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Inside the 'Country'-Club for Growth

by Denise Ross Wednesday, May. 21, 2003 at 10:54 PM

In 2002, the fiscally conservative Club targeted 19 congressional races and won 17. The 9,000-member Club is the No. 1 source of campaign funds for Republican congressional candidates, aside from the party itself. It targets Republican incumbents whom its officers deem too liberal...

Ross: Club for Growth looks to back Daschle rival

Denise Ross, Rapid City Journal, South Dakota, 5/20/03

Political observers not familiar with the Club for Growth are not paying attention. If that's you, redeem your status by reading this piece and visiting the Washington, D.C.-based group at http://www.clubforgrowth.org

In 2002, the fiscally conservative Club targeted 19 congressional races and won 17. The 9,000-member Club is the No. 1 source of campaign funds for Republican congressional candidates, aside from the party itself. It targets Republican incumbents whom its officers deem too liberal and hosts a RINO - Republicans In Name Only - section online.

The Club's goal is to grow the economy and shrink government so that government's influence on society decreases as the free market's increases.

And here's an item of note. Club president Stephen Moore told me Monday that, as it looks to back a challenger to Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in 2004, the Club isn't thrilled with either John Thune or Bill Janklow.

Ross: Tell me about the history of the Club for Growth, whose idea it was, how you put it in place.

Moore: The Club was started in 1999 to try to help elect pro-tax-cut, pro-free-enterprise candidates for Congress who shared the Ronald Reagan vision on economic policy. We modeled the Club for Growth after EMILY's List, which is a Democratic group of feminist women who support candidates on abortion. We thought that was a neat model. They were able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. We decided to use that same model, expanding our membership and recommending candidates.

Ross: I envision a couple of friends sitting around at a barbecue or something.

Moore: Yeah. A number of friends of mine were involved in a congressional race in 1998 for Paul Ryan in Wisconsin. We were raising money for him. We asked Paul how the race going, and he said, "It's going pretty well, except my opponent just got put on EMILY's list and got 0,000." We'd never heard of EMILY's List. We thought, if they can bundle lots of money for liberal candidates, we can bundle lots of money for conservative candidates. We went to the EMILY's List Web site and made sure we duplicated a lot of things they were doing, so nobody could say, "What you're doing is illegal."

There was a group of people in New York City who were Wall Street investment bankers, very interested in helping get the thing off the ground.

The idea behind it was Pavlovian. We want to help the good guys with money and bash the bad guys for doing the wrong thing. We view the club as a carrot and a stick.

We offer an ability to raise money for good candidates. The stick is, if they defect or don't see the light, we'll use the club. The club is a double entendre. The club is a club we hold over their heads.

Ross: Who's your target demographic?

Moore: The one charge I find most frustrating is that we represent the rich Wall Street fat cats. There's no question that there are many Wall Street fat cats who are members. But one thing that surprises candidates - when they start getting contributions from our members - they've always marveled that most of the checks are , and 0. They're not ,000 contributions. For the most part, the demographics are people who are ideologically conservative first and Republican second. We view the Republican Party as a means to an end, not an end in itself. We're willing to take on the RINOs when they are misbehaving. A lot of our members are owners of a business. They have to make a payroll and understand how taxes impact their bottom line.

Ross: There's been speculation that you are directly connected with the Rushmore Policy Council. There was the dustup over their ad campaign that never got off the ground. People are speculating that your (TV) ads now running against Daschle are the regrouping of that effort.

Moore: I know one of the guys who's running the group, Paul Erickson, quite well. He's a good friend. He wanted us to do what we're doing under the auspices of the Rushmore Policy Council. I said it would be more beneficial to the Club for Growth to run our ads under our own banner.

There's a benefit to educating the voters with these ads, but there's also a benefit to the Club for Growth in being associated with them. We can double up on attacks on Daschle, but we can do it independently. Paul has been a good adviser to the club. He knows South Dakota politics as well as anybody I know. He gives us sound strategic advice.

Ross: Do you have an ideal tax structure in mind?

Moore: I'd like see us move towards a consumption-tax system, where we would get rid of the IRS and income tax as we know it and move to a system similar to how you tax in South Dakota - where you tax people at the point of sale rather than taxing people on their income. You want a system that taxes people on what they take out of the economy via consumption, not on what they put into the economy based on enterprise, work, effort and saving. A consumption-based tax model would be like rocket fuel to the American economy.

Ross: You have backed (former Republican congressman) John Thune in the past.

Moore: Unenthusiastically. I don't think we are huge John Thune fans. I'd like to see him be a bit more courageous on some issues. He doesn't stick his neck out. He sometimes tries to make everybody happy.

In the last election, we did raise money for him, but we didn't raise nearly as much as for other candidates.

Ross: Have you researched (Congressman) Janklow enough to know if he could be one of your guys?

Moore: I know Bill half decently, and I like him, personally. I have a big argument with him over this Internet tax issue. He and I have exchanged some heated words. He's in favor of taxing the Internet, and we're opposed to it. That's a tough one for us. We feel pretty strongly about it. On the other hand, our view is, he was a good governor. As to whether we would be more enthusiastic about him than John Thune, we don't really know.

Or, maybe it might even be someone else.

Ross: There is potential for a Thune-Janklow primary.

Moore: I would probably be more enthusiastic about Janklow than Thune. Thune ran a lousy, feckless race last time. If he had embraced issues like Social Security privatization and the flat tax, I think he would have won that race. His whole campaign was, I'm not Tim Johnson. I don't think that gives people a reason to vote for you.

Contact Denise Ross at 394-8438 or denise.ross@rapidcityjournal.com

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