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The landmark Citizens United decision, which paved the way for mega outside spending in elections, just entered its teenage years. In the 13 years and (almost) seven cycles since the Supreme Court opened the way for super PACs, such groups have invested more than $7.6 billion to influence voters, according to OpenSecrets.org. It began in 2010 with a trickle of $62.6 million in independent expenditures. In the 2022 midterm campaigns, outside groups spent more than $1.9 billion.
Super PACs may raise and spend an unlimited amount of money, but they aren’t legally allowed to coordinate directly with candidates. Because of that, they typically take on the attack dog role, running mostly negative ads bashing a candidate. These spots may sway voters, but voters still say they hate them — and money in politics has itself become a messaging flashpoint on the campaign trail amid stalemate between the parties. Democrats say they back big changes, while Republicans do not.
Potentially setting the stage for some high-profile 2024 races, some lawmakers took the occasion of the Citizens United anniversary to push legislation that would roll back unlimited money in elections. Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who has made money in politics a signature issue, offered, again, two bills that focus on super PACs as well as money that comes from undisclosed donors. Tester, whose reelection campaign next year would be a major battleground race, sounds a lot like a candidate.
“Folks sent me to Washington, D.C., to look out for them, not for the big corporations. That’s what these bills are about,” Tester said in a video, posted on Twitter, as he rode the Senate subway this week to file his legislation. “And I’ll keep fighting until they become law,” he said in a statement.
California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who announced today that he is seeking his party’s Senate nomination in 2024, also sponsored a long-shot constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision, which he called “one of the most egregious enablers of special interest money.”
#AZSen: Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego kicked off his run for Senate on Monday, setting up the possibility of a three-way contest with independent Kyrsten Sinema, the current occupant of the seat, and a yet-to-be named Republican nominee. Sinema, who left the Democratic Party last month, has not said whether she plans to run for reelection. Gallego’s campaign said it raised more than $1 million on the first day of the campaign.
#VASen: Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia will seek a third term, he announced last week, saying he was “ready to run very, very vigorously.” Hung Cao, who lost a House race to Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton in the 6th District last year, is one potential Republican challenger.
#CASen: Schiff launched his bid for Senate today, joining what is likely to be an expensive and competitive Democratic primary. Democratic Rep. Katie Porter announced last week she was running for the seat, currently held by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, 89, who has not announced whether she will seek reelection. Other potential contenders include Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna.
Big lobbying tabs: The National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent the most on federal lobbying in 2022, according to recent reports. Both groups often include political spending — though it’s not required — in election years. Google, meanwhile, spent $2.7 million on federal lobbying in the months leading up to the Justice Department’s new antitrust suit.
Ethics post filled: One of the last committee gavels announced by Speaker Kevin McCarthy was one that could affect the size of his majority. Mississippi Rep. Michael Guest — one of the few Republicans who voted for an independent committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, riot by Trump supporters — will chair the House Ethics Committee. The panel not only inherits some investigations left over from the last Congress but also faces the new question of what to do about Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett reports.
Staffing up: Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for reelection in 2024, hired Rachel Petri as his campaign manager. It’s a reunion of sorts — Petri was spokesperson for Brown’s 2018 campaign. She went on to work for North Carolina Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham’s unsuccessful 2020 Senate campaign and, most recently, was deputy campaign manager for Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock’s campaign last year. Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott also announced members of his political staff for his 2024 reelection campaign, including several aides who worked at the NRSC under Scott last cycle. Jackie Schutz Zeckman will run Scott’s political operation, Chris Hartline will serve as communications consultant and senior adviser and Lisa Goodspeed will be finance director.
Where are they now? Former Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, who ran the DCCC during the 2020 cycle and opted not to run last year, joined the firm Mercury as a co-chair of its D.C. office. Ex-Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, one of the House Republicans who lost in a primary after voting to impeach Donald Trump, is joining the Children’s Hospital Association as a strategic adviser. Former Hung Cao, who lost a House race to Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton who won a special election last year before losing a bid for a full term in November, joined Americano Media as a senior political contributor.
Vermont voting: The Vermont Supreme Court ruled unanimously that noncitizens who are legal U.S. residents can vote in local elections. The Vermont Republican Party, along with voters and the Republican National Committee, brought the lawsuit.
Sunshine and spuds: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is urging voters to back a constitutional convention to impose term limits on members of Congress, and he’s using radio ads — in Idaho — the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Hitting undo?: The sponsor of a petition drive to reverse Alaska’s new election process, which puts the top four vote-getters of the primary on the general election ballot regardless of party, says it simultaneously makes campaigns have to act nice and play dirty, Alaska Public Radio reports.
Over the line?: The Washington-based Campaign for Accountability says the Texas Public Policy Foundation ventured into prohibited political activity by hosting an event described as a fundraising opportunity for Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake. The group is calling on the Internal Revenue Service to yank the foundation’s tax-exempt status. Foundation spokesman Brian Phillips tells the Dallas Morning News the complaint is “really, really dumb.”
Small bucks, big deal: Democratic fundraising processor ActBlue is weighing how long to let now-independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona continue to use its tools, Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin reports.
