Crowdpac Shows A New Way To Fund Political Challengers

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by Tony West
Dan Kessler is in the lead to replace Congressman Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional Dist. seat. That is, if you believe Crowdpac.

Kessler, an investment counselor for Brandywine Realty Trust, is joined at the moment by 21 other candidates, to whom funds are being pledged – without their consent.

Will Dan Kessler be the next congressman? Early Crowdpac support is in his favor.

Will Dan Kessler be the next congressman? Early Crowdpac support is in his favor.

This is part of a plan by an audacious online political upstart created last year by two Stanford University professors to bring crowd-sourcing methods to local political races across the nation. “Crowdpac’s mission is to help everyone participate more easily and effectively in the political process,” its website proclaims. “Crowdpac is independent, nonpartisan and for-profit. This is the new politics.”

Philadelphia congressional and General Assembly races are a comprehensive test of a scheme to promote challengers in legislative seats generally held to be safe for their incumbents. Crowdpac Political Dir. Liz Jaff has orchestrated this test.

Jaff cut her teeth working for the 2008 Obama campaign in Iowa, running regional field in 2007-08 in multiple states and get-out-the-vote efforts in Ohio for 2012. She has managed local races as well.

Crowdpac’s method, explained Jaff, is to create a new way to boost and raise funds for candidates that lies outside traditional channels of campaigning. Instead of a candidate’s announcing an interest in a particular race, donors can express their interest in a candidate by pledging funds if that candidate should enter the race. It’s a little like a “draft movement.”

This gives potential candidates a chance to assess their potential support without risking the wrath of party establishments. “They have deniability,” Jaff pointed out.

The ultimate goal is to allow donors to post candidates on their own, without any selection or approval by Crowdpac staff – a kind of write-in process, only with money.

To get this experiment started in the Philadelphia area, however, Crowdpac started by aggressively listing dozens of candidates for one office – the 2nd Congressional seat – relying largely on Jaff’s extensive knowledge of local politicians and activists.

After the first two weeks, though, only candidates that received nominations by other people for this district were retained as accounts. All candidates in every other race were nominated by crowd members; none were posted by Crowdpac. taking political funding online. taking political funding online.

The 2nd Congressional Dist. choices have drawn the most attention because of speculation about Fattah’s future. The Congressman’s son as well as a former chief of staff have been charged in federal investigations, leading many to wonder if the incumbent himself may be forced out of office by similar problems someday.

The options Crowdpac is offering in this race trend toward the younger set. Many of them are Millennials, whose peers are familiar with bottom-up crowd-sourcing and online organizing. But there is someone on its buffet for everyone. Fattah himself was given an online pledge account.

Crowdpac launched its Philadelphia project on Jun. 1. On Jun. 30 it gave all its potential candidates access to their personal accounts so they could see for themselves how many people had pledged them how much.

A week earlier, Crowdpac released rough preliminary comparative results. Kessler was ahead in clicks, followed by State Rep. Brian Sims (D-S. Phila.); businessman Doug Oliver, who ran in the Democratic mayoral primary this spring; attorney and Democratic 9th Ward Leader Dan Muroff; educator Isaiah Thomas, who ran for City Council at Large in the Democratic primary; and Nina Ahmad, a financial and real-estate expert who sits on numerous public boards.

Kessler has political weight. A Vice President of the National Young Democrats, he worked on the committee that won the 2016 Democratic Convention for Philadelphia and is currently fundraising among Millennials for Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination. He was a senior advisor on Thomas’s councilmanic campaign.

“It’s very flattering. At this time there’s nothing more I can say,” Kessler said on being told of his own standing. “There is currently an incumbent in that office.”
Sims was also discreet about the support he had drawn. Mason Lane, a spokesman for the State Representative, said Sims was “focused on getting a fair budget passed that will help Philadelphians. I don’t think he’s interested in that race right now.”

Moneywise, however, Muroff held the lead in pledge amounts. He could not be reached for comment.

Thomas was noncommittally positive. “I appreciate the overwhelming support people have shown me, and their confidence in me to lead. I think that’s awesome,” he said.

The 2nd Dist. votes overwhelmingly Democratic. But Crowdpac also set up accounts for two independents, Sam Katz and Bill Green.

Other races were gifted by Crowdpac with accounts for potential challengers. In the1st Congressional Dist., Congressman Bob Brady’s seat looks secure. Nonetheless, Crowdpac offered up for that job progressive activist Sherrie Cohen, who also contested in the councilmanic at-large race in the May primary. Cohen remarked diplomatically she was “honored” by the mention.

“We welcome new initiatives, though they’ll need to learn more about what Philly voters think,” commented Brady, who chairs Democratic City Committee.

No cloud hangs over State Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-N. Phila.) in the 3rd Senatorial Dist. either. But Omar Woodard, a policy director for State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-W. Phila.) and former staffer of Congressman Fattah, with expertise in international and nonprofit business, has received a nomination on Crowdpac for that district.

“I am honored that so many people have complimented my abilities,” Woodard responded. “They know my background of service and my commitment. I do want to serve and I will be having conversations with many people about my future.”

In two special elections scheduled for this August, Crowdpac created an account for an independent candidate, civic activist Tracey Gordon in the 191st Legislative Dist. in W. Philadelphia, who recently ran for City Commissioner, and also for a Republican candidate, educator Tim Dailey, who is facing Ed Neilson in the contest for the 174th Dist. in the Northeast. In the 195th Dist. recently vacated by State Rep. Michelle Brownlee, an account was opened for Jeff Young.

These accounts are by their nature open-ended, though, and not limited to any particular election cycle. In W. Philadelphia’s 192nd Dist., Crowdpac set up an account for Katherine Gilmore-Richardson, scion of a prominent Wynnefield family. There, incumbent State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop is facing serious legal problems. Even if she remains in office, a contested primary in May 2016 is likely.

Less likely is that Crowdpac funding will prove decisive in Philadelphia elections in the near future. But if this venture survives and creates a niche for itself, it may have a major impact on the shaping of political fortunes in years to come.

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One Response to Crowdpac Shows A New Way To Fund Political Challengers

  1. Maybe soon Crowdpac can help take some of the odor out of politics.

    July 6, 2015 at 8:25 pm

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