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The Failed Anti-Rangel Super PAC: An Omen

In the run-up to Rep. Charles B. Rangel’s tough primary victory, one player in the race mostly flew under the radar: Campaign for Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Democratic challenger and former DNC political director Clyde Williams. It’s too bad, for this is exactly the kind of out-of-nowhere Super PAC activity that could determine a staggering number of political races this year. Here’s Bloomberg on the Super PAC:

“The PAC’s main benefactor is Reggie Van Lee, a Booz Allen Hamilton senior vice president who accounted for $50,000 of the $51,800 the PAC raised through June 6, according documents the PAC filed yesterday with the Federal Election Commission. …
“[A consultant to Campaign for Our Future] said the super-PAC has since exceeded $100,000 in donations and will continue raising money through the June 26 Democratic primary … Campaign for our Future paid more than $58,000 on mail pieces critical of Rangel, including one that says ‘SORRY, CHARLIE.’ ”

By the end of the race, Campaign for Our Future had expended more than $85,000 on newspaper ads, robocalls and materials supporting Williams or bashing Rangel.

It’s clear that any effect these efforts had on the race was negligible. A quick review of the Rangel camp’s expenditures turned up no signs that the campaign panicked, last-minute, and responded to all those “SORRY, CHARLIE” mailers with a quick cash infusion of their own. The spending failed to make Williams a viable challenger to Rangel. The biggest threat, in the newly redistricted, Hispanic-majority seat, had always been and continued to be State Senator Adriano Espaillat. (And Espaillat himself was backed by a Super PAC, the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability.)

But Van Lee’s PAC is at least worth a glance for the sheer timing and absurdity of its arrival. Campaign for Our Future, which began spending thousands just 20 days before the race, arrived on the scene later than almost any other Super PAC in a Congressional primary this cycle, save for maybe this Kentucky race. In New York’s 13th district, against 22-term-incumbent and fundraising behemoth Charlie Rangel and three other challengers to his seat, Van Lee’s surprise Super PAC looked under-funded and poorly-timed unto futile. But in another district, with another or no incumbent, with poor political literacy, or with a more conquerable media market, the wave of spending it unleashed over the course of just a few weeks might have looked downright formidable.

In short, Campaign for Our Future perfectly demonstrates what a brilliant stroke of luck the dawn of the Super PAC is for any candidate with a wealthy friend who can breeze in with a lot of money in the final days of a race. (Yes, had this Super PAC actually helped a candidate defeat Rangel, it would be hard to feel sorry for the ethically challenged incumbent. But that should not be a sole Booz Allen Hamilton executive’s choice to make.) Expect to see a lot more Van Lees this year, spending with a lot more success. Because while Campaign for Our Future couldn’t engineer a victory in NY-13, districts like NY-13 are in limited supply.