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Moving On from MoveOn.org
The liberal group’s PAC is on pace to have its worst cycle since its founding.


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Jim Geraghty

The fundraising messages from MoveOn.org’s political-action fund are taking an increasingly pessimistic and frantic tone. A recent message declared, “If we can’t increase our budget, we’re going to have to pull the plug now on some absolutely crucial campaigns.”

Oftentimes, fundraising specialists encourage messages with a dire tone to promote a sense of urgency, to spur donors who might otherwise shrug off yet another request for money. But in MoveOn.org’s case, it isn’t likely that the warning is a pose, as the organization’s political-action fund is on pace to have its worst year since it was formed during the 2004 election cycle.

According to documents filed with the FEC, MoveOn.org Political Action raised $9.1 million in contributions from January 2011 to March 31, 2012. In that same period, the group spent $10.5 million, and it has $2.75 million left in cash on hand. With just under five months until Election Day, and additional fundraising efforts ongoing, those totals are certain to increase.

Still, it is a dramatic drop from last cycle and all the preceding cycles except one. By March 31 in the 2010 cycle, MoveOn.org Political Action had raised $18.5 million; by that date in the 2008 cycle, $14 million; in the 2006 cycle, $11.8 million; and in the 2004 cycle, $2.79 million — but that was in the first 15 months of the PAC’s existence.

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The group would need to have a surge in new donations to keep pace with past cycles, never mind past presidential cycles:

• In 2009–2010, MoveOn’s PAC raised and spent $29 million.
• In 2007–2008, it raised $39 million and spent $38 million.
• In 2005–2006, it raised $27.6 million and spent $28.1 million.
• In 2003–2004, it raised $31.8 million and spent $30 million.

Two weeks ago, on May 30, the group e-mailed its members:

Here are some examples of the important projects we’d love to run in 2012 if we had enough money:

Young voter turnout. Young voters were crucial to Obama’s victory in 2008, but most elections experts say it’s unlikely they’ll vote again in similar numbers this time around. We learned how to register and turn out young voters last time, and we need to do it again.

Elect Elizabeth Warren and keep control of the U.S. Senate. Elizabeth Warren is one of the best progressive candidates we’ve seen in years. When control of the Senate could be decided on her race, how could we not help her win?

Fighting voter suppression. Republicans have passed a wave of laws aimed at making it harder to vote for African Americans, students, and poor people. If turnout goes down by even a couple percentage points among these key voting blocs, that could be disastrous. 

MoveOn will do a little bit on all of these projects, but will we be able to go big? That’s mostly a question of resources. If we have enough money, we will. If not, we simply can’t.

There are several factors that could be contributing to the slowdown in donations: continued economic hard times squeezing the wallets of the donor base; a relentless fundraising effort by the Obama campaign vacuuming up funds that might otherwise go to groups like MoveOn.org; the rise of SuperPACs as new competitors for donations among the politically minded.

(MoveOn.org did not respond to questions for this article submitted through its contact page one week ago.)

But some may wonder if MoveOn.org continues to provide bang for the buck. The group put a great deal of effort into the Illinois 10th District Democratic primary in March, backing a 25-year-old community organizer, Ilya Sheyman, against businessman Brad Schneider. This contest was personal for the organization: Sheyman was its mobilization director from June 2009 to February 2011.



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