Amy Kennedy wants a shadowy super PAC financed only by her husband to stay out of her campaign for the Democratic congressional nomination in New Jersey’s 2nd district.
Former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) contributed $500,000 to Blue Organizing Project, a mysterious and dormant group that has already spent $75,000 on digital ads opposing one of Amy Kennedy’s opponents, Brigid Callahan Harrison.
“I do not believe single candidate super PACs should insert themselves into this primary and so I am calling on this super PAC to refrain from spending in this race,” Amy Kennedy told the New Jersey Globe.
The former public school teacher also wants Harrison to refuse “machine-aligned PAC spending on her behalf.”
Harrison has the support of Democratic party organizations in six of the eight counties in the 2nd district.
“The people of South Jersey are waiting and watching,” Kennedy said.
Amy Kennedy’s campaign would not say if Patrick Kennedy would seek a refund of the unspent portion of his half-million dollars, referring that question to the candidate’s spouse.
Patrick Kennedy did not immediately respond to a 7:56 PM text message seeking an answer to that question.
Blue Organizing Project had been inactive since the 2018 mid-term elections and had $608 in the bank before Patrick Kennedy became the sole donor in February.
The super PAC does not appear to be affiliated with any cause or group but rather an affiliate of Field Strategies, a Washington-based political consulting firm. Records show that they share a physical office with another campaign firm, SB Digital, which was paid $75,000 to go negative on Harrison, records show.
In a filing with the Federal Election Commission, Blue Organizing Project uses an address in Washington, D.C. that records show is occupied by Catherine M. Pasqualoni, 30, the super PAC treasurer. A phone number listed on the FEC filing no longer works.
Pasqualoni, who works for Field Strategies, has not answered seven calls to her cell phone since last Thursday.
The super PAC is running ads on social media as South Jersey Rising. They also ran a Facebook ad in support of Amy Kennedy in the days leading up to the March 8 Atlantic County Democratic convention, but they failed to report their expenditure on their first quarter filing with the FEC.
It’s not immediately clear if Blue Organizing Project pitched Patrick Kennedy for a contribution, or vice-a-versa. It’s also not clear how SB Digital became involved.
“I don’t discuss my work with clients,” said Bret Wask, a partner at the political consulting firm.
The pollster for Blue Organizing Project, TargetSmart, is listed on FEC records as the pollster for Van Drew while he was still a Democratic congressman.
Will Cunningham, a candidate for the Democratic House nomination in the 2nd district, thinks that Patrick Kennedy’s contribution constitutes a violation of federal regulations prohibiting coordinated communication between a campaign and an independent expenditure-only political committee.
“Patrick Kennedy is clearly not independent and the spouses surely consulted about this arrangement,” said Cunningham. “Amy fails to admit that $75,000 were already spent illegally in our district to the benefit of her campaign.”
End Citizens United sticks with Kennedy
Despite enigmatic aspects of to a husband-and-wife being involved in separate campaign operations while living under the same roof, an advocacy group seeking to reverse a U.S. Supreme Court decision that led to the creation of super PACs is doubling down on their endorsement of Kennedy.
“Amy Kennedy is leading with her principles and calling on this super PAC to cease spending in the NJ-2 Democratic primary on her behalf,” said Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for End Citizens United.
Still, it took 23 hours for End Citizens United to comment on Patrick Kennedy’s $500,000 super PAC contribution. When they did respond, the group acknowledged that Kennedy had publicly renounced the super PAC funded by her husband.
“This commitment to rooting out corruption and fixing our broken system is why End Citizens United endorsed Amy Kennedy in this race,” Bozzi said.
Kennedy said she was proud to have the End Citizens United endorsement.
“I am deeply committed to getting corporate PAC money out of politics and putting power back in the hands of the people of South Jersey,” she said.
For Cunningham, a former chief investigator for the House Oversight and Reform Committee who had called on End Citizens United to rescind their endorsement, “the damage has already been done.”
“She got caught with her hands in the cookie jar, but now wants to cry afoul to make things right,” he said. “This is not the kind of leadership we need in South Jersey. It is a continuation of the wealthy in this country exploiting loopholes for their own benefit and only apologizing when they get caught. Shameful.”
When End Citizens United endorsed Kennedy in March, Cunningham alleged that the process was rigged for Kennedy from the start.
The vice president of the group, Scott Fay, served as a top aide to Patrick Kennedy’s father, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, and later as chief of staff to Rep. David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island). Cicilline replaced Patrick Kennedy when he chose not to seek re-election and is a donor to Amy Kennedy’s campaign.
Harrison’s campaign, which announced on Saturday that it would file an FEC complaint over their allegation of illegal coordination, finds Kennedy’s move disingenuous and agrees with Cunningham.
“The time for Amy to have disavowed this SuperPAC was the night before her husband funneled $500,000 to the Blue Organizing Project. Instead she stayed silent until she was caught, and Brigid filed a complaint into the Kennedy’s illegal activity,” said Paul Weborg, Harrison’s campaign manager. “Amy should know that after committing a crime, you can’t take it back.”
Another Democratic congressional candidate, retired FBI agent Robert Turkavage, said that Patrick Kennedy’s funding of a super PAC playing in is wife’s campaign “provides a perfect example of the sinister effects that money has in politics.
“It is unseemly and it is wrong,” Turkavage said.
Kennedy wants the other candidates in the race to pick an opponent for Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis)
“I also challenge my opponents to call on single candidate super PACs to stay out of this primary and not spend money on their behalf” she said.
Kennedy wants Harrison to sign No Corporate PAC pledge
On Sunday, Kennedy pressed Harrison to take the “No Corporate PAC” pledge.
“For over two months, we’ve asked Brigid Harrison to take the No Corporate PAC pledge because we know South Jersey deserves a leader who will make our community the priority, not special interests or big donors,” Kennedy said. “For too long, the people of South Jersey have been at the mercy of machine politics and they’re ready for change.”
Harrison has declined to take Kennedy’s bait, although her first quarter FEC report does not reflect any corporate PAC contributions.
The pledge has received mixed responses among New Jersey Democrats.
Reps. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) do not accept contributions from corporate political action committees, buts Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) do.
Another candidate not taking the pledge: Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts), who has accepted $153,590 in corporate PAC money for his U.S. Senate bid, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Both Amy and Patrick Kennedy have contributed the maximum legal contribution to Joe Kennedy, whose father, former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, is Patrick Kennedy’s first cousin.
Among progressive Democrats, a bigger rally cry has been around a pledge to reject campaign contributions from top employees and PACs connected to the fossil fuel industry.
In New Jersey, just six congressional candidates – five of them challenging Democratic incumbents in the July 7 primary – have signed the no fossil fuel money pledge.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has signed that pledge. So did 23 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, including New Jersey’s Cory Booker.
Editor’s note: the New Jersey Globe reached out to the Kennedy for Congress campaign on Thursday evening for comment. Since the response did not arrive until 5:59 PM on Friday, followed by a response from End Citizens United at 6:21 PM on Friday, the Globe did not want to short-change Amy Kennedy’s campaign by rushing a story late Friday night when many readers had unplugged from following New Jersey politics. This story, with additional reporting, was written late Sunday night and early Monday morning.