I’m Skeptical of Progressive Democrats

The 2018 midterms saw a number of Democratic candidates pledge to not take corporate PAC money. There is even a No-PAC Caucus chaired by Ro Khanna, who is also a member of the Justice Democrats and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. My suspicions are already raised because of the specificity of this pledge: no corporate PAC money. Why not no corporate money at all?

I find it hard to believe that this is a meaningful pledge for these candidates, some of whom are or will soon be Members of Congress, if they are still getting large amounts of money from corporate donors. Who cares if it is corporate money in a PAC or corporate money contributed directly by the corporations? What is the difference?

Turning back to the case of Ro Khanna, a look as his summary available at Open Secrets lists Alphabet Inc and Blackstone Group as among his largest donors during the 2017–2018 period. Of the approximately $2.6 million he raised, about $494,000 came from the Securities & Investment sector alone. Small individual contributions represented a paltry 5.56% of his fundraising, while large individual contributions represented 94.44%. How is this guy not a corporate Democrat? What is really the difference between taking millions of dollars in campaign contributions from large individual donors, many of which are giant companies, and taking millions of dollars in campaign contributions from corporate PACs?

Another progressive candidate who made the headlines in 2018 is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated a decidedly corporate Democrat and went on to crush her GOP opponent in the general election in her district. She, too, is a Justice Democrat, and she, too, has pledged not to take corporate PAC money, as we see from the following Twitter exchange:

That’s a little misleading. The tweet she responded to said “Ocasio does not have corporate donors.” Her affirmitive response does not deny this or correct it; it only restates the pledge not to take corporate PAC money. But she did take corporate money. From her Open Secrets entry for the 2018 NY District 14 Race, we see that Apple Inc and Verizon Communications are among her top 20 donors. A number of what Open Secrets classifies as “Influence & Lobbying” organizations, which tend to be large corporate lawfirms, also appear high on her top donors list.

Ocasio-Cortez is exactly the type of candidate I want to like, and it seems like she is not the absolute pond scum that the overwhelming majority of our Members of Congress are, and while she can attribute about 62% of the approximately $1.8 million her campaign raised to small individual contributions, that still leaves nearly 38% from large individual contributions, such as the aforementioned Apples and Verizons.

These two candidates are just two examples. Scratch the surface of any member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus or any Justice Democrat, and you find the same thing: all the usual corporate Democrat donors from Silicon Valley, Big Finance, influence & lobbying and elsewhere. How is this any kind of revolution? How is this materially different than what has been going on in Washington for decades?

Ultimately, I do not care for the duplicity and word games I’m seeing from progressive Democrats, and while there is a handful out there that I would like to root for, I’m keeping my expectations low. Yes, of course they’re better than Blue Dog Democrats, unapologetic mainstream Democratic corporatists, or the cadre of racist crooks better known as the GOP, but are they really going to bring the kind of change they’re selling with their claims of no corporate PAC money while still taking corporate money? Probably not.