Super PACs: how a company that opposes them came to create one

CREDO Mobile, a cellphone company that describes itself as 'America’s only progressive phone company,' announced this week that it is mobilizing a super PAC to target tea party candidates.

By , Staff writer

Marshaling unlimited corporate contributions to support or topple candidates, a defining feature of the 2012 presidential campaign cycle, isn’t a tool just for groups on the right, it turns out.

CREDO Mobile, a San Francisco-based cellular phone company that describes itself as “America’s only progressive phone company,” announced this week that it is mobilizing its fledgling "super PAC (political-action committee)" for a $3 million campaign to “Take Down the Tea Party Ten” in November elections.

It’s a reach for a group that, on principle, opposed the US Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to unlimited corporate money in political campaigns and the advent of super PACs to distribute it.

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Since its founding in 1985, CREDO Mobile has mobilized its 2.5 million members on issues ranging from reproduction rights and opposition to war, to fighting the death penalty, climate change, and construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline – all funded by customers of the phone company. The CREDO website urges consumers to switch cellphone providers because AT&T “plays on the same team” as the billionaire Koch brothers, whom it describes as “the dark side of corporate America.”

So, how does a company that opposes super PACs come to create one? In short, you don’t refuse a weapon that can help in a battle over principles. There is, for instance, a super PAC dedicated to President Obama's reelection, Priorities USA Action, set up by former White House staffers.

“We don’t support super PACs, but we also saw that progressives can’t unilaterally disarm in this fight,” says CREDO SuperPAC president Becky Bond. “We’re a company. So, just like the Koch brothers, we want to start something.

“This allows us to directly advocate for defeat of these [tea party] candidates, instead of talking about defeat of issues," she adds. "This is something we could not have done before Citizens United.” 

The first six targets of the campaign include GOP freshmen Reps. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, Allen West of Florida, Joe Walsh of Illinois, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, and Chip Cravaack of Minnesota. Five-term Rep. Steve King (R) of Iowa, an early supporter of the tea party movement, is also included. They were chosen for a voting record that the CREDO super-PAC website characterizes as “anti-woman, anti-science, and downright racist” – and because the incumbents are running in districts where “grassroots activism can ensure their defeat.”

The aim is to use super-PAC seed money to establish grass-roots campaigns in 10 congressional districts with vulnerable, tea party-backed incumbents.  CREDO Mobile claims to have the second largest e-mail list of liberals outside of MoveOn.org. "Only Stephen Colbert’s satirical super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has more individual contributions,” says Ms. Bond.  

“A normal super PAC will take money from the [Republican-affiliated] Koch brothers and spend millions on broadcast TV ads,” she says. “We’re going to take that money and spend it on creating a structure to help people get involved locally.”

“They’re going to have TV ads. We’re going to have a local organization set up.”

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