“Why should that be? We only have one guy who can represent our district? I have seven choices for U.S. Senate but only one for the House? Really? It brought home just how broken the system is,” Linbeck said.
After barely paying attention to politics most his life, Linbeck is a major force behind this year’s most outside-the-box super PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, and funneled at least $1.3 million of his money into the endeavor. While most PACs aim to boost the chances of a favored candidate or to bring down an ideological opponent, the super PAC has a decidedly different goal: to oust incumbents. Of both parties. And why not?
So far, the super PAC created by the full-time businessman, part-time academic and father of five — including three adopted children — has helped defeat two veteran Republicans and two long-time Democrats, knocking out almost 65 years of combined House experience. Next up is the biggest target yet: Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), the 41-year veteran who is facing a stiff primary challenge June 26.
Not surprisingly, the super PAC has drawn bipartisan blasts of its own. Rangel, for example, has called it a “right-wing tea party super PAC.” A Republican tagged it as “another liberal super PAC” that supports “ultra liberals” such as Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio). Some whispered that the super PAC’s funders are anti-Catholic.
Linbeck — a devout Catholic who attended Notre Dame, just as his father did and just as his son Leo IV will do in the fall — chuckles at how little people know about him. He’s conservative, but he says he’s never spent more than 10 minutes inside any organized Republican Party activity. Previous political donations, almost all to Republicans, were given out of loyalty to friends raising money for candidates he’d never met.
What has fueled Linbeck is his exasperation with a political system that he says keeps backing veteran lawmakers responsible for Washington’s fiscal and bureaucratic woes. Exhibit A: In 2010, although Congress’s approval ratings hovered in the low teens, all but four of the roughly 400 House incumbents who sought their party’s nomination got the nod — about the same 99 percent re-nomination rate as always.
A self-described “conservative communitarian,” Linbeck says the nation has drifted too far from its Jeffersonian democratic roots. Who’s to blame for this political entrenchment? According to Linbeck, politicians and operatives of all stripes who have grown too comfortable and too influential in Washington. “Do you really think that Karl Rove or John Podesta or Bill Burton or Ed Gillespie, do you really think those guys want decisions to be made anywhere else than Washington?” he asks.