And, yes, the SuperPAC in question does recognize the irony of raising big money to combat big money ...
Splashing a great big "WE DID IT!" banner across its homepage, an organization billing itself as "the SuperPAC to end all SuperPACs" announced over the long weekend that it reached its $5 million fundraising goal for the month of June.
With its commitment to "fundamental reform in the way elections are funded," and expressed stance to "favor 'small dollar public funding' of elections," this organization, the Mayday Political Action Committee, seeks the sort of fundamental electoral power shift that should sound pretty darn familiar to South Dakota political observers.
MaydayPAC founder Lawrence Lessig has been making the rounds to tout MaydayPAC's accomplishments, which include a current total of $7.6 million raised from almost 53,000 individual donors since May 1 (hence, "MaydayPAC") and additional matching funds for the first $6 million raised. The plan is for the SuperPAC to fund independent campaigns in five districts nationwide where 2014 victories by Mayday-supported candidates would signal voter support for the sort of campaign finance reforms Lessig considers critical to ending the corruption caused when campaigns are funded exclusively by big-money donors.
I think Lessig should have a chat with Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland about making South Dakota one of those districts. What better place to send a message that campaign finance matters than a state where Nine-Million-Dollar Man Mike Rounds has flatly refused Weiland's proposal to limit campaign finances to contributions of $100 or less per person?
MaydayPAC's plan lays out two objectives for choosing the districts they'll support:
First, we must select districts where a victory would be both surprising, and understood to be tied to this reform. We are not looking for easy victories; nor are we looking for races in which different issues compete, and would make identifying the reason for victory difficult. We are looking for districts in which a victory would signal that conventional wisdom was wrong: that voters, that is, could be mobilized on the basis of this issue enough to dislodge even dominant incumbents [MaydayPAC, The Plan to Get Our Democracy Back, retrieved 2014.07.08, links my own].
Check that box for South Dakota as Lessig country.
Second, we must select a sufficiently wide range of districts so as to provide enough diversity to make valid the inferences we need to draw about other districts. Our campaigns will establish a baseline of attitudes before and after our intervention; we will track the effectiveness of those interventions to “move the needle” of attitudes related to reform. And we’ll experiment with a wide range of techniques for engaging nontraditionalvoters to support candidates tied to reform [MaydayPAC, The Plan to Get Our Democracy Back, retrieved 2014.07.08, links my own].
It's harder to know without the other four chosen districts what South Dakota brings to the table in terms of "sufficiently wide range," but maybe there's a case for South Dakota extrapolation to both other "grain belt" states (Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and such) and to the independent-minded mountain west (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, etc.).
There's certainly a case to be made that $2.7 million goes farther in the South Dakota than in a lot of other districts. MaydayPAC says it's looking to use 2014 as a test run, with it's big-time efforts aimed at the 2016 election cycle. It might be smart to choose a testing ground that doesn't dry up your reserves too fast.
And, just in case my logic isn't convincing, maybe an appeal to Professor Lessig's South Dakota roots—he was born in Rapid City—could make South Dakota the sentimental favorite for this citizens' crusade.
Ready to dismiss the crusade as hopeless? Lessig would tell you otherwise:
This is a solvable issue. If you think about the issues our parents tried to solve in the 20th century, issues like racism or sexism or the issue that we've been fighting in this century, homophobia, those are hard issues. But this is a problem of just incentives, just incentives. Change the incentives and the behavior changes. And the states that have adopted systems small-dollar funded systems have seen, overnight, a change in the practice. When Connecticut adopted this system, in the very first year, 78 percent of the elected representatives gave up large contributions and took small contributions only. It's solvable, not by being a Democrat, not by being a Republican. It's solvable by being citizens, by being citizens [TED Radio Hour, Has Money Taken Over American Politics?, 2014.03.14]
So, how 'bout it, Professor Lessig? Heck, how 'bout it, South Dakota? What do you say we use this election cycle, this U.S. Senate race, and this fantastic crowdsourced political movement to change the incentives for political donation in this country? If we do it right, maybe we can "Take it back!"