Powered by $1 million-plus soft money contributions, Democratic and Republican "527" organizations continued to break non-party spending records, financing thousands of campaign workers and television ads in battleground states.
These organizations are investing heavily in voter registration and turnout drives -- the "ground war" that many consider crucial to the outcome on Nov. 2 -- and in commercials that are often harsher than those run by the presidential campaigns and the national political parties.
The number of groups organized under Section 527 of the federal tax code has exploded this year. Operatives for both parties have created them to get around the ban on party-raised and -spent soft money that was imposed by the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
Two allied Democratic 527 organizations, America Coming Together and the Media Fund, yesterday reported raising $71.2 million in the past three months, for a two-year total of $132.7 million.
Such wealthy liberals as financier George Soros and insurance company executive Peter Lewis have been principal bankrollers of ACT and the Media Fund. The Center for Public Integrity calculated that Soros has given $17.2 million to 527s, and Lewis, $14.7 million.
ACT, however, reported receiving $24 million in smaller, federally regulated contributions of $5,000 or less. ACT's success raising this much in smaller gifts suggested that it could continue to operate even if the courts or the Federal Election Commission decide to impose tougher restrictions on the ability of 527s to raise the larger soft money donations.
The top Republican 527 groups raked in large sums, as well.
After getting a late start, Progress for America, which is backed by major donors and fundraisers for the Republican Party, reported raising $28.3 million from June through September.
The Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth, which started with the backing of top Texas Republicans but then began tapping into a large universe of smaller dollars, reported raising $8.9 million. Sean McCabe, spokesman for the Swift Boat Vets, said the group received at least 100,000 contributions, most of then in amounts of $25 to $5,000 -- suggesting that like ACT, it could survive tough regulation.
Some of the largest contributions during the last quarter went to Progress for America, including two $5 million donors: Dawn Arnall, chairman of Ameriquest Corp.; and Alex G. Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers.
The Media Fund reported a number of contributors of $1 million or more, including three Texans: James H. Clark of Dallas, and Jonathan McHale and Christine L. Mattso of Austin.
Some 527s were not as successful.
The highly publicized Leadership Forum, run by prominent Republican lobbyists, L. William Paxon and Susan B. Hirschmann, raised $175,855.