Hillary and Web funds are going where they’re needed


By Jefferson Siegel

All politics is local, but a turnabout of sorts took place last week in one of the nation’s hottest hotbeds of political discourse, Greenwich Village. Rather than volunteers commuting to an election battleground, the candidates themselves left their home turf. Two congressional Democratic hopefuls from Connecticut involved in tight races, Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy, traveled to a W. 13th St. townhouse for a private fundraiser.

Adding cachet and credibility to their pursuit of campaign financing was New York Senator Hillary Clinton. In an exclusive interview with The Villager on Friday evening, Senator Clinton explained why she was in the Village on behalf of out-of-state candidates.

"Joe has a great record of accomplishment in Connecticut," Clinton said of Courtney. "He has been a leader in a lot of issues I care about. And, he’s also done it by bringing people together, looking for common ground, staking it out and creating a good atmosphere for people to work together.’

As the townhouse full of supporters waited to write checks ranging from $500 to $4,200, Clinton was just as generous in her assessment of Courtney’s accomplishments.

"He also has come forward in this campaign with a very strong set of positions that are in great contrast to his opponent,’ she said. Courtney’s Web site offers his positions on a list of issues, topped by healthcare and Iraq. While his Republican challenger, Rob Simmons, supported the Bush administration’s war policies, Courtney sees the administration’s rush into the Iraq war as ‘the biggest foreign policy disaster in a generation.’

As of Monday, 2,747 U.S. soldiers and countless Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict. Recent polls show Americans, in larger numbers, questioning the rationale for pre-emptive invasion with no exit strategy. The numbers also show Republican strategy falling farther into disfavor with voters.

"I’m hoping that we will see a Democratic majority in the House," Clinton continued. "Some of our very best candidates are running. We’ve got a tremendous group of experienced candidates, like Joe, who are out there working hard. It’s going to be close because that’s the way our elections are these days," Clinton noted.

"I am very hopeful that Joe is going to be part of a new Democratic majority and that’s going to be good for the country," she added.

Democrats are tantalizingly close to retaking Congress. A gain of just 15 seats will give them the House; six wins and they control the Senate.

Blue-staters safely ensconced in the Democratic fold, frustrated that they can’t do more to change the course of the election, have a new tool to aid their search for worthy candidates and, of course, it involves the Internet.

In 2004, the political Web site MoveOn.org gave Democrats a one-click solution to aid John Kerry’s presidential aspirations. Within the past month, Capturecongress.com, a new, more targeted Web site, went live with a local focus.

Capturecongress.com displays the most closely contested House and Senate races, providing Web surfers with a fast and easy solution to contribute directly to Democratic candidates in those contests.

"We were very excited to get our first $6,000 contributor, who actually split his contribution among all the races," said Susan Birmingham, a Tribeca resident and consultant for nonprofit organizations, who, along with two Brooklynites, founded and runs Capturecongress.com.

"We’re trying to get a hold of people on both coasts who want to see the Congress move to the Dems," Birmingham said. "You need the constituents in [districts with] safe seats who want to see their money go to the most targeted place possible," she explained.

"It’s an opportunity for people who are not in the targeted districts to give to those races. All money goes to the candidates, rather than give to the Democratic Party and wait for them to dole out the money," she added. Once a contributor clicks on the ‘Donate’ button for a specific candidate, Birmingham said that campaign receives 100 percent of the contribution within 24 hours.

There are some blogs that point contributors to targeted candidates, but, "none of them are as sophisticated as this site,’ Birmingham noted. "Even a small contribution of $100 or $150 in these kinds of races just means that the dollar goes so much further than it would in a place like New York," she said.

And after the November elections, "We’re going to keep it open,’ Birmingham

said of the Web site. "We think this is a prototype of small donor fundraising of the future.’ In the years to come, she hopes blue states like New York will continue to fund smaller races in the hopes of creating and sustaining a Democratic majority. "We can do this for local races, for state legislative races as well as congressional races," Birmingham said.

Senator Clinton also reiterated her active support of several candidates.

"We have one of Joe’s colleagues here tonight,’ Clinton said, referring to Chris Murphy of Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District. "We’ll be going to Connecticut on Sunday for Diane Farrell, and I’ll be going to Ohio tomorrow for Sherrod Brown,’ she added.

Farrell is in a close race with longtime Republican incumbent Christopher Shays in Connecticut’s Fourth District. Farrell has criticized Shays as a blind supporter of the administration’s war policies. In Ohio, Brown is running neck and neck in his bid for the Senate against two-term incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. Bush has already been to Ohio twice to stump for DeWine.

"I’m doing a lot of work to try to bring whatever assistance and resources I can," Clinton told The Villager. "I just agreed to give a lot of money to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I know we’ll be outspent in the end; that’s one of our big problems, it always is. But, if we have enough so we can rebut their unfair and untrue attacks and give people a real chance to know what candidates like

Joe stand for, I think we’ll win," she said.

Courtney was asked what brought him to Greenwich Village in search of funds.

"You have a wonderful congressional delegation in the state," he replied. "But they are held back by the fact that they’re in the minority in a very tightly controlled, iron-fisted, one-party system in Washington. Electing me will help Jerry Nadler and will help Hillary Clinton and will help Chuck Schumer make sure that they are able to advance the goals that they believe in so deeply," Courtney said.

Republican domination over policy making has been steadily eroding as the ongoing conflict in Iraq wears on. Another setback hit Republicans earlier this month when several House pages admitted to receiving salacious e-mails from Republican Representative Mark Foley of Florida. The scandal widened when House Speaker Dennis Hastert admitted prior knowledge of the improprieties.

When asked if Hastert bore any responsibility and should resign, Courtney didn’t mince words.

"Absolutely," he said. "That’s really what an accountable system of government should include: People accepting responsibility for the fact that they failed in a very fundamental way to live up to their public office." In Connecticut, Courtney noted that, had a school teacher, a therapist or a counselor ignored a similar situation, he or she would be arrested.

"This guy [Hastert] had a duty, as the leader of the institution that was supervising these young people at Capitol Hill, to take real action rather than just sweep it under the rug for their own political convenience," Courtney said.

Courtney’s comments on several issues were a pointed departure from typical Democratic prevarications. With soaring oil prices, the administration’s gas conservation strategy has been to suggest that tires should be properly inflated. Courtney was asked if that’s the sign of responsible government.

"I think that type of response is emblematic of this refusal to take responsibility for our healthcare problems, energy challenges, the budget that they’ve blown sky high,’ he replied.

The life cycle of political incompetence or scandal is usually limited by the media’s attention span. Voter apathy has resulted in low turnout the past few elections. Is this November’s election the most important in a generation?

"Politicians always like to talk about their upcoming ballot as the election of a lifetime," Courtney said in response to that question. "I really, truly believe that we are in a critical moment in our country’s history. If we don’t take away George Bush’s one-party control of Washington, I think the damage that’s going to be done to the structural balance of our country’s constitutional framework, to the public’s finances, to our foreign policy, will take generations to clean up."