Is it 2018 already? Hard to believe it’s only been six months since the last election judging by the number of super PACs that have cropped up so far.
Through May 10, more than 140 groups that can spend unlimited amounts of money in elections independently from candidates have appeared since Jan. 1 of 2017, about 17 more than the previous presidential election cycle saw through the same date.
And they are quite an interesting bunch. Scour the FEC reports and you find new groups such as Deplorables Nation, Impeach Trump, National Committee Against Athletic Servitude, and our personal favorite, No Permanent Enemies No Permanent Friends Only Permanent Interests. We don’t know much about these entities besides their names, addresses and treasurers, as they don’t have to report their donations and expenditures (unless they air ads explicitly advocating for or against a candidate) until July, and not again until 2018. And almost 40 of the groups list P.O. boxes as their addresses, which doesn’t exactly give us a clearer picture. The most groups hail from D.C. (16), California (16), New York (14) and North Carolina (13).
“This is of critical importance and perhaps one of the biggest factors eroding campaign finance contribution limits,” said Craig Holman with Public Citizen. “Many single candidate super PACs are probably set up by the candidate’s own staff or supporters or family for that matter, so these are means for candidates and political parties to get around the limits, and they can take unlimited amounts of contributions.”
Last election, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) was able to solicit nearly $100 million for the super PAC Right to Rise, because he did so before officially announcing he was running for president, working around laws prohibiting coordination. The earlier it was formed, and the longer he put off his declaration of candidacy, the longer the super PAC could work with Bush’s team and fill the group’s coffers.
We haven’t found any such blatant ties among this year’s crop of super PACs, but there are some familiar names. Main Voters’ treasurer is Seth Tanner, an alum of the teams of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), former Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), and its custodian of records is Amy Pritchard, a political strategist and DNC alum. America First Action, Inc. lists Charles Gantt as the custodian of records, who was the Chief Financial Officer of Trump for America, Inc. Lab 736’s treasurer, Kate Gage, is a former Obama policy adviser. Time to Act PAC’s treasurer is Tommi Pryor, head of a digital marketing company whose clients include Republicans running for Congress or state offices.
One group is dedicated to a candidate who hasn’t declared he will run for Congress: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. Clarke was in the news last year as a possible Trump appointee to the Department of Homeland Security (or even a replacement for FBI Director James Comey), and as the man overseeing a county jail where four inmates died in custody. A committee with a P.O. Box in Pinehurst, North Carolina is urging the sheriff to run against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc) in 2018, and has already raised more than $300,000 from almost 6,000 donors, according to the group’s chairman, Jack Daly, former Republican counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. (For comparison, Baldwin has $2.5 million cash on hand as of March 31.) The cast of characters on the group’s advisory board includes Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Nick Searcy, who plays a U.S. Marshal in the TV show “Justified,” and Robert Davi, an actor and singer who played an FBI agent in “Die Hard.”
Formed a week after the 2016 election, Ohio Freedom Fund is already backing that state’s Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel for his battle against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) next year, and is obscuring its donors. The AP found a majority of the funds came from a nonprofit named Citizens for a Working America, which is not required to disclose who funded it. We know that it is led by Joel Riter, a former aide to Mandel.
Change for Ohio District Two doesn’t know who it wants to replace Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R), just that it wants him out. “While the opposing candidate is not yet known, we did not want to wait for that candidate to have our voices heard,” said founder Emily Cobbs in an email. “This is truly about Brad not being the right Representative for Ohio District 2 and we are going to do everything in our power Repeal and Replace Wenstrup from now until November of 2018.”
Another group, Deal Her Out, already has a website calling users to “Dump Elizabeth Warren,” written on the side of a dumpster.
Finally, if you think it’s too early to be raising money for 2018, tell that to the groups already preparing for 2020.
The Center for Public Integrity found that two groups backing Trump for his bid for a second term, Great America PAC and Committee to Defend the President (formerly Stop Hillary PAC), have already spent $1.32 million. Last year, these two hybrid “Carey committees” (half regular PAC that can make campaign contributions, half super PAC) spent $26 million, mostly on Trump’s behalf.
At least two new groups are also looking forward three years: Draft Mo for President 2020 and California 2020, the latter saying it was too early to share its plans. Filmmaker Harry Knapp of Newbury Park, California and his two daughters, ages 22 and 24, “were fired up” after the election, so they started Draft Mo, which stands for Michelle Obama. Knapp, who had sold a piece of art to one of the super PACs supporting Hillary Clinton, was familiar with how the groups operated.
“We started talking about how folks effect change and what was interesting to us was that anyone can start a super PAC and become a part of the process, and that seemed like a powerful proposition to us,” Knapp said. “We all felt that Michelle, although she declared she isn’t running, was worth the effort to start a groundswell for her and her causes.”