Progress for America Voter Fund
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
The Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA-VF), affiliated with Progress for America, Inc. (PFA), was formed May 27, 2004.  PFA-VF states on its website that it is "a nonprofit organization under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code" and a "conservative issue advocacy organization dedicated to setting the issue record straight about these critical issues."
After the Federal Election Commission decided May 13, 2004, to postpone regulating so-called 527 groups (named after the section of the tax code under which they are organized), PFA spun off a 527 committee called the Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA-VF), which ended up pouring $28.8 million into supporting George W. Bush in 2004. 
In late 2003, Tony Feather, the former political director of Bush-Cheney 2000 who operated PFA, stepped away from PFA, thus complying with the letter of the law forbidding 527 organizations from coordinating their activities with election campaigns. His firm, Feather Larson Synhorst-DCI (FLS-DCI), went on to do campaign work for Bush, receiving $12.8 million from the Republican National Committee and $3.6 million from Bush-Cheney '04 Inc.. 
The National Journal reported that PFA had morphed from an organization that built public support for the president's agenda into an "organization that will use soft-money donations for advertising and grassroots efforts to boost Bush and other GOP candidates in 2004 races." The Journal wrote that PFA hoped "to pull in donations of between $40 million and $60 million for television ads, direct-mail and Web-based outreach, and other efforts on issues ranging from the economy to national security." Management of PFA was handed over to Chris LaCivita, an employee of FLS-DCI’s sibling company DCI Group. LaCivita took over as PFA’s executive director while another DCI employee, Brian McCabe, became president of the Progress for America Voter Fund.
Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity pointed out in March 2004 that election law specialist Ben Ginsberg, then counsel for PFA and a partner at the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs, was "also the chief outside counsel to the Bush campaign." 
During the fall of 2003, reported Peter H. Stone of the National Journal, Ginsberg talked "across the country to prominent fundraisers," asking them to serve on PFA’s advisory board and to rope in large soft-money contributions. In August 2004, Ginsberg chose to resign from the Bush campaign after it was revealed that he had provided counsel to another GOP-friendly 527 group — Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
White House / RNC "unofficial extension"
"... Progress for America often functions like an unofficial extension of the White House, advancing the president's policies alongside the Republican National Committee," Glen Justice and Aron Pilhofer reported in the November 14, 2005, New York Times.
"The group's campaign arm, the Progress for America Voter Fund, is one of the so-called 527 committees, which spent tens of millions of dollars on both sides to influence last year's elections. Though the groups can collect unlimited contributions, they were barred from coordinating with campaigns. But in the postelection season, there is no prohibition against coordinating with the White House and the party, and Progress for America has become one of the strongest players to emerge from 2004," Justice and Pilhofer wrote.
The "527 committee" Impact
"The upshot of this legislative and regulatory palsy was to turn the 2004 presidential election into a battleground for billionaires, as Democrat richies like financier George Soros funded groups like the Media Fund and Republican richies like Ameriquest owner Dawn Arnall funded groups like the Progress for America Fund." 
"At the end of the day though, each party committee and at least one presidential campaign was, to a significant degree, identified with a major 527 group (America Coming Together and Progress for America, respectively) that looked like it would be active in future campaigns." 
"Moreover, the corporations that PFA initially looked toward as a main source of funds proved reluctant to contribute, often citing counsel warnings from counsel about the uncertain legality of 527s ... In response, PFA hired three 'traditional Republican fundraisers.' Ensconced at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel during the Republican convention in New York, it succeeded in enlisting not only funds, but also fundraising assistance from two of President Bush’s most ardent financiers: Alex Spanos and Dawn Arnall. Most important, it received the ultimate wink and nod from the Republican Party and the Bush campaign." 
2004 Election cycle spending
PFA-VF raised $44,949,178 and had spent $35,631,378 in 2004. A breakdown of PFAVF’s spending shows that the vast majority of its money went to ad buys. Mentzer Media Services, Inc. received $26.6 million from the group for ad buys. But the second and forth top recipients of PFAVF money were companies affilated with Tom Synhorst. FYI Messaging got $1.66 million for direct mail services, and TSE Enterprises (which hosts all these organizations’ websites as well as ashleysstory.com), got $907,955 for web services. Another top recipient of PFA-VF money was DCI Group, which got $672,827 for consulting. Other recipients of PFAVF money were Creative Response Concepts, which got $62, 064 for consulting and Patton Boggs, which was paid $150,286 for legal expenses.
