Two years ago, the Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling and birth of the super PAC helped the Tea Party Republicans take over Congress. This year, a super PAC is trying to kick them out.
"We had been fighting Citizens United in the long-term struggle, but then we realized we were just getting killed in the short term," said Becky Bond, the political director of CREDO, a San Francisco-based progressive group founded in 1985.
This summer, the group launched a super PAC of the same name, aimed at unseating 11 different U.S. representatives, including Joe Walsh, Allen West and Michele Bachmann. So far, CREDO claims that 6,740 people have volunteered to help with the effort, knocking on more than 68,000 doors and making more than 635,000 phone calls. In the meantime, a number of those races have moved from "lean Republican" to "toss-up" in the polls, according to CREDO.
As progressive groups go, CREDO has never been very conventional. Formerly known as Working Assets, it has set itself apart from other groups by financing its activism through a number of viable businesses, including a cell phone service. Before the Citizens United case barred the government from prohibiting campaign spending by outside groups, CREDO stayed away from elections and focused on causes like opposing the Iraq War and defending women's reproductive rights.
With a member base of more than 3 million activists, CREDO claims to have been one of the largest groups to pressure the Susan G. Komen organization into restoring funding for breast cancer screenings to Planned Parenthood, and its members submitted more public comments in favor of an EPA mercury regulation than members from any other organization. "In many ways, we're the biggest progressive organization that people may not have heard of," said Bond.
Of course, by super PAC standards, CREDO fundraising isn't very big at all. As of this week, the organization's super PAC has received 132,250 donations from 66,430 unique donors -- with an average dollar donation of $22.80 –- amounting to more than $3 million. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's super PAC has raised more than 30 times that amount.
But unlike its big-money counterparts, CREDO isn't buying expensive TV ads. The group's volunteers have been talking to one voter at a time, encouraging them to think about voucherizing Medicare and Social Security, or changing the legal definition of rape.
"There's a radical band of extremists in Congress who will stop at nothing to go after women, to throw seniors into the street," said Bond. "This is a moment where we have to go all-in."
Terry O'Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, a group that has worked with CREDO on its campaigns to prevent an overhaul of Social Security and Medicare, said she applauded CREDO's super PAC. "I'm really glad to see people on our side of the political spectrum standing up to the corporate super PACS and the billionaire super PACs," she said.
Dana Rossing, a 52-year-old CREDO volunteer in Duluth, Minn., said she has been working about six or seven hours a week to get her neighbors to "take down" Rep. Chip Cravaack. A former shelter-worker for abused women, Rossing said she was disturbed by Cravaack's vote for the 2012 Violence Against Women Act, an updated version of the 1994 law that leaves out protections for LGBTQ community and makes it harder for immigrants and Native Americans to seek justice against their abusers. "Everyone should be afforded the chance to be protected from abuse," she said.
A spokesman for Cravaack's campaign did not respond to a request for comment left on his voice mail.
Cravaack's seat is currently rated a "pure toss-up" by the Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter that covers House campaigns, and although the polling data is too sparse to be able to say whether CREDO has made a difference in this race, the group has invested more than $170,000 in the effort. "We would be elated if all super PACS, including our own, were banned," said Bond. "We want to get all money out of politics for good. But it's really important to fire with fire."