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MOVING ON DEMOCRATS
MoveOn targets Democratic leader with massive ad buy; Some criticize move

By John Byrne | RAW STORY Editor

Is it time to move on Democrats?

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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 their 60-second 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 is counterproductive.

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.”

Matzzie demurs.

“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 middle class.”

Given that the bill has already passed, Matzzie said the ad is intended to send a message to Democratic Party leaders.

“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 key issues.”

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 a vote.

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.

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