Major Contributors 2004-2005
According to FEC records, the following were major PFA-VF contributors in 2004. (CampaignMoney.com)
- Dawn Arnall: $5.4 million
- Richard de Vos (Co-founder Amway): $2 million
- C. Boyden Gray: $100,000
- Carl H. Lindner (Chairman of American Financial Group): $1.5 million
- Bernard Marcus (Retired; Home Depot, Inc.): $1 million
- Robert McNair (Chairman, Houston Texas NFL Franchise): $1.25 million
- Jerry Perenchio (Chartwell Partners LLC): $3 million
- Jerry Perenchio (Living Trust) $1 million
- Bob Perry (CEO of Perry Homes): $3 million
- T. Boone Pickens (CEO of BP Capital): $2.5 million
- Robert Rowlings (CEO of Omni Hotels): $1 million
- Paul E. Singer (Elliott Capital Advisors LP): $1.5 million (Also see Vets for Freedom Action Fund.)
- Alex Spanos (Chairman of AG Spanos Companies): $5 million
- TRT Holdings Inc., Irving, Texas: $1 million
- Jay van Andel (Founder of Alticor): $2 million
- Alice Walton (Rancher; Wal-Mart Stores): $2.6 million
- Marian Ware (CEO of Ware Family Office): $1.4 million
More about PAF-VF
The FEC search showed no results for a legitimate political action committee by the name of "Progress for America PAC", "Progress for America Political Action Committee", "Progress for America Fund", "Progress for America Action Fund" or "PFA Voter Fund".
PFA-VF public relations firm is McCarthy Marcus Hennings, Ltd.
"The Progress for America Voter Fund ran its first television ad in July , and went on to spend more than any other 527 on the pro-Bush side." 
"After putting up the Web page supporting Judge Alito, Progress for America created an advertisement within hours and ran $425,000 in television commercials in the first week. It activated consultants in 20 states, who began lobbying for Mr. Alito before editorial boards and on local talk radio programs. And it announced that it would spend $50,000 on Internet advertising and online advocacy.
"The group sent about 10 million e-mail messages to supporters, with help from lists supplied by the Republican National Committee and other organizations, and it released 'Alito2Go,' a video clip of its commercial on the judge that can be viewed with an iPod," Glen Justice and Aron Pilhofer wrote November 14, 2005.
- Transcript: "Quiet Strength" 30-second ad PFA-VF (George Washington University), early June 2004.
- Transcript: "What If" 30-second ad, PFA-VF (George Washington University), June 24, 2004.
- Transcript: "Ashley's Story" 60-second ad and 30-second version, PFA-VF (George Washington University), second half October 2004.
- Index of Television Ads Related to U.S. Supreme Court Nominations (2005), BrennanCenter.org. Includes links for each "storyboard" and "video".
Personnel (Current and Former)
Progress for America Voter Fund
Post Office Box 57167
Washington, DC 20037
Email: info AT pfavoterfund.com
Note: Portions of this article were taken from Laura Miller's "Progress for the Powerful", which was published by PR Watch, Volume 11, No. 4 (2004).
Related SourceWatch Resources
- Profile: Progress for America Voter Fund, Center for Public Integrity, accessed April 10, 2006.
- "Silent Partners: Progress for America Voter Fund,"Center for Public Integrity.
Contributions & Expenditures
- Political Action Committee and Campaign Finance Details for 2004: Top 100 Donations/Contributions of at least $200 to Progress for America Voter Fund, CampaignMoney.com.
- Progress For America Voter Fund "527" Political Organization Filing Information, CampaignMoney.com. Includes list of contributors.
- IRS Political Organization Report of Contributions and Expenditures: Progress for America Voter Fund, May 27, 2004, to June 30, 2004.
- "Federal Election Commission Reports of Spending for Electioneering Communications" reported since: September 2, 2004; October 1, 2004.
