Progress for America
Progress for America (PFA) (a 501c4) and its affiliate Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA-VF) (a 527 committee) are national tax-exempt organizations. The PFA was, from the beginning, "closely associated" with the Bush administration, the Republican National Committee and "their consultants." 
Progress for America, a "friends of the party" organization "operated by Tony Feather, the former political director of Bush-Cheney 2000 and a close friend of White House political adviser Karl Rove, is described by some Republicans as a new group dedicated to corralling outlawed party soft money," Steve Weismann, Associate Director for Policy at The Campaign Finance Institute wrote January 28, 2003.
As the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill began working its way toward its eventual passage in Congress in 2002, long-time Republican strategists were already scheming how to get around the law’s ban on soft-money contributions. They found an answer in Progress for America (PFA).
PFA was registered as a 501c4 group in February 2001 by Tony Feather, a political director of the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign and partner at DCI Group as well as at the affiliated telemarketing and fundraising firm of Feather Larson Synhorst-DCI (FLS-DCI). Feather set up PFA as a “grassroots organization that mobilizes the public to contact their members of Congress about pending legislation and to write local newspapers to publicize the White House’s agenda,” the Center for Public Integrity wrote in 2002. During the first part of the George W. Bush administration, it led campaigns to support tax cuts, conservative judicial appointments and energy legislation.
Feather told the Washington Post in August 2002 that PFA was simply a vehicle for building grassroots support for Bush administration policies. "Many other Republicans, however, describe it as the first organization designed to capture some of the soft money that the political parties will be barred from accepting after November 6," wrote the Post’s Thomas B. Edsall.
In 2001, Democrats in Montana criticized PFA for running an astroturf campaign in support of energy deregulation. An Associated Press story reported how the campaign worked: “A pollster calls you and asks questions about energy issues. Then he asks if he can write a letter summarizing the conversation and mail it to you. A few days later, an envelope arrives containing a letter addressed to Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., on personalized stationery and prepared for your signature. The letter tells Burns you want no price controls and even fewer restrictions placed on electric power companies. You might agree with that, or you might not. . . . No two letters are identical, so there is no immediate indication of a letter campaign orchestrated by distant political operatives. It looks like a grassroots response, but it isn’t.” When asked in an interview, Tony Feather refused to say who was paying for the letter-writing campaign.
Several high-level Bush supporters and advisors have been associated with Progress for America. Ken Adelman spoke to the Washington Post in 2002 and identified himself as the group’s chairman. However, Adelman claimed he “knows neither the organization’s budget nor its sources of financial support.” The address that Adelman provided to the Post for PFA’s offices turned out to be in the “high-rent Lafayette Center complex in downtown Washington” - the same building where the offices of FLS-DCI are located. 
Progress for America and its Voter Fund reveal only as much as legally required about their leadership and membership. The group’s directors, advisors and chairs are not listed on their websites. But the Washington Post has identified a few of the groups’ principal figures. In addition to FLS-DCI’s Tom Synhorst, who is reported to have served as a key strategic adviser to PFA, other figures include James C. Cicconi, AT&T General Counsel; C. Boyden Gray, a prominent figure in many conservative groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy (now called Freedom Works); and Marilyn Ware, chairman of American Water in Pennsylvania and a Bush Pioneer (meaning that she personally raised at least $100,000 for his campaign).
PFA Spin-Offs & Projects
Ashley and Friends
In the last three weeks leading up to the November 2, 2004, election, PFA-VF outspent the next largest spending Democratic 527 group three-to-one on political ads. It bought $16.8 million worth of television and radio ad time. According to Federal Election Commission data, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth came in second with $6.3 million in ad spending. In third place was Democrat Harold Ickes’ Media Fund, which spent $5 million. PFA produced two “harshly anti-Kerry ads that have become the subjects of controversy and debate, especially in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Iowa where they are running frequently,” the Washington Post’s Thomas Edsall wrote. Both ads closely resembled Bush-Cheney campaign ads—in one case the ads showed Kerry tacking windsurfing and alleging flip-flopping on issues. In another case, the ads showed pictures of terrorist leaders, while the announcer declared, “These people want to kill us. … Would you trust Kerry against these fanatic killers? President Bush didn’t start this war, but he will finish it.” The Bush ad concluded: “How can John Kerry protect us, when he doesn’t even know where he stands?”
