Thursday, February 01, 2018

DCCC Fundraising Requirements Make Decent Candidates Not Want To Run


House party fundraiser

PA-07-- Pat Meehan's super-gerrymandered suburban Philly district-- has been a big pain the the butt for Blue America this cycle. There are a bunch of fake Democrats in the race and two excellent progressive Democrats Blue America has endorsed in past races (Mary Ellen Balchunis and state Senator Daylin Leach) and a novice candidate, Paul Perry, who we met with early open and who impressed us as the kind of idealistic true believer sorely needed in a corrupted and dysfunctional Congress. Recently Meehan was caught stealing tax-payer funds as hush money in a sexual harassment case and, as news of the state Supreme Court, insisting that the state un-gerrymander districts like PA-07 before November, Meehan announced he's retiring. Blue America still hasn't endorsed anyone in the race yet. And, Paul Perry dropped out even before Meehan, citing an inability to raise enough money to undertake a competitive race.

By the end of the last FEC reporting cycle on September 30, Meehan had raised $1,007,569 and 5 Democrats had raised almost that much combined. The leading Democratic fundraiser was Leach ($397,663) but the second highest Democratic fundraiser ($303,117, $82,000 of which was self-funded), Dan Muroff, seems to have engineered a #MeToo scandal for Leach and Leach suspended his campaign. The big self-funder in the race was Molly Sheehan ($170,000, virtually her entire war-chest) and another candidate, Elizabeth Moro, is a Republican pretending to be a Democrat. Mary Ellen Balchunis still hasn't jumped into the race. Paul Perry had raised $90,893 before dropping out. In a guest post for The Intercept yesterday, he wrote that he "left [the race] in part because the money game rules every part of the process. It shapes the types of candidates, even progressives like myself, into becoming the types of politicians we should be fighting against. The time spent courting donors disconnects you from voters by design. The process itself de facto disqualifies millions of Americans-- based on wealth, connections, economic class-- from realistically seeking elected office to represent their communities. I came to realize that no matter how good my intentions were, getting elected wouldn’t fix that broader problem gnawing away at our democracy." Paul is a smart, courageous and personable guy with great ideas. America needs him and more people like him in government-- and fewer people like money-grubbing crooks like Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Steny Hoyer and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He agrees:
On paper, I was an ideal candidate for the Democrats. Born and raised in the district, a successful career in education and nonprofit work, Ivy League graduate, young, Black, with gay parents and therefore, a compelling family story. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t take an interest in me until they started to have doubts about the other top candidates: two white men who had already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and a white woman who would loan her campaign $170,000. I also started raising significant money, putting me on their radar. Besides a polite if not cautionary phone call with one of their Northeast operatives, the first official communication I received from them was... [a form letter telling him to raise $200,000 for the quarter, pretty much the same letter they send everyone running].

In other words: We don’t give a shit who you are, young man. Just show us the money. In two short weeks at the very outset of my campaign, they directed me to raise $200,000. I failed their first Rolodex test, but pressed on into the third quarter nonetheless. As the campaign dragged on and their sense of the weakness of the field and my campaign gathering strength, my finance director started getting more calls from their finance people. They wanted weekly numbers, down to the number of hours I had spent on the phone with donors each week, how much money I had raised on a weekly and daily basis, and even average contribution estimates. I went back and forth with my team about how much to play ball with them considering they weren’t doing much for us.

As the campaign picked up steam, the DCCC invited me to attend a fundraiser for Rep. Dwight Evans from the nearby 2nd District. The representative was immensely generous and ushered me around the room introducing me to folks (literally sharing donors with me). He encouraged me to keep my head down and stay tough. People like me stand on the shoulders of giants like him. I cannot imagine what trials and tribulations he has been through as a Black politician during the past few decades and now as the only Black member of his state’s congressional delegation.

Now, this is a hard thing-- writing about people who were nothing but kind to me, as is the case with Evans. Nevertheless, I still felt herded like cattle at that party. I worked the room, swatting away consultants looking for contracts, absorbing cheap shots from white-haired trial lawyers who scoffed at my youthful candidacy, always seeking out the fattest wallets in the room. The DCCC was tossing me softballs and seeing how far I could hit them. As I drove back to Philadelphia that night, I reflected on what a bizarre rite of passage I had just been through. How would functions like that make me a better legislator for people like Geraldine [the first constituent he met when he was door-knocking and who he promised he would help make sure conservatives didn't steal her Obamacare money which was keeping her alive]? It wouldn’t.

