New Minority-Focused PAC Launches

Posted March 21, 2012 at 1:10pm

PAC Plus, a new minority-focused super PAC, launched today with one of Washington, D.C.’s most powerful Democrats in its corner.

John Podesta, the founder of the Center for American Progress and a former White House chief of staff, will advise the group. PAC Plus is an outgrowth of PowerPAC, a 527 organization that spent $10 million in 2007 to help President Barack Obama secure the Democratic nomination.

PAC Plus expects to spend another $10 million this year to mobilize blacks and Hispanics in support of Democrats in six states with large minority populations — Texas, New Mexico, California, Georgia, Arizona and Ohio.

By targeting Texas and Georgia — two states that will almost certainly vote Republican this year — the group hopes to cultivate future candidates and voters.

“We neglect places that could become progressive over time with the right kind of work,” Podesta said in an interview with Roll Call. “That’s a stretch at the presidential level but … if you want to build for the long term, you’ve got to get started today.”

Podesta, who left his post at CAP this fall, said he would help raise money for the new political action committee.

Steve Phillips, the San Francisco-based activist who started the group, is not seeking million-dollar checks, but he’s not really after the $5 donors either.

Instead, he’s trying to tap into an emerging class of professional blacks and Hispanics who are in a position to contribute $240 annually. The model is similar to one used by Maverick PAC, a new Republican group aimed at young professionals run by George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the grandson of President George H.W. Bush.

The PAC Plus mission is sweeping: A get-out-the-vote campaign combined with race-specific independent expenditures focusing on the presidential contest, Congressional and state elections. Few organizations operate on such a grand scale, and Phillips acknowledged that the mandate would likely be trimmed to fill the gaps in the existing network of Democratic outside groups.

PAC Plus appears to be in a class of its own, and the group’s founders said they hope to bring cultural competency to existing efforts to appeal to blacks and Hispanics.

“It’s not enough to just speak in a different language to those voters,” said Julie Martinez Ortega, a partner with the Project New America Latino who serves as the PAC’s vice president for policy and advocacy. “It’s actually about transmitting a very different message … that is going to, in fact, resonate.”

The top independent expenditure committees on the left — Priorities USA, Majority PAC, House Majority PAC and American Bridge 21st Century — communicate daily, but Phillips has not joined those conversations. He said he is working with the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO and the National Education Alliance.

Maria Echaveste, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a member of the executive council of the Democratic National Committee, welcomed the effort to build “the bench of progressive candidates for the long term.”

“It pains me deeply, deeply that the first Hispanic governors on the mainland are Republican,” she said. “We have to change that.”