierra Club -- which ran the largest environmental group 527 in the 2004 cycle, pulling in almost $9 million and spending more than $6 million on various campaign efforts -- has drawn virtually no donations this time around, the Center for Responsive Politics' data show. By this time in 2004, the Sierra Club's 527 had already raised about $2.5 million.
The group spent about $1 million from its 527 on a recent voter outreach campaign, but group officials say its campaign messages would be funded through its political action committee (PAC) and other, more conventional means.
Other environmental groups that used 527s in 2004 have also scaled down or eliminated their efforts.
Defenders of Wildlife, though still active in a number of congressional races, has raised $155,000 through their 527 and spent $5,000 so far this cycle. Environment 2004, an active 527 led by Clinton-era officials that spent roughly $2 million four years ago, no longer exists.
All told, environmentalists have raised about $2 million this cycle through 527s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, putting them substantially below the pace of four years ago.
Still, Massie Ritsch of the Center for Public Integrity points out that the 527 situation can change quickly, since it only takes one check to alter the picture. "527s can spring up overnight because they can take unlimited contributions from just about anybody," he said.
New message, new climate
One of the downsides of 527s, environmentalists say, is that they are not allowed to explicitly advocate for or against a candidate. They are technically allowed to advocate for issues.
That was more valuable four years ago, when environmentalists said voters were not paying attention to energy and natural resources. But with energy now topping virtually every poll about voter concerns, and with both presidential candidates spending a major amount of campaign time discussing the issue, environmentalists say their efforts are moving from outlining issues to promoting candidates.
Said the Sierra Club's DuVall, "The organizations felt in 2004 that we need to spend a fair amount of money just to put our issue on the agenda; we don't need to do that anymore."
To that end, environmentalists say their PACs are continuing to raise substantial sums, more than enough to get their message out to voters.
"We know we'll have good enough financial resources to get our message out on those issues," said Tony Massaro, LCV's political director.
But unlike 527s, PACs face caps on how much money individuals can give during a campaign cycle, with the amounts limited to several thousand dollars.
To some extent, the lack of 527 activity from environmental groups is part of a larger trend, as many advocacy groups have jettisoned such efforts in a changing political climate.
While campaign finance records show that overall fundraising by 527s is slightly ahead of the pace of four years ago, fundraising by groups on the left -- some of which were the first heavy users of the 527 system in 2004 -- is lagging.
Most notably, MoveOn.org -- one of the best-known liberal advocacy groups -- last month said that it would eliminate its 527 activities, in large part because the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, has been highly critical of such efforts. MoveOn raised more than $20 million through its 527 efforts in 2004, representing about 40 percent of all the money raised by the group that year.
Obama and the likely Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, have both signaled that "they don't want outside issue groups raising unlimited money and going on the attack," Ritsch said. "There's not much they can do to deter that kind of activity, but so far, maybe it's working."
Environmentalists say that they have not completely closed the door on using 527s, especially if faced with a barrage of such advertising from advocacy groups on the other side.
"If that happens," DuVall said, "then the dynamics of the math change."