At another point during the campaign, I was invited to meet with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. He had visited my high school back in 2003, and I had asked him a tough question about education policy that he had embedded in his education stump speech. When I got to his office, he immediately showed me his poorly named memoir, A Nation of Wusses. Our interaction from years back was on Page 108. He let me leave with a copy of the book, but not before we talked shop. I now had another tough ask for him: his support for my newly launched congressional campaign. Things had come full circle as the young kid who challenged the governor was now an adult running for Congress.

Rendell had already publicly endorsed another candidate in the race. He encouraged me to drop out and run for state House or Senate. I told him I had no plans to do so and was just getting started. Then I told him my strategy for victory. He believed my argument and offered some help. We sat there as he made a few calls to influencers on my behalf and rapidly rifled off names of people I should reach out to for donations. His secretary pulled together a donor list and sent it over to my team. Rendell invited me to meet a top Obama bundler, Tony Welters, a few nights later at a restaurant in South Philly. He would set up a brief introduction for 10 minutes before their meal.

I showed up at Serpico on South Street a few days later to find Rendell and two older African-American men tucked into a booth in a mostly empty room with dark wood décor. Rendell waved me over to sit down next to the man across from him and I shook all of their hands. He introduced me and noted that Welters is a top executive for a major health care company and a top fundraiser for Obama. The three men then began to grill me on my stance on fracking.

I’m against it, I told them, especially the pipeline they were trying to run past schools and homes in my district. Rendell boasted about how he had personally brought fracking to Pennsylvania. Welters shared how frustrated he is by Democrats who are “doctrinaire” on the issue. He wished they’d open up to fracking. (Welters, I learned later, is involved in the fracking industry.)

Sensing that I was not about to let up, they moved on. (“That’s exactly right,” Rendell told The Intercept when asked for comment on the conversation.) Rendell asked me if I’ve been to Israel. I said I have not. The bundler immediately chimed in, “Well, we need to get you over there because it would make it a helluva lot easier to raise money for you.” Rendell followed up with, “Call my office and we’ll get you set up for a trip over there.” I remained silent. Welters brought the conversation to a close by saying that he would gladly host a house party for me. Rendell had previously indicated that such a party would likely bring in $100,000 to $200,000, at least. I offered some polite goodbyes and alighted out of the restaurant, stunned and gleeful. After dozens of calls to the bundler, the party never materialized before I left the race.

On reflection, I realized that I was only a pawn in a larger play for influence. Rendell had publicly endorsed one candidate in the race, told a second candidate he would support him once he won the primary, and told me that he’d support my campaign by connecting me with donors. I was astounded by the unabashedly noncommittal plays for power. I was ashamed of myself for going along with it seeking an advantage. I felt myself leaning, hedging, and contorting to fit the mold my elders and those with more money, resources, and experience were asking me to do to gain their favor.

I want to be clear that I felt and deeply appreciated the support I got from everyone who gave time, money, mentorship, and other resources that were generously offered to me during my short-lived campaign. One of the great joys of running for office is that you basically put out a call to everyone you know and quickly find out how many people truly love and support you despite all the stupid things you’ve done in your life. That said, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t enough for me to potentially win and just be another healthy cog in a fundamentally sick system. I’d rather challenge and have some hard conversations with those perpetuating that system-- one that is dangerous for our democracy. I’d rather step away and find ways to transform that system, which is what I chose to do.

As a candidate, there was no escaping the endless drumbeat of the pressure to raise funds.

At all levels, examples abound. The Democratic state representative on the county committee set up to endorse a primary candidate, who blatantly stated, “Money is money. We need a candidate who has or can raise a lot of it so we can win.” The county party chair who wouldn’t return my calls and emails presumably because they had already backed the wealthiest Democrat in the race. The well-known “progressive” interest groups who withheld their endorsements despite my (and others’) strong alignment with their causes because they were “waiting on the numbers” and wanted to assess “viability.” At every juncture, the message was clear: “Show us the money.” Few other indicators of candidate strength existed at all.

