By MICHAEL LUO
© 2008 New York Times News Service
Nearly 10,000 of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and causes across America will probably receive a foreboding “warning” letter in the mail next week.
The letter is an opening shot across the bow from an unusual new outside political group on the left that is poised to engage in hardball tactics to prevent similar groups on the right from getting off the ground this fall.
Led by Tom Matzzie, a liberal political operative who has been involved with some prominent left-wing efforts in recent years, the newly formed nonprofit group, Accountable America, is planning to confront donors to conservative groups, hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions.
“We want to stop the Swift Boating before it gets off the ground,” said Matzzie, who described his effort as “going for the jugular.”
The warning letter is intended as a first step, alerting donors who might be considering giving to right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives.
The group is also hoping to be able to respond if an outside conservative group broadcasts a television advertisement attacking Sen. Barack Obama, or another Democratic candidate, by running commercials exposing the donors behind the advertisements.
Judd Legum, who was the research director for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, has signed on to play the same role for Accountable America.
The group has raised only $200,000, but Matzzie said he expected to collect more than $500,000 by next week, with an ultimate goal of $2 million.
Matzzie said he decided to focus exclusively on conservative donors because such an effort can be done cheaply. “It’s targeted,” Matzzie said. “We don’t need $25 million.”
Matzzie recently served as one of the leaders of Progressive Media U.S.A., a group that was intended to lead a left-wing media effort in the presidential election, but the group folded several months ago after it failed to raise enough money, partly because of signals from the Obama campaign that donors should not give to outside groups.
Obama and other Democratic officials have issued warnings about possible activities by outside groups like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which helped sink Sen. John F. Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004. But activity among outside conservative groups has been decidedly low-level.
Still, Accountable America has singled out some major Republican donors, including Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino mogul, and Mel Sembler, a former ambassador and real estate magnate, both major donors to Freedom’s Watch, a conservative group.
Calls to Sembler and Adelson were not returned, but Ed Patru, a spokesman for Freedom’s Watch, scoffed at Matzzie’s plan. “This idea sounds even more sloppily thought out than his last venture, which, of course, went belly-up for lack of financial support,” Patru said.
“I doubt anyone will be intimidated by him,” he said, “but if it gives anyone pause, they are always welcome to give to Freedom’s Watch – all of our donors are entitled to complete anonymity by law.”
Indeed, anonymity is a potential obstacle to the group’s efforts. Outside political groups organized as 501(c)4 entities, including Accountable America, do not have to disclose the names of their donors.
Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist who helped organize the Swift Boat effort, said Matzzie’s group was likely to have the opposite effect on potential donors, firing them up instead of discouraging them.
“They’re not going to be intimidated by some pipsqueak on the kooky left,” LaCivita said.© The New York Times. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.