Equinox, a linen tablecloth restaurant frequented by Washington power brokers, is an unlikely spot to hatch a progressive revolution.
But a group of liberal lawmakers and Congressional candidates gathered there late last month for a dinner hosted by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a young liberal political action committee, hoping to turn the energy of the Occupy Wall Street protests into electoral and legislative victories.
So far this year, the group — part political consulting firm, part lobby shop — has raised more than $1 million for its advocacy and campaign work, according to federal filings, and has raised nearly $600,000 for five Democrats running for Congress in 2012.
On the trail, they shape candidates’ messages, produce advertisements and staff campaigns, hoping that when the candidates get to Washington, they will support the PCCC agenda.
Two lobbyists work on behalf of PCCC’s nonprofit advocacy arm, P Street Project, and like others on K Street, make financial contributions to lawmakers who advance their cause. When Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) introduced a bill to make it easier for customers to switch banks, PCCC helped raise $10,000 for his campaign. When Democratic Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Chellie Pingree (Maine) wrote a letter in support of the public option during the health care debate, PCCC rewarded each with a $30,000 check.
“When candidates are in election mode, we try to teach them how to work with progressives,” said Adam Green, who co-founded the group in December 2008. “Then when they’re in governing mode, we say, ‘Hey, there’s an entire movement waiting to get your back,’ and it’s not a foreign concept to them. ... The effectiveness of our efforts goes up exponentially if we have one or two partners inside Congress.”
As tech-savvy and nimble as the young group is — most of its 16 staffers are in their mid-20s — its lobbyists have struggled to maintain momentum with Democrats out of power in the House. In addition, Democratic campaign officials and lawmakers who have worked with PCCC have criticized the group for flying off message and hogging the spotlight.
“A lot of puffery and promoting and grandstanding. ... They come with baggage,” said one Democratic consultant whose candidates have worked with PCCC. “We don’t want them on camera at all. We want their money ... [but] them going on camera and contradicting our message is very bad.”
The concerns also extend to PCCC’s lobbying activities on the Hill.
As tent cities of the Occupy protests sprang up in cities around the country and outrage flared over Bank of America’s decision to charge $5 a month for debit cards, PCCC lobbyists launched an aggressive campaign for Miller’s bank legislation. In 24 hours, the group got more than 52,000 signatures on a petition displayed on its website under the banner “Stand up to Bank of America and Support Brad Miller’s bill”
“It was a little uncomfortable for me that they made it so much about Bank of America,” Miller told Roll Call. “They saw it as a political organizing tool, an issue that people understand.”