In a story on conservative efforts to win support for President Bush's proposal to partially privatize Social Security, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle identified Progress for America (PFA), a conservative lobbying organization with strong Republican ties, as simply "an outside group." PFA, which has launched a $20 million campaign in support of Bush's Social Security plan, is regularly identified as "pro-Bush" or "conservative" on other news outlets. Fox has recently provided similar cover for another pro-privatization Republican front group, USA Next.
Angle labeled PFA "an outside group" as he introduced a clip from a new ad produced by the Progress for America Voter Fund, PFA's "conservative issue advocacy organization" that operates as a 527 group. In addition, PFA is registered as a 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) nonprofit group.
From the March 8 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume:
ANGLE: An outside group called Progress for America made its biggest national ad buy thus far.
PFA AD [video clip]: Some people say Social Security is not in trouble, just like some thought the Titanic was unsinkable.
ANGLE: The ad argues that with fewer workers paying in and more workers in retirement, the system will get in deeper and deeper financial problems and is headed for trouble.
PFA AD [video clip]: President Bush wants to rescue Social Security now, before we hit the iceberg. The Bush plan: voluntary personal retirement accounts.
In contrast, CNN and NBC (the only other TV news outlets to mention PFA in the past month, according to a Nexis search) identified the group as "conservative" or noted that it spent "$45 million re-electing President Bush."
Despite the group's claim to be "nonpartisan," PFA has close and longstanding ties to the Republican Party. Tony Feather, PFA's founder, was the political director of the 2000 Bush-Cheney presidential campaign before founding PFA in 2001. An August 25, 2002, Washington Post article called Feather "a close ally of Karl Rove" and detailed the "strong ties" PFA has "to the Republican establishment":
It has raised millions of dollars, which it uses to promote Bush's agenda of tax cuts, energy legislation, conservative judicial appointments and free trade. ... Its spokesmen include Ken Adelman, the top arms control officer in the Reagan administration. White House operatives, such as Rove and political director Ken Mehlman, have addressed private PFA briefing sessions at the Hay Adams Hotel.
Feather left PFA in 2003 "after receiving legal advice that his involvement with PFA and the Bush-Cheney campaign could violate federal laws barring coordination between the groups," [The Washington Post 5/25/04]. The Post also noted that his firm, Feather, Larson & Synhorst (now the DCI Group), "has already been paid at least $1.6 million by the Bush-Cheney campaign," and called Tom Synhorst, a partner in the firm, "a key strategic adviser to PFA." Media Matters for America has previously outlined DCI Group's ties to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear campaign against Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and noted Synhorst's involvement in a controversial "push polling" scheme against Senator John McCain (R-AZ) during the 2000 South Carolina Republican presidential primary.
Further, Republican media adviser Chris LaCivita, a consultant for USA Next and a former DCI Group employee, is also executive director of PFA, according to progressive watchdog group Public Citizen. And Benjamin L. Ginsberg, a PFA consultant, was national counsel for the 2000 and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaigns, a position he resigned in 2004 after news reports revealed that he was also providing legal counsel to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Though PFA claims to be nonpartisan, a May 2004 Washington Monthly article reported that PFA's website "used to describe its purpose as 'supporting Pres. George Walker Bush's agenda for America,' but that slogan, apparently too brazen to pass legal muster, has since been changed."