- "527 Committee Activity. Top 50 Federally Focused Organizations, Open Secrets: profiles, receipts and expenditures. Figures represent most recent information obtained from the Internal Revenue Service.
- Complaint filed with Federal Election Commission July 2004 by Democracy 21, Campaign Legal Center, and Center for Responsive Politics versus Progress for America Voter Fund.
- "Complaint Filed Against 527 Group, Progress For America. Campaign Finance Groups File FEC Complaint Charging Progress for America Voter Fund is in Violation of Federal Campaign Finance Laws," Capital Bits & Pieces, July 21, 2004. See Complaint.
Articles & Commentary
- Peter H. Stone, "Inside Two of the Soft-Money Havens," National Journal, December 20, 2003. (No active link available.)
- 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."
- Peter H. Stone, "Republican 527s: Full-Steam Ahead" (cache file), National Journal (PFA), May 24, 2004.
- Thomas B. Edsall, "GOP Creating Own '527' Groups. Unregulated Funds Can Be Raised," Washington Post, May 25, 2004: "James Francis Jr., who put together the 1999 to 2000 Bush Pioneers, one of the most successful fundraising operations in U.S. history, has been asked to chair the lead GOP organization, called Progress for America (PFA) ... The backers of PFA are working at top speed to revitalize and change the legal structure of the organization in order to capitalize on the FEC's May 13 decision to postpone adoption of rules governing the soft-money activities of '527' organizations."
- "Anti-Kerry Ad Misses Context, Distorts Facts. Pro-Bush group repeats misleading attacks on Kerry's defense record," FactCheck.org, July 1, 2004.
- Carl Weiser, "Millionaires open wallets in voter duel. Rosenthal, Lindner joust as laws encourage donations to groups," The Enquirer (Cincinnati, OH), August 11, 2004.
- Taegan Goddard, "Another GOP 527 Group Emerges," Political Wire, August 25, 2004.
- "Crashing the Parties," PBS Online NewsHour, August 27, 2004.
- Glen Justice, "G.O.P. Group Says It's Ready to Wage Ad War," New York Times (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), August 25, 2004.
- Jonathan Riskind, "Independent ads emit emotion in final week. Spots hone in on Ohio, other battlegrounds," The Columbus Dispatch, August 28, 2004.
- Derek Willis, "527 Ad Spending Heavy in Midwestern States. Wisconsin and Iowa see millions in advertising since June," Center for Public Integrity, September 23, 2004.
- Craig Gilbert, "Independent groups spend big in state. Close nature of race draws millions to Wisconsin airwaves," Journal Sentinel Online (Milwaukee), September 24, 2004.
- Jane Norman, "Group spends nearly $1 million on ads in Iowa," DesMoinesRegister.com, September 24, 2004.
- Glen Justice and Jim Rutenberg, "Advocacy Groups Step Up Costly Battle of Political Ads," New York Times, September 25, 2004.
- "The 'Willie Horton' Ad Of 2004? Republican group's ad shows Osama, Kerry. It appeals to fear, and twists Kerry's record on defense, intelligence, Iraq," FactCheck.org, September 28, 2004.
- Mark Memmott, Analysis: "Ad watch: Progress for America Voter Fund," USA Today, October 18, 2004.
- Judy Keen and Mark Memmott, "Most expensive TV campaign ad goes for emotions. Spot features Bush with teen whose mom died on 9/11," USA Today, October 19, 2004.
- Christian Berthelsen and Zachary Coile, "Campaign 2004 Donations: GOP contributors use loophole -- just like Dems," San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 2004.
- Howard Kurtz, "Ads Aiming Straight for the Heart. Independent Groups Spend Millions on Hard-Hitting Spots," Washington Post, October 27, 2006.
- Geoff Earle, "Multimillionaires funding expensive pro-Bush 527 ads," The Hill, October 27, 2004.
- "$600 million tab for Decision 2004 ads," Associated Press (MSNBC), November 2, 2004.
- Eric Boehlert, "The TV ad that put Bush over the top. An unscripted emotional encounter with the president, captured on camera, ends up a winner," Salon, November 5, 2004.
