MoveOn.org

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MoveOn.org is a liberal non-partisan political group based in the United States that organizes and informs an online community estimated at more than two million people. The group aims to promote grassroots advocacy by its members through various political activities including running a PAC, voter registration drives, and political advertising (especially in swing states). To these ends, MoveOn runs three organizations, each of which operates under a different section of U.S. tax and election laws:

  1. MoveOn.org, a 501(c)(4) organization, primarily focuses on education and advocacy on important national issues. Under U.S. tax laws, a 501(c)(4) organization can engage in lobbying for legislative change but is not allowed to intervene in political campaigns in support of or opposition to any candidate for public office
  2. MoveOn PAC, a federal PAC, primarily helps members elect candidates who reflect the organization's values. Unlike 501(c)(4) organizations, PACs are allowed to raise "hard money" for individual candidates.
  3. The MoveOn.org Voter Fund is a 527 organization. It primarily runs advertising and other activities aimed at educating voters on the positions, records, views, and qualifications of candidates for public office. In 2004, the voter fund has focused on running ads criticizing the Bush administration's policies in key "battleground" states.

Originally started in 1998 as a bipartisan email group that petitioned Congress to "move on" past the impeachment proceedings of President Clinton, MoveOn grew to national prominence for its strong disapproval of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since then, it devoted its efforts toward supporting the Democratic nominee for the 2004 U.S. presidential election and defeating George W. Bush's re-election effort, raising millions of dollars for Democratic candidates. It was one of several 527 groups supporting John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in the 2004 U.S. presidential election; others include America Coming Together and The Media Fund.

MoveOn has created pressure within the Democratic Party for what the Washington Post calls "a vigorously liberal agenda" that goes "beyond simple opposition to the Bush administration." MoveOn founder Wes Boyd rejects the advice of "centrists" such as the Democratic Leadership Council who argue that "Democrats must moderate their positions on war, taxes, universal health care and other key issues." Speaking in June 2003 at a "Take Back America" conference, Boyd declared, "The primary way to build trust is to consistently fight for things that people care about." Grassroots America is ready to support a liberal agenda, he said, if only "someone will get out and lead. ... Every time we did something, every time we showed leadership, our membership went up." [1]

Contents

History

Main article: History of MoveOn.org

MoveOn.org was founded in 1998 by computer entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the married cofounders of Berkeley Systems. They started by passing around a petition asking Congress to "censure President Clinton and move on" as opposed to impeaching him. To the couple's surprise, the petition, passed around by word of mouth, was extremely successful. By the end, they had half a million signatures. Buoyed by their success, the couple went on to start similar campaigns, calling for more inspections rather than an invasion of Iraq (see Popular opposition to war on Iraq), the reinstatement of lower limits on arsenic and mercury pollution, and campaign finance reform.

Organizing methodology

"The powerful thing about MoveOn is that it is not a one-way broadcast media. The Internet, when used best, is a two-way media."Joan Blades, MoveOn founder. [2]
"They're the leading edge. They've combined the reach and the cost-effectiveness of the Internet with real live, on-the-street and in-the-office, face-to-face volunteerism." - Michael Kieschnick, president of Working Assets [3]

MoveOn uses e-mail as its main conduit for communicating with members, sending action alerts at least once a week. According to Joan Neils, a graduate student at the University of Washington who has conducted a study of MoveOn, one of the keys to its effectiveness has been its status as a "trusted, credible entity." It achieves this status through a variety of strategies: "First of all, people who read a MoveOn e-mail or visit the site generally do so after receiving the message or link from someone they trust. ... This is because almost every e-mail MoveOn sends encourages recipients to forward it on to others who share an interest in the topic. This is how they build their membership and it provides a foundation of trust among the recruited." In addition, "Every e-mail includes the opportunity for a recipient to unsubscribe from the list. This is in stark contrast to commercial e-mails and spam, which often (and irritatingly) exclude this minor but important option." MoveOn also respects the privacy of its members and doesn't sell or share individuals' information with other groups. Finally, Neils writes, "Most fundament to credibility is MoveOn's legitimacy through validation. All of the supporting information MoveOn provides via e-mail and the Web is easily validated. For instance, e-mails always cite sources at the bottom, most often complete with links directly to the source." [4]