“The largest single ad buy of the campaign comes from conservative Progress for America,” Time Magazine reported. “It shows Bush comforting 16-year-old Ashley Faulkner, whose mother died on 9/11. As it happens, the spot was made by Larry McCarthy, who produced the infamous Willie Horton ad that helped the first President Bush bury Michael Dukakis under charges that he was soft on crime. If that is the iconic attack ad, this is the ultimate embrace—to remind voters of the protectiveness they cherished in the President after Sept. 11. The ad has been ready since July, but sponsors waited until the end to unveil it.”
PFA-VF spent $14.2 million on ad time for “Ashley’s Story,” which ran on cable stations and in nine key states. According to USA Today, the ad was supported by a Web site, as well as “e-mails, automated phone calls and 2.3 million brochures” mailed to voters.
"Ashley's Story" made Advertising Age columnist Bob Garfield's list of top 10 "Ads I Loved" for 2004. Garfield writes, "We said, 'It might come down to one commercial,' and it may well have. A retelling of candidate Bush's encounter with an Ohio Teenager answered undecideds' doubts. The president wasn't a dry-well-drilling gambler, moron and fool ... he's a fearless leader who will hug us."
The Push for Privatized Social Security
PFA "has estimated it will spend $20 million promoting private accounts. It has run a series of ads on cable television, including a spot that invokes the legacy of Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt, who signed the legislation creating the retirement system," the Houston Chronicle reported in February 2005.
The Chonicle raised the question whether investment firms, "which are trying to keep a low profile in the current debate, will quietly contribute to a number of groups promoting Social Security overhaul because private accounts will increase their business." PFA's McCabe denies "his group would serve as a front for investment firms." But PFA "will be soliciting from donors who have helped the organization in the past." The head of the prominent investment firm Charles Schwab contributed $50,000 to the group's political arm in 2004. Schwab also gave $75,000 to the Club for Growth, which is also lobbying for Social Security privatization.
The advantage of arrangements between corporate donors and groups like PFA, however, is acknowledge. Thomas Edsall wrote in the Washington Post, "For corporations wary of publicity over their involvement in [promoting Social Security privatization, tort reform] and other controversial issues, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, the Club for Growth and Progress for America pointedly offer donors the promise of anonymity."
In late February 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas A&M University economics professor Thomas R. Saving had joined up with Progress for America as an advisor and spokesman. Saving, however, is serving as one of seven trustees for the Social Security Administration, raising questions about potential conflicts of interest between his advocacy work at PFA and his role as a Social Security "trustee." Saving is also a fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. According to the Chronicle, former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin joined PFA as an advisor as well.
"I'm interested in the issues and I'm working on them and I'll continue to work on them," Saving told the Chronicle. "I already do an awful lot of speeches about Social Security and Medicare."
Federal Judicial Battles
In May 2005, PFA began running ads targeted at pressuring Republicans Senators into supporting a ban on Senate filibusters for judicial nominations. Associated Press reported that PFA would spend $350,000 on "radio ads on Christian stations" and $1.5 million on television ads to be run in Alaska, Arkansas, Maine, North Dakota, Nebraska and Rhode Island as well as nationally. PFA coordinated their campaign with the Christian conservative group Focus on the Family and the Judicial Confirmation Network.
In June 2005, The Hill reported that PFA intended to "spend at least $18 million on the expected fight to replace William Rehnquist, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court." PFA's campaign would include "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" The Hill wrote. The groups will also use phone-bank and direct-mail in its campaign. "Before Senate confirmation of Owen and Brown, PFA claims to have helped generate nearly 80,000 telephone calls supporting their nominations," The Hill reported. PFA will work closely with the Judicial Confirmation Network and the Committee for Justice on the campaign.
On June 22, 2005, PFA issued a press release announcing a $700,000 campaign in anticipation of a Supreme Court Justice vacancy during the Court's summer break. The campaign included buys on big newspapers' internet sites, and a roll-out of a new website: Up or Down Vote.
