527s get involved in Iowa's Democratic race

With a little more than 2 weeks to go before Iowa votes, there is not much more the campaigns can do to move numbers but ground game, organizing and getting their supporters worked up. This is the time 527s -- independent groups which can spend thousands of behalf of candidates but are not allowed to coordinate in any way with any campaign -- jump in and start helping their chosen candidates.

Among Democrats, the two main stories for now have been (1) how little negativity there has been in 527 ads -- a stark contrast from 4 years ago where Dean and Gephardt bashed each other through independent groups, and (2) the fact that no 527 has jumped in on Obama's behalf.

Politico's Ben Smith tallied up the totals as of Thursday night and found three groups (AFSCME, AFT and Emily's List) agitating on Clinton's behalf for a total of more than $1,8 million; and two groups (the Carpenters union, and SEIU) working on Edwards's behalf for a total of almost $1.3 million.

Since then two big developments: "The Alliance for a New America" (seemingly funded by the SEIU) has dumped in nearly 3/4s of a million to help Edwards and run tons of ads across the state in the week after Christmas; and FEC filings show that pro-Hillary group spent $300,000 dollars in a single day yesterday, with most of it coming from Emily's List. It is unclear where the money will be used, but probably in Iowa the most and New Hampshire to some degree. There have also been very small groups that have been spent very little money but hoped for some publicity (such as "Democratic Courage" which prepared negative ads against Obama and against Clinton).

This has led Obama to boast that he is pure and unhelped by opaque 527 money. But this is a very weak argument from Barack: The main 527s that are helping Hillary and Edwards are not shady organizations (like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were) -- they are some of the most important unions and core constituencies of the Democratic Party. Hillary and Edwards receiving so much help because they were endorsed by big unions like the AFSCME, AFT, and SEIU. You bet that Obama would have loved to receive any of their endorsement and the 527 help that would have gone with it.

Obama failed to clinch endorsements from big Iowa players, and he is thus left out of the independent expenditure ground game. And in a contest in which everything is based on turnout, that could very well cost Obama a few points. Emily's List, for example, is proving to be a big help for the Clinton's campaign targeting female voters and making sure they get to the polls -- while pro-Edwards groups are doing some of the dirty job on his behalf (though everyone has mostly remained positive, as I already remarked). Ultimately, this is not a question of money (Obama has plenty of that to spend in Iowa) but of targeting constituencies and having volunteers on the ground -- this is crunch time, and man-power counts.

With two weeks to go, however, plenty can still happen. A pro-Obama group could still jump in and pour in millions, and any of the 527s already involved could choose to go negative -- and the campaigns can do nothing about it.



  • Before we get too enanmored of what 527s can do for a candidate let us not forget that Gephardt had all of this "indpendent expenditures" going for him in 2004 and came in fourth place.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 22 December, 2007 13:11  

  • President Gephardt can tell you about the importance of union help. They're great when they join the campaign in Iowa! I mean...sure, about 90% of them just throw their walk/call sheets in the trash and go to the bar, but other than that!

    By Blogger Democrats Against Hillary, At 23 December, 2007 15:56  

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