The advocacy race: political right, left vie for money, members, power
Three is a new rush "causes." Since the presidential election, money and members have flowed abundantly toward advocacy groups -- particularly civil rights and politically liberal organization. But support continues to be firm for already thriving right-leaning goups.Skip to next paragraph
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On the liberal side, organization like the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People report floodtides of new and renewed interest in recent weeks.
New groups -- such as George McGovern's Americans for Common Sense, which doesn't even have a phone installed yet, or People for the American Way, formed in early October by TV producer Norman Lear -- are sprouting in a bed of heavy mail.
This resurgence in liberal and civil rights fund raising began last winter, says Richard Parker, direct mail fund-raiser for Senator McGovern's losing reelection campaign and various ongoing, left-leaning groups. It was spurred, he says, when Ronald Reagan began to look like a fromidable contender for the presidency.
"It's the beginning of an effort by the left to catch up with the right," says Richard Viguerie. The ambitious Mr. Viguerie is considered a key engineer, Through his directmail fund-raising firm, of the New Right's recent political triumphs.
"The seeming rise in the conservative groups will be more than offset by the rise in more liberal groups," says an optimistic Tom Mathews of Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co., the direct-mail firm that handled fund raising for john Anderson's presidential campaign.
But in Viguerie's view, organizations of the New Right have spun a web through the American political scene that the left won't match in this decade. "Most of the establishment doesn't realize the extent of the communications networks these conservatives have," he remarks.
These networks center around Viguerie's own coveted mailing lists of those who give liberally to conservative causes, lists he has been building for 16 years. They also include the wide and committed audiences of TV evangelists such as Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority.
Liberals were riding on their momentum for 10 or 15 years, Viguerie says, while conservatives were developing an organizational edge to make up for their disadvantages in the established power structure.
Now, he claims, "we have an 8- to 10-year head start technologically," refering tocomputerized mailing lists and TV-based organizational networks. "You don't read about this in Time and Newsweek," says Viguerie.
Moral Majority, a polical lobbying group for conservative causes, was formed in June 1979. With 72,000 "pastors" across the country and a minimum of 2 million members, according to a spokesman, it has become perhaps the chief symbol of populist conservatism.
NCPAC, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, Raised around $1 .6 million two years ago to help bring conservatives to Capitol Hill. This year it raised $5.25 million, according to its chairman, John Dolan -- partly because of heightened public interest in a presidential year, but largely due to the growth in New Right organizations.
Virguerie says that 85 percent of the major conservative organizations have been formed in the past six years, "and without direct mail the conservative movement wouldn't be in business."
Some liberal fund-raisers admit to taking a leaf from Viguerie's notebook, and the liberal response to the November election has brought fresh optimism.
Richard Parker of the liberal-oriented direct-mail firm Parker Dodd and Associates in San Francisco estimates it will take organizationtions on the left three years to pull even with the operations of those of the New Right, but that by 1984 they should be competitive.
People are more inclined to contribute funds now, he explains, Than to stage mass demonstrations, by which the news media usually monitor popular sentiment.
Common Cause president David Cohen is cautious about the element of liberal reaction to the election, and wary of keying to "anxieties and fears about Reagan" in recruiting members.
"There's a lot of negativism in American politics, some of it based on very legitimate grievances. But we see ourselves as a positive force. . . . Advocacy groups have a responsibility not to wave a red shirt." Still, the membership outlook this year, he adds, is "very bright."
One reason for the new interest in advocacy groups is disillusion with the Deomocratic and Republican Parties.
"The major factor is that the work that used to be done by the political parties is no longer done by them, so that people have to organize themselves into one-issue groups to get anything done," explains Mr. Mathews, himself active in building Anderson's National Unity campaign this year.
On the conservative side, John Dolan says NCPAC was formed in 1974 in response to a lack of leadership in Republican Party. He calls party chairman William Brock (lionized as one of the architects of the party's November victory) and Senate GOP leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (who has been given a vote of confidence by the President-elect as well as his Senate colleagues) "gutless" and unable to build coalitions.
The Democratic Party, on the other hand, remains too broad and chaotic a coalition, Parker says. Young liberals bred to anti-Vietnam and civil rights movements find an uncomfortable home among the New Deal furniture.
"I find people of my generation feel like they're living in a foreign land," he says. "The agenda for the left is not formed yet."
Viguerie agrees: "Only in the 1990s will some of the youngsters from the Vietnam years have the credentials" to lead a united left, he asserts.