Mysterious political entrepreneurs

For decades, Democratic Party officials, like clockwork, went through the GOTV motions every four years. That’s get-out-the-vote—and it’s where the action is in Election 2004. Dems typically sprinkled around gobs of money to special-interest groups, who then pretended to spend it on voter registration and mobilization. There was little accountability and almost no controls, and inevitably, scandal erupted with one group or another being accused of handing out “walking around” money on election day to induce voters to get themselves to the polls.

Fed up with the lack of oversight and effectiveness, three Democratic money-bags are trying to bring some management skills to the process. The trio of anonymous donors has formed a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization called America’s Families United, and are putting an eye-popping $20 million behind it. The goal: to develop a cadre of voter-registration groups and build a database of newly registered voters. Sound like Politics 101? It is—but for some reason, the Dems never got the hang of it.

The new group’s new twist is that it intends to combine voter-registration basics with the fundamentals of Management 101. That means that, when a new voter is registered, America’s Families gets a copy of the form, enters the info into a database, and follows up with county clerks to make sure the name appears on government voter rolls. The aim is to register up to 1.5 million new voters in the next few years—and build a database that can be mobilized for future elections.

So who are these guys, you might ask? Even those normally in the know—such as Harold Ickes, a longtime Democratic insider and former top aide to President Bill Clinton—swears he doesn’t know the identity of the political venture capitalists behind America’s Families United. But if the masked donors’ gambit works, Democratic candidates may discover the rewards of investing today—for long-term payoff in the future. So stay tuned—Dems will want to shake someone’s hand in gratitude.

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