House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol, Nov. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Democrats’ New Anti-Progressive PAC Is Funded by Corporate Lobbyists and PACs

in Sludge
on February 1, 2022

A PAC formed last year by House Democrats to combat progressive primary challengers has so far relied almost exclusively on corporate PACs and lobbyists for its funding, according to a review of the group’s latest FEC disclosure report. 

Team Blue PAC was formed in June by three House members: Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus; Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, co-chair of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus; and Terri Sewell of Alabama, former vice chair of the moderate New Democrat Coalition and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

Team Blue PAC’s founders told NBC News its mission is to protect incumbents facing primaries in safe Democratic districts, where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee traditionally doesn’t focus its resources, engaging more in battleground districts.

“Team Blue PAC will support Democratic Members of the House who are facing strident electoral challenges, distortions of their record and ad hominem attacks,” the group’s website states. “Extremists and other outside forces will stop at nothing to divide our Caucus amid the uncertainty represented by a potentially tough redistricting process.”

So far, the group has spent money backing two Democratic incumbents: Illinois Rep. Danny Davis, who is being challenged by Justice Democrats-backed candidate Kina Collins, and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, who is facing a primary from progressive candidate Amy Vilela. 

The PAC’s year-end report, released yesterday, shows that over half of the $152,000 it raised in the second half of 2021 came from PACs, largely in donations of the legal maximum of $5,000 from electric companies like NextEra Energy, Comcast, UBS Americas, UPS, New York Life Insurance Company, and others. The PACs of several trade associations also donated $5,000, including those representing the consumer credit industry, insurance agents and brokers, equipment manufacturers, and realtors. 

Many of Team Blue PAC’s individual donors work at D.C. lobbying firms, including:

  • Sarah Shive, partner at Capitol Tax Partners, whose lobbying clients include AbbVie, Marathon Petroleum, Meta, and Qualcomm.
  • Mike Goodman, principal at Cornerstone Government Affairs, a bipartisan firm whose clients include Centene and Johnson & Johnson, 
  • Stacey Rolland, senior vice president at Forbes Tate Partners, who lobbies for clients including financial company Options Clearing Corporation and Target.
  • Prominent Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, whose many lobbying clients as co-founder of the firm Subject Matter include Amazon, BP, General Dynamics, private equity firm Blackstone Group, UnitedHealth, Verizon, and Visa.
  • Lobbyist Christina Antelo, who listed her employer as the Podesta Group but according to her LinkedIn profile left to be CEO of Ferox Strategies several years ago. Antelo’s numerous lobbying clients include Disney, Eli Lilly, telecom industry group NCTA, Viatris, and Walmart. 
  • Jeff Ziarko, founder of Economic Policy Strategies, past lobbyist for trade group the International Franchise Association, which in recent years has participated in events of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Jeff Horing, co-founder of venture capital firm Insight Partners, donated $5,000, after last cycle donating to several Democratic groups, including $400,000 to super PAC Forward Majority Action. Robert Goodman and Robert Stavis, partners with Bessemer Venture Partners, each gave $5,000. Billionaire Jonathan Gray, COO of private equity firm Blackstone, contributed $2,500. Steven C. Koppel, a partner at law firm Sidley Austin whose practice focuses on real estate private equity, gave $1,000. 

Out of about 45 donations from individuals that Team Blue PAC received, only a handful came from people who are not currently employed by a company or group that hires lobbyists to advocate for its business interests on the Hill. 

Team Blue received donations from several health industry groups, including $5,000 from the PAC of UnitedHealth, one of the largest health insurance companies by revenue in the country, and the same amount from the trade group of the Community Oncology Alliance and from dialysis company Fresenius. The PAC of the American Health Care Association, which represents long-term and post-acute care providers, and the National Emergency Medicine PAC, which was formed by the American College of Emergency Physicians, contributed $4,000 combined.

According to the NBC News report around its launch, Team Blue PAC initially planned to spend in defense of the primary contests of Rep. Danny Davis of Illinois and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. Each is facing a primary challenge from a candidate endorsed by the progressive group Justice Democrats: gun violence activist Kina Collins, on the West Side of Chicago, and nonprofit leader Rana Abdelhamid, in New York City. Team Blue PAC’s Q4 report shows that it donated the maximum of $5,000 to Davis’ campaign in December

Collins’ website showcases her support for a single-payer Medicare for All system, citing the health disparities in Illinois’ Seventh Congressional District. In media coverage of her campaign launch, Collins called for more forceful leadership and closer ties to the community, pointing out that she is rejecting corporate PAC donations.

Davis, who sits on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, is one of over 100 Democratic co-sponsors of the Medicare for All bill introduced by progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in 2021. Health professionals, a group of donors that includes doctors and related professional associations, have been the second-highest industry donors to Davis over his career, according to OpenSecrets, giving over $286,000 since he was elected to the House in 1996.

Team Blue PAC also reported donating $5,000 to fifth-term Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada, who is facing a challenge from progressive activist Amy Vilela. A former accountant, Vilela ran in the 2018 Democratic primary for Nevada’s First Congressional District, finishing in third place, and was supported in that race by progressive PAC Justice Democrats, though she is not currently endorsed by the group. Vilela’s campaign, which centers around support for a single-payer health care system, was endorsed early last summer by Rep. Cori Bush, a Justice Democrats-affiliated freshman House member who in 2020 beat out incumbent Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay in a district that encompasses St. Louis, Missouri.

Titus, who was first elected to the House in 2008 and was returned in the 2012 election, has co-sponsored the House’s Medicare for All bill, and was previously the only member of the Nevada delegation to support the measure. The health professionals industry has donated over $347,000 to Titus over her career.

Team Blue’s website does not feature a list of the candidates it has endorsed, and Rep. Jeffries’ D.C. office did not answer questions about how it views the perception that its donors are seeking special favors, or which other incumbents it will support. 

One fellow incumbent chipped in to Team Blue PAC: multimillionaire second-term Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), co-founder of retailer Total Wine & More, donated $1,000. The Charter Schools Action PAC, which says it raises money for key supporters of charter schools, also donated $1,000.

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