Leaders of the old privatized presidential election corporation called Americans Elect have gathered again to form the Mayday PAC, a political group that avowedly describes itself as a “Super PAC to end all Super PACs.” The Mayday PAC asks visitors to contribute money to stop the influence of money in politics:
Contributions of up to $2,500 per person to the fund are suggested. When Mayday PAC gets $6 million in internet donations, it says it will obtain an additional $6 million in matching funds from as-yet unnamed sources — although the first $1 million of that $6 million in matching funds has been ponied up by big business interests: “LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman; PayPal cofounder and libertarian activist Peter Thiel; author and TED curator Chris Anderson; Bay Area venture capitalists Brad Burnham, David Milner, and Fred Wilson; and tech investors Joanne Wilson and Vin Ryan.” That’s 6 rich people from the financial sector and 2 media executives.
It’s important to be fair here: while Americans Elect did almost precisely the opposite of what it promised to do, that doesn’t mean that a Mayday PAC run by Americans Elect leadership will do the same. People change now and then. Perhaps the Mayday PAC really does mean to use big money expenditures in political campaigns to end the dominance of big money expenditures in political campaigns. Perhaps. But given the Mayday PAC’s organizational background, it’s reasonable to ask some questions about the Mayday PAC before you pull out your checkbook:
Question 1: What are the Guarantees that Mayday PAC will Actually Do What it Says it Will Do? The mayday.us website features a frequently asked questions page and a general, informal essay about the PAC’s plan. But there are no firm commitments. No adopted bylaws. No document explaining exactly who is making decisions and how. This is from an organization that’s asking you to surrender $500, $1000, or $2500 of your own money to be used at its discretion. Is that appropriate without verification?
Question 2: Do Big Money Donors get a Big Say in Mayday PAC Campaign Spending? One way to think of the “matching funds” idea behind Mayday PAC is that a very small number of people are funding half the Mayday PAC operation — a very small group with very unusual financial interests. Did these big money matching donors secure any agreements from Mayday PAC as a condition of their participation? Do the big money donors obtain unusual access to Mayday PAC leadership? Do they play a formal or informal role in making decisions about how Mayday PAC spends its money?
Question 3: How Will Mayday PAC Choose the 5 Recipients of its Spending? As its own FAQ concedes, there are many more candidates than just five who support campaign finance reform. How do donors know that their money won’t be used for big spending on behalf of candidates who say they like campaign finance reform … and an end to environmental regulation? Or who like campaign finance reform … and tax breaks for multinational corporations? The Mayday PAC declares that when sorting out possible candidates to support, its leaders will avoid extremists “by selecting people who otherwise seem trustworthy and reliable.” But who decides what’s “trustworthy and reliable?” There is no clearly articulated standard by which this highly subjective decision will be made — and there should be.
It’s tempting to jump on the Mayday PAC bandwagon because it uses nice phrases like “money out of politics.” Time and again, though, American political groups have demonstrated a tendency toward spin, deceit and occasional downright chicanery. Mayday PAC should not be surprised to find that people who feel burned by the American political system have some reservations when they’re approached by groups asking for another donation that, this time, really, will fix everything.
I’m going to pose these questions directly to the Mayday PAC right now. I promise to share any answers I receive with you. If you don’t see any posted answers, you’ll know I haven’t gotten a response.
UPDATE, 7/8/14: The Mayday PAC has responded with answers to my questions, which you can find here.