The Problem With PACs and Non-Profits




In a discussion with a former Executive Director of Take Action MN, he explained some of the problems they run into as a liberal non-profit. Take Action will submit a funding request to a foundation or rich person outlining what the project is and what the budget is. Quite often the entity will respond by saying that the project can be done, for example, with 5 people instead of 10. Take Action will then try to make it work with fewer people. This led to unionization of the staff because the rate of work required from staff was oppressive. In one “liberal” non-profit after another we have seen union drives by staff for this very reason.

We also see funders determining policy for nonprofits. If they don’t like the direction the organization is taking they simply withhold funding or threaten to. Please read the Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex for numerous examples of this. Maybe they think the project the funds are being requested for are too confrontational. Maybe the project would threaten a rich friend’s interests or maybe the project is too grassroots. For example, we saw non-profits generally stand back from important fights like the Roof Depot or the Fight For 15. The point is that the decisions are not made by a democratic decision making body, like a dues based, membership organization such as DSA or a union. The decisions are made by rich people, who often have interests opposed to those of working class people.

In the Twin Cities area there are a vast array of liberal nonprofits that shape the political landscape and exert pressure on organizations like TCDSA. Organizations like Faith In Minnesota, Take Action, MN 350, Isaiah and Inquilinos Unidos play a huge role in making sure politics stay centered in the liberal left, while organizations like TCDSA are much more interested in building multi-racial working class power where workers have their hands directly on the steering wheel. It’s a big difference in approach.

Because these non-profits tend to dominate the political landscape in Minnesota, we often are in coalition with them around different issues. While we usually want these bigger forces involved with us on specific issues because they have resources that we don’t, we need to be vigilant in maintaining our political independence and fighting for a working class position in these coalitions.

The same thing is true in the electoral arena. One of the great strengths of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign was its ability to garner small donations from millions of people. This allowed Bernie to maintain his independence from the billionaire class and the many millionaires and other rich people who shape politics with their money.

In the last election we saw the emergence of the Political Action Committee (PAC) Minneapolis For The Many. This PAC had some real political success, helping to elect 3 city council members and nearly unseating the Council President, Andrea Jenkins, thus swinging the council slightly to the left. The PAC is largely funded by moderately wealthy people in the Twin Cities, with generally strong ties to the liberal left of the DFL and liberal nonprofits like Faith in Minnesota. These are the people who had final say on what the PAC would say and do. This PAC is also somewhat adjacent to TCDSA.

In TCDSA we need a thorough discussion on what impact PACs like Minneapolis For The Many might have on our electoral work and on our organization generally. Our approach needs to be centered on raising support from working class people and not from rich liberals, although this is a complex question with the great need for financial support for our electoral work. Over time this can have a corrosive effect on our direction and political independence.

By Kip H.

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