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This morning, both Mayday PAC's new home page and a front page New York Times article reveal that Mayday PAC (Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig's controversial PAC-to-end-all-PACs) has picked the first two of an anticipated five 2014 candidates it will support with its $12 million in combined grassroots and zillionaire cash: Democrat Staci Appel's race against Republican David Young in Iowa's 3rd congressional district, and Republican Jim Rubens' primary bid against fellow Republican Scott Brown for New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat. Join me below to unpack the subtleties and implications of Mayday's inaugural choices.

Mayday PAC, which seeks to reform campaign finance by promoting candidates of either party who will support reform legislation to end the overwhelming influence of PAC money in U.S. elections, is faced with the challenge of walking a tightrope in choosing precisely which candidates it will support in 2014. It's $12 million war chest comes about equally from small(ish) online donations and matching funds from an eclectic collection of zillionaires. In assembling this coalition of the willing Mayday intentionally eschews party-based ideology, in principle welcoming with equal avarice money from the left, right, and center alike. But my recent analysis of Mayday's first FEC report reveals that Mayday's online donors are overwhelmingly independent and Democratic voters, with hardly a Republican to be found. Contrariwise, Mayday's zillionaire matching donors -- without whom the PAC couldn't hope to be more than a fine-print footnote in history -- range more broadly, from libertarian-ish rabid conservative Peter Thiel to the deep-blue Democratic billionaire, Vincent Ryan (follow me for my upcoming in-depth analysis of Mayday's top big-money donors).

Agnosticism with respect to party is a fine principle. But, in practice, Mayday's intention to avoid taking sides along the liberal/conservative divide presents it with a fine mess: if you stand for nothing (ideology-wise), you'll certainly fall for anything. If Mayday supports too many Republican candidates it risks alienating its predominantly liberal small-money grassroots base by achieving a net transfer of wealth from liberal donors to conservative politicians...something unprecedented in the annals of American politics. Similarly, if it supports too many liberal Democratic candidates it must inevitably alienate its more rabidly conservative big-money zillionaire donors, such as Thiel. Oh, what to do, what to do? This quandary undoubtedly contributed to Mayday's recent announcement that it needed "just a little more time" before announcing its first round of choices. And with today's announcement of its first two picks, we can now see how Mayday plans to navigate this minefield of its own devising.

And the answer is (drumroll, please): 'Favor Republicans, but be sneaky about it.'

Oh sure, one of Mayday's first two beneficiaries, Iowa's Staci Appel, is a Democrat...and a pretty good'n at that: endorsed by Iowa's state chapter of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Emily's List, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Appel's platform includes support for women's reproductive rights, Head Start, public education, alternative energy, and "reducing carbon pollution." Her messaging is smart and nuanced to be palatable to non-too-liberal Iowa voters, with support for "free and fair markets," farm bills, corn-based ethanol, and "eliminating waste." In contrast, her opponent David Young crusades against "the darkness of Washington, D.C." (dog whistles, anyone?) and promotes a balanced budget amendment, zero-based budgeting (i.e., cut existing programs to pay for new ones), a "fairer, flatter" tax code, and dismantling Obamacare.

In short, with its decision to back Iowa's Appel, Mayday has given liberals some reason to smile upon it.

But then there's the little matter of Mayday's other Anointed One, New Hampshire Republican Jim Rubens.

Liberals, progressives and Democrats generally love to hate Rubens' opponent in the upcoming Republican primary, the man who put the 't-bagger' in carpet-bagger: Scott Brown. So, on the surface at least, there's little for progressives or Democrats generally to dislike about this choice. After all, here Mayday is interfering in a Republican primary, not in a head-to-head Republican-versus-Democrat campaign. So a progressive who might not be paying close attention could be forgiven for shrugging at this choice. But the big and important news here is that this is a Senate race, not a contest for a seat in the House -- despite Mayday's many past assurances that its plan for 2014 was to run "independent campaigns in 5 districts across the country." If you thought that meant that it would limit its interference to House campaigns in 2014, you weren't alone...but you were wrong. And harmfully wrong, to boot.