Iraq War Advertising Campaign
On its website, PFA lists as one of its issues "The War on Terror", saying that "In a time of testing, we cannot find security by abandoning our commitments and retreating within our borders. If we were to leave these vicious attackers alone, they would not leave us alone. They would simply move the battlefield to our own shores. There is no peace in retreat. And there is no honor in retreat. By allowing radical Islam to work its will -- by leaving an assaulted world to fend for itself -- we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals, or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil."
The front page of the site, when viewed on April 10, 2006, showed links to a brochure and video on the war, which also appear on the site MidwestHeroes.com, which is copyrighted by the PFA Voter Fund. When one follows the link there to sign up to receive information, s/he is forwarded to the site for Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, yet another not-for-profit 501(c)(4) organization, claiming to be "a grassroots coalition of Gold Star families, veterans, families with loved ones in harm's way, and Americans who share a deep appreciation for our men and women in uniform and support them in their efforts to make America safer by winning the War On Terror." In order to receive the newsletter, one first has to sign a pledge of support for the mission.
"The War on Terror" Advertising Campaign During the 2006 Election Campaign
On September 7, 2006, the front page of the PFA site displayed a video that begins with mugshots of people including Mohammed Atta, with the voiceover, "These people want to kill us." The video advertisement goes on to display the second airplane hitting the World Trade Center, stating "Many seem to have forgotten the evil that happened only five years ago." The next frame reads (and is read aloud): "They would cut and run in the Middle East." The next image continues the sentence with " . . . leaving al Qaeda to attack us again." It moves on to cite other terrorist acts such as the first World Trade Center attack, the bombing of the USS Cole, and "the Embassy bombings" and states that before 9/11 we "took little action."
Footage of helicopters and U.S. soldiers are then played with the voiceover: "But after 9/11 we destroyed al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Terrorists like Zarqawi . . . who want to kill us."
An image of the corpse of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is then displayed -- with no warning that such a graphic image is about to be displayed. For about one second, a still of Zarqawi's mangled face, his nostrils bloody, appears. This advertisement was played on a CBS local affiliate [WBNS] in Columbus, Ohio, during the 9/16/06 Saturday afternoon Ohio State football game -- a time when, presumably, many children would have been suddenly exposed to the bloody-faced close-up of a dead body. With Ohio State ranked #1 in college football at the time, and with Ohio's intensely contested midterm elections 52 days away, the ad would have targeted a very large number of voters.
Outrage at these images apparently provoked enough local responses to the TV station for the Columbus Dispatch on 9/20/06 to note viewer complaints. In the paper's Campaign Notes section, Dispatch reporter Jim Siegel wrote that:
some [fans] gave station president and general manager Tom Griesdorn an earful. They didn't think it was appropriate for the station to show such graphic images during what is essentially a family entertainment broadcast. Griesdorn agreed. 'We have regulated it to a more appropriate time period,' he said. 'That means it will not play before 9 p.m.'"
However, after the Dispatch called attention to the disturbing footage (Graphic political ad angers Buckeye football viewers ) and after Dispatch columnist Ann Fisher devoted a column to the issue ), the ad was played the following weekend immediately after the conclusion of the Ohio State football game. On 9/23/06, between 6:30 and 6:45 on a competing local channel, the ad was played by WSYX-6, ABC (TV Station) -- the Sinclair Broadcast Group owned ABC affiliate, which is one of the 77 stations that has run unattributed video news releases (VNRs) listed in the CMD report on fake news.
PFA and United 93
Progress for America produced other commercials during October 2006 that drew connections between 9/11 and the war in Iraq.
One such advertisement featured David Beamer, father of Todd Beamer, who died on September 11, 2001, when hijacked United flight 93 was flown into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In the PFA ad, Beamer says
"Al-Qaida killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11 and will do anything to destroy us and our way of life. This enemy must be destroyed, in Iraq and wherever we find them. There can be no retreat in this war."
As commentators have noted, "The implication is that the war in Iraq is retaliation against Al-Qaida. But Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11." 
In conjunction with the ad, Progress for America mailed free copies of the movie United 93 to thousands of Ohioans days before the 2006 midterm elections. 
