New Liberal Group Gets Tough With Conservative Donors

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 3:44 PM EDT

You could call it an attempt by long-beleaguered liberals to finally stop Swift Boat groups before they to attack Democratic candidates. You could also call it scare tactics.

Tom Matzzie, the former Washington director of Moveon.org and Judd Legum, the research director for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, have teamed up to create Accountable America, a group independent of the Obama campaign and the DNC that will identify, publicize, and potentially create legal headaches for donors who fund conservative attack groups.

Accountable American will "deter Swift Boating groups by discouraging contributions to the groups," said Matzzie on a conference call Friday afternoon with reporters. By publicizing the misdeeds of the groups and the sometimes sordid histories of the people who enable them, Matzzie said, the group will "create a sense of scandal around donating to these groups."

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Matzzie and company have started by mailing a letter to 10,000 prominent conservative donors. Matzzie says the letter "warns donors of the risk of engaging with these… organizations." If the organizations violate the law by improperly meddling in federal elections, each contribution that funds them could an unlawful transaction. The donors are being made aware this. "We're going to put them at risk," says Matzzie.

Matzzie was originally slated to run Progressive Media USA, a $100 million independent group that intended to run a full-scale nationwide advocacy campaign. After Obama displayed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for independent groups operating on his behalf, either because of a desire to control message or because of independent groups' tendency to practice a brand of politics Obama eschews, funding for Progressive Media USA dried up.

Matzzie says that his new groups needs far less money. In addition to the letters to conservative donors, it is investigating conservative independent groups and their funders, to find misbehavior large and small. After it's found in one or two instances, Matzzie can pressure the majority of conservative donors all over again. "We're asking donors to these groups whether or not they really want to be associated with these organizations and their peer donors," he said.

Currently he's offering a $100,000 reward to anyone with information on a conservative independent group that can be found in a criminal or civil impropriety. And despite the fundraising challenges Matzzie has faced in the past, it looks like doling out that figure won't be a difficulty. Matzzie said on the conference call that Accountable America has raised $50,000 since announcing itself Friday morning, and $200,000 in the past two weeks.

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