Walter Shapiro has a pretty nasty piece about the Mayday PAC in Politico (“The PAC to End All PACs Is a Farce”). A few minutes of reaction before I get back to it.
(I feel particularly awful about the responsibility I may have for this piece. Shapiro tried to contact me before he published it, but the message came just as I was entering the cell phone free zone called New Hampshire for a lecture and a weekend with my family. As it came to me, the message didn’t indicate that he was writing an article for Politico (b/c had I known that I would have driven back to Boston for the chance to talk to him) (the message to me: “for Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law”; topic: MaydayPAC: “very respectful, and supportive of the goal; but has some skeptical/practical questions for you re: the process and the PAC vehicle; has read/heard most of your interviews and blog, but still has questions”) Had I had a chance to talk to him, some of the following errors may have been cleared up. Procedures have changed in lessig-land. No potential interview can now be inadvertently — emphasis on the inadvertently — missed.)
What’s striking about Shapiro’s article is that he declares the project a “failure” even before the project is announced.
We’ve said we’re going to be in 8 races. The aim of the 8 is to provide a portfolio of contexts to help us prove that what DC and Shapiro believe (that Americans won’t vote on the basis of corruption or “money in politics”) is not true. We’ve announced 5 of those 8 races. Shapiro looks at the 5 we’ve announced so far, and declares
“it seems impossible for a Super PAC (even one with $80 million rather than $8 million) to make voters care about the rise of Super PACs.”
Who are the “voters” in this sentence? Because if he means voters generally, sure. As we explain in our plan, 2014 is a pilot campaign, which, if successful, is meant to establish the predicate for a much bigger national campaign in 2016. We’re focused on demonstrating something that voters in 8 particular districts will come to believe in 2014, not on the nation generally.
So if it’s the voters in these 8 districts, what’s the actual evidence Shapiro offers to show that those voters won’t “care about the rise of Super PACS”?
Shapiro leads with Ruben Gallego, the Arizona Democrat who was challenging Mary Wilcox in the August 26 primary. His argument is that Gallego and Wilcox didn’t make this an issue in the campaign, and pointing to incomplete data about our own participation in the race, suggests that we didn’t make it an issue either. But in fact, even though we were in the race for just a couple weeks, we spent 30% as much as was spent in Gallego’s whole campaign. In the lead up to our endorsing him, Gallego made an endorsement of John Sarbanes Government by the People Act. And our ads and mailings emphasized his commitment as part of a new generation of Democrats willing to challenge corporate Democrats (as Zephyr has put it). Whether that messaging was something the voters in AZ-7 “care[d] about” is something to be studied after the election is over. (Oh wait. The election is over. Gallego won, and we’ve already begun the study.)
Shapiro turns next to New Hampshire, where we’ve endorsed Republican Jim Rubens. Once again, based on incomplete data about our spending in that campaign, Shapiro concludes that the issue won’t matter to voters in NH either. Why? Because “no one, with the possible exception of his immediate family, thinks Rubens can win the primary” and because one New Hampshire pollster told him that New Hampshire is no more sensitive to this issue than anywhere else. (I’d like to see the data for that claim, because our data shows something very different).
The Rubens race is the most difficult race we are (or will be) in. We started 40 points behind. And yes, if we end up 40 points behind, the effort will be a failure. But again, what’s the evidence we can’t move the dial? Even if New Hampshire is no more sensitive to this issue than elsewhere, that leaves New Hampshire pretty damn sensitive to the issue (in polls we conducted last December, we found more than 90% of Americans believe it “important” to “reduce the influence of money in politics.”) That’s apparently not enough for Shapiro, however, and when bundled with the fact that he believes our other NH campaign (Carol Shea-Porter) is not a strong candidate, leads him to conclude that we can’t win in New Hampshire. (Put aside his view about MaydayPAC: The Carol Shea-Porter I’ve seen is as powerful a candidate as any.)
Shapiro then turns to Iowa, where we’ve endorsed Staci Appel against lobbyist-bound David Young. Appel’s campaign, Shapiro argues, isn’t focused on corruption issues because, as he puts it, “candidates and their consultants know what issues work for them politically—and which don’t.” True enough, but that’s whole point of our campaign: to raise issues in a way that the “experts” don’t, so that maybe the next round of “experts” will have a different view about “what issues work for them politically.”
Shapiro calls that “arrogant.” I should have thought it was free speech. I get the perspective of the “experts” keen to tell everyone else to shut up and listen. (“For god sake, behave already!”) But I don’t accept it — especially because there is a vigorous debate among these so-called “experts” about American’s view of this issue precisely. (If you want an introduction to the emptiness of the experts’ claim that Americans don’t care about “process” issues, this great book by Hibbing and Theiss-Morse is a good introduction).
Based on real data, we believe voters in Iowa 3 will support Appel over Young because — in part at least — of her support for fundamental reform. By November, we believe will have shown that with real data.
Do we believe that based on these campaigns alone, we’re going to “galvanize a national crusade for campaign finance reform.”? Of course not. Not even on these campaigns plus the three others that Shapiro didn’t mention — because he doesn’t know what those will be, even though he seems pretty sure he knows what the results of those three will be too.
What we do believe is that the portfolio of races we enter in this cycle will provide the data that we need to demonstrate (1) that if presented correctly, Americans on the Left and Right will vote on the basis of this issue and (2) that at a feasible cost, a national campaign to elect a Congress committed to fundamental reform in the way campaigns are funded is possible.
Shapiro says he’s a supporter of this kind of reform. “Billionaires running amok in politics are a terrible outgrowth of Citizens United,” he tells us, and that to match it will take “a massive grassroots political movement or an ongoing scandal that wipes everything else off Facebook and Twitter.”
But there’s no scandal for this kind of corruption — this corruption is in plain sight — so the real question is how one generates a “massive grassroots political movement.”
We’ve sketched a plan. Shapiro says it’s a bad plan. Ok, then, let me embrace the words of the great Jon Snow: “You’re right. It’s a bad plan. [pause] What’s your plan?”