Outside Groups Displacing Party Committees in Some Races
When elected officials deign to mention outside groups, it's usually to decry a smear or lament that campaign messaging has been taken out of their hands. But Tuesday, a handful of newly elected House Democrats looked straight into a camera to sing praises for one super PAC.
Seven Democratic freshmen who eked out tough wins in November -- Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Ami Bera and Raul Ruiz of California, Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut, Patrick Murphy of Florida, Cheri Bustos of Illinois, Sean Maloney of New York -- participated in a promotional video for House Majority PAC, the most prolific Democratic super PAC focused on House races. The members of Congress, many of whom wore their congressional lapel pins, can't coordinate with the outside group on campaign-related activities, so a big disclaimer appeared at the bottom of the video. But the production demonstrates how thoroughly candidates now depend on outside groups -- sometimes even more than official party support.
In two of the highlighted races (Maloney's victory over former GOP Rep. Nan Hayworth and Murphy's squeaker against ex-Rep. Allen West), House Majority PAC actually outspent the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in support of the Democratic candidate. The PAC also outspent the DCCC in Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley's California's 26th District race, where Brownley needed help building name identification in the nonpartisan primary -- and House Majority PAC offered early help.
Not only did House Majority PAC outspend the DCCC in Maloney's race, the DCCC barely spent at all in New York's 18th District. Apart from about $20,000 in phone banking costs the weekend before Election Day, the party campaign committee didn't make a single independent expenditure on that race. Meanwhile, House Majority PAC spent over $1 million on TV ads and direct mail -- slightly outspending the National Republican Congressional Committee -- and several unions with which HMP worked closely chipped in a few hundred thousand dollars more. According to a strategist at the DCCC, the committee tracked House Majority PAC's large, early TV buy in the Hudson Valley and decided their services would be redundant, letting the PAC take the lead. A similar thing happened in Florida, where the DCCC pulled back TV reservations, not because Murphy wasn't doing well, but because they felt House Majority PAC had already reserved enough airtime for the Democratic side.
The parties still provide critical support to candidates on both sides. And House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone said that the group’s role is primarily to “level the playing field” for Democrats in a landscape flooded with outside money. But in the post-Citizens United era, outside groups are taking leading roles more frequently.
That's why Maloney, Murphy and company were happy to line up and extol House Majority PAC's virtues for a few minutes, even if Republicans have used the video to attack the newly elected Democrats in the video as instant insiders. ("It only took a couple of weeks and Kyrsten Sinema has already gone Washington," NRCC spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in one news release.) More and more, groups like House Majority PAC are becoming the most important allies (and opposition) that some congressional candidates have.