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Super PAC money has become an existential threat to Democrats — and democracy

Super PAC money has become an existential threat to Democrats — and democracy
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Super PAC money has become an existential threat to Democrats — and democracy

During the election cycle that just concluded, progressive congressional candidates faced unprecedented amounts of super PAC spending, with over $53 million spent in Democratic primaries that often pitted candidates from the party’s more progressive wing against moderates.

Aside from a few big wins — like the victory of Summer Lee, who overcame millions of dollars in attacks from outside groups to win a House seat in Pennsylvania — candidates who challenged the Democratic establishment struggled across the board, causing progressive groups and leaders to re-evaluate their electoral strategies.

Several progressive groups convened outside spending strategy sessions for candidates. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., declared “war” on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) super PAC and wrote an open letter to Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison, asking him to reject super PAC spending in Democratic primaries. Amid deafening silence from Democratic Party leadership, progressive commentators wrote piece after piece breaking down how progressives should respond to our super PAC problem.

The reality, though, is that super PACs aren’t just a progressive problem. They’re a problem for any member of Congress who wants to side with working families over corporate interests, and that includes members of the Democratic establishment. Party leaders has a clear choice: Do they want to surrender control of their candidates and their policy agenda to billionaires, or do they want true campaign finance reform?

The first sign this cycle that the Democratic establishment had lost control of its super PAC allies came when AIPAC’s super PAC started spending in the Democratic primary in Maryland’s 4th congressional district — not against a progressive outsider, as usual, but against Donna Edwards, a mainstream Democrat who had been endorsed by everyone from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Hillary Clinton. While AIPAC spent an unprecedented $6 million against Edwards, Pelosi pulled out all the stops, including recording a supportive video ad. Edwards was crushed by the spending and lost to AIPAC-supported Democrat Glenn Ivey, a well-connected Washington attorney. Pelosi — who has been endorsed by AIPAC for years and reliably attends their conferences — refused to comment on Edwards’ loss. (Maryland’s 4th is one of the safest seats in the country, and the winner of the Democratic primary was certain to be elected.)

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