WASHINGTON -- Hoping to put a harsh spotlight on the coercive effect super PACs are having on the political process, a prominent progressive activist and a long-time good government watchdog are joining forces to start one of their own.
Ilyse Hogue, a former top official at MoveOn and Media Matters, along with David Donnelly, the Executive Director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, will file paperwork with the FEC on Monday to formally create an entity called Friends of Democracy.
A hybrid PAC and super PAC, Friends of Democracy will have the power to make contributions to federal candidates (with a $5,000 limit) and raise unlimited sums of money from individuals and corporations. But it will do it all with the aim of demonstrating the need for campaign finance reform.
"The truth is we want to preserve options and use every tool possible to make sure that money and politics remains an issue in the campaign, and that we have the option of creating political accountability around it," said Hogue.
"Most people can see that money in politics in this election is out of control," Donnelly said. "More than 80 percent of Americans want some sensible limits on the way money flows in politics. We felt there needed to be more champions for reform and that opponents of reform needed to be defeated."
Neither Donnelly nor Hogue would discuss how much money Friends of Democracy has on hand, likely because the push to recruit donors will ramp up as the July deadline for reporting contributions approaches. But the purpose of the hybrid PAC is not to match other entities dollar for dollar. To date, super PACs have spent more than $94 million on independent expenditures, according to data from the Sunlight Foundation. The largest portion of that has come from Restore Our Future, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's allied super PAC, which has spent $42 million.
Rather, Friends of Democracy will use its more limited resources to shame the biggest donors and their major recipients, among other objectives. Within the confines of the often-staid campaign finance world, Donnelly is considered one of the more aggressive political tacticians. Hogue, meanwhile, has direct experience working on grassroots oriented and social-media focused campaigns targeting special interests, including a successful effort against the retail giant Target for making a $150,000 donation to a group backing an anti-gay rights gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota.
"There are perverse incentives for candidates to step out [in favor of campaign finance reform]," Hogue explained. "We want to make sure there is a political cost associated with opposing reform and accountability."
According to Donnelly, Friends of Democracy will explore a number of different mechanisms for supporting and opposing candidates, including running independent expenditures, making direct contributions, bundling donations and providing in-kind support for candidates. The hybrid PAC, he explained, will have more operational flexibility than a traditional PAC established as an arm of an existing campaign finance non-profit.
"David and I have a long history of working together, and I think it is not a bad combo of the issue expertise and the political skills to know what matters to candidates," Hogue said.