Monday, November 14, 2005

Inside the Echo Chamber

From the New York Times:

When President Bush named Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. as his Supreme Court pick, it took Progress for America just 39 minutes to introduce a slick Web site and begin lobbying for his confirmation. And that was slow.

The group had taken 11 minutes to do the same for Harriet E. Miers and only 7 minutes for John G. Roberts Jr. before that. Knowing it would support whomever Mr. Bush chose, Progress for America started working months ago to create more than two dozen Web sites promoting various potential candidates. When the announcements came, it was prepared.

“We get out of the box quickly,” Brian McCabe, the group’s president, said in an interview.

While many Republican organizations support the White House selectively, Progress for America has shaped an unusual role for itself as an unwavering ally on just about every issue: Supreme Court nominations, tax cuts, terrorism and changes to Social Security.

The group, which is likely to play a leading role in support of Judge Alito, expects to spend at least $2 million on several waves of television advertisements as he heads into Senate confirmation hearings, Mr. McCabe said. And it has also vowed to respond to any attacks by Democratic groups. “P.F.A. stands ready to do what it takes,” he said.

Though the group describes itself as an independent grass-roots organization, it receives millions of dollars from the president’s largest fund-raisers, is run by former Bush campaign aides and draws heavy support from a Republican lobbying and consulting firm in Washington.

As a result, Progress for America often functions like an unofficial extension of the White House, advancing the president’s policies alongside the Republican National Committee.


Officials at Progress for America acknowledge that they work closely with the White House and the Republican Party, but say they have no more access than other organizations. Christian Myers, the group’s executive director, described its position as “first among equals,” if only because it brings major resources to the table.

“We pride ourselves on blocking and tackling and executing a plan,” Mr. Myers said.

During the push to overhaul Social Security, for example, it was well known among the coalition supporting Mr. Bush’s plan that Progress for America would be a prime player. The group attended strategy meetings with White House officials, the party, Congressional aides and interest groups, and spent about $7.5 million before turning its attention to judicial nominations.

During the ill-fated effort to have Ms. Miers confirmed, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, even referred questions to the group, directing reporters to “check with Progress for America” for details on part of the campaign.

Well, I suppose if you’re going to call yourself “grassroots,” you’ve gotta spread a lot of manure.