Dems Jump Ship from “Bi-Partisan” Group Targeting Dems

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As we reported Monday, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies launched a national ad campaign lambasting House Democrats for not passing the Senate surveillance bill, which comes complete with retroactive immunity for the telecoms.

As of Friday, the group, which claims to be non-partisan, boasted a number of Democrats on their board of advisors. Those were: Donna Brazile, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Jim Marshall, and former Georgia governor Zell Miller. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), listed as a Democrat on the site, is one of five “distinguished advisors.”

Since the group launched the ads, Brazile, Schumer, Engel and Marshall have all resigned from the group. Zell Miller, well, he spoke at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Our call and email to Sen. Lieberman’s spokesman were unreturned.

In her statement, Brazile said that no one from the group had consulted her about its activities “in years.” And that the once “bi-partisan organization” had, “due to the influence of their funders… morphed into a radical right wing organization that is doing the dirty work for the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans.”

TPM alum Spencer Ackerman, reporting on the resignations over at The Washington Independent this morning, cites Democratic sources as saying that Marshall was “appalled” by the ad.

Schumer also said that he hadn’t been consulted about the group’s activities and that he regretted the “partisan agenda that the organization has pursued.” His full statement is below.

Brian Wise, the group’s spokesman, said that he was “sorry that the senator feels that way,” but that the ads are “not political ads, they’re issue based ads.” The ad, which you can see here, ran nationally, with a slightly different version airing in local markets targeting 15 House Dems. Those ads ended by encouraging viewers to contact their representative and urge them to convince the House leadership to bring the Senate bill to a vote — because “the law that lets intelligence agencies intercept Al Qaeda communications” has expired, “crippling” surveillance. They will run throughout the week, Wise said.

Wise has refused to reveal the donors behind the ad, which was run by a 501(c)(4) affiliate group simply called Defense of Democracies. Wise told me yesterday that group was formed last week. When I asked if telecommunication companies had put up the money (Democratic officials estimate the buy to be in the millions), he laughed, then conceded that he didn’t know who had. “To my knowledge, we’ve never been associated with the telecom industry.” He added “we have no interest in any outcome other than national security.”Schumer’s full statement:

“The Foundation for Defense of Democracies was founded in the aftermath of 9/11 as a nonpartisan group committed to defending our democratic values against the threat of Islamic terrorism. However, the foundation has strayed considerably from its original purpose. I regret this development–and I regret even more the partisan agenda that the organization has pursued instead. I recently severed all ties to the foundation upon learning of the divisive, political attacks it has sponsored against dedicated public servants. I was never consulted about these activities and, of course, condemn them. While I remain committed to the proud cause of defending our nation’s democratic principles, I can no longer support an organization that has ventured so far afield from that goal.