Washington Post again labeled progressive groups with political foes' term

The Washington Post reporter covering campaign finance issues has repeatedly used the term “shadow Democratic party” in reference to progressive political groups that are devoted to voter mobilization and to running advertisements criticizing President George W. Bush; most recently, on May 11, Post staff writer Thomas B. Edsall wrote that the groups are “known” by that label, without noting that the term is used primarily by opponents of these groups to describe what the opponents allege is the groups' illegal coordination with the Democratic Party or Senator John Kerry's presidential campaign.

As the Los Angeles Times reported on April 20, these progressive groups “have raised the ire of the Republican National Committee, which filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) last month that alleged they were a 'shadow Democratic party' illegally raising money to help Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.”

In a May 11 article, Edsall twice used the word “shadow,” first in quotation marks without attribution and second without quotation marks at all:

Strategists in the network of independent political organizations known as the 'shadow Democratic Party' are shifting money and resources from television advertising to voter mobilization programs. ... The two most prominent groups in the shadow party are the Media Fund and ACT [Americans Coming Together]. [italics added]

In at least five other recent articles -- April 1, 2004; March 5, 2004; January 31, 2004; January 16, 2004; and December 14, 2003 -- Edsall used the label “shadow Democratic Party” with and without quotation marks at different times or “shadow” Democratic Party, also with and without quotation marks -- again, without indicating that the term is used by these groups' critics, who have petitioned the FEC to restrict their activities.

In addition to some Republicans, nonpartisan election reformers also use or reference the term “shadow” in criticizing the political activities of “527's” (named for the Internal Revenue Code section governing them). A January 2004 complaint filed with the FEC by Democracy 21, The Center for Responsive Politics, and Campaign Legal Center cited a December 14, 2003, article by Edsall titled “Democratic 'Shadow' Groups Face Scrutiny.” The term also appears in other materials put out by these groups; for example, Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer, in a 2002 "Note to the Media," cited an Edsall article in using the word “shadow” to describe 527 groups: “New 'shadow committees' tied to the Democratic senatorial and congressional campaign committees and designed to evade the new law banning soft money are being formed today, according to an article in today's [November 5, 2002] Washington Post.”

In addition to the Los Angeles Times, other media outlets have made it clear that “shadow Democratic party” is a label used primarily by opponents of these progressive 527s. As recently as May 14, The New York Times -- reporting that the FEC has decided to postpone a ruling on whether to restrict the activities of 527s -- wrote, “Critics called them [”Democratic groups like ACT and the Media Fund"] a “shadow” political party." (On the same day, the Times ran an editorial blasting the FEC for its decision and describing the groups with such terms as “shadow” and “puppet Democratic operations,” but the editorial, in contrast to a purportedly objective news story, makes clear its opposition to these groups' activities.)

On May 6, Cox News Service reported, “The Republican Party and the president's campaign accuse them of being a 'shadow' Democratic Party. Republicans have charged the groups with conspiring to violate the federal ban on unlimited donations, dubbed 'soft money,' by accepting big dollar donations.” USA Today reporters Andrea Stone and Jim Drinkard wrote on April 1: “Republicans have tried for months to curtail the groups' efforts or, at a minimum, create enough doubt to hobble their fundraising. So far, they have been unsuccessful. With seven months until the election, Bush campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg said the party is seeking 'extraordinary relief' to combat what he called a 'shadow Democratic Party.'”

Another Washington Post reporter indicated that the term “shadow” was one employed by Republicans seeking to restrict the activities of progressive 527s: In a March 24, 2004, article, Post staff writer Paul Farhi wrote, “Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for Bush's reelection effort, said Democrats have created a 'shadow' party of organizations to skirt the spirit of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. Their ads, he said, 'are more bitter attacks from angry partisans.'”

Media Matters for America found the use of the word “shadow” by two progressive publications in the context of 527 groups; but in both cases, the term is used to indicate separation, not coordination. David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation and author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, wrote on April 13, “Since under the law [527s] are not permitted to coordinate their efforts with the party or the Kerry campaign, they have been dubbed the ”Democratic shadow party." A March 11 “Daily Mojo” item on MotherJones.com reported that such groups are “mounting a kind of 'shadow campaign' to take down George W. Bush,” noting that the groups are legally prohibited from coordinating with the Democratic Party.