- Stephen Dinan, "Congress ponders how 527s add up in wake of election," Washington Times, November 14, 2004: "Brian McCabe, who heads the Progress for America Voter Fund, said the group produced the Ashley ad in June and 'always knew we'd use it late during the cycle.' ... After the ad began running, he said, the group raised another $6 million from donors who wanted to see it kept on the air. All told, the ad ran nearly 30,000 times."
- John Carlisle, "In Battle of 527 Groups, Conservatives Do More With Less," Cybercast News Service, November 24, 2004.
- Jeff Fleischer, "More Money, More Problems. Despite historic campaign finance reform, money still rules politics," Mother Jones (Fair Elections), December 3, 2004.
- Jeanne Cummings, "Those 527 Fund-Raisers Prove Resilient; Republicans, Slow Off the Blocks, Now May Decide Not to Act to Get Rid of Them," Wall Street Journal (The Reform Institute), December 6, 2004.
- "An energetic push to inaugural fund," New York Times News Service (The Hindu), December 26, 2004: "Ameriquest Capital Corp. also gave $250,000 to the inauguration. Dawn Arnall, who is co-chairwoman of the company along with her husband, Roland Arnall, gave $5 million to the Progress for America Voter Fund this year. The two were also $200,000 'ranger' fund-raisers for Mr. Bush's campaign."
- Laura Miller, "The Fix Behind Fixing Social Security," PR Watch, 2005 (Vol. 12, No. 1).
- Thomas B. Edsall and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, "Big-Money Contributors Line Up for Inauguration," Washington Post, January 13, 2005.
- "Fox News whitewashes another Republican front group," Media Matters for America, March 9, 2005.
- Press Release: "Progress for America Launches March Social Security Media and Grassroots Blitz. PFA and PFA-VF plan to spend more than $4.5 million on Social Security message this month," Progress for America, March 17, 2005.
- Sam Bishop, "Anti-filibuster ad campaigns target senator," Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, AK), May 1, 2005.
- 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.
- "Ad Attacks Supreme Court Nominee John Roberts," NPR, August 10, 2005.
- Karen MacPherson, "Abortion rights ad assailing Roberts is pulled," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (JudicialNetwork.com), August 12, 2005.
- "Conservative Group to Broadcast TV Ad Opposing Miers," Associated Press (Fox News), October 25, 2005: re Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers: "The conservative group Progress for America Voter Fund supported her nomination with television ads."
- Glen Justice and Aron Pilhofer, "Unwavering Bush Ally Acts Quickly on Court Choices," New York Times, November 14, 2005; also posted by truthout.
- "'A Man of Honor, Principle, and Integrity'; Progress for America Voter Fund Announces a New Alito TV Ad," PR Newswire, December 12, 2005.
- "New PFA-VF Ad: Democrat Supporters of Alito Speak Out. Liberal Senators' Behavior Called 'Shameful'," PR Newswire, January 13, 2006.
- Courtney Mabeus, "Interest Groups Gang Up on Senate's Center. Spending by the right and left aims to influence Alito’s Supreme Court chances," Capital Eye, January 25, 2006.
- "Progress For America Launches Major Iraq War Public Opinion Campaign," Hotline On Call Blog / National Journal, February 10, 2006.
- "TV ads about Iraq war causing controversy," KARE11.com (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), February 14, 2006: "The Progress for America Voter Fund spent more than $700,000, in the Twin Cities market, to get the ad on the air."
- Nick Coleman, "Troops back from Iraq being deployed on front lines of spin war," Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), February 16, 2006.
- Nick Coleman. Pro-war ad cynically exploits families' grief, Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), February 17, 2006.
- Genya,"Progress for America Voter Fund ads," Geneva to Malaysia ... and Beyond!, February 17, 2006.
- Hesiod, "Hesiod Gets Results! Swift Boaters Busted!" Daily Kos, February 17, 2006.
- Mike Dorning, "TV Ads Push Iraq War Support," Chicago Tribune (truthout), February 28, 2006.
- Joel Bleifuss, "Strangers to the Truth," In These Times (Ocnus.Net), March 26, 2006.
- Stephen Dinan, "Families seek remembrance of Iraq liberation day," Washington Post (FamiliesUnitedMission.com), April 3, 2006.