Note: Minor errors in the original version of this diary have been corrected here.
What if you threw a bipartisan party, but only one party showed up? That's the puzzle facing Lawrence Lessig right now.
According to Lessig -- founder of Mayday PAC, which seeks to put an end to PACs by backing candidates for Congress who support campaign finance reform -- a bipartisan stance for Mayday is critical:
Really, really critical. It’s really hard right now because the reality is there are not a lot of Republicans out there who make this an issue they care about [....] There are some, but we’ve got to be able to wage this campaign in a way that convinces people -- because it’s true -- that we’re trying to create a Congress that has both Republicans and Democrats who support this reform, because we cannot win if its just Democrats that support this reform. Not because of the numbers necessarily, but because it cannot be perceived as a partisan reform. That would be enough to completely discredit it.
Part of the way to do this is to begin to speak the language of the Right about this issue. We have ways that people on the Left like to talk about this issue; it’s a simple translation to the way people on the Right like to talk about this issue. When you begin to focus conservatives on that and you ask them the hard question [....] I want to ask the tea party: when is the tea party going to step up and try to do something about crony capitalism? I think that begins to open up channels for this conversation that has got to begin to develop on the Right as powerfully as it has developed on the Left. And I’m hopeful it can happen. It just requires commitment that people see as genuine, and that’s what I think we’re trying to do.
Writing at Vox, Timothy Lee agrees
, but is far less sanguine:
But the biggest challenge is still ahead: attracting Republican support for his proposals. Because it will be difficult to get his legislative proposals passed without buy-in from at least some GOP members of Congress.
When Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation in 2002, it did so with overwhelmingly Democratic votes. The bill got support from 198 Democrats and 41 Republicans in the House. In the Senate, 49 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted yes.
But in the last 12 years, Congress has become more polarized. By my count, three quarters of the 52 Republicans who voted for McCain-Feingold are no longer in Congress. And the remaining members seem less interested in campaign finance issues than they used to be. When Democrats proposed the DISCLOSE Act in 2010 to bring more transparency to campaign donations, not a single Republican — even John McCain — voted to bring it to the Senate floor.
Mayday has certainly been solicitous of right-wing concerns, bending over backwards to address them: first by appointing two notable Republican operatives to the PAC's board of directors (Mark McKinnon and Kahlil Byrd), and
now by endorsing the candidacy of
right-wing extremist two right-wing extremists
, Jim Rubens
(R; NH-Sen) and, just today, Walter Jones (R; NC-03; see update below).
So how's it going? Alas, not so good. Every bit of data regarding Mayday we can lay our hands on indicates that, when it comes to putting up or shutting up, Republicans today are massively uninterested in campaign finance reform generally, and Mayday in particular. Below the fold I analyze the latest of these signals: the party alignments of Mayday's biggest donors.
Just last week Mayday released the list of its biggest ($10K+) donors. Curious to know their party affiliations, but lacking both their phone numbers and the confidence that they would take my calls, I did the next-best thing. Using the Federal Election Commission's individual contributions database I toted up, by party, the other donations made recently by Mayday mega-donors (>$100K) as well as its mere super-donors ($10K - $100K), as a means of gauging where their partisan sympathies lie. I've broken these data out into two separate graphs, above and below, one for large partisan donors (top) and the other for smaller partisan donors (bottom) for ease of visualization.
These graphs show precisely where the named individuals donate their dollars to partisan candidates, PACs, and leadership committees. I've restricted this analysis to the years 2011 through 2014 to avoid the possibility of mis-categorizing someone who might have had a Road to Damascus moment some years ago, switching sides from D to R or vice versa.
Each red bar in these two graphs shows the named Mayday donor's total giving to Republican candidates and committees over this three and a half year period, while each blue bar shows his or her total giving to Democrats. The party affiliations of the recipients of this largesse were determined from FEC data or, for a few PACs, from information provided by the Center For Responsive Politics' excellent OpenSecrets.org. Twenty-one of Mayday's $10K+ donors (out of a total of 56) are not included in these graphs, either because they made no partisan donations between 2011 and 2014 (the majority of cases) or because their very common names could not be confidently disambiguated from others with the same names appearing in the FEC database.
Turning first to the chart at the top of this page, it seems safe to say that among partisan mega-donors of >$100K there is only a single likely Republican: PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who tops our list with $4.9 million in donations to Republicans (Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, Kevin McCarthy, the Club for Growth, and the like) plus a mere $10 thousand to Democrats (Ro Khanna [D; CA-17] and Sean Eldridge [D; NY-19]). Looking at the lower graph, all the smaller partisan donors named there look to be likely Democrats, with the possible exceptions of Shawn Byers (wife of Brooks Byers, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers fame), whom I would still call a likely Democrat with bipartisan tendencies, and David Albertson, whom I rate a likely Republican. I reserve judgement in the case of Mark Surfas, as he made only a single partisan donation during the period analyzed, and I don't believe you can make a call based on a single data point.
Long story short: based on what we know, among 35 of Mayday's top donors there are no more than two likely Republicans. If bipartisanship is "really really critical" for Mayday, this is not good news. Add to this the recent report that among hundreds of candidates and incumbents endorsing a campaign finance reform proposal at Mayday's sister web site, reform.to, only 1.4% are Republicans, plus my own recent report that just 8% of Mayday's small-dollar grassroots donors in North Carolina are Republicans, and it becomes clear that, through no fault of its own, Mayday is in effect a partisan PAC -- because Republicans just won't play.
Deciding how to cope with the harsh reality of single-digit Republican enthusiasm for Mayday-style reform seems likely to determine the initiative's fate.
UPDATE (Aug 11 11:12 AM Eastern):
As this diary was going to press, Mayday announced its next three endorsements (for a total of 5 to date, with 3 more to come). These three new endorsees include one Republican (for a total now of two Republicans among 5 endorsees), Walter Jones (NC-03) whose positions on major questions On the Issues summarizes thus (reprinted from Ballotpedia.org):
Also according to his Ballotpedia page
, incumbent Jones' notable recent votes in Congress include:
Voted against HR 2775, which sought to end the shutdown of the Federal government.
Voted for HR 273, which sought to prevent a pay raise for Federal workers.
Voted for House Amendment 136, which sought to "prohibit the use of funds to finalize, implement, administer, or enforce the Morton Memos." These memos would have granted administrative amnesty to certain illegal aliens residing in the United States.
Voted for HR 1797, which sought to ban abortions that would take place 20 or more weeks after fertilization.
Voted against the so-called fiscal cliff compromise bill, which made permanent most of the Bush tax cuts originally passed in 2001 and 2003 while also raising tax rates on the highest income levels.
Tip of the hat to Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog, who reminds us that new Mayday endorsee Walter Jones calls for President Obama's impeachment.