The MoveOn website also uses multi-media, including videos, audio downloads and images. In addition communicating via the Internet, MoveOn advertises using traditional print and broadcast media as well as billboards, bus signs and bumper stickers, digital versions of which are downloadable from its website. "MoveOn also uses the Web effectively for two-way communications," observes Neils. "One of the most interactive elements of the MoveOn.org site, and one that demonstrates the group’s nonhierarchical organization is the Action Forum. The Action Forum is much like a blog, in which members write in issues they think are important and suggest strategies for action. Members then vote on submissions and the highest ranked issues rise to the top, thereby establishing MoveOn’s priorities. It’s an incredibly fluid, bottom-up approach to decision-making, allowing MoveOn to adapt and change as they go." [5]

"The site is organized in ways traditional political consultants might not stomach," reported CNN in January 2004. "Any member can propose priorities and strategies to which others can respond, and the most-supported ideas rise to the top. That means ceding control over much of the content to motivated online participants, producing interactivity that adds grassroots credibility." [6]

"We are steeped in feedback,” says MoveOn founder Wes Boyd. [7] The group's success, he argues, has stemmed from its ability to listen to supporters and develop campaigns that reflect their interests. "That doesn't mean you can't have a vision. Our model is 'Strong Vision, Big Ears,'" he said at the O'Reilly Network's 2004 Digital Democracy Teach-in. "Every time we did something that really engaged people the membership soared." [8]

"Part of MoveOn's attraction is that it aims for normal people, not just activists, and engages them successfully," says MoveOn organizer Eli Pariser. "The efforts fund themselves ... we're just trying to keep up. We ask for a specific amount of money and much more pours in." [9]

Some analysts see MoveOn as primarily a vehicle for mobilizing citizens who already share its liberal political views. According to Neils, however, "the group’s largest potential for influencing politics is not necessarily through changing the positions, attitudes or behaviors of their primary audience. Instead, their efforts may be more substantially realized through reaching undecideds in an indirect way, via opinion leaders or 'Influentials.'" [10] She cites research by the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet showing that "Online Political Citizens" (OPCs) like the people who visit MoveOn are "seven times more likely than average citizens to serve as opinion leaders among their friends, relatives and colleagues . . . Normally, 10% of Americans qualify as Influentials. Our study found that 69% of Online Political Citizens are Influentials." [11]

MoveOn's activities are not limited to Internet and media. From the beginning, it has sought to engage people in real-world activism. Although its petition opposing the impeachment of Bill Clinton collected signers over the Internet, more than 2,000 volunteers participated in hand-delivering the petitions to members of Congress - a strategy that it used again in organizing against the war in Iraq. In February 2003, journalist Scott Duke Harris observed that "MoveOn's long-term success ... may hinge on its ability to use the Net to change the way business has been done in the offline world. The group has challenged the notion, for instance, that only big contributors can get face-to-face meetings with policy makers. In recent weeks, it recruited members through online emails to form groups to meet with members of Congress. More than 400 meetings have taken place." [12] MoveOn has collaborated with groups like Meetup.com in organizing street demonstrations, bake sales, house parties and other opportunities for people to meet personally and act collectively in their own communities. According to Don Hazen, "MoveOn's most dramatic achievement was to turn its Internet machine - focused on petitions, emails to policy makers and raising and distributing money to political candidates - into face-to-face activism and grassroots media buying, the kind of activities that make politicians in this country sit up and take notice." [13]

Reasons for MoveOn's success, according to Hazen, have included the following:

  • "First, they are not dependent on foundation money, with all its attendant worries about how to behave and when the next grant will come."
  • "Second, they have 'hard money' - as opposed to grants and tax-deductible contributions - which enables them to be partisan, contribute to political campaigns and exercise clout in the political process. 'Everyone told us we couldn't raise hard money, but it has not been a problem,' notes Pariser."
  • "Third, thanks to Wes Boyd's technology savvy, MoveOn is very sophisticated on the web. They have addresses of all their members and can organize them to zip-plus-four, an incredible asset in influencing political campaigns. MoveOn also doesn't over-intellectualize or talk down to its members." [14]

MoveOn's fundraising success is also partly a reflection of changes in federal election laws. Under the terms of the McCain/Feingold election finance reform legislation, which went into effect in 2002, political parties were allowed to raise larger amounts of "hard money" contributions, but were forbidden from raising "soft money" -- a change that tended to favor Republicans, who have historically been more successful than Democrats at raising hard money. As a result, individuals seeking to influence the 2004 election have given money to non-party organization like MoveOn, which are still able to engage in political advertising using soft money under section 527 of U.S. tax code. "Thanks to 527s, we will be outspent by the Democrats," complained Ken Mehlman, manager of the Bush-Cheney campaign. "MoveOn.org is a huge threat and has hurt the president. Every action makes a difference." [15]

