MoveOn is a Web-based, grassroots political network that organizes "electronic advocacy groups" of online activists around specific issues; raises money for Democrat candidates through rock concerts and other entertainment events; generates political ads; and wins young recruits through its appeal to the Net-savvy, MTV subculture.
Launched on September 22, 1998, MoveOn took its name from a favorite buzz phrase of Clinton supporters at the time. During the continuing fallout of the President’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Jerry M. Brady and Marty Trillhaase of the Idaho Falls Post Register said, "The government of this nation -- and its ability to serve the best interests of the people -- has been damaged. It's time to move on." The phrase "It's time to move on" became the mantra of White House spokesmen, who repeated it on talk shows from coast to coast.
High-tech entrepreneur Wesley Boyd and his wife Joan Blades, who had earned a fortune with their software company Berkeley Systems, Inc., were angered by the Clinton impeachment. They wrote a one-sentence petition and e-mailed it to friends, who then e-mailed it to others in chain-letter fashion. It said, "Censure the president and move on to pressing issues facing the nation." At the same time, Boyd and Blades launched MoveOn.org, where people could sign a pro-Clinton petition electronically. Some 100,000 supporters registered in the first week. On October 23, 1999 -- a month after MoveOn's launch -- Boyd and Blades rolled out MoveOn PAC, a federal political action committee designed to take political contributions from MoveOn's fast-growing membership. MoveOn PAC raised millions of dollars for Democrat candidates in the elections of 1998 and thereafter.
Today, MoveOn boasts an e-mail list of more than 3.2 million members. Its ten full-time staffers work from home, staying in touch via e-mail, instant messaging and weekly conference calls.
MoveOn uses its fundraising clout to push the Democratic Party to the left. This game plan was enunciated most clearly in an e-mail that MoveOn PAC Director Eli Pariser broadcast to the group's financial supporters on December 9, 2004. Regarding MoveOn's role in the Democratic Party, Pariser wrote, "For years, the party has been led by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base. But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers. In the last year, grass-roots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the party doesn't need corporate cash to be competitive. Now it's our party: we bought it, we own it, and we're going to take it back."
More than a website, MoveOn.org is a movement tailored to persuade young people to support mainstream Democrats. Regarding MoveOn's success at harnessing popular entertainment to the Democrat cause, whether in the form of rock-concert fundraisers or anti-President Bush ads with an MTV edge, the LA Weekly's Brendan Bernhard concludes, "[I]t's all part of a giant, perhaps unprecedented effort by the country's intellectual and artistic communities to unseat the conspicuously unintellectual, inartistic man in the Oval Office."
In 2002, Boyd and Blades hired 32-year-old Zack Exley as MoveOn's Organizing Director. A computer programmer and Web designer by trade, Exley had gained national attention during the 2000 campaign when he launched GWBush.com, a website featuring doctored photographs portraying candidate Bush as a drug addict. A hardened activist of the extreme Left, Exley brought MoveOn into the antiwar movement. One of his ads that appeared in The New York Times labeled President Bush "a misleader" who had lied to the public about Iraq's weapons programs. Under Exley's leadership, MoveOn also became a member organization of United for Peace and Justice and the Win Without War anti-war coalitions. Exley left MoveOn in April 2004 to become Director of Online Communications and Online Organizing for the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
On April 17, 2004, MoveOn held a national "Bake Sale for Democracy," in which members conducted more than 1,000 bake sales around the country, raising $750,000 in a single day for the organization's anti-Bush campaign. When a Republican redistricting plan threatened Democrat incumbents in the Texas state senate in May 2003, an appeal from MoveOn brought in $1 million in contributions in two days, to support the beleaguered Democrats.
MoveOn has received financial support from numerous leftist organizations, including the Compton Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Shefa Fund, the Stern Family Fund, the Steven and Michelle Kirsch Foundation, and the Tides Foundation. Following a September 17, 2003 meeting between Soros and Boyd in New York, Soros and his associates gave nearly $6.2 million to MoveOn over a period of six months. The contributions included $2.5 million from George Soros personally; $2.5 million from Peter B. Lewis of Progressive Insurance; $971,427 from Stephen Bing of Shangri-La Entertainment; $100,000 from Benson & Hedges tobacco heir Lewis Cullman; and $101,000 from Soros' 34-year-old son Jonathan Soros, an attorney and financier recently promoted to deputy manager of Soros Fund Management LLC.
Jonathan Soros has become personally involved with MoveOn.org's activities. In December 2003, he collaborated with techno-rocker Moby to organize "Bush in 30 Seconds," an online contest for the best 30-second anti-Bush TV ad.
As of 2006, MoveOn's campaigns included the following:
a) 2006 Plan for Victory: "Democratic control of Congress will mean we can finally move forward with big ideas like health care for all Americans or energy independence, and make sure the troops get home safely and soon from Iraq."
b) Restore the Rule of Law: "President Bush admitted to personally authorizing thousands of allegedly illegal wiretaps, and he doesn't plan to stop. In response to this historic abuse of power, which threatens the very core of our Constitution, we've mounted a petition to 'Restore the Rule of Law.'"
c) Get Out of Iraq in 2006: This campaign "circulat[ed] a petition calling on Congress to insist on an exit strategy to bring the troops home in 2006."
d) Operation Democracy: This project sought to "Fight the Right and Elect Progressives" with "a national network of neighborhood teams to take our progressive message to every town in the country." It focused on "critical issues like Supreme Court nominees, Social Security and the war in Iraq."
At the March 2008 “Take Back America” conference sponsored by Campaign for America's Future (CAF), MoveOn joined CAF and five additional leftist organizations in announcing plans for “the most expensive [$350 million] mobilization in history this election season.” The initiative focused on voter registration, education, and get-out-the-vote drives. Other members of the coalition included ACORN, the AFL-CIO, the National Council of La Raza, Rock the Vote, and the Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
MoveOn endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. In a massive effort aimed at pushing Obama to victory, MoveOn dispatched approximately a million volunteers to work on his campaign nationwide -- 600,000 in battleground states and 400,000 in non-battleground states. In addition, MoveOn registered more than 500,000 young Obama supporters to vote in battleground states, while adding a million young people to its member rolls during the summer of 2008 and mobilizing them. All told, MoveOn and its members contributed more than $58 million directly to the Obama campaign, while raising and spending at least another $30 million in independent election efforts on behalf of other Democrats across the United States.