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In Search for more $$, Mayday PAC goes off its Plan

In its original fundraising appeals to large and small donors, the use-big-money-to-stop-big-money Mayday Super PAC declared that it would raise $12 million for spending on 2014 races (with $6 million from small-to-medium donors, $6 million from megadonors), then stop fundraising and spend the raised money in campaigns.

Here’s the documentation of that plan from multiple Mayday Super PAC sources.

Text of the plan sent to solicit contributions earlier this year:

“Critical to our funding strategy is a two-step crowdfunded and contingent match. We have set two funding targets — $1 million and $5 million. For each, we have run “kickstart” campaigns, raising small and medium dollar pledges to meet each target. Our first campaign to raise $1M launched on May 1, 2014, and we met the target 19 days before the deadline, on May 13th. We launched our second campaign to raise $5M on June 4th, and we met that goal 9 hours before the deadline, at 9:00 p.m. EST, July 4th, 2014

“Now we will secure matching funds, bring our total amount raised to over $12M dollars.

“Once matching funds are secured, our fundraising for this cycle will end. The PAC will then turn its focus to the campaigns exclusively.”

A description of the fundraising plan in a piece written by Mayday Super PAC director Lawrence Lessig:

“About a year ago, with a grant from two very different funders (one a libertarian, the other a liberal democrat), we commissioned a study about how much it would cost to win a Congress in 2016 committed to fundamental reform. The answer we got was a very big number — but the most important recommendation we got was that we must fight this battle in two election cycles, 2014 and 2016. And that in 2014, we target a small number of races where we could first learn what it would take to win, and second, by winning, convince others to take this campaign seriously.

“The cost for that 2014 campaign was relatively small — just $12 million. In April, I announced a plan to raise that money on Kickstarter. We would kickstart half of it in two stages — first by raising $1 million in thirty days, and if we met that goal, kickstart $5 million in thirty days. Each of those targets I said I’d find a match for, so that by the end of June, we’d have the $12 million for the 2014 campaigns.”

A description of the fundraising plan in a June 2014 Salon interview with Lawrence Lessig:

“We think of it as a two-stage process: pull together the resources, and then pass the resources into the context that can most effectively spend them to win in those five districts.”

The Mayday PAC’s old home page (also preserved here) reads:

“For 2014, we have two fundraising targets:

“We have already hit our first target.

“We raised $1 million from over 12,800 individual citizens, giving a median of $50, in an extraordinary show of demand for this type of reform. And we’ve gotten that $1M matched from Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, Chris Anderson, Brad Burnham, David Milner, Fred Wilson, Joanne Wilson, and Vin Ryan. But it’s not quite enough.

“Our second target – the one we are aiming for now – is $5 million by the end of June. If we meet that goal, that $5 million will also be matched, and our fundraising for 2014 will end.

“Our experience in 2014 will give us a better sense. And based on what we learn, we will decide whether this moonshot is feasible.

“If it is, in January 2015, then we will launch the second round of the Mayday PAC, crowdfunding small-dollar contributions to fund a superPAC big enough to win a majority in Congress in 2016 committed to fundamental reform.”

This description of the plan to contributors was reposted widely on big political blogs like Firedoglake, Cory Doctorow’s Boing Boing column, and DailyKos.

Lawrence Lessig’s thank-you letter to contributors on July 4, when the Super PAC’s fundraising target was reached, reiterated the plan that fundraising for the Mayday Super PAC was done for the year 2014:

“After we get some sleep, you’ll hear more from us. But fear not: the campaign to raise money is over for this cycle. I won’t be asking you to DONATE NOW again and again. That bit is done. Instead, for the rest of this cycle, what you’ll hear from us is about how your campaign is working.

“We’ve got lots of ideas about how to make this work. We’ll be testing them and improving them and building lots that’s new. But you’ve raised the money. It’s time to get down to work. So stay tuned.”

By its own description, having received the amount of money it needs for 2014, the Mayday Super PAC should have stopped soliciting donations until January 2015. “Fear not,” proclaimed Lawrence Lessig, “I won’t be asking you to DONATE NOW again and again. That bit is done.” But the plan has changed. With the announcement of its first two favored candidates today, the Mayday Super PAC has changed its front page to look like this:

DONATE NOW says the new Mayday PAC page

Right down to the presence of all caps, this new front page does exactly what Mayday director Lawrence Lessig told us his Super PAC wouldn’t be doing. It asks you to “DONATE NOW.”