One look at Jim Rubens' platform should be enough to persuade anyone that this guy is the worst sort of teahadist extremist. With its endorsement of his candidacy, Mayday proves itself not merely willing to sleep with the devil, but actually eager to move into Hell and put up new drapes. OK, I can hear someone thinking: "But don't you see, it's a brilliant chess gambit! Replace a photogenic pseudo-populist Republican challenger with a blood-drenched ghoul! That way Shaheen's a shoo-in!" But if there's one thing Lessig and Mayday have been clear about (and, indeed, there is only one thing they've been clear about) it is that Mayday doesn't give a fig about anything other than campaign finance reform. This isn't a double-reverse-twister-with-a-360-backflip gambit to paradoxically strengthen Shaheen's campaign -- it's simply dangerous, clumsy, unprincipled meddling in the name of election reform and all else be damned.

The difference between Mayday interfering in House races and imposing its will in Senate races is like night and day. Democrats have nothing to lose, this cycle, in the House; they don't control the House today, and they probably haven't an ice cube's chance in hell of doing so after November. But Mayday's endorsement of a Republican in the New Hampshire senate primary is another thing entirely. For progressives and Democrats, everything hangs in the balance in this election: if Democrats lose control of the Senate (and if pundits agree on anything, it is that that is a real possibility) then the consequences for our democracy will be disastrous. With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress we can looks forward to nothing but endless impeachment theater, overrides of Presidential vetoes, and truly evil legislative initiatives.

Continued Democratic control of the Senate may well hang on a single race. By backing a candidate in the New Hampshire Republican senate primary, Mayday telegraphs its intention to back the Republican, Rubens, in November as well, should he win that primary. After all, even a Harvard professor isn't la-la enough to throw millions into a primary race and then fail to follow through by continuing to back its guy in the election campaign.

Mayday's carefully crafted optics -- coming out of the gate backing one Democrat and one Republican -- is nothing like the balanced, non-ideological approach it hopes we will take it to be. It is a stab at the heart of progressive hopes for this November's election.

Want a Republican Senate? Then donate to Mayday PAC. Otherwise, raise your voice and join the battle to oppose Mayday's playing with dynamite on a crowded sidewalk.


In light of its first candidate choices, I:

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (The Hangman, Maurice Ogden)

    by DocDawg on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 07:19:59 AM PDT

  •  Avoiding Sides == the Rightwing Position. (5+ / 0-)

    The other side opposes democracy, science and a middle class.

    If you can't pick sides between that and the Democrats, you have in fact picked a side.

    This stinks like a 3 week old fish.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 07:56:27 AM PDT

  •  Supporting Rubens might be clever positioning (3+ / 0-)

    This way they can say "see, we are supporting both sides" (good for PR) while at the same time encouraging a Republican knock down drag out primary in NH. Indications are a Republican loss there in the general, this just makes it more likely as Rubens and Brown tack rightwards to compete for R-primary voters. So, this may make it more likely that we hold the Senate in November. Perhaps not a terrible approach.

    As for the big picture on Mayday, I'm willing to wait and see who else they support before making up my mind.

    •  Mayday's NH choice is insidious precisely because (4+ / 0-)

      Brown (R) is lagging badly behind Shaheen (D) in New Hampshire. Left to themselves, NH voters are virtually certain to return Shaheen to the Senate; they know full well that Brown is a carpetbagging loser who can't even spell 'New Hampshire' and doesn't give a flying fart about its citizens' concerns. "A Republican knock down drag out primary in NH" accomplishes nothing that needs accomplishing.

      Rubens, by contrast, is a two-term State Senator who has lived in New Hampshire for over 40 years...say whatever else you may about him, his New Hampshire credentials are solid; his nomination, instead of Brown's, would give many a NH non-liberal who might otherwise stay away from the polls in November an encouraging reason to vote...and certainly not for Shaheen.

      Rubens stands for repealing Obamacare, slashing the social safety net in the name of cutting the deficit, supporting the '2nd amendment right' to shoot the place up while hollering 'yee-haw!', charter schools in place of public education, a 'free-market' energy policy, harrassing the Federal Reserve with 'audits,' "utilizing technology, fencing, and personnel [to] secure the entire US-Mexico border," and the deportation of all "illegal aliens." In short, Rubens is the worst sort of teahadist. Mayday's support for a vile sack of sh*t of this caliber speaks volumes: it has no scruples whatsoever beyond its feel-good single-minded devotion to campaign finance reform.

      Apparently, Mayday sincerely believes it is necessary to destroy the village in order to save it.

      With friends like Mayday, who needs enemas?

      Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (The Hangman, Maurice Ogden)

      by DocDawg on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 09:46:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Brown's came to NH because Rubens' failed to (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, RandomNonviolence, kurt, Quequeg

    come anywhere close to Democratic incumbent in polling.  This seems unlikely to change even if MayDay enables Rubens to beat Brown in the primary.

