A new super PAC dedicated to electing Black Democratic candidates to local offices has formed, with its founder pledging to fill a void arising from the state party's lack of vigor in supporting new office seekers.
“It is hard for candidates of color to raise money, and in a world where there are $1,000 campaign donation limits, it makes it even harder to have a well-funded campaign for candidates of color, especially first-time candidates of color,” said founder Reynolds Graves, a 34-year-old political consultant.
Graves, who worked on Harvard professor Danielle Allen’s recent gubernatorial campaign and state Rep. Jon Santiago’s 2021 run for Boston mayor, says limits on campaign contributions favor political veterans over relative newcomers.
In its declaration of purpose filed earlier this month, the 1866 Action Fund Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee indicated it would deliver paid media and voter engagement initiatives to local candidates with small teams and small bank accounts.
Graves declined to disclose the super PAC’s fundraising goals, financial commitments or leading members, saying only that the organization would be steered and supported by “a team of mostly Black” leaders, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and others to be revealed later.
Despite record fundraising numbers for Black candidates in high-profile races across the nation, Graves said down-ballot candidates typically lack large, wealthy networks and quickly max out individual contributions from small groups of family and friends.
Beyond the fundraising hardship, he said, the Massachusetts Democratic Party is not supporting first-time candidates of color as much as it could, a sentiment echoed by others close to the inner workings of local campaigns.
“They are very focused on the political establishment and the status quo,” Graves said. “They are not focused on growing the voter body politic through diverse communities that are underserved or to communities that don't typically participate in the democratic or election or electoral process.”
Outgoing state chair Gus Bickford defended the party’s level of involvement with local candidates and noted Mass. Democrats abstain from primary races where more than one member is running.
“I take a huge issue with that,” Bickford said of the “status quo” characterization. “There are more elected officials of color, both in the Legislature and statewide” under his leadership, he said, pointing to the party’s campaign training institute and the 19 county and statewide seats that flipped to Democrats since he became chair.
“We cannot be involved in Democratic primaries, or if it’s a municipal race, we don’t get involved when its Democrats against Democrats,” he added. “We don’t have the ability to be out there financially for every race. The majority of where we can help, is help people write their campaign plans [and] budgets.
“If you have an interest and you want your interests to be more represented, it would be a good idea to have a PAC do that. I fully think that’s a great idea,” Bickford said of the newly established super PAC.
He acknowledged that the party has not performed any audits to concretely assess where it spends most of its money. Decisions about which political races receive party support, he added, are ultimately made based on competitiveness.
Black candidates in recent races expressed varying degrees of disagreement.
“I appreciated the opportunities the state party created to help raise my profile on the campaign trail like speaking at the state Democratic convention, but I also think there’s a lot of room for improvement, by building out a most robust infrastructure that supports local candidates in races that are not statewide but have a lot of significance,” said Rahsaan Hall, who lost his bid to unseat long-time Republican District Attorney Tim Cruz in Plymouth County last year.
Hall described his race as an opportunity Democrats missed to strengthen their presence in a purple county and advance a Black candidate to diversify the party bench.
“I realize with limited financial and human resources, it’s difficult to do everything for everybody,” Hall told GBH News. “But that’s when long-term investment strategies really begin to matter and require intentional efforts to build a stronger and more diverse pipeline for the future.”
Others recommended bringing in external eyes to document specific ways to tailor assistance to diverse, local candidates.
“The party could benefit from extensive [diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging] consulting and staff to help understand gaps in equity and specific needs for change,” said former state Rep. Nika Elugardo, who left her seat in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to move to the state Senate.
Elugardo suggested “data collection and analysis” for Mass. Dems to better understand “how people of color, various genders and asset- and income-poor constituents experience running for office, including ward committees.”
Graves said the new 1866 Action Fund will operate statewide and vet candidates with a forthcoming questionnaire to assess their stances on issues like public safety, health care, education and transportation.
The super PAC is named in recognition of the year Massachusetts elected its first two Black legislators: Edward Garrison Walker and Charles Lewis Mitchell.