A Campaign Finance Reform Super PAC?

This is a bizarre story with more than a few unanswered questions. The Post reports that a super PAC known as Mayday is supporting Jamie Raskin in CD8, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they intend to do what they’re saying. Or how it will ultimately be helpful to Raskin.

First off, some background on Mayday.

An unusual super PAC, formed in 2014 to promote candidates in favor of campaign finance reform, is rebooting for next year’s elections, starting with an independent effort for State Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery) in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District race.

“Embrace the Irony” was the motto of Mayday, a super PAC founded by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig and political consultant Mark McKinnon with the goal of eliminating the independent committees that they and other critics contend have corrupted American politics.

Super PACs are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of cash from unions, corporations and individuals to support candidates or attack their opponents as long as they don’t coordinate directly with campaigns.

Mayday spent more than $10 million on the 2014 midterm elections but had little to show for it. Just one of the candidates it backed won last year: Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), a 20-year incumbent who didn’t need Mayday’s help.

Mayday is attempting to hit reset under new leadership and with more modest goals. Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham law professor who made an unexpectedly strong showing in her 2014 Democratic primary challenge to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, has replaced Lessig.

First off, the governor of New York is Andrew Cuomo. Someone get a copy editor in here, stat.

Lessig is now running in the Democratic presidential primary, centering his entire campaign on reforming our electoral system. Initially, he said he would resign after passing a reform bill, but faced with the absurdity of that idea, he has recently relented. The New York Times has an article on Lessig’s campaign today - it’s more than a little bizarre.

Despite raising more money than Mr. Chafee, Mr. Webb and several Republicans, Mr. Lessig’s candidacy is not considered serious by many analysts or party leaders, who see him as an activist and gadfly. He did not dispel that notion when he introduced himself as a “referendum” candidate who would step down as president once he managed to overhaul the campaign finance system.

With two weeks to go until the next Democratic debate, Mr. Lessig is trying to resuscitate his campaign in hopes of polling high enough to win a spot on the stage. Last week, he renounced his resignation plans and promised to serve out a full term in the White House.

He has also relented on his insistence that campaign finance is his only cause, unveiling policy positions on 15 other issues, including tax reform and health care. And Mr. Lessig is perhaps the only candidate around who attacked low-polling rivals such as Mr. Chafee and Martin O’Malley, a former governor of Maryland.

“Why were they there? What were they offering?” Mr. Lessig wondered of Mr. Chafee, Mr. Webb and Mr. O’Malley. “Other candidates are playing a game of fantasy politics.”

Oh, and you’re the only sane one? OK, fine, let me just step out of the room for a second, and . . . slam. That was a little scary.

Coincidentally or otherwise, there is also a Huffington Post piece today by Brian Boyko, the co-founder with Lessig of Mayday, who in arguing for the inclusion of Lessig in the debates demonstrates that he learned nothing whatsoever from the 2000 election. Reading the following passage - even knowing that Lessig is no Ralph Nader and 2016 is not 2000 - makes me homicidal with rage.

Of course, what would happen if Lessig launches an independent campaign is that Clinton would lose. Handily.

In order to get elected, Clinton will eventually need to win back the Sanders/Warren wing of the Democratic Party. That can only happen if Clinton is the lesser of two evils - because she’s certainly not going to be the least of three. Lessig would almost certainly pick up enough Sanders supporters - supporters any Democratic nominee would need - to cause Clinton’s defeat in the general election.

And to tell the truth, even if it means (ugh) a President Trump, many, including myself, would be okay with that. After all, how much worse would a Trump administration be than a Clinton administration? They’re both willing to do anything and say anything in order to grab onto money and the power it brings.

Really? Still with this bullshit? You learned nothing from Ralph Nader in 2000? You think even in hindsight there was no difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore?  Just shut the #^}*{{ up, OK?

So this is the kind of people behind Mayday. Gadflies and narcissists, with no ability to see the historical and political absurdity of their methods.

In some places, the “delicious irony” of a campaign finance reform super PAC would be not just tolerated but maybe even embraced. Not here, in a region that combines practicality with purity to a degree not seen elsewhere. And this is particularly true for Jamie Raskin, who has come to have an image in no small part built on messianic fervor - when some of his most ardent supporters hear “super PAC for Raskin,” heads will explode from the dissonance. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Putting aside the irony of the situation, there are huge problems with the language Mayday uses in the Post article.

At an announcement in Takoma Park, Teachout said Mayday will raise $100,000 for Raskin and recruit 250 volunteers for his race against six other opponents.

“Raskin is a national advocate for citizen-funded elections to combat the influence of big money in politics,” said a Mayday announcement promoting the event. “He refused all corporate contributions as a State Senator and is now refusing all donations from Big Gas, Big Coal, and Big Oil. “

Mayday cannot legally “raise $100,000 for Raskin.” It can raise those funds itself and spend them in an independent expenditure (IE) campaign. It can also direct donors to Raskin’s website, although given the $2,700 limit, such efforts are traditionally far less financially successful than the IE route. And if Mayday raises big money donations on Raskin’s behalf, that revelation will severely undercut his current claims to be the grassroots candidate in the race.

Additionally, IE campaigns usually focus on television ads and direct mail. In this market and this race, any TV buy less than $500,000 is likely to be ineffectual. And I’d guess that $100,000 wouldn’t buy more than a single direct mail piece, maybe two at the most. Nothing sufficient to have a dramatic effect on the race in CD8.

Similarly, Mayday can’t recruit volunteers directly for the campaign. It can put volunteers in the field itself, but would have to develop its own written materials and its own organizational structure for such an effort. It could not have those volunteers carrying Raskin campaign literature.

Bottom line - for both philosophical and practical reasons, I see the Mayday “endorsement” of Jamie Raskin as far more trouble for him than it is likely to be worth.

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