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POLITICS: PennAve

Petition against Obamacare helps conservatives expand grassroots network

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Politics,Obamacare,Republican Party,Heritage Foundation,Health Care,Campaign Finance,David M. Drucker,PennAve

A petition drive to marshal support for defunding Obamacare, Dontfundit.com, is also allowing the conservative political action committee behind the website to collect contact information of one million potential new donors.

Dontfundit.com features and has been aggressively promoted by Republican Sens. Mike Lee, of Utah, and Ted Cruz, of Texas, the ringleaders of the relatively small but influential band of conservatives leading the effort to defund the Affordable Care Act. But the website is run by the Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC founded by Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint and now under the exclusive control of his former aide, Matt Hoskins.

So far, 880,000 people have visited the website to urge lawmakers to strip all Obamacare funding from the must-pass spending bill they will take up in coming weeks. But clicking "sign the petition," which requires a name and email address, immediately takes visitors to a separate Senate Conservatives Fund website that encourages contributions.

"We're communicating with petition signers to help them pressure their senators to defund Obamacare," Hoskins told the Washington Examiner in an email exchange. "We're also spending money on radio and TV ads to build opposition to Obamacare and to urge key senators to defund it."

With Lee and Cruz as its chief promoters, dontfundit.com focuses exclusively on pressuring Republican senators to strip Obamacare funding from the budget bill that must pass by Sept. 30 to avert a government shutdown. The website doesn't mention Democrats or President Obama, the architect of the historic health reform law, but does maintain a "Senate Republican Whip List" to track the 46 GOP members' positions and encourage grassroots pressure.

Next to each senator's name is their position on defunding, their contact information, plus an icon that when clicked brings up a Senate Conservatives Fund-generated political message that activists can use to quickly contact Senate offices. One message reads: "Please thank Senator Cruz for leading the fight on this important issue."

Messages linked to the 32 Republicans who don't support defunding vary, but are generally similar to the one targeting Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee: "Jeff Sessions voted for a bill that included funding for Obamacare earlier this year and he will do it again if we don't make our voices heard. Please tell Senator Sessions to oppose the [budget bill] in September if it funds Obamacare."

Most Obamacare funding is mandatory and doesn't need congressional approval, but a small percentage requires regular appropriations from Congress. Republicans who oppose defunding Obamacare note that Senate Democrats would never agree to such a deal and Obama certainly won't effectively repeal his signature legislative achievement.

The Senate Conservatives Fund was launched by DeMint when he was a senator from South Carolina. But DeMint later relinquished control of the organization to Hoskins, its executive director, and is no longer associated with it. Though it typically doesn't involve itself in issue advocacy, the group endorses Senate GOP primary contenders, funnels contributions from PAC supporters to candidates and spends its own money on campaign advertising.

The group's July fundraising report, its most recent, showed contributions of more than $612,500 in mostly small donations, and that the group has $1.4 million in cash on hand.

Hoskins said the Senate Conservatives Fund consults with its members on endorsements and other strategic decisions, but, he added, "as executive director, I make the final decision on candidate endorsements."

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