The MaydayPAC is an independent political action committee (“superPAC”) that aims to elect a Congress committed to fundamental reform in the way political campaigns are funded by 2016. The PAC will operate in both the 2014 and 2016 election cycles. In 2014, it will pilot the idea of a superPAC pressing for fundamental reform, by running independent campaigns in 5 districts across the country. If successful, the PAC will organize a much larger intervention in 2016, with the objective of electing a majority of Congress that has either cosponsored, or pledged to support, fundamental reform of the way elections are funded.
This document is meant for those who are considering investing in this PAC. The only possible return from our success is a representative democracy that is more representative.
For some of our potential large donors, that would mean a democracy less representative of their interests in particular. But we believe that for at least some of these potential donors, that personal sacrifice is consistent with their own conception of the public good. For them, the sacrifice is nothing as compared with a fireman or soldier. But for all of us, it would be an enormous contribution to our democracy.
Campaigns for the United States Congress are privately funded in America. Eighty- five percent of that funding comes from large contributions. Candidates and political parties target the especially large contributors in their fundraising efforts. But the number of such contributors is tiny: No more than .05% of the American population gives even the maximum amount to one candidate for Congress. The number giving $10,000 or more is less than .01%.
This concentration gives the funders of political campaigns enormous power, either directly (as direct contributors) or indirectly (through the funding secured by lobbyists and other intermediaries). As Members of Congress become dependent upon these funders — spending anywhere between 30% and 70% of their time raising money — the influence of these funders grows. A trivial number of large contributors have the capacity to block reforms that are relatively invisible to the general public. A small number can affect the agenda of Congress or even block reforms that are generally popular. As a recent study from Princeton concludes,
“economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. governmental policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”
This dynamic is not partisan. Instead, it blocks reforms on the Left and Right. It blocks substantial legislative initiatives — such as climate change legislation, or meaningful health care reform. It also blocks efforts to simplify taxes or shrink the size of government: All things being equal, complicated taxes and a more extensive government increase the ability of Members of Congress to raise money. As Robert Kaiser details in his book, So Damn Much Money (2010), that fact interferes with the legislative agenda of the Right as much as of the Left.
The founders of the MaydayPAC believe that this dynamic has destroyed the capacity of the United States government to govern. We believe it is critical to find a way to change the way elections are funded, to free legislators to pursue the reforms that motivate the voters to support them.
We have therefore established this superPAC with the objective of electing a Congress committed to fundamental reform of the way campaigns are funded. Based on the analysis by one of America’s most prominent political firms, we believe we can achieve this objective by 2016.
Our plan for reform has four stages:
- In 2014, we will pilot the idea of a superPAC intervening in elections to support candidates who favor reform. The objective of this pilot intervention will be to both (a) convince Congress of the salience of this issue to voters, and (b) determine how best to intervene to move voters on the basis of this issue.
- Based on what we learn in 2014, in 2016 we will engage in as many races as we need to win a majority in Congress who have either cosponsored or committed to cosponsor fundamental reform legislation.
- In 2017, we will then press to get Congress to pass, and the President to sign, legislation that fundamentally reforms the way elections are funded.
- After a Congress has been elected under this new system, we will push for whatever constitutional reform is necessary to secure the gains from this reform.
“Fundamental reform in the way elections are funded”
Throughout this plan, we refer to the need for “fundamental reform in the way elections are funded.” By this, we mean legislation that would achieve some version of publically-funded elections.
While the MaydayPAC is agnostic about the specific legislation, we favor systems of “small dollar public funding” of elections, (a.k.a. “citizen-funded” elections). Such legislation can be perfectly constitutional, under the current Court’s reading of the First Amendment. And if enacted, it would radically change the economy of influence within Washington, DC.
There are two prominent types of “small dollar public funding”: matching system, and vouchers.
