How Democrats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Super PAC

A day with House Majority PAC shows why unlimited spending is the norm, on both sides of the aisle.
Reuters; Associated Press

House Majority PAC knows how to stretch a dollar.

When I spent time with staff members earlier this week, their thriftiness was on full display. But these Democrats weren't talking about the best way to save on advertising, a practice they perfected in 2012 by reserving their ad time earlier than their GOP opponents. No, on this rainy day in their Georgetown office, the staff of six was trying to decide whether to spend $800 to fix an Apple computer that one of them had accidentally doused with a bottle of water.

Pros for fixing it: The intern needs a computer, and it might be the cheapest option out there. Cons: What about that mysterious Mac mini sitting in the other office -- can't an intern use that one?

In a sense, this is a start-up organization. It has only been three years since super PACS came into existence with the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, and Democrats were slow to embrace these PACS. And yet House Majority PAC, the one quibbling over 800 bucks, raised $35.6 million to elect Democrats to the House ion 2012. In doing so, it helped bring the Republicans' outside spending advantage down from 3-to-1 in the 2010 cycle to 1.5-to-1 in the 2012 cycle. And the PAC is already at it again.

While most of the country is looking forward to a year off from elections, House Majority PAC already has 10 Republican incumbents in its crosshairs for 2014, and it is neck deep in the South Carolina special election that pits former Gov. Mark Sanford against political newcomer but well-connected Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

Just today the group came out with a new ad in which a Republican woman says she can't trust a man who "skipped town to be with his mistress on Father's Day."

Once something of an identity crisis for the Left, the Democratic super Pac has become a largely accepted reality. One that House Majority PAC Executive Director Alixandria Lapp says doesn't seem to bother her fellow Democrats the way it once did.

"I think there's no question now that we have a track record," Lapp said. "People now understand the value of what we do. One of the big messages I tell donors is that it's our job to inform voters about the problems with the Republicans. If you want our Democrat to be able to be positive and to defend themselves, someone else has to be going negative on the Mike Coffmans or Gary Millers."

And when she wants to convince skeptical donors of the efficacy of television ads, she'll point to a commercial from Tea Party superstar Allen West that aired last year against now Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy. Yes, she'll point to the enemy's playbook.

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Ben Terris is a staff reporter for National Journal.

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