Timeline of verifiable donations received from Mayday PAC's big-money donors from Mayday's inception through Aug. 20th. See text for methods and discussion.
In what I hope will ultimately prove to be merely an insignificant footnote to the successful history of Mayday PAC's quixotic quest to achieve campaign finance reform in our time, yesterday the PAC's founder and chairman of the board, Harvard's Lawrence Lessig, suffered a very public meltdown and hissy-fit
on his high-profile blog regarding yours truly. 'Nuf said on that topic -- except that readers who haven't been following The Mayday Chronicles
closely might well wonder "what's eating Lawrence Lessig?"
He-said/she-said is an unprofitable distraction from the important task of reclaiming American democracy from plutocratic forces, so let's leave it at saying that, on a personal level at least, the answer to that question must be between Lessig and Arnie. Still, when the very public leader of a noteworthy political organization inexplicably goes china-syndrome, the thoughtful observer must wonder what that says about the organization's own internal tensions, and what that may portend for its cause.
It's this: objective data are beginning to accumulate suggesting that Mayday PAC's experiment in electoral intervention isn't going well at all. I line out those data below the fold.
I. Mayday's "Ironic" Strategy (knowledgeable readers may skip to the next section without missing anything)
Mayday PAC's foundational thesis is that the pernicious influence of (all other) SuperPACs and similar manifestations of Big Dark Money can be driven from the temple of American politics only by the passage of meaningful campaign finance reform legislation at the Federal level (a proposition I believe no serious political observer can argue with), and that the best...nay, the only...way to achieve this is via a backwards-day "ironic" strategy: by forming the biggest, baddest SuperPAC of them all, to (on the one hand) scare congressional candidates straight by campaigning against them if they fail to say something nice about campaign finance reform while, on the other hand, to shower those candidates who do say the magic word with opulent financial rewards in the form of independent advertising expenditures supporting their campaigns.
The truly head-scratching twist in Mayday's strategy is its apparent conviction that, because Republicans are the greatest impediment to getting money out of politics, it therefore follows that the thing to do is to support the election of more Republicans to Congress (or, at any rate, Republicans who have at one time or another said something nice about campaign finance reform). And judging from Mayday's choices of Republican endorsees so far (such as New Hampshire senate candidate Jim Rubens), it matters not how repugnant such endorsees' other positions are: Mayday is a single-issue solution for today's single-issue world.
Well, OK, that's a thought, alright. Or, in Lessig's own words:
Let me embrace the words of the great Jon Snow: “You’re right. It’s a bad plan. [pause] What’s your plan?”
The answer to this question -- from most every other politically sophisticated progressive, anyway -- is, of course, that our
plan is to elect more progressives to Congress, in part in order to enable the passage of meaningful campaign finance reform legislation but, also, to achieve all the other societal remediation goals that are equally (if not even more) pressing, such as reversing climate change, protecting and strengthening the social safety net, achieving universal healthcare, lifting the chronically oppressed from poverty, injustice, and systematic violence, and so much more.
And therein lies the fundamental tension between Mayday and the rest of the known world.
II. Mayday's Liberal Donors' Money: 'All Your Base Are Belong To Us'
Of course, the biggest, baddest SuperPAC of all time requires big, bad money to fund its Big Stick, and Mayday's singular genius so far has seemed to be money-raising. Capitalizing on Lessig's star-power among young white progressives generally and the digerati in particular, Mayday raised a surprising $5 million in online donations over a period of just a few weeks (concluding on July 4th of this year). Some of this was even actual grassroots money (i.e., individual small donations), while all the rest came from overwhelmingly liberal millionaires and billionaires in five- and six-figure chunks.
So therein lies yet another nagging tension for Mayday: its donors are predominantly liberals and Democrats who, like most sensible people, have numerous social concerns, while Mayday itself spends their money predominantly on crazy Republicans.
A reasonable person might well expect that, at some point, that huge tension between liberal donors and teabagger beneficiaries would cause Mayday's rubber band to snap rather painfully -- and that's exactly what we're beginning to see as Mayday's big-money matching donors, perhaps wracked by second thoughts, seem to be dragging their feet on fulfilling their pledges, at least as reflected by the best available data (shown in the graph at the top of this page). Lessig promised Mayday's grassroots supporters that their $5+ million in donations through July 4th would be matched by zillionaires, but according to the FEC + Mayday data incorporated in this graph large-donor contributions seem to have all but flat-lined over the past six weeks, a disappointing 50% below their goal.
[Note for data-wonks: the data reported in the figure above come from a cross-referencing of Mayday's most recent donor data release (through 8/18) plus its two FEC reports (through 8/20; here and here). Mayday's donor data release on its web site is deficient in many respects, including missing donation dates and large 'contributions' reported on its web site but not in its FEC filings for the same period, necessitating this binning of data from two separate sources. Large donations reported by Mayday on its web site but not found in its authoritative FEC filings are excluded from the data shown in this figure. Repeated requests to Mayday leaders for clarification of its data deficiencies, over the course of two weeks, have not been responsively addressed as of the time of publication of this diary.]
Individual factoids appear to confirm the dismal state of big-money donor performance reflected in this graph. Early and influential video promotions for Mayday PAC from such luminaries as Steve Wozniak, Jason Alexander, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Alex Bores have not, to date, been followed up by individual donations in these supporters' names reported to the FEC through 8/20 (Bores is a partial exception, having donated $300 through 8/20 according to FEC records).
At this rate, Mayday's hoped-for $12 million Big Stick for this election cycle -- and much, much more for the 2016 cycle -- will certainly find it hard to grow from the hick'ry switch it is today.
Maybe that's part of what's eating Lessig right now.
III. RWNJ Mayday Endorsee Takes the Money and Gives Mayday PAC The Finger
Recalling that a crucial component of Mayday's strategy is its assumption that money can buy it Republican love, recent events in New Hampshire might also be eating the PAC's founder.
Recently (but a couple of months after the fact) I became aware of and reported the assertion from ThinkProgress that Mayday PAC RWNJ endorsee, Jim Rubens [R; NH-Sen], had signed the Koch brothers' Americans For Prosperity (AFP) climate denial pledge not long before Mayday gave his candidacy its endorsement. Judging by Lessig's immediately following request to me to show proof of this, I wasn't the only one who was surprised to learn this; apparently Mayday's Republican advisor and media guru, Mark McKinnon, lacks something in vetting skills (or else, for his own reasons, chooses not to report to Lessig what he finds).
But at the end of the day, Rubens' late June Koch-sucking was hardly a death-knell for Mayday's Buy Republicans First strategy, given that it happened at least a full month prior to Mayday's surprise endorsement of Rubens. Hey, first come, first served. Rather, the actual death-knell was Rubens' repeat offense after receiving Mayday's endorsement, again kowtowing to the Kochs and AFP by also signing its "taxpayers [sic] pledge," which AFP press releases allow us to date sometime on or after July 30th and on or before August 12th -- that is to say, after he received Mayday's July 29th endorsement.
So much for Mayday's thesis that Mayday PAC, with its puny $7 million, can seduce avaricious Republicans away from the seductive charms of the likes of the Kochs' Big Dark Money.
That's gotta hurt. And that, too, is likely what's eating Lawrence Lessig.