California-focused super PAC looks to expand and ‘flip the west’ from red to blue

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Former Reps. Mimi Walters and Steve Knight were two of seven House Republicans targeted by Flip the 14 who lost their seats to Democrats in California in 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

During the 2018 Democratic “blue wave,” a major part of the party’s successful bid to take back control of the House came in California where Democrats flipped the seven Republican-held seats. Aiding that effort was the Democratic super PAC, Flip the 14, which focused its efforts on unseating all 14 Republican members of California’s House delegation.

In a recent FEC filing, the super PAC has renamed itself Flip the West, a name which suggests a more national turn. In a post-2018 election recap, the organization has a page which lays out basic strategies for 2020 which include “presidential focus and turnout” and “looking beyond California.” Specifically, Doug Linney, founder of the organization and its 2018 campaign director, told the Center for Responsive Politics the super PAC will particularly focus on the 2020 Senate races in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Montana, along with supporting the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.

Flip the West will be staying out of the primaries, something it also did in 2018 because Linney said the super PAC believes in allowing the voters to pick a nominee and whoever that is is who the super PAC will support.

“We basically plan to follow the same game plan we used in the 2018 cycle — no endorsements in the primary, but plenty of work to be done to lay the foundation for a successful campaign on the behalf of Democratic Party nominees,” Linney said.

Linney is the founder of The Next Generation, described as a California-based “award-winning political consulting and issue advocacy firm,” with a focus on the environment. Linney was political director of the California League of Conservation Voters from 1988 to 1994 and served on boards for a number of environmental groups.    

Linney said that switching gears to a larger focus shouldn’t affect the super PAC’s fundraising strategy.

“We’re still in the business of flipping red seats to blue,” he said.

During the 2018 cycle, the organization had a robust presence raising $676,009. It spent more than $653,000 in the cycle. Independent expenditures from Flip the 14 totaled $69,549. Former Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) was the main target of the group’s independent expenditures — it dropped $4,216 successfully opposing his reelection.

Flip the 14 boasted an extensive on-the-ground presence in the midterms. In its election recap, the group noted it built a field organization which knocked on 225,000 doors, organized thousands of volunteers and made 1.5 million contacts with voters. The group also said it reached 1.1 million Latinos, including 250,000 from robocalls which featured noteworthy labor activist Dolores Huerta and Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez.  

That grassroots, field-oriented approach by the super PAC will continue in 2020, Linney said. They want to take “the blue power of California and bring it to other areas,” through texting and mailing campaigns which can be done remotely by volunteers.

Bruce Alexander Gaguine, former president of The Appleton Foundation, was the largest donor to the super PAC with $72,000, according to data from The Center for Responsive Politics. The second largest donor was Ellyn Marcus Lindsay, a former assistant U.S. attorney, who led an effort criticizing the Trump administration’s original Muslim ban, who contributed $25,000.  

Another notable, and quite famous, contributor was Yvon Chouinard, climber, environmentalist, billionaire and founder of the outdoor supplier Patagonia. Chouinard gave $20,000 to the super PAC in 2018.

Two companies also contributed a significant amount. Tao Finance LLC and Stifel Financial Corporation each contributed $25,000 to the super PAC. Tao Finance is connected to Nicholas Pritzker, billionaire real estate entrepreneur and major environmentalist. Pritzker was the founder of Tao Capital and listed the same address as Tao Finance LLC.  

The super PAC partnered with a variety of advocacy organizations including the California chapter of megadonor Tom Steyer’s NextGen America group, Indivisible, digital outreach group Open Progress and more California groups.

Most of the super PACs money, $177,063, went to salaries, wages and benefits. Spafford & Lincoln, a consulting firm, received $98,970 from the super PAC. In second was Linney’s The Next Generation which got $97,994.    

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