THE BLOG
04/06/2006 05:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Memoir of a PAC

Have I mentioned LitPAC?

So, I formed this organization, this political action committee. I posted the announcement on the HuffingtonPost. Someone at Huffpo suggested I blog about it. I said I would be happy to in exchange for one of Arianna's famous smoothies. So here it is: PAC, The Memoir.

It began back in November or something when I was starting the Progressive Reading Series in San Francisco. I thought maybe it should be a PAC, then I could solicit donations and stuff. I talked to some lawyers at the New Progressive Coalition and they pretty much talked me out of it. They didn't mean to. The NPC is an incredible resource for organizers. It costs $100 to join and I wasn't about to pay that but I kept saying that maybe I would. Could I just talk to that lawyer one more time? Anyway, the lawyer pointed out that if I was just going to do a reading series then all I needed to do was take all of the information from the people attending the events, name, occupation, relationship to Osama bin-Laden, and send that along with the money to the candidate we were raising the money for.

I should digress here. I had already edited two anthologies of political fiction and knew from that experience that all good literary authors were liberal. I've been told Mark Helprin is not liberal. But one "not liberal" author is a statistically insignificant number. I stand by my original assertion. Why are literary authors liberal? Because to be a good author of literary fiction you need empathy. People who are empathetic, capable of imagining themselves in someone else's shoes, are liberal. People who believe each person is responsible for their own situation, that wealth is the reward for goodness, and that getting out of the ghetto is as easy as voting for George W. Bush, are not empathetic, and are therefor not good authors. George Lakeoff spells it out much better in Don"t Think Of An Elephant, a book given to me by this fan who was coming to all of my readings in San Francisco and one day sent me an email saying she was tired of stalking me and would I meet her for a drink? OK, maybe it's time to end this digression.

So, I start this reading series and I'm taking information and donating the money to candidates I support. I should say "we" because I was helped by people like Andrew Altschul, but I'm not going to. And of course, there's no reading series without authors willing to donate their time, the authors deserve lots and lots of credit. Anyway, I send the first batch of cash to Nick Lampson in January. Nick was running against Tom DeLay until The Hammer got scared and dropped out of the race pledging to dedicate himself to the reunification of church and state. Nick called to thank me. I had never been called by someone who is about to be a congressman. I was in Seattle at the time. I was drunk with power.

The second reading was for Patricia Madrid and it was a blowout. The San Francisco Chronicle did a story on it. Politics can get you high, and I was getting very high. I had no intention of not getting high. I was addicted; it was 2004 all over again. I wrote a book about that fateful election. I traveled with all the presidential candidates. I spent a month with George Bush. He lied to my face. I saw a man in a cowboy hat outside of Detroit roasting a dead bird over a spit in a parking lot telling anyone who would listen that Hillary Clinton was going to get some of what that bird was getting. I saw anger and hope and hung out one Florida afternoon at the intersection of stupid and evil. Politics is a drug but it's a good drug. It's the drug you should take because it matters. And as a wise editor once told me: Politics is the only game for adults.

Patricia Madrid came to San Francisco after the reading. She invited me to breakfast and we had silver dollar pancakes. We talked about maybe getting some of the authors to come to New Mexico, do a voter registration reading. It was time to get organized. There were also many authors who had said they would be happy to read in New York but didn't want to make the trip out to San Francisco. So I started a monthly reading series in New York. I worked for the Fighting Dems for a few weeks but I wanted to pick my own candidates. So I started LitPAC.

Here I have to digress again. Josh Bearman, who spent his time on the campaign trail wearing a suit made out of aluminum foil, claims to have first thought of the name 'LitPAC' around the time I was originally thinking of creating a vehicle to get authors more involved in the political process in 2005. But recently Eli Horowitz, the editor of McSweeney's, has taken credit for the name. The only way to end the dispute is to give neither credit. I thought of the name myself.

Is it difficult to start a PAC? Yes and no. I started here. I figured out that I was a non-committed PAC. I read the 123 page FEC handbook for non-committed PACs. I understood some of it. I got an EIN number but the IRS sent back the form because I had used incorrect information. I filed a statement of organization on the first day of the quarter. I put up a fundraising page with ActBlue. I asked Tobias Wolff if he would be on the board of advisors. He said, "Absolutely! Sign me up." I love that guy, he's such a minimalist. I called Daniel Handler, whose Lemony Snicket books have sold 48 million copies. "Did you think I would say no?" he inquired. I knew he wouldn't. Rick Moody and Aimee Bender followed along with David Poindexter who founded MacAdam/Cage. Becca Rubin signed on to do the website. Katie volunteered to run the blog. Romi contacted me about setting up a reading in Los Angeles, Christopher about setting up a reading in Seattle. Audrey agreed to read in Chicago. Alana and Kay volunteered to help in New York. Tim wanted to do something in Boston. Matt thought he could get the writers workshop involved in Iowa City. Ryan was moving to Miami and available. I had to figure out the reporting system. A PAC has to file quarterly reports, as well as pre and post primary and election. It's complicated and scary but here's a secret: the FEC is so helpful! They answer the phone, they get back to you. They will help you not break the law. They don't want to put you in jail, but they will if they have to. Call them, they will walk you through it. They will offer you comfort in your time of need.

We have a few goals for LitPAC (I say "we" because there are so many people involved now). There are large author events all over the country and people need to be registering voters at these events. We want to organize readings like the one we plan to put together for Patricia Madrid as well as for Tony Trupiano in Michigan. We're going to offer voters in certain districts a chance to signup for a phone call from their favorite author on election day reminding them to vote. We're going to start a bookclub where bookgroups make a donation and receive a phone call from one of our authors when they're discussing their book. And with events scheduled all over the country we're going to raise significant money to support progressive challengers against incumbents who we consider evil. Did I just say evil? I guess I did. What I mean perhaps is dangerously incompetent but the results are the same. Hopefully we won't make the "evil incumbents" worse the way things got worse in North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, after George Bush designated those countries as evil. But we'll soon see the power of words.

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Stephen Elliott is the author of Looking Forward To It, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The American Electoral Process, the founder of The Progressive Reading Series, and the executive director of LitPAC