A group of high-profile progressive bloggers and libertarian Republicans are rolling out a new political action committee called Accountability Now to channel widespread anger over pending legislation that would legalize much of the president's warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans, and grant retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies that cooperated with the spying when it was still illegal.
Progressive author and lawyer Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon.com, and blogger Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, are spearheading the effort. They've hired the political media consultants behind a historic Ron Paul online fundraising drive to organize a similar "moneybomb," set to go off Aug. 8.
"That is the day Richard Nixon resigned, and the idea is that 35 years ago when you did this kind of stuff, you were forced out of office, and now congress drops everything to make your crimes legal," says Hamsher in an interview.
The campaign marks a milestone in the evolution of online grassroots organizing. The PAC is cherry-picking the tactics and tools that proved most successful in the presidential primary campaigns, and is using them to corral online support for the single issue of domestic spying. The PAC's money pay for advertisements in the districts of the House Democrats who voted for the spy bill -- potentially causing problems for those capitulating on the Bush wiretapping program.
"The fact is, we're all entering completely new territory here," writes Micah Sifry on the TechPresident blog in a post on other, similar efforts to rally support to influence Barack Obama's vote on the pending legislation this Wednesday in the Senate. "There have always been efforts to influence political candidates to take or change positions during a campaign (or afterward), but we've never before had a national campaign create an open platform for mobilizing supporters and then seen a salient chunk of those supporters openly use that platform to challenge the candidate on a policy position."
Key to the new effort are consultants Trevor Lyman and Rick Williams, whose successful online money-raising effort for Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman, broke records last year. The pair masterminded a "moneybomb" drive called "This November 5th" that brought in an unprecedented $4.2 million in contributions in a single day. A repeat effort in December raised another $6 million for Paul.
Now the pair have built a web page for Accountability Now where opponents of the spy bill can commit in advance to donating money to the PAC. Similar to the Ron Paul drives, netizens can grab Accountability Now badges to place on their blogs, which link back to the fundraising pledge page.
The moneybomb is only one of several techniques, both online and off, that Hamsher's Firedoglake is experimenting with to make offending members of congress feel the anger of their constituents.
Blue America PAC, of which Firedoglake is a part, has already hired Advomatic and Advomatic Laboratories in New York City, to create a VOIP widget that lets voters call their senators ask them what their stance is on the spy legislation, and to urge them to vote for an amendment that would remove the telecom immunity provision.
So far, 1,600 calls have been made using the tool, which launched Wednesday, says Matt Browner Hamlin, Advomatic Laboratories' founder.
Blue America PAC also launched a robocall campaign in late June against House Majority Leader and Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, who organized the vote for the legislation. And it's run television ads against Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga., and Chris Carney, D-Pa -- the so-called Blue Dog Democrats who pushed for the legislation.
Hamsher says the effort is aimed at Democrats, because that's the party in control of Congress. "They will have the power," she says. "From our perspective, Chris Carney, or a Republican, it doesn't make any difference -- they're both voting bad on a variety of issues. But Republicans have no power, and Chris Carney in the center will.
Using money it has already raised, the group ran a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post on Tuesday with bullet points explaining what's wrong with the pending legislation.
The Senate is expected to follow the House in approving the new spy legislation Wednesday.