Under a matching system, such as John Sarbanes’ (D-MD) Government By The People Act, small dollar contributions are matched by the government, at the extreme with a 9 to 1 match. Thus, a $100 contribution is worth $1,000 to a candidate who funds her campaign with small contributions only.
A voucher system gives small dollar vouchers to all registered voters. Voters can use those vouchers to contribute to candidates for Congress who restrict their funding to vouchers only, as well as small contributions beyond vouchers.
In either case, the shift in incentives would produce a radical change in the range and nature of “relevant funders” to congressional campaigns. If implemented effectively, candidates for Congress could run winning campaigns without being dependent upon large contributors. As the number of “relevant funders” increased, the potential for any subset to block reform would be reduced. At the extreme, the system for funding campaigns would mirror the influence of voters in an election.
These changes alone would not address the ability of either wealthy individuals or legal entities (such as corporations or unions) to spend unlimited amounts in political elections (a freedom secured by Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United v. F.E.C.). Nor would they address directly the capacity of individuals or legal entities to contribute unlimited amounts to independent political action committees (“superPACs”) (a freedom secured by SpeechNow v. F.E.C.). Both of these freedoms were articulated judicially, as interpretations of the First Amendment. To change them would require either an amendment to the Constitution, or a change in the judicial interpretation of the First Amendment.
The founders of the MaydayPAC believe such changes may be necessary ultimately. But we are not pursuing such changes immediately or directly, for two different reasons.
First, constitutional change through Congress requires an infeasible super-majority. To be proposed by Congress, an amendment requires a 2/3ds vote by each house of Congress. We do not believe that it is plausible in the immediate term that an amendment reversing either First Amendment freedom would secure 67 votes in the United States Senate. Not only is there strong opposition to such reforms by Republicans. The leading proposed amendment in the Senate is opposed by the ACLU.
Second, it is not yet clear that constitutional reform will even be necessary. It is unlikely, without a change in the composition of the Court, that either Citizens United or Buckley will be reversed. But the case establishing the freedom to contribute unlimited amounts to independent political action committees was not reviewed by the Supreme Court. Because the Court has treated the standard governing the regulation of contributions differently from expenditures, we believe it is still possible for the Court to uphold the power of Congress to limit contributions to independent political action committees (thereby eliminating so called “superPACs”). Given the relatively small role that independent expenditures— unrelated to superPACs—play in the current system, that change alone may be enough to secure—with the correct system of public funding—a Congress no longer pathologically dependent on large funders.
Given the current activism of the Supreme Court, however, we are not confident of this result. An amendment may well be ultimately necessary. But we believe that an essential step toward making any amendment possible is the election of a Congress no longer dependent on large funders. Thus, we envision the possible need for constitutional reform in stage four of this plan.
Stage 1: A pilot campaign in 2014
The single most important fact blocking the possibility of reform is the view among both experts and many in the general public that voters will not respond to the issue of corruption with enough force to matter. All concede that voters identify “money in politics” as an important issue that needs to be reformed. But most believe that voters do not vote on the basis of “money in politics,” and so most believe it is unlikely to be an issue that will be reformed.
We acknowledge the dominance of this view. We believe it is mistaken. The objective of our campaign in 2014 is thus to prove that this view is wrong, by running five campaigns in a wide range of districts on the basis of this issue — and winning.
We will select these five districts with two objectives in view.
First, we must select districts where a victory would be both surprising, and understood to be tied to this reform. We are not looking for easy victories; nor are we looking for races in which different issues compete, and would make identifying the reason for victory difficult. We are looking for districts in which a victory would signal that conventional wisdom was wrong: that voters, that is, could be mobilized on the basis of this issue enough to dislodge even dominant incumbents.
Second, we must select a sufficiently wide range of districts so as to provide enough diversity to make valid the inferences we need to draw about other districts. Our campaigns will establish a baseline of attitudes before and after our intervention; we will track the effectiveness of those interventions to “move the needle” of attitudes related to reform. And we’ll experiment with a wide range of techniques for engaging nontraditional voters to support candidates tied to reform.
