Democrats embrace 'McCutcheon' decision

New 'jumbo' joint fundraising committee follows liberals' harsh criticism of Supreme Court ruling



Senate Democrats have embraced a new big-money fundraising vehicle — after repeatedly blasting the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made it possible — that could help candidates, state parties and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tap wealthy donors for even more cash.

The new “jumbo” joint fundraising committee, dubbed the Grassroots Victory Project 2014, marks the Democrats’ first foray into the territory opened up in April after the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling.

That decision eviscerated the so-called “aggregate” campaign contribution limits that capped at nine the number of candidates a single donor could financially support at the maximum level.

Paperwork recently filed with the Federal Election Commission indicates 26 Democratic candidates and party committees stand to benefit from money raised collectively through the Grassroots Victory Project 2014.

This means that thanks to the McCutcheon ruling, donors this year may give more than $178,000 a piece to the new Grassroots Victory Project 2014, which would distribute the funds among its 26 members.

Senate Democrats' de facto reversal on McCutcheon comes as they brace for a midterm election that will determine whether they cling to a slim Senate majority or lose it to Republicans. The GOP must pick up six seats to win the majority.

Dan Backer, the conservative attorney behind the McCutcheon case, laughed when informed of the Democrats’ new jumbo joint fundraising committee.

“I’m thrilled to help the Democrats demonstrate their hypocrisy,” Backer said. “It’s taking advantage of the freedoms that have been given to them through the McCutcheon decision. They’re dirty free-riders, and I wish them all the best as they raise even more money from the likes of Tom Steyer and George Soros*.”

Backer added: “There is no fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to generating as much money as possible for their campaigns.”

DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky declined to comment for this story, saying “we will have more information about our Grassroots Victory Project soon.”

The DSCC has operated a website touting a "Grassroots Victory Project" since early this year.

That website argues that Democrats in key states like Arkansas, Iowa and Louisiana are being outspent on the TV airwaves by “the Kochs and their friends,” referring to the conservative billionaires David and Charles Koch, whose political network reportedly plans to spend $290 million ahead of the November election.

“To fight back, we’ve launched an unprecedented midterm field program: The Grassroots Victory Project!” the DSCC website continues.

In addition to the DSCC, the Grassroots Victory Project 2014 committee includes 11 state and local party committees in battleground states:

  • Democratic State Central Committee of Louisiana
  • Iowa Democratic Party
  • Democratic Party of Arkansas
  • Colorado Democratic Party
  • North Carolina’s Wake County Democratic Party Federal Campaign Committee
  • Michigan Democratic State Central Committee
  • Georgia Federal Election Committee
  • Alaska Democratic Party
  • New Hampshire Democratic Party
  • Kentucky State Democratic Central Executive Committee
  • West Virginia State Democratic Executive Committee

Fourteen Democratic Senate candidates will also benefit:

  • Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska
  • Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota
  • Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina
  • Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon
  • Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
  • Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado
  • Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia
  • Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa
  • Rep. Gary Peters of Michigan
  • Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes
  • West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant
  • Michelle Nunn of Georgia

Several Democratic politicians who stand to directly benefit from the new Grassroots Victory Project 2014 have previously blasted the McCutcheon decision in messages to supporters.

Franken, for instance, argued that the Supreme Court had “stripped away some of the last remaining protections against keeping even more money out of our elections.” An email from the Minnesota Democrat email urged his backers to sign a petition to “protect our Democracy” and “stand against” McCutcheon and the 2010 campaign finance ruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations to make unlimited expenditures for or against candidates.

Colorado’s Udall, meanwhile, said the McCutcheon decision is “definitely a good deal for billionaires and special interest groups looking to buy elections.” He added: “Coloradans are tired of outside spending and extreme television ads. Thanks in part to the McCutcheon ruling, we’ll see even more bombarding our airwaves.”

And Nunn, the Georgia Democrat angling to win the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, declared the McCutcheon decision “bad news for anyone who believes that democracy should be about the voices of the many — not a few billionaires.”

All the while, the DSCC’s sister committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said this of the McCutcheon decision: “Every voice in America deserves to be heard equally. But the court’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC allows the ultra-wealthy to drown out middle-class Americans at the polls. We need campaign reform to keep our democracy fair and, quite frankly, democratic.”

As recently as Aug. 13, the DSCC itself lambasted the McCutcheon decision.

“The Supreme Court’s misguided rulings in the Citizens United and McCutcheon cases have opened the floodgates for secret spending by corporations and billionaires,” it wrote in a fundraising email. “And super-rich right-wing donors like the Kochs have wasted no time in taking advantage of this free-for-all.”

Republicans have been quicker to embrace the loosened campaign finance rules and have created eight jumbo joint fundraising committees in the aftermath of McCutcheon.

Some GOP party leaders have even called for the "base" contribution limits to be struck down completely.

Alexander Cohen contributed to this report.

* Editor's note: George Soros is chairman of Open Society Foundations, which provides funding for the Center for Public Integrity. (For a full list of the Center's donors, visit this page on the Center's website.)