what we do
Ascend PAC is a 527 political action committee that identifies and provides meaningful financial support to emerging Democratic candidates running for local office. We view ourselves as an angel investment fund for Democratic politics, bringing together investors who believe in building the pipeline of future talent, and providing these investors with unparalleled insights on talented candidates to support.
The following 6 operating principles define our approach and have enabled us to carve out a unique niche in the progressive movement:
1. The Long View
We take the long view—both in how we think about our candidates, and in how we think about ourselves. For us, this work is less about 2018 and 2020 and more about 2030 and 2040.
2. Talent driven
We are laser-focused on identifying and supporting talent. We spend countless hours speaking with organizational leaders, community leaders, and others to identify individuals we believe have both the interest and capacity to go far in politics.
3. Direct Investment
We believe that directly invested funds are higher-leveraged dollars than independent expenditures, as they can be coordinated with the campaign’s broader efforts. We set up PACs in every state we’re engaged in and donate directly to campaigns.
4. Meaningful Support
We deliver significant, high-impact contributions. By providing at least 1% and generally upwards of 5-15% of a candidate’s budget -- which is often as little as $2,500-5,000 in the races we’re involved in -- we aim to have a real impact in helping our candidates win.
5. Building Community
Supporting Democrats running at the local level is not easy, and it’s not sexy; but it’s important. Our belief is that to ensure there’s continued investment in these races, we need to build a community of investors who believe in this vision and are willing to invest, cycle after cycle.
6. Relentless Focus
We believe to be successful, we must start with a focused mission and execute that mission effectively, growing from there. Everything we do is infused with this focus and discipline.
In line with our mission and principles, we focus on the following five criteria in identifying and selecting candidates to endorse:
1) Local: that a candidate is running for a local office (school board, city council, small town mayor, state legislature, or other municipal or county office).
2) Democrat: we do not have a policy-based litmus test, but it is important that candidates know why they are Democrats and take an open-minded, thoughtful approach to policymaking.
3) Emerging: we look at whether candidates have the interest (e.g., prior demonstrated commitment, current expressed interest) and capacity (e.g., track record of achievement, strong presence, fundraising ability) to succeed.
Criteria across our pool of endorsees:
4) Impact: we look at whether we can have sufficient impact in every race (providing at least ~1% of a candidate’s estimated budget), and across the pool of endorsees, whether we can can have a potentially determinative impact (providing ~5-15% of their estimated budget) in a majority or more.
5) Viability: we examine the individual’s viability in their race (e.g., do they have an existing base of support in the community, is the district one in which it’s possible for a Democrat to win) as well as their viability compared to others we’re considering endorsing. While we invest in the candidate more than the race, we also want to achieve a balance of risk across our portfolio of candidates.
We have several criteria that have driven the selection of our states. We focus on states:
1) A sufficient candidate pool. We invest in states in which there is a critical mass of elections and hence a critical mass of candidates to choose from (in 2017, for example, many states did not have a significant number of elections).
2) A chance to pick up seats. We focus on states that are battlegrounds or emerging battlegrounds, so we are more likely to engage in races where we are supporting a Democrat against a Republican vs. against a fellow Democrat.
3) A focus on spending on candidates vs. compliance. We take seriously our responsibility to spend our investors' money wisely, and hence early on, we're focusing on states where the campaign finance laws are relatively less burdensome, such that we can spend more money supporting candidates and less money on legal and compliance costs.
These criteria have driven the selection of Texas, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and will continue to drive our decision-making moving forward.
Our 2017 Work
Launched in late spring 2017, we spent the 6 months leading up to November's elections building our infrastructure and establishing our model. Specifically:
- Building the infrastructure: We formally incorporated, launched our web site, and began establishing our approach to identification and selection of candidates. We recruited over nearly 70 core investors (Founding Members, Co-Chairs, and Chairs) who each committed to raise or donate between $2,500 and $10,000 over the next year, and raised nearly $75,000 to fund start-up and operating costs and support our first set of candidates.
- Establishing operations in Texas and Virginia: Per the above three criteria, we selected Texas and Virginia as our initial 2 states. We launched Advisory Boards in each state and selected, endorsed, and funded 12 candidates (8 of whom won).
Our 2018 Plan
After a successful 2017, we are working towards 2 goals in 2018: expanding our work today, and continuing to build out the foundation for tomorrow. Specifically, that means:
- Expanding our work in 2018: We are excited to expand our work in 2018, growing a 3rd state (Pennsylvania) and supporting ~20 candidates (up from 12 in 2017)
- Building the foundation for tomorrow: In addition, we're taking steps to support Ascend's longer-term growth. We are on track to double our raise from 2017, raising at least $150,000 to both support our work in 2018 and put ourselves in a position to hire our first full-time staff member in Q4 2018 or Q1 2019, selecting from the many individuals coming off campaigns in the fall of 2018. In addition, we are launching the Ascend Network, an association of like-minded organizations we work with to identify talent and provide information about relevant resources to our endorsees.