By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010; 5:48 PM
Democratic Party officials are sending a wake-up call to the party's operatives, allies and grassroots supporters, saying they could be vastly outspent by Republican-leaning outside interest groups in November's midterm elections.
A four-page memorandum circulating widely among Democrats estimates that conservative interest groups, including the newly-minted American Crossroads, could collectively spend upwards of $300 million on the fall campaigns -- a far larger sum than in previous election cycles. Democrats have been slow to recognize the impending threat of such third-party groups, but have now concluded that conservative groups are likely to dramatically outspend liberal groups this cycle, said one Democratic official.
For the past few weeks, Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy M. Kaine, the lawmakers responsible for retaining the party's congressional majorities and other party leaders have been privately issuing warnings to top party donors and strategists.
"There's a real danger that we'll see an avalanche of special-interest money flowing into these campaigns," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an interview Thursday. "This kind of money can clearly affect the outcome of elections. That's why they're doing it. And that's why it's important [for Democrats] to try and confront the challenge."
Van Hollen said a concerted effort is underway to "raise the alarm" about the "secret special interest money" that could start pouring into hotly-contested races. A second memo circulating among Democrats, first reported Thursday by The Huffington Post, estimates total spending by conservative groups at $200 million.
More than 20 political advocacy groups plan to spend money this year on issue-based advertising and other election-related efforts, including several groups that support Democrats. Major labor unions have announced plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to support Democratic candidates. But Democratic officials estimate that these efforts will be overwhelmed by conservative groups, who are expected to take advantage of this year's Supreme Court ruling that freed corporations and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising.
"We haven't seen this in elections for as long as I've been doing it," said J.B. Poersch, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It's an opportunity for big banks and the special interests to put their hands on the scale like never before."
One of the biggest players is American Crossroads, founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan, which has pledged to spend $52 million. Democratic leaders see a tactical advantage in highlighting the estimated spending by conservative groups. They believe Rove's connection in particular will anger and excite the party's grassroots donor base to give money to Democratic committees and candidates.
"The best antiseptic to the special interests and former Bush allies trying to buy this election is to shine a bright, glaring light on their efforts and their motives -- and that we will do," DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse said.