Albert Einstein famously quipped that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
But it doesn't take an Einstein to know that contributors to America Coming Together would be nuts to give another dime to an organization that thinks its field operation was a success, but the patient died.
ACT, which bamboozled deep-pocket donors into believing that victory was assured, now takes comfort in the feint praise of Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.
A couple of days ago, some wannabe Ohio playas, including Jill Harris, a Brooklynite who parachuted into the Buckeye State as a field director, brought their "amazing" act to off-Broadway. Actually, it was way off Broadway at SEIU. It was the first in a series of town hall meetings ACT plans to hold for progressives in the coming months.
In its losing effort, ACT spent $135 million in battleground states. As for the impact of its partner, the Media Fund, fudgetaboutit. ACT's political director, JoDee Winterhof, said that in post-election focus groups, voters could not remember a single Democratic TV ad. Talk about a vast waste of $60 million. Given their performance in the 2004 presidential election, it's time to bring down the curtains on these 527s.
Consider: ACT and the Media Fund went through nearly $200 million. This is more than voting rights groups, "credentialed organizations" (ACT speak for national and local groups with ongoing relationships with targeted voters) have spent since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 nearly 40 years ago. For a fraction of what the 527s spent in one election cycle, established voter empowerment groups:
- Helped Democrats take back the Senate in 1986
Instead of building capacity, ACT pushed aside credentialed organizations with proven track records. In an Open Memo, Dr. Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute of the University of Maryland, wrote:
Nevertheless, let me assure you that although I speak formally for myself, this position is shared across the expanse of the activists portion of the black community. As such, it feeds into the view that the Democratic party has/is taking black people for granted and ignores and disrespects their contribution to the victories that have accrued to the party in recent years. There appears to be a dedicated campaign by the party leadership, the Kerry campaign and now the ancillary funding organizations to build some political distance between themselves and key traditional black leaders of the party base.
Elsewhere I have said something that I will say again here, that what puzzles me about this is the substantial possibility that if this pattern continues, John Kerry could loose the election if the black base is not motivated substantially enough. And The Media Fund, ACT and these other organizations, for all of their financial prowess and technical know-how cannot do that. Leadership matters and in the final analysis, to let the control of the black vote drift into the hands of forces outside of the black community is a dangerous situation for John Kerry, but fundamentally for the black community itself.
Dr. Walters' concern was echoed by ACT's Harris, who, during the New York meeting, observed, "When we go from outside there, it's just not as effective as local people talking to each other."
Hey, no kidding.