A Tale of Two Georges: Allen and Soros Find Common Ground on 527s

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET
  • Nan Aron President, Alliance for Justice and Alliance for Justice Action Campaign

What do a group of 7 conservative senators, led by presidential wannabe George Allen, have in common with George Soros?

The simple answer is they all believe that ordinary people should be able to come together, pool their resources, and have an influence on electoral politics. They don't believe that our political parties -- be they Democrats or Republicans -- should have a monopoly on the political debate.

Having said that, it is somewhat curious when people of such different mindsets as Soros and Allen wind up on the same side of what most people view to be a partisan political issue. Could there be more here than meets the eye?

Clearly, past experience showed that Democrats enjoyed an unusual advantage from the activities of these independent political groups commonly known as "527s." Progressive-leaning 527s got out earlier in the 2002 and 2004 elections, while most conservative groups sat on their hands waiting for the Federal Election Commission to impose hard-dollar limitations on 527s. That didn't happen, and liberal 527s went on to register and mobilize millions of previously ignored voters in 2004.

Now it's virtually certain the FEC won't move to regulate 527s unless Congress passes legislation directing the FEC to do so. The smarter Republicans are looking at this through a "join 'em if you can't beat 'em" lens. After all, we are talking about the party that represents the interests of massive amounts of accumulated wealth. "Why," they ask themselves, "shouldn't that wealth also support independent groups that will rally the conservative base?"

George Allen and his colleagues believe that conservative 527s can overtake liberal groups in the 527 money chase -- that's half of it. The other half is that Allen -- and Sam Brownback, who is with Allen on this -- has presidential aspirations in 2008. Both Allen and Brownback need 527s to remain sources of financial support because these guys can't rely on solid help from the Republican Party. In this regard, it's interesting to note that John McCain, the Republican Party frontrunner, is leading the charge against 527s.

The push for so-called "527 reform" comes from Republican Party leaders who want to cut off independent groups at the knees. These folks believe that the party should have a monopoly in controlling the political debate. They feel threatened by the possibility that millions of people will pool their resources and force candidates to talk about issues they'd rather ignore -- issues like the war in Iraq, predatory gas prices, and ethics scandals.

Millions of Americans have found a voice in these independent 527 civic groups that, in 2004, helped bring about the largest voter turnout in a generation. That is important in a country where, more often than not, fewer than half the electorate goes to the polls on Election Day. As long as our political system runs on private dollars, then must do every thing we can to encourage voters to participate. Whether you have $10 or $1,000, we should all be able to advance the political ideals that we believe in.