The Note

"'We are not going to change our participation at this point, but we are concerned that the process seems to be rigged,' said Erik Smith, a spokesman for the presidential campaign of the Missouri lawmaker. 'We think there is a legitimate role for MoveOn to organize grass-roots support for candidates, but we are worried that it appears they are playing favorites.'"

"[MoveOn founder Wes] Boyd said everyone registered on the site got the Dean e-mail Wednesday because he finished in the top three in a poll conducted by the campaign last month. The other top finishers also got to send a message — Massachusetts Senator John Kerry's was sent Thursday; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich will send his Friday."

(We did get a Kerry e-mail this morning.)

But the Gephardt charge drew an angry response from the Dean campaign:

"To insinuate that the process is rigged is to purposely ignore the facts and rules provided to all of us. And it serves to undermine the voices of the 1.4 million members," Dean communications director Tricia Enright told ABC News.

More, from an e-mail message:

"Gephardt folks say they were surprised that an email went out from Dean (leading to their suspicion that the vote was rigged), but you'll see in the memo sent to each and every campaign that the rules and process were clearly spelled out. The fact that the Dean campaign was working hard for a moveon endorsement was certainly no secret (read Trippi on the blog for goodness sakes!). We understood early on the importance of this organization in terms of their ability to speak directly to the grassroots (it's obvious some others didn't) and it's no secret that Gov Dean believes that this campaign is about grassroots participation. Is the Gephardt camp suggesting that it would be legitimate for others to question their efforts to win over labor groups? Or further, to accuse those groups of rigging the vote of their membership????? Puhleeeze."

In response, an aide to Gephardt proposes that MoveOn send e-mails from every registered candidate, not just the top three contenders.

As we say in the ABC News universe, let's take a closer look:

MoveOn is both a 501(c)4 advocacy group and a PAC. The PAC raises money for "good candidates" their website recommends. MoveOn says it never sees the money because it is directly given to the campaigns they check. (Shades of EMILY's List and the like … .)

The "primary" runs from next Tuesday to the end of Wednesday — only 48 hours. Only those who have participated in previous elections or are current registered members of MoveOn before Tuesday are able to vote. Those eligible will most likely receive an e-mail Monday night with a link to vote.

If a candidate receives 50% of the vote, they get the PAC's endorsement. If no candidate receives a majority this time, MoveOn will hold another primary in a month or two.

The "winner" conceivably gets the financial support of the PAC, which can donate $5,000 to the campaign of its choice and run independent expenditures in support of the candidate, as well as provide a conduit for hard money donations.

As of December 31, 2002, the last time that MoveOn's PAC disclosed its financial health, it had a little more than $256,000. LINK

It can't use its (c)4 money — however much it has — to influence federal elections, and it somehow has to erect a firewall between how the (c)4 account spends money and the PAC's activities.

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