Bush Surrogates Raise Nearly $250 Million to Smear Dem Nominee

When looking ahead to November, one of the advantages Democrats enjoy over Republicans is financial -- for the first time in modern political history, Dems are raising quite a bit more money than Republicans. The DCCC, for example, already has $31 million on hand for the cycle, while the NRCC has less than $3 million.

Great news, right? Well, yes, except "independent" right-wing entities are going to pick up the slack -- and then some. Out in front will be our old friends at Freedom's Watch.

When a group of former White House aides formed a political advocacy group called Freedom's Watch last summer, its initial wave of ads featured battered Iraq war veterans pleading for support for President Bush's "surge" of troops.
Last month, the theme changed dramatically as the same group splashed dark, grainy images of illegal immigrants across television screens in northern Ohio, attacking a Democratic candidate's position on the divisive domestic issue.
Freedom's Watch has loudly announced that there will be no limits to what it might do.... While initial reports suggested a budget of $200 million, people who have talked to the group in recent weeks say the figure is closer to $250 million, more than double the amount spent by the largest independent liberal groups in the 2004 election cycle.
The "no limits" phrase probably wasn't intended this way, but it has two meanings. First, with a quarter-billion dollars, Freedom's Watch will be able to do what it pleases. Second, driven by contemporary Republican norms, the range of Freedom's Watch attacks with know "no limits," because they're unlikely to be concerned about pesky details (like decency and accuracy).

Let's not brush past the group's $250 million budget too quickly. There's simply no precedent for an independent political operation to have that kind of money. In 2004, MoveOn.org, which was extremely active, spent $21 million. The Swift Boat liars spent $22 million. Harold Ickes' Media Fund spent in upwards of $100 million. Freedom's Watch is preparing to spend a quarter-billion dollars in just one campaign cycle.

I should note that the WaPo's headline pointed to the group as "a conservative answer to MoveOn." That seems a little silly.

Wes Boyd, who co-founded MoveOn.org with his wife in their home in Berkeley, Calif., said the two groups are fundamentally different because his liberal organization was set up outside the influence of Democratic Party operatives and is funded primarily by small-dollar donors around the country.

Freedom's Watch, on the other hand, is "doing attack ads by Beltway operatives, financed by billionaires, at the request of the White House," Boyd said by e-mail. "MoveOn helps millions of real people get engaged and be heard and is solely funded by these same people."

That's absolutely right, but it may not matter. With a $250 million budget, Freedom's Watch will be able to pull the wool over the eyes of quite a few people, whether it's top-down or bottom-up.

It's already starting to work.

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