Tension in the House: C-SPAN captured the dramatic moment when Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers lunged toward fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida on the House floor during the marathon voting for a new speaker. But the camera couldn’t convey just how fraught the mood had become, said North Carolina GOP Rep. Patrick T. McHenry. McHenry, a McCarthy ally, had been talking to Gaetz just before Rogers charged toward him. Rep. Richard Hudson, another North Carolina Republican, quickly intervened and restrained Rogers. “Kevin McCarthy would not be Speaker of the House had Richard Hudson not walked over when he did, and instinctively [done] the right thing to remove somebody from a bad situation that was on the cusp of getting much, much worse,’’ McHenry told Spectrum News.
Fundraising fodder: Schiff, who McCarthy blocked from serving on the Intelligence panel, has been sending fundraising appeals for himself and fellow Democrats, including Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, calling attention to the situation. Schiff called McCarthy’s move “political retribution” and asked donors to “contribute $10 or whatever you can spare today … to help me respond to Republicans’ baseless attacks on my ability to hold them accountable.”
Endorsement watch (is back): Florida Sen. Marco Rubio endorsed Republican Rep. Jim Banks in his Indiana Senate bid. Democratic Arizona Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva endorsed his home state colleague Rep. Ruben Gallego for Senate.
Announcement pending: Democratic Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin told The Associated Press she was getting her “ducks in a row,” as she prepares for an expected Senate run to succeed retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
What we’re reading
Gillibrand’s next campaign: The New York Times reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s biggest hurdle to being reelected to a third term may be a primary challenge from her own party. So far, no one has said they will run against her, and Gillibrand has been taking steps to shore up support on the left after a failed run for president in 2020.
About that deal: The agreement by the pro-McCarthy Congressional Leadership Fund not to spend in primary races in safe Republican districts — which coincided with the Club for Growth saying earlier this month it would endorse McCarthy for speaker — may not be much of a game changer, FiveThirtyEight reports. Looking back at 2022 spending, spending in only two districts would have been affected.
Credentialed: The fabrications of New York’s Santos prompted USA Today to fact-check the academic credentials of the entire congressional freshman class. The newspaper uncovered just two minor discrepancies.
The Count: 20
That’s at least how many previous federal elections had a bigger percentage of Democrats in the national electorate than last year’s. And it could be more. But exit poll data where the people who actually vote are surveyed really isn’t that reliable before 1984. Just 33 percent of voters told exit pollsters they were Democrats in November, down from 37 percent in 2018 and 2020. Going back to 1984, the previous low for Democrats was 35 percent in 2014 and 2010, according to research by David Winston, a Republican strategic planning and polling consultant and a Roll Call columnist.
Despite complaints about the effect of gerrymandering, there were more competitive districts last year than the average going back a couple of decades. But that could change if next year follows the trend of 2004 and 2014, Nathan L. Gonzales writes.
A report by Jonathan Allen at NBC News that GOP Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is looking to position herself as Trump’s vice presidential pick got a mixed reaction on the Hill, according to CQ Roll Call’s Bennett. Florida’s Scott offered up a non-committal “we’ll see” when asked Wednesday about a Trump-Greene ticket. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, issued a “high-pitched laugh” in response. But Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who has a long history with Trump, warned against discounting the idea of a Trump-Greene ticket. “Well, I didn’t think Donald Trump was politically viable [in 2016],” said Romney, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. “So what do I know?”
Shop talk: Will Reinert
Reinert recently started at the National Republican Congressional Committee as national press secretary for the 2024 cycle.
Starting out: Reinert says he had a fascination with politics from as young as 4 years old. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was in college and decided to apply for an internship in D.C. with [then-Alabama Sen.] Jeff Sessions. I came up here and really caught that Potomac fever,” he said. After he returned to school that fall, he knew he wanted to move back after graduation. “Literally three days after I graduated I moved up here without a job, just kind of pounded the pavement, and passed my résumé off at every single Republican office on the Hill and just kind of grinded it out until I found something.”
Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I was interning for [then-first time Rep.] Ryan Zinke during that period after I first moved up to D.C. and didn’t really have a paying job, and really the only people I knew in D.C. were the people on Jeff Sessions’ staff that I’d interned with that previous summer,” he said. After “pestering” Sessions’ then-chief of staff with weekly emails, he was told, finally, to swing by the office. “I had known previously, because I read it in the news, that he was moonlighting on the Trump campaign. Well, I walk into his office and I sit down and it’s not really an interview at all, it’s just ‘Hey, you’re going to start working on the Trump campaign. Go to the office tomorrow at 10 a.m. and they’ll get you started.’ And so I’m just like, well, I didn’t even ask for this, I’m just kind of shocked. And I was like, ‘Well, do you have any advice for me?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, wear a tie and get the hell out of my office.’ So I guess that was just a big moment for me in my life.”
Biggest campaign regret: While working at the Republican Governors Association last cycle, Reinert focused on races including one in New Mexico, where Republicans hoped Mark Ronchetti, a former Albuquerque weatherman who was the party’s nominee, could potentially flip a blue state. “People loved him, and his name ID was like 98 percent, and he kind of was in the Glenn Youngkin mold of a conservative,” he said. “And so we really thought he was going to do well, and we just got completely smoked there. That was a tough pill to swallow.”
Unconventional wisdom: “I would say take a leap of faith,” he said. “I just took a chance on myself and I bet on myself and it’s really worked out. It’s not because I’m smarter than anybody else or anything like that, but I just took a chance and took that leap of faith.”
Republican National Committee members will vote Friday on the group’s leader for the next two years. Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is seeking a fourth term, faces challenges from Republican lawyer and RNC member Harmeet Dhillon and MyPillow executive Mike Lindell.
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