On the right-hand side of every page in the Mayday website, a special “Donate in Two Minutes or Less” advertisement requests more money. On each of the two new pages promoting favored congressional candidates, another red “Donate Now” button draws the eye. And in another new page created to solicit funds for favored congressional candidates, a specific link requesting that you “Click here to make a donation to the general MAYDAY PAC fund” has been added.

When Lawrence Lessig and his colleagues asked Americans to “embrace the irony” of using big money in political campaigns to fight the influence of big money in campaigns, they were asking us to trust their ability to resist the temptation of money, money, and more money. They asked us to trust that they would raise enough to get the job done without getting addicted to an ever-bigger cash stream. They said they’d cut themselves off. They didn’t.

Perhaps now the staffers at the Mayday Super PAC are telling themselves that they just need a little bit more, just one more hit, that they can stop whenever they want, they just don’t want to stop anymore. This is how the corrupting influence of money in politics takes hold.

If Mayday PAC wants to be taken seriously, it needs to stick to the plan. It needs to ignore the money jonesing and go cold turkey.

9 thoughts on “In Search for more $$, Mayday PAC goes off its Plan”

  1. Jim says:

    If the worse criticism is that they are still accepting donations, so what? I donated and hope many more do the same. Who doesn’t want campaign finance reform?

    1. Jim Cook says:

      Fair question, Jim.

      My medium-length answer: the original plan was to combat the all-money-grubbing-all-the-time mode of DC, briefly raise money by exploiting questionable campaign finance laws, then stop money-grubbing until 2015, and spend the rest of the year devoting full attention to non-fundraising subtantive concerns. But now that it has gotten all the money it said it needed in 2014, for some reason the Mayday Super PAC is NOT shutting down fundraising as it said it would, and indeed has written NEW pages to ask for money in exactly the way Lawrence Lessig said we shouldn’t worry he would do.

      My short answer: In changing its plan to embrace perpetual fundraising, the Mayday Super PAC is becoming more like the very kind of operation that it claims to be fighting.

    2. Bill says:

      Jim, I missed the part where Jim Cook suggested this was the worst thing Mayday PAC has done. You’re right to think that all he’s describing here is the garden-variety avarice that is the human condition, and so no great surprise. Money corrupts, and unlimited money corrupts without limit. This should be news to no one…even though Larry Lessig is convinced he can be the first human in history to put the lie to this law of human nature.

      No, the worst thing Mayday PAC has done (so far…but it’s just getting started) is its endorsement, just yesterday, of the U.S. Senate candidacy of Republican and tea party darling, Jim Rubens, of New Hampshire. This is an appalling misdeed for so many reasons, not the least of which include:

      1. Mayday lied when it led its donors to believe (up until just yesterday) that it would use their money in five House of Representatives races this year. Rubens is running for Senate, up against incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. Interestingly, the vast majority of Mayday’s small-money donors are liberals and almost none are Republicans. Mayday’s Rubens Gambit thus represents one of the neatest tricks in American political history: redistributing liberals’ wealth to finance an ultra-conservative tea-partier’s candidacy. And to add insult to injury it’s a campaign for Senate, where Dems are sweating bullets just to retain control of that house this cycle, and Mayday’s interference might just, who knows, hand the Senate to Republicans. This would be a Republican Dirty Trick, courtesy of Mayday director and notorious Republican political operative, Mark McKinnon, that would make Richard Nixon himself green with envy.

      2. Rubens is a proudly racist xenophobe. Among many other vile statements in his position on immigration, Rubens is sick enough to claim that “Failure to sufficiently screen [immigrants] for medical conditions is spreading disease throughout the US.” Sounds a lot like the same slime that ignorant nativists threw at my own grandparents a hundred years ago, and perhaps Rubens, too.

      3. Rubens is a vile misogynist. New Hampshire Senate Candidate: More Women In The Workplace Led To More Mass Shootings

      4. Rubens is a pandering NRA tool and a liar regarding non-existent ‘data,’ to boot: GOP Gun-Nut Says Armed Citizens Reduce Casualties During Mass Shootings

      Lessig didn’t have a brain-fart when he green-lighted Mayday’s endorsement of Rubens; he had a soul fart. By their fruits ye shall know them. And Mayday’s first fruit (Rubens) is rotten to the core. Apparently Lessig’s super-secret-inside-game strategy is to make Mayday an object lesson regarding just how bad SuperPACs are (including his own).

  2. Peregrin Wood says:

    Thanks for this note about Rubens, Bill.

    In choosing to support Rubens, the Mayday PAC is getting in line with other secret money corrupt committees that are promoting Rubens. It’s not as if the Rubens campaign has urged Super PACs to stay away from his campaign and stop interfering in New Hampshire politics.

