With the finish line for health care reform in sight, progressive groups are taking an aggressive approach to make sure that Democrats in Congress vote with their party. They're threatening to stop giving them money.
In the past few weeks, several separate groups have announced they will withhold fundraising money and political support from any Democrats who either vote against the bill in the House or support a GOP filibuster of the bill in the Senate.
On October 27, the progressive advocacy organization MoveOn.org sent a petition to four moderate Democratic senators, signed by past donors and volunteers for those senators, declaring that the well would dry up if they prevented health care from going to an up-or-down vote. The recipients were Evan Bayh of Indiana (who received a petition signed by 244 former donors or volunteers) Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (166 signatures), Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas (35 signatures) and Ben Nelson of Nebraska (51 signatures).
"[MoveOn] Members in key states are stepping out and saying to their senators, 'if we can't count on you to get an up or down vote on this critical bill, you won't be able to count on us come election time,'" explained Ilyse G. Hogue, director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org. "Progressives no longer want to work to elect members who stand with special interests when it comes time to fix our country's problems."
A similar effort is being launched on the House side. On Tuesday, Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular Daily Kos blog, urged readers to simply stop writing checks to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as an explicit message to those "18 most endangered" Democrats who voted against health care legislation.
"It's clear that if you don't want your money to go to bad Democrats, then it's impossible to donate to the party committees," Moulitsas told the Huffington Post. "Some of the most endangered Democrats in 2010 are also some of the worst. If you want to contribute to the good ones, it's best to target your money directly to them."
A DCCC spokesman declined to respond.
Meanwhile, an aide with the AFL-CIO tells the Huffington Post that they have begun discussing the possibility of urging members to withhold contributions to lawmakers who oppose health care reform or a cloture vote.
It is a decidedly more aggressive approach than that which was employed when the debate started. And it extends well beyond the wallet. Jane Hamsher, founder of the blog FireDogLake, has long been pushing the proposition that Senate Democrats who don't support reform should get a primary opponent in their next election.
"I think there are a lot of people sitting on the sidelines waiting to see how this plays out," Hamsher told the Huffington Post. "If Congress sides with the corporations over the people because they allow themselves to be taken hostage by the so-called 'centrists,' we're going to be looking at a really interesting 2010."
But some inside-the-beltway strategists aren't necessarily enamored with a tactic that is more sticks than carrots. Noting that the House was able to pass legislation by intra-caucus negotiations and horse-trading, the argument they make is that if the legislative strategy isn't broke, it doesn't necessarily need fixing.
"I think it is a very powerful point of influence when you go to people who rely on donations to fund very expensive campaigns and tell them the people they count on won't be there to support them because of their position on a single issue," said Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic strategist. "It's real and it is powerful. Having said that, do I think it is the way to get 60 votes in the Senate? No I don't. I think the way you do it is the way they did it in the House, which was to follow a process whereby you work with members and empower leadership. And for our side to be huffing and puffing on this and threatening people isn't the best way to empower leadership."