    If MayDay needs to placate Thiel-type donors by spending on some Republicans, then doing so in primaries could end up being the least harmful way to do so (although you are persuasive that playing with the Senate is playing with fire).

    Looking forward to your diaries on the big donors and other aspects as Lessig tries to ride this tiger.

  •  Mayday PAC donations are designated (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lujane, Quequeg

    (by the person making the contribution) for Democrat candidates only, Republican candidates only, or No Designation.

    Everyone who has been paying attention already knows that. So what is the big surprise here?  

    It's actually a quite nifty trick to use donations earmarked for Republican Candidates on ads that drive the message of ending the influence of special interests in Washington, on a Republican that will lose to a Democrat in the general election.

    Knowing that a requirement is in place to spend money designated for Republican candidates, on Republican candidates, which Republican candidate would DocDawg choose to fund if he were running the Mayday PAC?

    •  With respect, (2+ / 0-)

      I must reject the premise of your question. DocDawg wouldn't run the Mayday PAC if his life depended on it. Screwing around with the desperately important 2014 Senate race by playing "let's try this and see what happens" is, as emorej says above, playing with fire.

      In personal email exchanges with a couple of Mayday PAC's leaders I have been told (without substantiating data): "The amount of support we get from "Democrats Only" contributors outnumbers "Republican Only" voters by somewhere between 50-1 and 100-1."

      If that's true...and who the hell knows? amounts to almost no money spent on Republicans (for example, 1% of Mayday's $7 million in online donations would equal $70,000. In which case backing even just one Republican with any significant expenditure would take them way over their commitment to "Republican Only" donors.

      Furthermore, it is important to recognize (unless a campaign finance attorney can convince me otherwise) that the mere fact that Mayday gave its donors the chance to click a radio button to flag their donations "Democrat Only," "Republican Only," or "Whatever does the most good" doesn't constitute a legally binding "requirement" on them to do so...and, even if it did, because Mayday is a SuperPAC verification of this would be impossible, and thus the requirement would be unenforceable. Lessig's whole schtick with Mayday thus far has been "trust me, I know what I'm doing." My concern is that, after his debacle fronting for Americans Elect in the last election cycle, I can find no reason why anyone should trust his judgement when it comes to political activism...especially with Other People's Money.

      Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (The Hangman, Maurice Ogden)

      by DocDawg on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 11:15:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  After reading your comment (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm less fearful that Mayday PAC will be harmful to Democrats than ever before. Looks pretty one-sided in favor of Democrats. Thank you for providing the information. And whatever money is directed to Republican candidates, it will be used to drive the message of ending special interest influence in politics: a message every Democrat embraces, and a message the Koch's don't want to hear.

        •  I should have mentioned (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          that while Mayday leaders have told me its 50- to 100-to-one for Dems Only versus Repubs only, they've also told me that the vast majority of donations are flagged "wherever it will do the most good." I.e., totally at the discretion of Mayday's board (which, along with good-hearted but sometimes soft-headed Larry Lessig, also includes the notorious Republican operative and cowboy-hat-model, Mark McKinnon...the man who (among many other crimes against humanity) voluntarily brought you Sarah Palin's acceptance speech.

          So please, continue to be very afraid.

          Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (The Hangman, Maurice Ogden)

          by DocDawg on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 01:04:08 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  If the vast majority of donations are flagged as (0+ / 0-)

            "wherever it will do the most good," that would be an entirely different dynamic. Also, I did the homework on Mark McKinnon that you assigned, and I agree that his shameful past presents a huge challenge to any attempt at intellectual honesty in trying to justify support for the Mayday PAC, as a voting Democrat.

            On the other side of the coin, I'll bet that any Democratic candidate that funding is offered to, will graciously accept money from Mayday PAC ... which is kind of weird.

            •  Sweet baby jeezus thank you! (0+ / 0-)

              thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!! Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who gets this.

              Beneath the beam that blocked the sky, none had stood so alone as I - and the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there, cried "Stay" for me in the empty square. (The Hangman, Maurice Ogden)

              by DocDawg on Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 03:51:14 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  You know (0+ / 0-)

                Doing the right thing is more important than being right, every time. I threw a little of my own money their way, but it will probably be the last, now that I have a better understanding of their organizational hierarchy. It takes me awhile, sometimes. Thanks for your patience.

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