Conservative groups to spend over $20M on Supreme Court

Progress for America (PFA), a group that is quickly becoming the conservative counterpart to liberal 527 groups such as America Coming Together (ACT), pledged yesterday to spend at least $18 million on the expected fight to replace William Rehnquist, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The amount that PFA intends to spend on the court fight alone is more than half of the total funds ACT expects to raise for the 2006 election cycle. During the 2004 election cycle, ACT raised more money than any other 527 group, according to PoliticalMoneyLine.

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Progress for America has already spent $3.2 million on television and radio ads advocating up-or-down votes for circuit-court nominees Priscilla Owen, above, and Janice Rogers Brown.


Should PFA meet its fundraising goal, it would significantly undercut the perception that Democrats are more helped by 527 fundraising. Congress is considering legislation to restrict the activities of 527s, named after a section of the tax code.

Officials with PFA revealed their Supreme Court plans yesterday. Progress for America has already spent $3.2 million on television and radio ads advocating up-or-down votes for circuit-court nominees Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown.

Another conservative group, the Judicial Confirmation Network, has budgeted $3 million on a Senate battle to fill the next court vacancy. As a result, conservative groups are expected to spend more than $20 million to counter groups on the left that are expected to launch a coordinated effort to block President Bush’s nominee, who is likely to be conservative.

“I have the expectation that other groups will be involved and expend resources defending the president’s nominees,” said Wendy Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network. The American Center for Law and Justice, led by Jay Sekulow, or Focus on the Family, headed by Dr. James Dobson, may also spend money on the battle.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, which is considered one of the principal organizers of liberal opposition to Bush’s judicial nominees, said the millions that conservatives have budgeted indicate that they expect the president to make an inflammatory selection.

“Eighteen million dollars is an extraordinary amount of money,” Neas said. “They must be expecting an extremely controversial nominee if they need to spend that money on the confirmation process. It’s a troubling indication that they expect the president to choose confrontation over consensus and put forth a controversial nominee.”

PFA will spend its money on national cable-news and broadcast-television ads in targeted states. The group will also coordinate grassroots organizers and public-relations specialists in 18 states, including states represented by centrist Republican senators such as Arizona, Maine and Oregon.

PFA is also planning to run a phone-bank and direct- mail campaign. Before Senate confirmation of Owen and Brown, PFA claims to have helped generate nearly 80,000 telephone calls supporting their nominations.

PFA will work closely with the Judicial Confirmation Network, which is planning to run a grassroots lobbying and television ad campaign in the so-called blue states that are represented by Republican senators, such as Rhode Island and Maine. The group is also considering activity in states won by Bush in 2004 that are represented by Democrats, such as Nebraska and North Dakota, home to Sens. Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad, respectively. The Committee for Justice is also part of the conservative coalition.

When first founded in 2002 by former White House counsel Boyden Gray, the Committee for Justice was expected to lead other conservative groups in an anticipated battle over the next Supreme Court vacancy. It was expected to be the main repository of money raised from business groups and other Republican allies for that effort.  

But yesterday’s revelation of PFA’s plans makes clear that it will spend the bulk of conservative money on the Supreme Court. That is largely because Gray has raised much of the money that PFA has collected for a court showdown. Gray’s role indicates how closely the groups are working together.

PFA has also recruited the services of several prominent Republicans, such as former Bush-Cheney campaign counsel Benjamin Ginsberg, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), to serve as spokesmen of their cause on television talk shows.

People for the American Way, the well-funded group that is at the center of a liberal coalition that has been organized to wage the Supreme Court battle, yesterday announced that it had assembled a team of prominent Democrats into a “Supreme Court/Judiciary Campaign Team.”

The team includes Joe Lockhart, former Clinton administration spokesman; Carter Eskew, a former adviser to several past Democratic presidential candidates; Jeff Blattner, a former Senate Judiciary Committee counsel who is now a strategic consultant at Hogan & Hartson; and Mike Lux, a former Bill Clinton campaign aide.

Neas would not reveal how much his group or the liberal coalition will spend on a Supreme Court vacancy, adding that the amount would depend on the nominee.

People for the American Way spent $5 million on television ads criticizing Senate Republicans for considering rule changes that would have shielded judicial nominees from filibusters.

Neas said that nearly 70 national organizations such as the Sierra Club, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the NAACP have met weekly since 2001 to organize their response to Bush’s nominees.