2020 will be a crucial election year not just for the roughly 55 percent of this country that wants Trump out, but for the possibility of any kind of progressive or left victories in the future, mainly because of one key thing: Redistricting.
In the majority of states, whoever controls state legislatures and governorships in 2021 will oversee the process of redrawing congressional districts (and in many cases, also state legislative districts) after the 2020 census, and right now, Republicans still have a significant advantage. With that in mind, Politico reported today that the Democracy Alliance, a coalition of Democratic mega-donors who have directed more than $600 million to progressive groups since it began in 2005, will pour money into state-level efforts.
The details are somewhat vague: The spending plan Politico reviewed says it will “listen to voters’ concerns and amplify the policy records — and harm — that the Trump administration and conservatives have caused in Americans’ lives,” which is essentially just a description of politics. But the top priorities reportedly include “candidate and staff training and initiatives on voting rights,” and $12 million for mobilizing Native American voters.
Less encouraging are the references to “combating social media disinformation” and “the digital tactics and level of disruption that are being utilized both in this country by the far right and by foreign entities.” This is not just because the group has reportedly only committed $5 million towards digital spending, which is hardly anything; I also shudder to think of the Democracy Alliance funding some half-assed attempt at Correcting Misinformation Online in the mold of David Brock’s utterly pathetic ‘Barrier Breakers’ campaign, which was slated to spend $1 million deploying online Hillary Clinton enthusiasts to combat misinformation about her on social media. (There’s no evidence they ever even did that, but everyone online then believed that anyone espousing a pro-Clinton view was a paid Correct the Record troll. Good work, David!)
Luckily, Politico reported that national groups like Brock’s Media Matters or the Center for American Progress are “no longer a central focus” for the Alliance, which will instead focus on “organizations in the grassroots,” according to its president Gara LaMarche.
It seems the group is finally catching up to the reality that conservative investment at the state level has been far, far greater. The Koch brothers have spent heavily on state-level efforts for years, including battles over charter schools. Likewise, the American Legislative Exchange Council has pushed thousands of model bills in the states over the years that favor corporations and weaken regulations.
Then again, in 2014, Vox reported that LaMarche had proposed strikingly similar ideas, including work on “2020 redistricting, and protecting the courts,” “state institutions,” and “long-term work in the South and West.” It’s hard not to feel that progressive donors have known what the problem is for a long time, but have been unable—or unwilling—to allocate their funding correctly to actually address it.
Perhaps the most depressing item from that 2014 list is “reducing the influence of money in politics,” an obviously ironic task for an organization that exists to marshal funds from mega-wealthy donors. And though it’s not exactly fair to fault the Democracy Alliance for the situation we’re in—seemingly further from campaign finance reform than ever before—it’s funny to see them complain now about how big donors have sidelined the group:
“Equally as important as what the DA is going to do is, what is Mike Bloomberg going to do?” Steve Phillips, a Democracy Alliance member, said in an interview. “When you get single individuals spending $100 million, they kind of become the center of gravity.”
That is correct, Steve. That is correct. Perhaps participating in a system in which benevolent millionaire donors jockey with health insurance companies and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to see who can donate the most money to the Center for American Progress was not the best way to ensure that progressive goals like campaign finance reform could happen.
Ultimately, the only way to achieve justice and a politics that represents the needs of working-class and poor people means eradicating the system in which mega-wealthy donors exist at all. Achieving that goal will not be done with much of their help in the end. But if they’re going to spend their money anyway to battle the ultra-conservative dominance in state politics, and they can figure out how to do it right this time, I’m all for it. It’ll only make it easier for socialists to eventually seize all that excess wealth, which is clearly causing them so much stress and confusion.