Liberal Donors Putting Their Personal Agendas Ahead of the Democratic Party

By targeting moderate Democrats on energy and gun control, the Left is helping Republicans retake the Senate.

NEW ORLEANS - MAY 3: Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu shakes hands with a supporter during a swearing in ceremony for her brother Mitchell Landrieu, who is now Mayor of New Orleans May 3, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mayor Landrieu is inheriting a host of disaster related issues from Hurricane Katrina and the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as he takes over for Mayor Ray Nagin.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Feb. 10, 2014, midnight

When bil­lion­aire en­vir­on­ment­al act­iv­ist Tom Stey­er un­veiled a list of five sen­at­ors he would tar­get over their sup­port for the Key­stone XL pipeline, one name stood out. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana was the only Demo­crat in his crosshairs, and her cam­paign is of vi­tal im­port­ance to Demo­crat­ic strategists. In­deed, her reelec­tion may de­cide wheth­er Demo­crats are able to hold their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity.

Stey­er might yet take the ads else­where — his polit­ic­al group, Nex­t­Gen Cli­mate Ac­tion, said it will only go after one of the five law­makers any­way. But his threat tugs at a deep­er frus­tra­tion roil­ing the Demo­crat­ic polit­ic­al com­munity: Even as the party is badly out­spent in the early go­ing of the 2014 elec­tion, some of their top donors have yet to awaken to the threat. In fact, like Stey­er, the party’s rich be­ne­fact­ors are put­ting their single-is­sue cru­sades ahead of the party’s great­er in­terests.

Take Mi­chael Bloomberg. The former New York City may­or’s group formed to com­bat gun vi­ol­ence, May­ors Against Il­leg­al Guns, spent $350,000 last year as­sail­ing an­oth­er en­dangered Demo­crat, Sen. Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, over his op­pos­i­tion to a gun-con­trol bill. In a small state, that counts as a heavy buy against an in­cum­bent who can barely hold off at­tacks from Re­pub­lic­ans.

It’s left the Demo­crat­ic strategists plot­ting the Sen­ate races scratch­ing their heads. While Demo­crats aren’t fa­cing the deep in­tern­al di­vi­sions plaguing Re­pub­lic­ans, it only takes a few wealthy lib­er­als to cre­ate holy hell in the party’s most con­sequen­tial Sen­ate races.

“I say over and over, ‘Lord pro­tect me from my friends so I can fo­cus on my en­emies,’ ” said Ben Chao, a Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive who runs a su­per PAC sup­port­ing Landrieu and Pry­or. “This is an ap­par­ent case of that.”

Chao and oth­ers say they don’t worry too much about Bloomberg’s spend­ing it­self, which is min­im­al, but rather the mind-set it be­trays. The party’s con­trol of the Sen­ate is in deep danger, and Demo­crats need money to ramp up their cam­paigns — es­pe­cially from their here­to­fore un­der­fun­ded out­side groups — now. Ef­forts from sup­posed al­lies that are coun­ter­pro­duct­ive, to them, verge on the un­think­able.

“It’s ter­rible tim­ing,” said Mor­gan Jack­son, a Raleigh-based Demo­crat­ic strategist un­af­fili­ated with Sen. Kay Hagan’s cam­paign in North Car­o­lina. “The fact of mat­ters is “¦ it is very short­sighted polit­ics.”

Jack­son and oth­er North Car­o­lina Demo­crats would know best. Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, a non­profit group bank­rolled in part by the in­dus­tri­al­ists Charles and Dav­id Koch, has in­ves­ted more than $8 mil­lion in ads there tar­get­ing Hagan. The ad buys, the largest of the roughly $27 mil­lion the or­gan­iz­a­tion has already spent this elec­tion cycle, have co­in­cided with a drop in sup­port for the sen­at­or, ac­cord­ing to sev­er­al pub­lic polls.

Demo­crat­ic groups haven’t been en­tirely si­lent: Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC has run ads de­fend­ing Hagan, and Politico re­por­ted Thursday that the non­profit Pat­ri­ot Ma­jor­ity USA would take to the air­waves in the Tar Heel State. But their ad buys are dwarfed by AFP’s.

Stey­er, if he chose to fo­cus on main­tain­ing a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity, could help change that. Ac­cord­ing to spokes­man Chris Le­hane, he spent $8.5 mil­lion last year help­ing elect Vir­gin­ia Demo­crat­ic Gov. Terry McAul­iffe. That was on top of the nearly $5 mil­lion he spent in the Mas­sachu­setts spe­cial elec­tion last year to as­sist now-Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key — both in the primary and gen­er­al.

But, as Le­hane ex­plains, Stey­er wants to use his fin­an­cial muscle to coun­ter­bal­ance what he per­ceives as the oil in­dustry’s polit­ic­al might. And for now, that means tar­get­ing sup­port­ers of the Key­stone pipeline, a list that in­cludes Landrieu, the new chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate En­ergy Com­mit­tee. “The fossil-fuel in­dustry has been enorm­ously sup­port­ive of folks, es­pe­cially folks sup­port­ive of the pipeline,” Stey­er’s spokes­man said.

(Le­hane said the pro­posed ad would ask voters wheth­er the sen­at­or knows if oil pumped through the pipeline will be used do­mest­ic­ally or be shipped to China. Nex­t­Gen is ask­ing people who vis­it its web­site to vote for which law­maker the com­mit­tee should tar­get.)

Demo­crats re­main pub­licly con­fid­ent that, even­tu­ally, their donors will come around.

Bloomberg’s spend­ing against Pry­or ruffled feath­ers, but he has re­portedly giv­en Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC $2.5 mil­lion since — sev­en times the amount he in­ves­ted against Pry­or (money that, iron­ic­ally, could be used to help the Demo­crat’s cam­paign). Sources fa­mil­i­ar with Stey­er’s think­ing say he could soon fol­low suit, as­sum­ing he’s sat­is­fied the Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic caucus re­mains com­mit­ted to the cli­mate-change fight.

“We are look­ing to be ex­cep­tion­ally sup­port­ive of the ef­fort to make sure Demo­crats re­tain the Sen­ate,” the source said.

Demo­crats will be pleased to hear that. Be­cause at the mo­ment, their frus­tra­tion is about to boil over.

“So far, we’re hear­ing crick­ets chirp,” said Brad Crone, an­oth­er Raleigh-based Demo­crat­ic Party op­er­at­ive. “Right now, [donors] are pea­cock­ing, they got the feath­ers out, but they’re not put­ting any money down to buy TV ad­vert­ising.”

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