According to the Washington
director of the progressive lobby MoveOn.org PAC, the
answer is yes.
In an aggressive ad buy starting today, MoveOn.org
targets the Democrats’ number two in the House,
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD). The group believes Hoyer failed
progressives by not rallying Democrats against the bankruptcy
bill, which they say caters to credit card companies
and special interests.
“Last year, half the personal bankruptcies in
America were ordinary working people with extraordinary
medical debt,” an avuncular announcer reads in
radio ad. “You'd think Steny Hoyer would've
helped them. Think again.”
MoveOn.org, which raised some $60 million last year
from a membership of 3.1 million, has largely backed
Democratic candidates and causes. Though they have questioned
a few Democrats, their new attack on a Democratic leader–during
a time when Democrats are rallying together against
House leader DeLay–has raised the bar.
“We want to send a message that if you walk away
from the Democratic Party [as] leader, then we’re
going to ask our members to get involved in your district,
your hometown,” MoveOn PAC Washington director
Tom Matzzie told RAW STORY.
Matzzie says they have spent “near six figures”
on a “close to saturation” buy in Hoyer’s
district that will include two Washington, D.C. AM stations,
“including the one they have on in Capitol Hill
offices all day long.”
Hoyer’s office declined to comment on the ad
when it was released Friday. Other leadership offices
have also declined.
Privately, some Democratic strategists and congressional
staffers have questioned the decision to run an ad attacking
the party leadership, especially during a push to focus
on the ethics scandals dogging House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay (R-TX).
Matzzie, however, maintains the time is ripe—that
it is always appropriate to question Democrats who vote
against what he sees as core progressive values.
“We’re not the party,” he said, when
asked about charges that the ads were poorly timed,
“We are going to take positions on issues, and
we’re going to be true to our members and to America’s
middle class families before we acknowledge any sort
of notion of Democratic fealty.”
Hoyer, MoveOn believes, has broken with core progressive
values to support the working class.
“He sided with the credit card companies over
middle class families,” Matzzie said.
“Mr. Hoyer has a good record on a lot of issues
and we like him,” he added. “It’s
probably okay for some Democrats to disagree with their
party… but it’s never acceptable for a leader
in the party… to disagree with the rest of the
party on an issue connected to core values like justice
for middle class values, especially when it’s
such an obvious Republican bill.”
Some disagree. Jim Kennedy, communications director
for former President Bill Clinton, who says he’s
speaking only for himself, asserts that the move to
corral those who don’t vote along party lines
Attacking Democrats who don’t vote on party lines
is a “very Republican thing to do because it’s
the Republicans who have been so strong in enforcing
a doctrinaire [strategy],” Kennedy asserts.
“We as a party shouldn’t go down that same
road, because I think our strength is in the diversity
of our leaders and the greater willingness to tolerate
different points of view,” he told RAW
STORY. “And if we start trying to enforce
one ideology, than we will go down a path that won’t
help us win.”
“We think we need to be an opposition party,”
he said. “It’s not acceptable for a Democratic
leader to take a position opposed to protecting the
Given that the bill has already passed, Matzzie said
the ad is intended to send a message to Democratic Party
“We wanted to tell a story about what’s
going on in Congress,” he said. “This is
a Republican bill. It’s not acceptable for Democratic
leaders to be collaborating with Republicans on such
Matzzie says the group targeted Hoyer because of his
position in the Democratic leadership. The Democratic
leader in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), voted
against the bill; the leader in the Senate, Sen. Harry
Reid (D-NV), supported the bill but opposed a procedural
vote that would have prevented the bill from going to
Democratic supporters of the bankruptcy bill say attempts
to tie the bill to financial service firms are misleading.
“The insensitivity of lobbying with bankruptcy
reform has been no greater than any other,” the
Democratic author of the bill Rep. Richard Boucher (D-VA)
remarked to RAW STORY
last month. “People who don’t like a measure
as sort of a last refuge will say that supporters are
pandering to a special interest.”
Regardless, financial service firms have channeled
millions of dollars into the bankruptcy debate, and
an army of lobbyists have called for the bill’s
passage since it first surfaced eight years ago.
Of 198 Democrats who voted on the bill in the House,
73 supported it; 18 Dems backed the measure in the Senate.
President Bush is expected to sign the bill into law.
Will MoveOn move on other Democrats?
Matzzie says the group intends to continue to hold
Democrats’ feet to the fire if MoveOn sees “betrayals
on real core issues.”
The political action committee has remained a potent
force since the election, having signed up nearly 400,000
new members. They recently demonstrated their fundraising
muscle with a letter the group sent out written by Sen.
Barack Obama (D-IL); the appeal raised $634,000 for
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) in a single day.
Asked what issues might lead the group to attack other
Democrats, Mattzie said, “Bankruptcy legislation
is an example, but Social Security is the core Democratic
line in the stand.”
Matzzie says the MoveOn membership has welcomed the
ad. Responses, he says, have been “all positive.”
Article originally published Apr. 18, 2005.