Personnel

  • Joan Blades
  • Wes Boyd
  • John Hlinko, an online guerrilla marketing and PR specialist who went on to establish a firm called Extreme Campaigns before going to work for Grassroots Enterprise, worked on MoveOn's anti-impeachment effort in 1998 and again on its 2001 push for campaign-finance reform.
  • Carrie Olson, chief operating officer
  • Peter Schurman, executive director
  • Eli Pariser, international campaigns director
  • Zach Exley, who previously created the [gwbush.com] website, was the director of special projects for the MoveOn PAC. During the Democratic primary for the 2004 presidential election, Exley worked as a web consultant for the Howard Dean campaign. According to Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi, he hired Exley because he admired MoveOn's ability to organize activists over the web. [16] In March 2004, Exley became the director of online communications and organization for John Kerry's presidential campaign.
  • Patrick Michael Kane of We Also Walk Dogs, Inc. has worked as MoveOn's system architect, designing, building and managing MoveOn's web and mailing infrastructure. According to Wes Boyd, We Also Walk Dogs "solves our mass mailing, web database, and security problems in shockingly short timeframes. Without them, our campaigns would be impossible."

Relationships with other organizations

MoveOn has collaborated on projects with a number of other organizations, including:

MoveOn has also retained the services of advertising and PR firms, including:

Candidates supported

The MoveOn PAC endorsed 30 Democratic political candidates in the 2000 election cycle, including

  • Scotty Baesler, who ran successfully for reelection to Congress in Kentucky's 6th District.
  • Jean Elliott Brown, a MoveOn volunteer and public relations executive who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Rep. Mark Foley in Florida. MoveOn channeled more than $100,000 to her campaign.
  • Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, who ran against Senator John Ashcroft. Due to Carnahan's unexpected death during the campaign, his wife took his place and defeated Ashcroft.
  • Delaware Governor Thomas Carper, who successfully defeated incumbent GOP Senator William Roth.
  • Linda Chapin, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Florida's 8th district.
  • Regina Montoya Coggins, who ran unsuccessfully in Texas's 5th District against Pete Sessions
  • Susan Davis, who ran successfully in California's 49th District (now the 53rd District, following redistricting).
  • Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., who in 1998 defeated Rep. Mike Pappas, a vociferous supporter of Clinton's impeachment.
  • Nancy Keenan, a Montanan seeking the seat of extremely conservative Rep. Rick Hill.
  • Rick Larsen, who ran successfully in Washington's open 2nd District race.
  • Susan Bass Levin, who ran unsuccessfully in New Jersey's 3rd District against H. James Saxton
  • California state Senator Adam Schiff, who defeated Rep. James Rogan, one of the House Managers in charge of Clinton's impeachment trial. MoveOn directed nearly $200,000 to Schiff and was his top contributor.

Candidates supported in the 2002 election cycle included:

Financial contributors

  • MoveOn's spending as an advocacy group is listed at Open Secrets: Advocacy Group Spending ("data is based on records released by the Internal Revenue Service on Monday, March 08, 2004").
  • In late 2003, Moveon.org became the subject of controversy when it was discovered that websites outside the United States had been set up for non-US citizens to make donations to MoveOn for the explicit purpose of defeating Bush in the 2004 presidential elections. Under U.S. law, a presidential campaign cannot legally accept foreign donations (although the U.S. government has itself given money to support electoral candidates that it favors in other countries, such as Nicaragua). While MoveOn is not bound by this restriction, it nonetheless chose not to accept any more funds from overseas to avoid the perception of impropriety. It has not disclosed how much money it received from overseas before shutting these avenues down.
  • According to the March 10, 2004, Washington Post, "The Democratic 527 organizations have drawn support from some wealthy liberals determined to defeat Bush. They include financier George Soros and his wife, Susan Weber Soros, who gave $5 million to America Coming Together (ACT) and $1.46 million to MoveOn.org; Peter B. Lewis, chief executive of the Progressive Corp., who gave $3 million to ACT and $500,000 to MoveOn; and Linda Pritzker, of the Hyatt hotel family, and her Sustainable World Corp., who gave $4 million to the joint fundraising committee." [17]

Books

  • MoveOn's 50 Ways to Love Your Country: How to Find Your Political Voice and Become a Catalyst for Change by MoveOn.org (Author) , Inner Ocean Publishing; (March 2004) ISBN 193072229X.

Contact information

http://www.moveon.org

Other MoveOn Links

Related articles

External links

Due to the length of this article, external links related to MoveOn have been moved to a separate article.

Note: Portions of this article were taken from a Disinfopedia article about MoveOn.org.

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