Friday, June 22, 2007

"Backing Obama, Without a Blessing"

NY Times (The Caucus):
Supporters of Senator Barack Obama’s Democratic presidential primary campaign have formed one of the first independent organizations dedicated to supporting a 2008 presidential hopeful, overlooking their candidate’s past criticisms of the legal status of such groups.
Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, is one of many senators who have criticized the groups — known as 527s, after a section of the tax code—because they allow donors to make unlimited contributions, sometimes without disclosure until after an election, thereby sidestepping campaign finance laws.

The new organization, Vote Hope 2008, was founded by Steve Phillips, a San Francisco lawyer who is the son-in-law of two of the biggest Democratic donors, the California bankers Herb and Marion Sandler. The Sandlers were among the biggest contributors to Democratic 527 groups during the 2004 election.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama said the senator did not approve. “Obama thinks that candidates should be accountable for the campaigns they run, the donations they receive and the money they spend,” the spokesman, Bill Burton, said. “It is our hope that anyone who supports Obama does so directly through his campaign.”

While short of repudiating Vote Hope, Mr. Obama’s public discouragement of such efforts could nonetheless come under some strain if he wins the Democratic nomination. Wealthy partisans on both sides of the general election are expected to pour millions of unlimited contributions into 527 groups just as they did in 2004, and Democrats could be at a big disadvantage if their supporters’ abstained.

Jenifer Ancona, a spokeswoman for Vote Hope, said the organization aimed to make up for the apparent absence of an Obama primary campaign in California, where the rival campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has already begun organizing.

“We are responding his call to people to self-organize,” Ms. Ancona said.
The group’s web site,, features a photograph of Mr. Obama and a link to his campaign’s official site. “Bank it for Barack,” the Vote Hope site declares, urging voters to cast mail ballots for Mr. Obama even before the state’s February primary.

California has moved up its primary election to give it a larger role in the nominating process, and Ms. Ancona said the organization would focus on raising awareness of the race among voters unaccustomed to the new schedule or the state’s new importance, with focus on young voters and minority groups.

The organization’s web site includes a photograph of its founder, Mr. Phillips, with his wife, Susan Sandler. But her parents, the billionaire donors Herb and Marion Sandler, have not yet contributed, Ms. Ancona said.

Although Vote Hope 2008 is among the first 527 groups dedicated to supporting a primary candidate, conservatives have formed at least one other 527 group expressly to stop the nomination of Senator Clinton.

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