    In fact, as I noted earlier this month (, Jim Rubens has been the beneficiary of the secret-money machinations of David Mason, a former FEC commissioner who now works at the Washington D.C. political consulting firm Aristotle, helping wealthy people and companies funnel money into committees that manipulate public elections.

  3. Jim says:

    Why so quick to demonize the mayday PAC? Give it some time then make your judgements.

    1. Bill says:

      Wait…what? First Mayday lies to its donors, then it endorses and promotes a tea party candidate with liberals’ money. Should we continue to reserve judgement until after we’ve seen whether or not it sets off a dirty bomb in Times Square?

      1. Jim Cook says:

        Well, Bill, we don’t actually know whether or not Rubens is being supported with liberals’ money. It’s possible that Rubens will only be supported with the money of conservative donors, and that such support to Rubens will be smaller because the amount of money obtained from Republicans has been smaller. On points where we don’t have information I agree with Jim we should reserve judgment. But Jim, on points where there is clear information I am dumbfounded by your suggestion that we ought not to think or talk about them. That would be like turning the Mayday Super PAC into some kind of faith-based enterprise.

        1. Bill says:

          You are, of course, formally correct, JC: we don’t “actually” know (nor will we ever, if Mayday hides behind its SuperPAC status to keep us “actually” ignorant). But not to go all Rummy on you or anything, JC, there are “known knowns” and “unknown knowns.”

          What we know know:

          According to information volunteered to me by a member of Mayday PAC’s leadership, donations to #MaydayPAC tagged for support to ‘Democrats Only’ outpace those tagged for ‘Republicans Only’ by “somewhere between 50-1 and 100-1,” while “the vast majority” are tagged for ‘Wherever it will do the most good.’ So let’s conservatively model that as:
          Wherever: 60.0%
          Dem Only: 39.2%
          Rep Only: 0.8%

          Mayday claims to have about $7 million in online donations at this point. In our model, that would be
          Wherever: $4.2 million
          Dem Only: $2.7 million
          Rep Only: $56,000

          These are for-instance numbers only, keeping to the spirit of the very little information Mayday has provided, but the analysis below isn’t terribly sensitive to the specific numbers we use provided we assume “the vast majority” means ‘greater than 50%.’

          Mayday is reported to be spending about $4 million in support of its first two endorsees…for the sake of argument let’s split that evenly between Staci Appel (D) and Jim Rubens (tea-R). That pretty much exhausts its ‘Wherever’ pool, leaving it with nearly $3 million for further Democratic endorsements and nothing but lunch money for further Republicans. So, basically, if Mayday PAC spends pretty much anything at all in support any other Republicans’ campaigns it will be overspending its ‘Republicans Only’ budget by a wide margin for this election cycle. This argument, of course, ignores the possibility that Mayday’s actual support for Republicans might amount to no more than selfies of Larry Lessig holding a hand-lettered ‘Vote Republican. Because I Know What I’m Doing’ sign on Pinterest. Nor does it take into account that when you start conceptually dividing one pot of money into discrete buckets you provide yourself with infinite possibilities for shenanigans, as every good accountant knows (for example: “Oh, we only spent Peter Thiels’ eleventy-zillion dollars on Republicans, and not a penny of our online donors’ money”). But I decline to honor mere unaudited bookkeeping prestidigitation with any more credibility than it deserves. The analysis as I’ve presented it here hews closely to the spirit of what Mayday led donors to believe would happen with their money; what Mayday actually decides to do with it is, of course, between it and its god (i.e., Mammon), and neither of them are talkin’ (it’s a SuperPAC, after all, and SuperPACs tell no tales), so it leaves us to draw our best assumptions and therefore can’t fault us for trying to do so. I’m prepared to change my tune here, and even to eat crow, if Mayday decides to frequently and publicly release detailed financial records way above and beyond what very little the law requires of SuperPACs (but you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not holding my breath).

          I should note too that the proportions I’m using in this analysis are in keeping with what little hard data we actually possess, which document the extreme scarcity of Republican donors to Mayday and support the likely dominance of liberal donors over conservative ones.

          So, yeah: as best as Mayday enables us to know anyway, we know that in any realistic sense Mayday endorsing merely two Republican candidates would be at least one too many…and, I would argue (on moral grounds), more like two too many.

  4. Peregrin Wood says:

    “Turning the Mayday Super PAC into a faith-based enterprise” suggests that that’s not how the Mayday Super PAC began from the start. They set up an organization with a design perfectly suited for exploitation, and then asked people to accept on faith that no exploitation would take place.

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