On Thursday evening, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the extraordinary step of publicly attacking a prominent Democratic candidate in a contested Texas primary. The party committee’s move was made all the more jarring given the background of the candidate, Laura Moser, who in 2017 became a hero of the Trump resistance movement as the creator of Daily Action, a text-messaging tool that channeled progressive anger into a single piece of activism per day.
“Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold Rep. [John] Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told the Texas Tribune. “Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”
The comment followed the release of an opposition dossier the party compiled on Moser. To date, the DCCC has made only two such memos public, one on Moser, and the other on arch-conservative Rick Saccone, a Republican running in an upcoming special election in Pennsylvania.
“Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington. She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress,” warned the DCCC in its memo.
The dropping of the opposition research on Moser came after The Intercept published an article Thursday morning highlighting a rift in the race, with the pro-choice women’s group EMILY’s List backing Lizzie Pannill Fletcher against Moser. The DCCC and EMILY’s List often work hand in glove. Meanwhile, candidate Alex Triantaphyllis, a former Goldman Sachs analyst, has told people on the campaign trail he was recruited by the DCCC, according to local Indivisible leader Daniel Cohen.
Fletcher, a corporate lawyer with ties to a mega-donor steel magnate, worked for a firm that routinely represents employers. The firm recently defeated local janitorial workers in a labor law case by studying social media feeds to ensure the jury had a healthy number of Trump supporters, a tactic it later boasted about publicly. Fletcher said she didn’t work directly on the case. But the local AFL-CIO made a rare non-endorsement in the race, urging residents to vote for any candidate other than Fletcher, and pledging to do what it can to defeat her.
The suggestion that Moser, a freelance writer, has “outright disgust for life in Texas” takes a snippet of Moser’s writing from 2014 in Washingtonian magazine out of context. In an article about her preference for city over rural life, she wrote that she would “sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than move to the town where her grandparents had recently sold their house: Paris, Texas. National Democrats may not be familiar with Texas — indeed, the DCCC failed to field a single candidate in a Dallas district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 — but in fact Paris, Texas, and Houston, Texas, where Moser is running, are hundreds of miles apart and very different places. Houston is a city.
But the more serious charge the party leveled at Moser was to imply corruption and self-dealing. “In 2017, Moser paid over $50,000 in campaign money to her husband’s D.C. consulting firm. More than 1 of every 6 dollars spent by her campaign went straight into her husband’s D.C. company’s bank account,” wrote the DCCC.
Most of that money was for ad buys, which meant that it may have gone into the bank account, but it didn’t stay there long and was instead destined for TV station or digital coffers. But setting that aside, it has long been known that Moser is married to Arun Chaudhary, a partner at Revolution Messaging, a consulting firm that is most well-known for its work on the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. As The Intercept noted, Daily Action and Revolution had a financial relationship, as well, according to public disclosures.
That the DCCC would attack a Democrat for funneling money to a campaign consultant is itself rich, given how the organization habitually steers candidates to its own consultants. Its nickname in Washington, after all, is “the consultant factory,” as so many of its operatives go on to be campaign consultants working on the party dole. James Thompson, a congressional candidate in Kansas who nearly won a 2017 special election for the seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, told The Intercept last month that the DCCC told him flat-out “to spend a certain amount of money on consultants, and it’s their list of consultants you have to choose from.”
This was made explicit in a memo sent to candidates seeking DCCC support last December. In exchange for that support, according to the memo, candidates must “hire professional staff and consultants who can help execute a winning campaign,” and “the DCCC will provide staff resumes and a comprehensive list of consultants as well as helpful resources to the campaign including staff trainings.” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said after the 2016 elections that the DCCC “need[s] to go on a consultant detox.”
The DCCC has instead done the opposite. Relationships like Moser’s and her husband’s are easy to find in Washington. A cursory look at the leadership of the DCCC, in fact, turned up a few.
The DCCC’s independent expenditure director, for instance, is Jessica Mackler, the spouse of BluePrint Interactive partner Geoff Mackler. Federal Election Commission disclosures show that Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, Moser’s opponent, retained BluePrint Interactive to help the campaign on its digital consulting work, paying the firm $7,500 in September. The firm also lists EMILY’s List, which is supporting Fletcher’s campaign, as a client.
Consultants often take a percentage of all media placement of election ads in addition to a consulting fee. That enabled consulting firm Mothership Strategies, founded by DCCC veterans, to earn $3.9 million from the failed special election campaign for Jon Ossoff in Georgia last year. Around $2.5 million of that Ossoff haul came from media buys. Mothership veterans also birthed End Citizens United, which has become something of a stalking horse for DCCC-backed candidates this cycle.
The DCCC’s new executive director, Daniel Sena, is married to Elizabeth Christie Sena. After Daniel was named executive director, Elizabeth was made a partner at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a prominent DCCC consulting firm. In the 2016 campaign cycle, the DCCC paid GQR $395,000 over two years. With Elizabeth Sena not just a partner at the firm but literally handling the DCCC account, according to her biography on the site, the firm has already pulled in $525,523 so far this campaign cycle.
The firm threw Sena a party less than a week before Ossoff’s loss in Georgia, inviting her husband, an event memorialized in Politico’s Playbook:
SPOTTED at a Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner party last night for new COO Lindsey Reynolds (longtime COO of the DNC) and new partners Elizabeth Sena and Kristi Lowe: Anna Greenberg, John Hagner, Al Quinlan, Lauren Dillon, Jeremy Rosner, Dan Sena, Earl Fowlkes, Jeremy Baker, and Maureen Garde.
The consulting firms did not respond to a request for comment sent after hours. None of this is to suggest that the Senas or the Macklers have done anything illegal, but rather that the relationships appear to parallel the one criticized by the DCCC.
Moser in 2017 drew the attention of the DCCC with a piece she wrote in Vogue that goes unmentioned in the party’s opposition research. It was headlined, “Want More Women to Vote? Here’s an Idea: Stand Up for Them” — and it went on to slam the DCCC for saying the party would welcome anti-choice candidates. It began:
As a first-time Congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján and the powerful Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. I’m running in one of the most competitive House districts in the country, and I’ll need all the support, financial and organizational, that I can get from party leaders and organizations. But I cannot hold my tongue while Luján and the DCCC abandon the commitment to human rights that brought me to the party in the first place.
The DCCC couldn’t hold its tongue either, but despite the lashing, groups backing Moser, including Democracy for America and Justice Democrats, aren’t going anywhere. Actor Alyssa Milano, who had previously endorsed Moser, said she still plans to travel to the district and stump for the candidate ahead of the March primary, in which the top two candidates will advance to a runoff.
The most generous explanation for the DCCC’s harsh attack on Moser is that the party believes she can’t win the general election, so it is trying to block her from winning the primary. “I think the DCCC believes they’ll struggle to win in November with Moser,” tweeted Walker Agner Jr., an observation that was retweeted by the DCCC’s Kelly.
(Kelly also retweeted somebody calling Moser “an opportunistic grifter who’d kill the party’s chances in a key seat.”)
But in 2006, the last time Democrats were washed into the House on a blue wave, the DCCC also worked against a handful of candidates it believed couldn’t win the general election. When they won their primaries, the DCCC walked away, declaring the races un-winnable.
They won anyway.