A few days ago, I sent some questions to Mayday PAC, an outfit that says it will spend large amounts of money on American elections this year in order to stop the influence of large amounts of money in American elections. These questions are:
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.
Last night, Rachel Perkins of the Mayday PAC wrote back to me with a response:
“Sorry it took me a while to get to your email, but I wanted to spend a little time answering it.
“There is, frankly, nothing *guaranteeing* that MayDay PAC will spend the money as we have committed to. We said we will use the money to get people elected based on the issue of campaign finance reform. That is our intention. This is something that folks are willing to take on faith, and I am personally super grateful for that. Any guarantee we could offer beyond our own word would be worthless, in my opinion.
“The one and only issue we are interested in is campaign finance reform. It is why our ‘big money’ matchers have chosen to match the donations of our supporters. They don’t have another agenda, or they would have spent that money elsewhere. They are not going to be involved in the selection of races we get involved in, nor are they going to direct our activities.
“In the coming weeks, we will be announcing the matchers for the $5M as well as plans for spending the money in the upcoming 2014 elections–our top priority.
“It’s important to us that we be as transparent as possible. To this end, we’ll be posting this information and ongoing communication from Prof. Lessig on the new MayDay.US blog:
“If you’re on our mailing list, you will also receive this information by email.
“Thanks for being with us,
I am grateful to Mayday.us for writing back promptly and sincerely. That choice reflects a key difference from the political group its leaders were previously involved in, Americans Elect, which referred to itself as democratic but repeatedly refused to answer simple questions.
I don’t appreciate the suggestion that Americans hand over money to political operations and “take on faith” that they’ll spend the money with honor. The transparency movement is all about opening up the decision-making process so that everyday citizens can follow the activities of leaders and check leaders’ promises against hard data indications of what they do. On this point of obscurity, the Mayday PAC still bears watcing.
On the other hand, the declaration that the big money “matching” contributors to Mayday.us “are not going to be involved in the selection of races we get involved in, nor are they going to direct our activities” is a straightforward and reassuring promise that is
The next steps will be:
1) to note the identity of the $5 million “matching” big money donors and the $1 million “matchers” before them.
2) to pay attention to the candidates the Mayday PAC actually favors its spending. Will the favored candidates remain within a narrow range of general political ideology (for example, adopting pro-business “centrism”), or will they be truly ideologically diverse? Will the favored candidates show support for specific policies that would benefit the big-money contributors to the Mayday PAC, or will the supported candidates adopt some positions opposing the interests of big-money contributors?
The proof of Mayday PAC’s integrity will be at the second step, and we’ll have to wait for that. In the meantime, however, it is encouraging that Mayday PAC staff are both communicative and willing to commit the organization to a wall between money coming in and choices coming out.