See that picture up there, of all the front groups the insurance industry used to erode health care reform? Mike Lux has an interesting piece up at Open Left, where he talks about how much more effective it is when outside groups deliver your message -- and how Obama discouraged big donors from supporting them, funneling the money to OFA instead. Ah yes, I remember it well:
Independent group messages have far more credibility and clout than those from party and candidate committees- even groups with generic-sounding names no one has heard of. Republican strategists like Rove got this early, and went about methodically organizing a network of corporate money to get involved in independent expenditure ads in swing races all over the country. But the Obama White House, sure of its fundraising ability and organizing genius, has consistently sent the signal to Democratic donors to not support outside efforts. They did it after they won the primary in 2008; they did it when they set up OFA to operate solely inside the DNC in 2009; they did it during the health care fight when they felt HCAN was being a little too independent in pushing for a public option, sending a clear signal to donors not to give to them at crucial times during the fight; they did it when ACORN had some bad publicity, very quickly making the decision to distance themselves and let them die even though no group has registered more voters or turned out more people in the last 10 years than ACORN.
I have been fighting this battle inside Democratic strategy circles for 15 years now, but the problem is worse with the current team at the White House. The folks running the Obama political operation have always believed they could control the message and the resources of the party better than anyone else, and that they didn't need or want to empower outside progressive groups. Now embattled House and Senate candidates are paying the price, and it is a bitter price to have to pay. The groups that do have resources that are pro-Democratic- labor, MoveOn, Emily's List, the trial lawyers- are doing their best to stem the tide. But corporate money in the post-Citizens United era is swamping us, and unlike in some cycles in the past (2004, 2006), wealthy progressive donors were sent signals not to engage, or just not cultivated at all, and the result is that we are being badly outspent.
One final note on all this: the irony of outside progressive groups being blamed for not doing enough to help the Democrats when the White House has been complaining about the "left of the left" and the "professional left" for many months- and de-motivating donors the whole time- should not be lost on anyone. You can't attack progressives for being too strident and then wonder why they aren't doing more and still have much credibility.