Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016

Hispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016

The fundraising arm for Democratic Hispanics in Congress is looking to punch above its weight in key 2016 House and Senate races and grow their ranks.

CHC BOLD PAC, the campaign offshoot of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), in May reported record-breaking donations for the 2016 electoral cycle.

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Its stated fundraising goal of $3 million seems a paltry figure in a campaign that, at the presidential level, is expected to cost nearly $1 billion. But the group is stretching its resources and picking its fights to boost their clout.

"We find ourselves looking at each race individually and ask if this person is ready for prime time," Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), who leads the PAC, told The Hill about the group's endorsement process. 

The group sees its selection process, involving Hispanic Caucus members and leaders, as key to their success in turning candidates into members of Congress.

The 2016 election will put their efforts to the test.

A Democratic strategist, Chuck Rocha, said the group had beefed up their presence.

"I’ve been doing this for 24 years and I’ve never seen the caucus be as involved in races," he said.

As the ranks of Hispanic lawmakers in Congress have grown over the years, so has the PAC's reach.

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the group's previous chairman and now chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, "had it running good. It was the best it had ever been," said Rocha.

But Rocha says Cárdenas "has taken it to a new level."

And candidates are also touting the group's involvement.

Nanette Barragán, running to replace retiring Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.) in California's 44th District, is optimistic that she will beat fellow Democrat Isadore Hall in November's general election.

Barragán says the caucus endorsement and support from BOLD PAC -- both logistical and financial -- has been crucial to her campaign's organization and popular recognition in the heavily Hispanic Southern California district.

Barragán hails "great mentorship" from Caucus Chairwoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), which she says helped her organize her campaign and get access to national figures, including Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas).

Latino candidates have traditionally struggled to find support in races for national office, and in many cases lack the infrastructure necessary for relevant fundraising. 

Barragán, who has also endorsed by Emily's List, said she was able to quit her job as an attorney and focus on the campaign thanks to the "guidance and support that they provide, as well as helping to raise money."

But even as BOLD PAC works to maximize its reach, fundraising remains a challenge.

Rocha explained the group's legal structure as a "candidate PAC" limits it to yearly $5,000 donations from each contributor. And because of the hotly contested presidential campaign, Democrats are "seeing big money moving but they’re not seeing it moving to Latino organizations." Instead, funds supporting presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHarris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE are seeing a boost.

Cárdenas says the group has been successful in attracting matching funds for independent expenditures. That allows them to invest more than the maximum $5,000 per election on a candidate, but with less control due to strict campaign finance regulations. 

A two-to-one ratio of matched versus BOLD PAC donations is "a good rule of thumb," Cárdenas said.

Lou Correa and Salud Carbajal, both Democratic House candidates from California, have benefitted from that kind of support.

Some races have also brought friction between the Hispanic Caucus and Democratic party.

The party's endorsement of California Attorney General Kamala Harris contrasted with Congressional Latinos' support of fellow Rep. Loretta Sánchez in the race to replace retiring Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list MORE (D-Calif.).

"BOLD PAC is Hispanic first, Democratic second. And it’s a close, close second because we do not engage in endorsing non-Democrats," said Cárdenas.

And in some races, the group's growth still hasn't been enough to get their candidates across the finish line.

Joseline Peña-Melnyk, an underdog candidate running a primary against two strong opponents to represent Maryland's 4th District, lost in April against former Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown, despite strong support from the caucus.

Cárdenas brushed off that loss, saying it was a challenge worth taking on.

"For God’s sake, if we were just going to go in safe races where we were assured victory, that, to me, is shallow," he said.

The PAC is engaged in key down-ballot races in 2016, including a bid to unseat fellow Latino Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a race in which the both Democratic candidates have received support.

After endorsing Annette Taddeo early on, BOLD PAC also endorsed former Rep. Joe GarciaJose (Joe) Antonio GarciaOvernight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service Mueller indictments: Congressional candidate asked Russian operatives for info on opponent MORE.

A key Senate race to replace outgoing Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidLobbying World Mitch McConnell is not invincible Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary MORE (D-Nev.) is also attracting attention. Former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is running to keep Reid's Senate seat in Democratic hands.

Despite the group's limited funds, Nevada is "bite sized enough for us to make a difference," said Cárdenas.

BOLD PAC's focus on individual races is no coincidence. Although it supports non-Hispanic candidates, Cárdenas is focusing on the PAC's role in growing the caucus. 

"Before I leave Congress I want to see that we went from 20-some members to 50-some members," Cárdenas said.