George Soros is a major donor to the Democratic Party and to progressive causes and foundations. This week he announced he will be donating $100 million to support progressive groups this cycle. One of the first million-dollar donations will go to American Bridge, an oppo-research PAC set up by Media Matters founder David Brock.
The donations by Soros suggest a new media strategy. Rather than fight an expensive air war of negative campaign ads, i.e. paid media, Soros is betting that Brock’s army of trackers will turn up embarrassing video which will result in free coverage via the mainstream media. Given the media’s leanings, that’s probably a safe bet.
A NY Times profile of the group’s activities published last summer described American Bridge as consisting of “dozens” of trackers sent to various key states and a Washington “war room” with a staff of 20 to collect and log video. The story indicates that federal election law prevents outside groups from producing ads based on video captured by DNC or campaign staff. Brock’s group will become a repository of clips available for use by those with outside money, though it’s not clear campaign ads will be necessary.
The model for this sort of work is the one which ruined George Allen’s chances in Virginia a few years ago. Allen referred to a campaign tracker as “Macaca,” and the Washington Post went on a crusade about the supposed racial connotations of the word for several weeks. The paper published dozens of stories and eventually helped put Democrat Jim Webb in the Senate.
Republicans have also benefited from the video provided by trackers. In 2010, Congressman Bob Etheridge of North Carolina was caught on video in an altercation with a campaign tracker. He eventually lost his seat by fewer than 2,000 votes to Republican Renee Ellmers.
Soros’ donation is one more sign that the role of traditional media in campaign fights is changing. Why pay network affiliates to run negative ads when the news media and YouTube will do it for free?