POLITICS

The Leading Climate Change Hawk For 2020 Is Getting A Super PAC

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who is likely to launch a presidential bid, declined to comment on the group.

WASHINGTON — Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to announce a presidential run in the coming days, appears set to become the first 2020 Democratic presidential contender to accept the help of a candidate-specific super PAC.

Inslee, who plans to focus his bid on his decadeslong passion for combating climate change, will be the first governor to enter the contest to challenge President Donald Trump. He’s announced a series of staff hires in recent days and alluded to an imminent announcement in a Thursday afternoon Twitter missive.

Part of the run-up to Inslee’s announcement was the formation of a super PAC, Act Now On Climate, to support his bid if he runs. The group is helmed by former Democratic Governor’s Association political director Corey Platt. Inslee was chair of the DGA in 2018 and has hired other former association staffers for his campaign.

“He’ll be the person to say ‘[Climate change] is the number one priority,’” Platt told HuffPost. “We’re here to amplify and support his candidacy.”

Super PACs, which can collect unlimited donations and spend them on behalf of a candidate, provided they don’t directly coordinate the spending with the candidate’s campaign, are controversial in Democratic politics, with the party’s primary electorate increasingly skeptical of the influence of big money on policy-making.

The unpopularity of super PACs creates a conundrum for donors and operatives: Is the money the groups raise to fund ads and field programs worth fielding off criticism from progressive groups?

Nearly every 2016 Republican presidential contender had a super PAC. So far, only two have emerged in the 2020 Democratic field: Act Now On Climate and Dream United, which was formed earlier this month to back Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).  

Booker’s campaign has said he doesn’t want super PAC support, but wouldn’t directly call for Steve Phillips, the wealthy Democratic operative and former Booker classmate who founded the group, to shut it down. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other progressives have called on Democratic presidential campaigns to disavow their support, and most other presidential campaigns have said they don’t want any support from super PACs.

The unpopularity of super PACs creates a conundrum for donors and operatives: Is the money the groups raise to fund ads and field programs worth fielding off criticism from progressive groups?

In an interview at HuffPost’s offices in Washington, D.C., Inslee wouldn’t go as far as Booker’s mild denunciation. He said he opposed the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC, which enabled the creation of super PACs, but otherwise declined to comment.

“I don’t comment on what other organizations are doing,” Inslee said.

Warren’s call for the field to disavow super PACs benefits her and other candidates with a proven track record of raising large sums of money online directly for their campaigns. Those candidates tend to be senators with a national profile, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). And while those candidates can transfer money from their Senate campaigns to a presidential bid, governors such as Inslee aren’t always able to. (Warren and Sanders, for instance, each had over $10 million to transfer to a presidential bid.)

And every candidate in the field has said they would accept backing from super PACs during the general election, when the candidate will need to raise hundreds of millions or more to combat a well-funded Trump operation. 

Platt said Act Now On Climate wouldn’t accept any money from corporate PACs, which bundle together donations from a corporations’ employees and funnel them to candidates, and he didn’t anticipate accepting any fossil fuel money. 

“There’s a lot of people out there in the climate space who want to have a place to help Jay Inslee, and we’re happy to provide that,” Platt said.

This story has been updated to clarify the distinction between Inslee’s and Booker’s stances on super PACs.

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