Note: The majority of the preceding material was taken from Laura Miller's "Progress for the Powerful", which was published by PR Watch, Volume 11, No. 4 (2004).
- Tom Synhorst, reportedly help put together PFA's board; DCI Group founder; founder Feather Larson Synhorst-DCI; registered agent of FYI Messaging and TSE Enterprises
- Tony Feather, founder; DCI Group employee; founder Feather Larson Synhorst-DCI
- Chris LaCivita, consultant - received $24,658; DCI Group employee
- Brian McCabe, President, DCI Group partner
- Brian Kennedy, co-founder, DCI Group consultant
- Andrew McKenna, employee - received $67,421; DCI Group employee
- Benjamin Ginsberg, chief legal counsel; Ginsberg is a partner at the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs, provided outside counsel to the Bush re-election campaign as well as to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
- Ken Adelman, chair 
- Mary Anne Carter, treasurer; contact for PFA-VF
- Ralph R. Brown, secretary
- James C. Cicconi, PFA-VF Advisory Board, AT&T General Counsel
- C. Boyden Gray, PFA-VF Advisory Board
- Marilyn Ware, PFA-VF's Advisory Board
- Benjamin L. Christian, employee
- Seth N. Downing, employee
- Jeremy R. Durham, employee
- Ashton Randle, employee
Progress for America
PO Box 19242
Washington, DC 20036
Email: contact AT progressforamerica.org
Related SourceWatch resources
- 527 committee
- DCI Group
- Feather Larson Synhorst-DCI
- lobbying firms
- political terms
- Progress for America Voter Fund
- soft money
- The Courts: Shifting the Judiciary to the Right ... for Big Business
- U.S. Social Security privatization
- "Progress for America, 2004 Election Cycle," OpenSecrets.org.
- Progress for America in the dKosopedia.
- Thomas B. Edsall, New Ways To Harness Soft Money In Works, Washington Post, August 25, 2002.
- Letter to David W. Jones re Comments on Announcement 2002-87, Internal Revenue Service, January 28, 2003: Re: Proposed IRS Form 990 Changes (Announcement 2002-87), section on IRC 527 Political Organizations.
- Chris Cillizza, "GOP Group Joins Soft-Money Fray," Roll Call, November 24, 2003 (Cache file from PFA).
- Peter H. Stone, "Inside Two of the Soft-Money Havens," National Journal, December 20, 2003.
- Nicholas Confessore, "Bush's Secret Stash," Washington Monthly, May 1, 2004.
- Thomas B. Edsall, "In Boost for Democrats, FEC Rejects Proposed Limits on Small Donors," Washington Post, May 14, 2004: "... ideological organizations on the right and left praised the FEC. 'With today's FEC decision, Progress for America will become even more active than ever,' declared Brian McCabe, president of the pro-Bush group."
- Thomas B. Edsall, "GOP Creating Own '527' Groups. Unregulated Funds Can Be Raised," Washington Post, May 25, 2004.
- Glen Justice and Jim Rutenberg, "Advocacy Groups Step Up Costly Battle of Political Ads," The New York Times, September 25, 2004, A10.
- Glen Justice, "New Pet Cause for the Very Rich: Swaying the Election," The New York Times, September 25, 2004, A10.
- Thomas Edsall, "After Late Start, Republican Groups Jump Into the Lead," Washington Post, October 17, 2004, page A17.
- Judy Keen and Mark Memmot, "Most expensive TV campaign ad goes for emotions," USA Today, October 18, 2004.
- "$600 million tab for Decision 2004 ads," Associated Press (MSNBC News), November 2, 2004.
- Laura Miller, "The Fix Behind Fixing Social Security," PR Watch, 2005 (Vol. 12, No. 1).
- Steve Weissman and Ruth Hassan, "BCRA and the 527 Groups," Campaign Finance Institute, February 9, 2005; revised March 8, 2005.
- Thomas B. Edsall, "Conservatives Join Forces for Bush Plans: Social Security, Tort Limits Spur Alliance," Washington Post, February 13, 2005.
