Who drafts the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy? Whoever it is, they should be fired. Their 2014 plan violates a basic rule of electoral public relations: Don’t build your entire campaign around a hypocritical allegation that could blow up in your face.
I’m talking about Democrats’ unending war on the billionaires who fund right-of-center causes. Over the past month, the party’s campaign committees, PACs and allied groups have spent millions trying to link Republicans to these ostensibly evil oligarchs who are buying elections and rigging the system against the middle class.
Right. But then what are the left’s billionaires doing?
The hypocrisy starts with the Senate Majority PAC — the type of corrupting, “special interest cash”-laden super PAC that the left alternately decries and adores. The group is currently running television ads defending vulnerable Senate Democrats or potential candidates in Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina. The ads invariably link the Republican candidate to “billionaires” — especially the horrible “out of state” variety.
Who are the Senate Majority PAC’s biggest donors? They include out-of-state billionaires like Hollywood bigwig Steven Spielberg, music mogul David Geffen and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Mayor Mike” donated $2.5 million to the group earlier this year. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the group’s donor list isn’t short on moneymen funding races in states they don’t live in.
To be fair, Senate Majority PAC isn’t an “official” offshoot of the Democratic Party (although its staff list would indicate otherwise). But its message is spreading down to the individual campaigns in which it’s involved. These Democrats divide their time between attacking the 1 percent and taking checks from them.
The list starts with Alaska’s Sen. Mark Begich, whose first campaign ad declared, “We are not going to let a bunch of out of state billionaires … attack him.” He doesn’t mind those billionaires when they support him. Over the years, New York billionaire George Soros has chipped in to his campaign, as have California billionaires Spielberg and Geffen.
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan feels the same way. In an appearance earlier this year on MSNBC, she railed against deep-pocketed outsider and claimed that her constituents wouldn’t “be fooled by this outside money.” Actually, Hagan is the one trying to fool her state’s voters: Billionaires from both coasts help pay her bills, including Soros, California’s Haim Saban and New York’s Leonard Lauder.
Ditto for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Like the rest of her vulnerable colleagues, she casts aspersions at the usual suspects despite taking money from 1-percenters like the ever-reliable Soros, New York’s Dirk Ziff and Illinois’ Neil Bluhm.
Next up is Colorado Sen. Mark Udall. Despite telling his constituents that “outside money won’t measure up against our grass-roots support,” an examination of FEC records indicates that no fewer than eight non-Colorado billionaires helped fill his campaign coffers. Nebraska’s Warren Buffett, New York’s Soros and Lauder, Illinois’ Bluhm, and California’s John Doerr, Irwin Jacobs, Spielberg and Geffen — his donor list is a who’s who of out-of-state billionaires.
These aren’t the only examples. Whether it’s Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa or Rep. Gary Peters in Michigan, every Democratic candidate in an endangered Senate seat or trying to win one is on some out-of-state billionaire’s dole. For some, it’s direct donations. For others, it’s through Senate Majority PAC’s billionaire-funded ads. For almost all of them, it’s both.
Then there’s the bevy of out-of-state billionaires boosting the left’s electoral chances through other means. When direct donations and PACs aren’t enough, Democrats can turn to their own dark-money fundraising group, Democracy Alliance. The group has spent some $500 million to prop up left-wing organizations since its inception in 2005. It planned to spend $50 million in 2013 alone.
Its members — and the organizations benefiting from their largesse, like the Center for American Progress and Media Matters — routinely demand that outside money depart politics forthwith. Chris Hughes, who made his money at Facebook, started a nonprofit called Protect our Democracy to stop the “unprecedented wave of special interest money” in elections. Similarly, George Soros’s son Jonathan founded and funds Friends of Democracy, a super PAC that claims to support limiting the influence of big money in politics.
Such is the billionaire-backed, billionaire-bashing campaign apparatus lined up to defend Democrats’ Senate majority this year. Thankfully, they’re doing nothing wrong. Like their counterparts on the right, their actions are legal. Insofar as they’re exercising their First Amendment rights, their actions are even laudable.
But that’s only true if you’re on the left. You won’t hear Harry Reid rail against these billionaires on the Senate floor and call them “un-American.” You won’t see the DSCC admit that it’s “addicted” to these donors — a charge Democrats level at the right — nor will you witness vulnerable senators asking the IRS to investigate the groups that their billionaire benefactors support.
This double standard is glaringly obvious — and come Election Day, you may see a Senate with fewer hypocrites.
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Mark Pfeifle is president of Off the Record Strategies. This article was published at Real Clear Politics.