Top Democratic strategists are launching a new outside group that can raise and spend unlimited money to tout issues that helped candidates flip the House in 2018 and became early legislative priorities this year.
The group, a nonprofit called House Majority Forward, seeks to cut through media coverage of House Democrats focusing on White House investigations and a handful of outspoken freshmen. It formed quietly in March but will begin running its first TV and digital ads Thursday night — part of $10 million in issue advertising planned for 2019, according to interviews and documents obtained by POLITICO.
Story Continued Below
The nonprofit will operate as an affiliate of House Majority PAC, Democrats’ flagship super PAC focused on House races. But unlike the super PAC, it will not have to disclose its donors and some details about its spending.
The new group is charged with amplifying a House Democratic agenda, which has run into a Republican-controlled Senate and media coverage of other issues. House Majority Forward plans to raise $20 million this year, according to documents filed with state regulators in North Carolina, pouring half of that into advertising.
The inaugural ad, backed by a six-figure buy on national cable and online, features a woman pummeling a punching bag in a darkened gym, while a narrator ticks through bills to lower drug prices, expand gun control, give some undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and curtail secret money in politics — which largely flows through 501(c)(4) nonprofits similar to House Majority Forward.
“The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is proving they’re up to the challenge,” the narrator says. “But Mitch McConnell’s blocked every one of these important bills from getting a vote in the Senate.”
The setup of House Majority Forward mimics those of other Republican and Democratic groups, which have super PAC and nonprofit arms working in concert. American Action Network, the GOP nonprofit linked with Congressional Leadership Fund, the party’s House super PAC, spent tens of millions of dollars promoting Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare and pass a new tax law in 2017 and 2018. AAN raised $51.8 million from July 2017 through June 2018 and spent $50.9 million, according to the GOP nonprofit’s latest tax return.
House Majority PAC didn’t have a similar affiliate before the 2016 election, though other liberal groups stepped in to savage Republican incumbents with early ads about health care and taxes.
Going forward, House Majority PAC will share personnel with House Majority Forward, including executive director Abby Curran Horrell and president Robby Mook. The new nonprofit’s directors include Mook; Ali Lapp, who founded House Majority PAC in 2011; Jesse Ferguson, who ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm in 2014 and later served on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign under Mook; Phil Schiliro, a top aide in the Obama White House; Heather Stone, Mook’s chief of staff on the Clinton campaign; and Brian Wolff, a longtime ally and former aide to Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is now the executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, where he has been a lobbyist over the last decade.
“House Majority Forward is committed to educating the American people about significant progressive legislative accomplishments — and what’s holding them up,” Mook said in a statement.
One of the early bills House Democrats passed this year was a sweeping government reform measure that targeted, among other things, “dark money” in politics. But Democrats involved in the planning for House Majority Forward said they weren’t concerned about using a secret-money group to back lawmakers who ran on getting secret money out of politics in the 2018 midterm election.
“It’s worse to tie an arm behind your back in the fight” by forswearing nonprofit groups, said one Democratic strategist who was involved in early discussions about House Majority Forward. “It’s kind of silly that Democrats didn’t have this weapon already.”