The group spent more than $2 million in the last cycle and has already raised more than $435,000 for Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren (D), who is challenging Sen. Scott Brown (R) for his Massachusetts seat. PCCC has also raised more than $86,000 for State Sen. Eric Griego, who is running for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st district, according to the group’s latest internal tally.
Other groups have raised a lot more — MoveOn.org spent $29 million last cycle — but Green said inexperienced campaigners often waste that money on expensive pollsters and media consultants.
PCCC tries to defray those costs. It produced an ad for former Arkansas Lt Gov. Bill Halter, who tried to oust former Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the 2010 Democratic primary, splitting the cost with four other organizations so they would not exceed the $5,000 in-kind contribution limit. This year, the group helped hire two of the four staffers for the Griego campaign.
“They talk with us all the time to bounce around ideas and to discuss staffing issues,” said Ed Yoon, Griego’s campaign manager. “How should we message this particular issue — for example, the super committee.”
“Some of their employees came down and became essentially part of my team,” Halter said. “The challenge of that is making sure that everyone is on the same page.”
Green said the group is also developing its own polling software that it will offer to candidates as an alternative to professional pollsters, who can charge as much as $25,000 for a survey.
During the health care fight, the group solicited its members to create a full-page advertisement that would run in the New York Times. A 24-year-old graphic designer who responded to the plea designed an ad for the group costing just $2,500; it was published and recognized as the best newspaper public affairs ad of the year by the American Association of Political Consultants.
The synergy between PCCC’s electoral and legislative missions should, at least theoretically, lay the groundwork for the kind of relationship that conservative groups such as FreedomWorks have established with conservative members of the Republican Party.
But liberal activists said PCCC is bumping up against a cultural obstacle.
“The rank-and-file mass grass-roots Republican Party has learned and is aware of the idea that party does not trump principle,” said David Sirota, a Denver-based operative who created the Center for American Progress’ “Progress Report.” “Among rank-and-file Democratic activists, there is this notion that if we pressure Democrats, we will hurt them and they will lose the election.”
PCCC hired its first full-time lobbyist in April 2010, but she left a year later because she said she couldn’t get traction after Democrats lost the majority in the House. PCCC reported spending $60,000 on lobbying during that period.
“In 2011, it became impossible to make serious impacts on policy issues,” said Shaunna Thomas, the group’s former lobbyist. “For the most part, our allies were still in office, but it seemed to me that they were getting very clear directives that this was about party solidarity. ... They were done challenging leadership. They were done indulging their bosses in these policy fantasies that weren’t going to be politically viable.”