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Advancing Wisconsin With National Money

by Will Evans
Nov 3, 2008

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Will Evans

With all the new groups that we've seen shoveling money into high-profile TV and radio ads, it's easy to overlook the outfits working to influence the election while staying below the radar.

Advancing Wisconsin is one of those low-visibility operations, and it's getting bankrolled by national pro-Democrat groups. A 501(c)(4) formed in May, the group does phone calls, mailers and door-to-door canvassing to help elect Obama. It spent $435,000 in the last week and $1.9 million this election season, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Mike Tate, the executive director, knows that many groups like his fade away after the eleciton. But his fellow organizers are determined to form a "permanent grassroots field-organizing infrastructure in Wisconsin," he says. In the future, the group plans to advocate around the state budget and state supreme court races.

This idea of an eternal, localized political structure is a hot one among Democrats and liberals. Similar organizations exist in several other states, and big donors are looking kindly on them.

How kindly? We talk money after the jump...

Advancing Wisconsin got $230,000 earlier this year from Fund for America, a group funded most notably by George Soros and organized labor. Fund for America was supposed to be a centralized funder for liberal groups, but disbanded in June.

Another $650,000 arrived in Advancing Wisconsin's coffers this fall from America Votes 2006. The umbrella group America Votes was organized in '04, to coordinate voter mobilization against President Bush, and continues to operate.

America Votes 2006 (stay with us here; this is how a lot of American politics is financed) recently received $500,000 from both Rockefeller heir Alida Messinger and Chicago publisher Fred Eychaner, and a combined $250,000 from brother-and-sister billionaires Jon and Pat Stryker, heirs to the Stryker medical techonology company.

America Votes 2006 also picked up $200,000 each from Getty Oil heir Anne G. Earhart, Steelcase office furniture heir John R. Hunting and Peter B. Lewis, chair of Progressive Insurance. Lewis historically has been one of the financial stalwarts of the Left.

But back to Advancing Wisconsin.

Mike Tate, the director, was state director for Howard Dean's fervent-but-short try for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. Dean now heads the Democratic National Committee. Tate was also Wisconsin's deputy director for America Coming Together, a pro-Democratic get-out-the-vote operation in 2004.

Advancing Wisconsin's program and campaign manager is Meagan Mahaffey, previously director of the Wisconsin Democratic Party (and before that with America Coming Together and Dean). The operations director is Awais Khaleel, who was a college student superdelegate at the presidential convention and a member of the Democratic National Committee. (Tate says Khaleel gave up the DNC seat before working on Advancing Wisconsin's campaign.)

All in all, this Wisconsin group's leadership has pretty strong connections to the national Democratic Party apparatus and those who help to underwrite it. No wonder Advancing Wisconsin is well funded.

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