If you’ve ever donated money to a Democrat, the chances are you’ve ended up on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s list. (And if you’ve ever been pestered by robocalls for a Democrat you’ve never heard of, from a district you don’t live in, you’re definitely on their list.) Currently chaired by Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), the group describes itself as the “official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.” Which sounds pretty innocuous.
That’s what Laura Moser thought, too. The founder of Daily Action, a text-messaging service launched after Trump’s election that sends its 300,000 subscribers one concrete call to action every day, Moser, a fifth-generation Houstonian, recently moved back home from Washington to run for Congress. Although Texas’s seventh district has been in Republican hands since it sent George H.W. Bush to Washington in 1966, the wealthy Houston suburbanites who make up a large portion of its voters favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, making incumbent John Culberson look vulnerable. The Cook Political Report now calls the district a toss-up.
One of seven candidates in the Democratic primary to be held on Tuesday, March 6, Moser was at a campaign event last month when an aide pulled her over and said, “You have to see this.” This was an article in The Texas Tribune reporting that the DCCC had posted an attack on Moser on its website, calling her “a Washington insider” who’d said she’d rather have her “teeth pulled without anaesthesia” than live in Texas, and implying that she’d put her husband on the campaign payroll. Queried about what seemed like an unprecedented blast at a pioneer in the anti-Trump #Resistance, DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly doubled down, claiming “Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”
Moser’s comments were actually about moving back to her grandparents’ home in Paris, Texas, a small town hundreds of miles from Houston. Moser’s husband, Arun Chaudhary, served as official videographer in the Obama White House before becoming a partner in Revolution Messaging, a firm that has also done work for the Teamsters, MoveOn.org, Daily Action, California Senator Kamala Harris—and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
When I spoke to Moser by telephone she said there had been “a lot of relitigating of the 2016 campaign” and that the attack on her may have been connected to her own support for Sanders. “But I was very active supporting Hillary Clinton in the general election. I rang hundreds of doorbells for Hillary,” she said. A detailed e-mail to Kelly asking which issues the DCCC considers when taking sides in a Democratic primary—or whether the criteria have more to do with a candidate’s funding—was never answered.
The sequence of events suggests that the attack on Moser may also have been a personal power play by wealthy donors. The day the DCCC dumped on her, The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reported that, even though Moser was a pro-choice woman, Emily’s List had endorsed her opponent Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in the primary. Fletcher, a corporate lawyer whose firm recently won a $5.3 million lawsuit against the SEIU’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign, is opposed by the Texas AFL-CIO, who accused her of “undermining the rights and efforts of predominantly immigrant janitorial workers.” But Fletcher does have the strong backing of Sherry Merfish, a longtime supporter of Emily’s List who ,according to OpenSecrets.org, also bundled over $250,000 for Hillary Clinton.
Moser says that, financially at least, the attacks may have backfired. “We’ve raised over $100,000 since the attack, just on the basis of two e-mails.” But the personal toll on her and her family has been harder to shake off. “How do I explain this kind of thing to my children?” Still, if she does win the primary, “now no one can say I’m a patsy of the Democratic Party.”
Moser isn’t the only progressive Democrat to get blindsided in a primary. Lancaster, Pennsylvania, activist Jess King saw Emily’s List, former governor Ed Rendell, and the party establishment back her primary opponent Christina Hartman, even though King raised more money than Hartman in the final quarter of 2017. King, endorsed by the Working Families Party and Justice Democrats, got her county organization’s nod only after court-ordered redistricting made incumbent Lloyd Smucker’s district even more Republican, leading Hartman to switch to an adjoining district.
In New Hampshire, in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Representative Carol Shea-Porter, the DCCC started robocalling to poll support for Chris Pappas back in November—even though he had not yet formally announced his candidacy. In Virginia’s second district, the DCCC is backing former Republican Elaine Luria—who has admitted voting twice for GOP incumbent Scott Taylor. In Nebraska, the DCCC is backing Brad Ashford, another former Republican who served a single term in the house after switching parties. DCCC anointed favorites in each of these districts, even though other Democrats are still very much in the running.
According to Larry Cohen, board chairman of Our Revolution, those who see the DCCC as merely a protection racket for incumbents are missing part of the picture. “The way they raise money is a disgrace,” said Cohen. “How can Democrats shout about what a disaster Citizens United was—and then use every tool that ruling provided?”
Describing the DCCC as a revolving door that raises money to pay political consultants whose ultimate loyalty is to the corporate donors who pay their salaries, Cohen, who also serves as vice chair of the Democratic Party’s Unity Reform Commission, said that the long-term answer was to build a Democratic party that could hold candidates accountable. Next weekend, the party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to consider the commission’s proposals—a key indication of whether the Sanders supporters have made any headway in pulling the party to the left, or are merely being taken for a ride.
For now though, progressives should simply hang up on those DCCC robocalls. The best way to support progressive Democrats is to know the candidates you’re supporting. Groups like Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, and the Working Families Party offer a far more reliable guide to Democrats who aren’t beholden to corporate interests than the DCCC or its senatorial counterpart the DSCC. Voters concerned with a particular issue would do better to consult groups like 350.org or Planned Parenthood. Because right now the label “Democrat”—at least as interpreted by the DCCC—doesn’t seem to stand for anything at all.
Editor’s note: The article has been updated to more precisely reflect the nature of DCCC’s robocalls in New Hampshire.