So far, Mayday PAC -- the super PAC with the self-destructive goal of eliminating super PACs -- is one-for-two in its primary races. Over the weekend, a blogger at the liberal Daily Kos suggested that the group was trying to figure out how to spin the fact that it hadn't raised all the money it needed to. In most contexts, those two things would spell trouble. In the context of Mayday, it's another data point.
This is the thing about Mayday, as Harvard law Prof. Lawrence Lessig, one of the co-founders of the group, explained to the Post by phone: 2014 is, for them, the equivalent of poking an anthill with a stick to see what happens. Granted, they've got better analytical tools than sticks, and they're being more thoughtful about what gets poked, but the analogy is generally accurate. By investing in a variety of races in 2014, Mayday hopes to learn if voters are sufficiently receptive to a campaign finance reform message to justify a bigger and better-funded push in 2016.
If that means endorsing long-shot candidates like Jim Rubens (R) in New Hampshire's Republican Senate primary in an effort to test out one of the group's three theories of running a political campaign, so be it. Rubens lost by a two-to-one margin, but, as Lessig explained in a blog post shortly afterward, Mayday learned that 37 percent of voters considered the need for campaign finance reform a major part of their vote -- and those voters backed Rubens over former Sen. Scott Brown (R) by 18 points.
"The interventions that we're picking, we're kind of picking to fill out the various corners of the data matrix," Lessig told us, calling the New Hampshire results "pretty interesting and confirming." You see a 27 point loss. Lessig sees more numbers in the matrix. Ants running in a particular direction.
Which is also an interesting framework through which to look at the PAC's fundraising. The Daily Kos article mentioned above points to conversations in the group's public chat room, which appeared to suggest that Mayday had come up short in a promised $5 million in funds that were meant to match the group's frenetic July fundraising drive. "The Daily Kos piece was incredibly misleading because it suggested we'd represented something that had turned out not to be true," Lessig said. The implication was that the group had fallen short. Which, Lessig says, they never said they wouldn't. The plan was: Raise a million dollars and match it from big donors. Then, raise another five -- that July push -- and Lessig would try to match that, too.
"I have from the very beginning said this was my objective," Lessig said, "and I never once said we'd achieved the objective." The original match was meant to inspire confidence in the system. The second Lessig is still working on, but wouldn't provide details on how much had been raised or from whom, saying only, "I think I'm confident that we're about halfway to getting the five together." An important addition to that: "Right now we're building a plan based on the assumption that we're not going to get it." If they don't get it, they simply have different sticks with which to poke.
The match is going slowly, in part, he explained, because he's hoping to raise money from people who are interested in "spending their money to remove their political influence." "The long-term success of this project depends on it being cross-partisan," he said, and "cross-class," though he admitted that wasn't the best term. He wants it to be funded both by "people who benefit from this unequal system and people who are burdened by this unequal system." He drew an analogy to the civil rights movement, which aligned whites and blacks in an effort to make change.
Mayday's goal isn't to win enough votes in 2014 to get campaign finance reform passed in Congress. Rather, it's to crunch numbers to figure if the right sort of campaigns can put together that majority in 2016. If the data show that they can, Lessig says, he'll work with partners to try to make that push. If the data show it can't be done, then that's it. Lessig said he has "no interest" in an "incremental, 20-year process" to enact reform.
The group is doing what everyone who has ever worked on a campaign has dreamed of doing: taking a cycle just to see what works and what doesn't. A strategy document, shared with The Post, includes some interesting ideas, like ensuring people watch campaign videos by offering gift cards to those who do. (It's not clear if Mayday actually tried this.) But those who've run campaigns probably also see the tricky gap that lies between 2014 and 2016. Mayday is running experiments in eight races this year, a group of long shots and incumbents in a variety of contexts. Polling to figure out how Jim Rubens was bolstered by the group's message is interesting, but to what extent does it apply to Democrats? Those running in different states? In 2016? One reason political change is often comprised of an "incremental, 20-year process" is that magic bullets are few and far between, even if you think you've got a good plan for a magic bullet factory.
We started with another analogy. Poking ants with sticks isn't likely to tell you much about how to get rid of an ant infestation. In that sense, money is both the least and the biggest of the group's concerns.