As an educator, I have come to believe that most of our problems are problems of learning. How and what we learn, and from whom, are the processes by which we come to understand and shape the world around us. All that I’ve just shared with you, each and every moment, taken together, are examples of how we train our leaders in this country. This should horrify all of us. It should spur us to action to rid our politics of this money-drenched culture. When we let wealth and connections drive who gets elected in the country, we get the dismal politics we now awake to every morning. As with everything in a true democracy, it’s on us to fix this. I still believe we can if we have the will to fight. Our friends, families, and neighbors-- the Geraldines around the corner from us, praying they get to keep their health care-- they are counting on us.
I have seen and continue to see the DCCC chewing and spitting out candidates like Paul all the time and everywhere in the country. The people who unit are horrible and the staffers who work for them are even worse-- much worse, in fact. Reformers in Congress, aware that the basic problem with the DCCC is Nancy Pelosi (and Steny Hoyer) blackmailed Pelosi that if she wanted to be party leader again she would have to allow the DCCC chair to be elected rather than appointed by her. Reluctanly, she agreed, after the latest DCCC debacle in 2016. Her candidate, an inept and utterly incompetent Ben Ray Lujan-- the identity politics candidate who is Hispanic, western and gay (albeit closeted gay which Pelosi doesn't understand doesn't "count" as gay)-- had just botched the 2016 election, laying back and waiting Hillary to sweep their incredibly shitty recruits into office. They also forced her to agree to have the Democratic caucus elect 5 regional vice chairs. So first off, no one ran against Ben Ray. So he's the chair again and as incredibly incompetent and unfit as he was in the last cycle, maybe worse. As for the vice chairs... there's one good one: Ted Lieu, who basically keeps the DCCC from interfering with primaries in his area and encourages all the candidates who ask for his advice and help. None of the candidates in the Midwest region are aware that Betty McCollum is the regional vice chair and she does nothing at all. Ditto for Don McEachin in the southern district. Neither is any better than the regional vice chair for the Texas/Colorado area-- and Pelosi and Lujan have made sure there would be no regional vice chair for that area after Jared Polis resigned almost immediately after being elected last year. That leaves the Northeast where Joe Kennedy III is the regional vice chair. Nice rebuttal to Señor Trumpanzee Tuesday night, but if he's doing a better job that McCollum and McEachin, I haven't noticed-- and neither have the candidates in his region. He's pretty much a non-factor who thinks he can become president by making flashy speeches but without doing any of the work. Sorry kids, but I see the difference between someone who takes a job seriously and someone who wants something on his résumé. I had asked Paul to reach out to Kennedy-- as I do with all candidates in the Northeast. They never spoke.

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At 5:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have an idea! Why don't the DINO-Whigs charge the registered Party members for the right to vote! What a concept! Why, they'd finally have gotten to some nefarious action before the GOP for once!

At 5:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why other 'delicate flower' readers here jump on my responses and not all over your posts. We're (all 3 of us, including DINO-Whig guy above) all saying the same thing.

At 6:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree with yo u about the dccc and its deplorable record this is more about Randell playing party boss than about the national dysfunction.

My district has been a mess forever.
Joe Sestak only won because of extraordinary concatenation of events and incredible volunteer effort.

At 6:27 AM, Anonymous ap215 said...

Here's some more

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Paul’s mention of Ed Rendell and Tony Welters and their support of fracking:

We all know that Hillary Clinton used her position as Secretary of State to push fracking in other countries—with Obama’s blessing. But few of us know how many state level party hacks and bundlers—and their congressional puppets—are just as bad on the issue.

Rendell and Welters are not the only state-level Democratic leaders (elected or otherwise) promoting fracking. In New Jersey, Rep. Donald Norcross, the kid brother of notorious South Jersey machine boss George Norcross, has a firmly pro-fracking voting record, voting with the GOP to streamline the approval process for fracking pipelines [1] and for plants to produce LNG for export. [2]

This month, Norcross was re-appointed Assistant Minority Whip, [3] another indication that they don’t care about climate change.

And Boss George Norcross now intends to get arch-conservative DINO state senator Jeff Van Drew, who never met a pipeline he didn’t like, into NJ CD-2 to replace retiring Republican Frank LoBiondo.

New Jersey looks as hopeless on this issue as Pennsylvania. I just hope enough ActBlue candidates win their congressional primaries to make a difference.

At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


[1] 14 Democrats In Congress Vote To Rush Fracking Pipelines Through With Less Time For Public Input

[2] What the Frack? 41 House Dems Join GOP to Vote to Expedite Natural Gas Exports

[3] Donald Norcross Re-Appointed Assistant Minority Whip

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said... where are all those delicate flowers now? This is now my favorite DWT thread of all time... no that's a lie. All GP threads are my favorites. But the comments here are my favorites.

I guess delicate flowers just can't handle a plethora of facts and data proving their world view is horse shit. If it's just me... they can react hysterically. When it's a lot of us... they shrink into the background.

I wonder if any of them had an epiphany yet?

My sincerest gratitude to all above. My only regret is that the reply thread isn't 100 deep with others agreeing. But it's still moderately encouraging that on the terminally 'lesser evilist' DWT, we can have so many.

Howie and Noah, I'm coming for you after November. You need to hear that bell ring.

At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

party fundraising standards make MOST good candidates UNABLE to run. this is one of their firewalls against their caucus being polluted by fully formed honest human beings.


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