Based on the recommendations of the MaydayPAC’s political director, and the available resources, the Board will choose the target districts for this pilot by July 15. The political director will then retain the appropriate firms to execute the five campaigns. While the primary objective in 2014 is to win in these five races, to the extent feasible, these campaigns will experiment with a range of potential techniques. It is our view that to win on this issue ultimately, we will need to identify new techniques that can bring new voters into the political process. But in the short term, we need to use whatever techniques we can to win.
Stage 2: A campaign to win a reform Congress in 2016
Based on the results in 2014, we will determine whether a campaign to win a Congress committed to fundamental reform in 2016 is feasible. If it is, then early in 2015, we will (1) initiate a strategy to minimize the number of seats that we must win, and (2) begin planning a campaign that could, in fact, win.
We will minimize the number of seats that we must win by building a strong grassroots movement to persuade incumbents to cosponsor fundamental reform. If we are successful in 2014, we can channel the energy from that victory into efforts to convince incumbents to commit to reform. Key among the strategies that we will deploy are campaigns to recruit “the funders” to refuse to contribute to candidates who have not committed to fundamental reform. We expect that over 2015, we can recruit a significant portion of the majority we will need in 2017. No doubt, we will still need to defeat a large number of incumbents in the 2016 election. But that number can be reduced significantly.
The remaining gap will determine the size of the 2016 campaign. At the high end, we estimate that number will be between 10-15 races in the Senate, and 50-65 races in the House. A campaign that large will require a proportionally larger amount of money - which we will fund through a mix of crowd funded small contributions, and larger matching contributions.
Stage 3: Enacting Reform
Once we have elected a Congress committed to reform, we will organize a 100 day campaign in the beginning of 2017 to get that reform passed. Obviously, the feasibility of moving legislation through Congress will depend upon the new President, and the control of Congress. But we believe that if we have achieved victory in stage 2, there will be enormous pressure on Congress to legislate quickly.
The MaydayPAC will leverage the momentum from 2016 to build a campaign to pass reform legislation.
Stage 4: Securing Reform through a Constitutional Amendment
A key element to the legislation that we see enacted will be a provision that tests the constitutional status of the superPAC. As described above, the Supreme Court has not yet addressed whether the First Amendment gives individuals or legal entities the right to contribute unlimited amounts to independent political action committees. We believe that question should be pressed on the Court, and envision the legislation providing fast track review.
While the process of that review continues, the MaydayPAC will work with existing organizations to leverage its victory to support whatever revision of the constitution is necessary to secure that reform. At a minimum, if the Court upholds the superPAC, that reform must secure the legislative power to assure broad and meaningful participation by Americans in the funding of elections. Changes beyond these will depend upon the nature of the Court, and the results of the first “clean election” for Congress in 2018. The MaydayPAC would make any necessary constitutional reform an issue in 2018, and pursue that reform however it makes most sense — whether through Congress, or a proposing convention, as described in Article V of the Constitution.
There are many hopeful assumptions built into this four-stage plan. But we will only raise funds as those assumptions become probable. Based on our analysis, we believe we can win 5 significant victories in 2014. We are therefore currently raising the funds for Stage 1 only.
Critical to our funding strategy is a two-step crowd funded and contingent match. We have set two funding targets — $1 million and $5 million. For each, we have run “kickstart” campaigns, raising small and medium dollar pledges to meet each target. Our first campaign to raise $1M launched on May 1, 2014, and we met the target 19 days before the deadline, on May 13th. We launched our second campaign to raise $5M on June 4th, and we met that goal 9 hours before the deadline, at 9:00 p.m. EST, July 4th, 2014
Now we will secure matching funds, bring our total amount raised to over $12M dollars.
Once matching funds are secured, our fundraising for this cycle will end. The PAC will then turn its focus to the campaigns exclusively.