When current New York MP Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez scored an impressive win over longtime MP Joe Crowley in her 2018 Democratic primary, both progressive and digital advisors celebrated. Their historic campaign combined youth work with innovative digital marketing strategy, and a home industry of progressive high-tech advisory groups emerged.
The Democratic Congress campaign committee – the House Democrats' fundraising arm – reacted differently, however. Under a controversial policy known as the "DCCC Blacklist" in 2019, advisors and companies working with primary challengers were prohibited from entering into contracts with the DCCC to protect incumbents and re-elect existing members of the Democratic House to support.
Now the newly elected chairman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), has kept an election promise to reverse politics, as reported for the first time by Politico's Ally Mutnick.
"This policy change means that the only criteria for listing a vendor are our standards for fair business practices related to the use of organized labor, standards for critical diversity and inclusion, and other minimum qualifications," DCCC spokesman Chris Taylor told Vox in a statement.
For two years, groups like Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee that backed the successful challenges posed by Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and Middle Seat Consulting, a digital consultancy that successfully promotes social media and SMS in voting Progressives such as Reps Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush have been banned from working with the DCCC or recommended by it.
The Justice Democrats created a website with 30 blacklisted groups. Progressives opposed politics to discourage women and people of color from running for office or consulting on campaigns. And Ocasio-Cortez declined to pay DCCC fees in full and created their own PAC to aid their preferred candidates.
Progressive members of Congress and advisors praised Maloney's decision.
Sean McElwee, executive director of the previously blacklisted progressive electoral bureau Data for Progress, said the reversal would bolster House Democrats' campaigning efforts. (Vox is working with DFP to provide exclusive surveys on key policy under the administration of Joe Biden.)
"The blacklist treated progressive consultants as a group to be crushed, but some of the most innovative companies have been banned from key districts for this reason," he tweeted. "The party would be stronger if it worked with progressive companies."
In an interview with Politico, Ocasio-Cortez called the decision an "enormous win" for the progressive movement.
"The escalation and aggression against the party's progressive wing with an explicit, forward-looking 'blacklist' has created a lot of deterrence against candidates, even considering that businesses are organized on the ground," she said.
Maloney, himself a centrist Democrat, sought the position of DCCC chairman on a platform to improve the Democrats' digital marketing. He pledged to lift the ban to bolster Democrats' social media reach after the party lost 13 House seats in the 2020 election.
The Democrats argued internally after the election about what to do with their house losses. Some argued that summer support for languages like Defund the Police allowed Republicans to hammer Democrats in swing districts. But progressives like it Ocasio-Cortez, who had Long advocated lifting the DCCC ban in order to give the most innovative strategists access to more democratic campaigns, had a different attitude and blamed the lack of digital presence of the Democrats.
"The party – in and of itself – doesn't have the core competencies, and no amount of money will fix that," she said the New York Times in a post-mortem election interview blaming the DCCC's poor digital strategy, led by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), for the losses.
In an interview with Politico, Maloney made it clear that the DCCC's top priority is still protecting incumbents – and that he would evaluate the best policy for doing so. The DCCC sends out lists of paying members of recommended vendors, and even without an explicit ban, they could still freeze companies that have worked with primary challengers.
"Nobody should look for work here if they want to pursue one of our members at the same time," Maloney told Politico. "But I don't think the general ban ever made sense. And we will replace it with a new approach."
Waleed Shahid, the Justice Democrats spokesman, welcomed the DCCC's decision. But he took Maloney's warning to heart, noting that the Justice Democrats only consult campaigns in safe districts so as to be of no benefit to Republicans.
"This is an important win for progressives, but we should make sure that a formal ban is not simply replaced by an informal one," Shahid told CBS News' Aaron Navarro. "When over 70 percent of congressional districts don't have competitive parliamentary elections, primaries are often the only place where voters can have a real say in our democracy."