- Bennett Roth, "Social Security lobbying war is on: Costly, partisan bid seen as Part 2 of 2004 election," Houston Chronicle, February 14, 2005.
- Glen Justice, "Social Security Fight Begins, Over a Bill Still Nonexistent," New York Times, February 17, 2005.
- Don Jordan, "A&M professor to advise Social Security reformers", Houston Chronicle, February 24, 2005: "Thomas Saving, who is also a trustee for the Social Security Administration, joins Progress for America."
- Glen Justice, "At 9, He's Out Stumping for President's Social Security Plan," New York Times, February 26, 2005.
- "Fox News whitewashes another Republican front group," Media Matters for America, March 10, 2005.
- Sam Bishop, "Anti-filibuster ad campaigns target senator," Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, May 1, 2005. PFA "announced Friday that it would target Alaskans with a television advertising campaign opposing filibusters of President Bush's judicial nominees."
- David Espo, "Backers of Bush Nominees Begin Ad Campaign," Associated Press (WJLA.com), May 2, 2005: "Over the next two weeks, Progress For America intends to spend $350,000 on 'radio ads on Christian stations' and $1.5 million on television ads in six targeted states as well as nationally" ... "launching a costly ad campaign designed to make sure President Bush's conservative judicial nominees receive swift confirmation."
- Richard Simon, "Interest Groups Intensify Ad War Over Filibuster, Judicial Nominees," Los Angeles Times, May 3, 2005.
- Alexander Bolton, "Conservative groups to spend over $20M on Supreme Court," The Hill, June 16, 2005.
- David Espo, "Group to Launch Supreme Court Ad Campaign," Washington Post, June 21, 2005.
- Mitch Evans, "Conservative Spotlight: Brian McCabe," Human Events (FindArticles.com), September 26, 2005.
- Michael Carroll, "A wolf in sheep's clothing," Reservoir (Columbia), December 2005: "Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, gave $2.6 million of her own money to Progress for America, a grassroots issue-based organization designed to circumvent the soft money ban brought on by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation. Progress for America and its affiliate, Progress for America Voter Fund, raised $38 million in 2004 for President Bush."
- Hesiod, "Swift Boating in Reverse: The Newest Threat to the Truth," Daily Kos, February 10, 2006. See MidwestHeroes website funded by Progress for America Voter Fund.
- Nick Coleman. "Troops back from Iraq being deployed on front lines of spin war", Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), February 11, 2006.
- Nick Coleman. Pro-war ad cynically exploits families' grief, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), February 17, 2006.
- Mike Dorning, "TV Ads Push Iraq War Support," Chicago Tribune (truthout), February 28, 2006.
- Bobby Hanafin, "A Blitz of Pro-War TV Ads Code Name 'TORNADO NEOCON' may be spinning toward Ohio and Pennsylvania – a bit of humor in the world of propaganda," Veterans for Common Sense, March 3, 2006: "Progress for America is the same discusting [sic] NEOCON PAC that had to be asked to take down the ads and signs on it's website compating [sic] gays to Soldiers as it attacked AARP in it's attempt to help destroy Social Security for President Bush a few months back."
- Joel Bleifuss, "Strangers to the Truth," In These Times, March 24, 2006.
- Thomas B. Edsall, "'527' Legislation Would Affect Democrats More. Proposals Seek to Limit Groups That Provide Millions," Washington Post, March 28, 2006: "Former Federal Election Commission member Bradley Smith wrote on the RedState blog that restricting 527 political committees runs counter to conservative principles and would prevent such key pro-Republican groups as the Swift Boat Veterans and Progress for America from replicating in future elections the crucial role they played in 2004. While outspent, PFA and the Swift Boat Veterans ran ads that Democrats and Republicans agree were the most effective of the campaign."
- Stephen Dinan, "Families seek remembrance of Iraq liberation day," Washington Post (FamiliesUnitedMission.com), April 3, 2006.
- Joshua Pantesco, "FEC fines 527 group $750,000 for campaign finance law violations," Jurist, March 1, 2007.
- Cara Parks, Let the Attack Ads Roll! Your guide to the shady 527s who will be playing a major role in this year's presidential campaign, The New Republic, June 12, 2008.