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Pressley's PAC Will Boost Democrats — Including Those Challenging Incumbents02:57
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Ayanna Pressley at WBUR (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Ayanna Pressley at WBUR (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley is launching a new leadership political action committee to help boost Democratic candidates — including those challenging incumbents.

The committee, called the Power of Us PAC, will also fund civic engagement efforts and help cultivate a diverse pipeline for community activists and organizers to access federal-level campaigns, something Pressley said is necessary to knock down barriers many newcomers face.

The Boston Democrat told WBUR she learned those challenges firsthand while building her own campaign, which successfully defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Mike Capuano last year.

“During my congressional campaign I said that this was not about any one person,” Pressley said. “The only way that we would be able to effectuate change in a deep, meaningful, sustainable way is to build a movement.”

Pressley has criticized policies she says create barriers to political newcomers seeking to disrupt the status quo, including a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rule she said will have a disparate impact on women and people of color. She said her new PAC is not a response to that or any other policy; the former Boston city councilor called the PAC a continuation of work she began as a candidate at the local level.

Leadership PACs were once only the domain of lawmakers in leadership positions, or those who aspired to rise to such positions or to powerful committee chairs.

Now they’re a popular way to raise money separately from lawmakers’ own campaign accounts, and to highlight certain issues and causes. They also serve as a tool to gain clout within their caucuses. Most members of Congress now have them, including seven of the nine members of the U.S. House from Massachusetts.

“If you want to have influence in your caucus, it is no longer an option these days to be a good fundraiser,” said Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher with the Center for Responsive Politics.

Pressley pointed to the successes of some of those committees — including Rep. Seth Moulton’s Serve America PAC, which focuses on electing more military veterans to Congress — in filling voids in the political landscape. But she stressed that her leadership PAC won’t just focus on supporting candidates.

She said it will, for example, support efforts of organizations to ensure the 2020 U.S. Census count is accurate, which would impact federal funding and the shape of congressional districts. She said the committee also will fund boot camps for would-be federal-level campaign and legislative staffers and advisers to increase the diversity of voices who help formulate campaign messages and policy positions.

“So I’m focused not just on who puts their name on the ballot, but again the people behind the people and diversifying that bench,” Pressley said. “I think there are so many people that are already leading, that have the natural abilities or the professional transferable skill sets to assume these roles on campaigns on the federal level but they haven’t been invited.”

Leadership PACs have higher individual contribution limits — $5,000 per year — than candidate committees, which can only accept $2,800 per individual per two-year election cycle.

And while leadership PAC contributions account for only a small percentage of candidates’ overall coffers, some House members have turned their leadership PACs into fundraising juggernauts. The House Freedom Fund, launched by North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, who chairs the conservative House Freedom Caucus, contributed more than $6 million to Republican candidates and causes last cycle.

“For someone like Mark Meadows, it’s part of building your influence as a voice to be recognized outside of the leadership structure,” Mayersohn said.

Pressley joins other freshmen lawmakers in launching leadership PACs, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota). Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, also started one.

Leadership PACs also have fewer rules restricting how the funds can be spent. Funds could be used, for example, for expensive trips for donors and other expenses that would be prohibited under rules governing campaign committees. They can also receive funding from sources including corporate PACs.

Pressley said that, as with her congressional committee, her Power of Us PAC will not accept corporate donations, and she said its funding sources and spending would be transparent.

This segment aired on June 3, 2019.

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Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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