House Democratic leaders are defending a new policy that will exclude consultants who work for upstart challengers to Democratic incumbents from also receiving lucrative contracts from the party’s campaign arm, a move liberals are criticizing as an effort to rein in the rising energy of the progressive left.
The policy, laid out last week, requires consultants and strategists to pledge not to work for any candidate challenging a sitting Democratic member of Congress in order to be added to a list of approved vendors eligible to work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Liberal groups and members of Congress — including several who beat sitting incumbents to win their seats — have objected to what they deem a “blacklist.”
“[DCCC Chairwoman] Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — A warning shot on Biden's .5T plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden continues to grapple with Afghanistan chaos Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE and her people have made an effort the last few months to reach out to progressives, and this was an unforced error that had the net effect of likely losing the DCCC a lot of money, and potentially sidelining talent that could help flip red seats blue,” said Adam Green, who heads the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Within hours of the new policy’s announcement, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezDon't let partisan politics impede Texas' economic recovery Ocasio-Cortez explains 'present' vote on Iron Dome Dingell fundraises off Greene altercation on Capitol steps MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyHolding back on defensive systems for Israel could have dangerous consequences Warren, Bush offer bill to give HHS power to impose eviction moratorium Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE (D-Mass.) criticized the DCCC. Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley are two of the 10 House Democrats who won their seats by beating sitting members of their own party.
Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor Frederica Wilson rails against Haitian deportation flights, calls treatment 'inhumane' Pelosi signals she won't move .5T bill without Senate-House deal MORE (D-N.Y.) defended the change on Tuesday, saying the party was still seeking to embrace different perspectives.
“But at the end of the day, the reality is the DCCC has a singular mission, which is to protect and preserve the majority,” said Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Veterans of the DCCC say the policy is not really new. Instead, according to half a dozen former senior officials, it just puts into writing what was once an unwritten rule, that political professionals avoid intramural battles when scant resources are better spent fighting Republicans.
“Keeping the House requires the DCCC to focus on shoring up incumbents and challenging Republicans in red and purple districts, not battling in blue districts,” said one former top DCCC official, who asked for anonymity in order to describe internal debates. “It’s extremely difficult to keep that focus if the committee is constantly being pulled into Dem-on-Dem battles.”
In practice, most consultants who do significant business with the DCCC have been loath to get involved in a race against a sitting member of Congress. Any challenger faces long odds, and taking on an incumbent can be bad for business.
In 2018, only one major Democratic consultant, the polling firm Lake Research Partners, worked for Ocasio-Cortez, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Only two vendors who worked for Pressley — Alabama-based pollster Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and The Campaign Group, a Pennsylvania firm — also worked for the DCCC.
But the policy is having an impact on the thinking of some candidates who are considering their own insurgent bids.
Marie Newman, a Democratic activist who came within 2,100 votes of knocking off Rep. Daniel LipinskiDaniel William LipinskiHouse votes to condemn alleged hysterectomies on migrant women Five things we learned from this year's primaries Hispanic Caucus campaign arm endorses slate of non-Hispanic candidates MORE (D-Ill.) in 2018, said the DCCC’s stand was influencing her as she considers whether to take another run at the Chicago Democrat.
“We are weighing that right now. It’s a consideration, I’m not going to lie. If the [DCCC] is going to move in this direction, I’m not going to lie, it’s concerning to me. So that’s one of the final decision points,” Newman told The Hill. “When you’re going to those lengths to ensure that incumbents, no matter who they are, stay in office, that feels like overreach. The policy feels like overreach to me, because it doesn’t feel like it’s entirely democratic, small d.”
Green said the new policy would cost House Democrats money from energized small-dollar donors who respond to solicitations from Ocasio-Cortez and other freshman members. Ocasio-Cortez asked her supporters to “pause” their donations to the DCCC and give instead to endangered Democrats — a solicitation that earned several members a combined $90,000 in the space of just a few hours.
Green had been in discussions with the DCCC about setting up a new fund into which Ocasio-Cortez and others could raise money for like-minded candidates. Those discussions are now on hold.
“The attempt to have a synergy of efforts just got a lot harder,” he said.
Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkBiden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions Pelosi, moderates inch closer to infrastructure, budget deal House Democrats return to advance Biden's agenda in face of crises MORE (D-Mass.), the vice chair of the caucus, said Democrats’ ambitious legislative agenda — including efforts to bolster voting protections — hinges on their success maintaining the gavel.
“I’ve heard concerns, and we take those seriously, and I know there are ongoing meetings with concerned parties and DCCC,” Clark said. “But the focus of this caucus is not on political consultants. It is on our ability to protect the vote.”
Clark pointed to the recent passage of H.R. 1, the Democrats’ sweeping government reform bill, as an example of what’s at stake.
“[It] starts with protecting the vote and getting Congress to be working, not for special interests, not to be beholden to dark money and influence in our campaigns, but to have the American voter wield the power at the ballot box,” she said.
Bustos, who represents Illinois’s 17th District, spoke with members before issuing the new rules, Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Iron Dome funding clears House Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Defense bill takes center stage MORE (D-N.Y.) told The Hill. Cole Leiter, a DCCC spokesman, said Bustos had promised “to stand with and protect every member of the most diverse caucus in congressional history as we work to defend and grow our Democratic majority.”
In addition, Leiter pointed to elements of the preferred vendor application that would promote minority- and women-owned businesses. The DCCC policy says the committee will only work with vendors that are either partly owned by underrepresented groups or that have demonstrated “a sustained commitment to promoting diversity.”
“Our voters are diverse, we are actively recruiting candidates to ensure their elected officials better reflect them, and we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure the political professionals we work with do so as well,” DCCC Executive Director Allison Jaslow said in an email.
While they may be black sheep during their run against sitting members, those who win are embraced once they get to Washington. Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellGreene heckles Democrats and they fire back on Capitol steps Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails MORE (D-Calif.), who ousted longtime Rep. Pete Stark (D), now chairs a House Intelligence subcommittee. Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonOvernight Defense & National Security — Iron Dome funding clears House Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Defense bill takes center stage Hillicon Valley: Senators want answers about Amazon's biometric data collection | House members release companion bill targeting app stores | Google files to dismiss Ohio lawsuit MORE (D-Ga.) chairs a Judiciary subcommittee.
Rep. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonHow lawmakers aided the Afghan evacuation GOP lawmaker says he did not threaten US Embassy staff in Tajikistan House panel approves B boost for defense budget MORE (D-Mass.) is considering a run for president. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), a leading presidential contender, also won his seat in Congress by winning a primary contest against a sitting member of Congress, then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D).
Mike Lillis and Scott Wong contributed to this report which was updated at 8:12 a.m.