When Keith Ellison resigned from Congress to run for Minnesota attorney general in 2018, a crowded Democratic primary field quickly developed. The establishment favorite for the seat was Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the former speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives. One of her consultants that cycle was New Blue Interactive, run by the former managing director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Ilhan Omar beat Kelliher and the rest of the field, but in 2020 will again face primary challengers. One of those candidates is Antone Melton-Meaux, and New Blue Interactive once again signed up to work against Omar. Except this year, that wasn’t allowed.
Melton-Meaux, an attorney and volunteer minister, paid New Blue Interactive $13,875 to do digital consulting for his campaign, according to financial disclosures. But last year, the House Democrats’ campaign arm formalized a controversial policy cutting off firms that work with candidates running primary challenges against incumbent Democrats. So, after just a week, the DCCC-linked firm terminated the contract with the campaign and refunded the payment, according to an FEC memo.
But the campaign kept the valuable contact list that came with the contract, according to the FEC. Email lists are still one of the most important fundraising tools a campaign can have, and can be worth thousands of dollars.
New Blue Interactive is also working for a host of incumbents in the 2020 cycle, including Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas, Jerry Nadler of New York, and Dan Lipinski of Illinois. Marie Newman, a pro-choice woman challenging Lipinski, lost at least four consultants last year due to the blacklist.
Omar faces two other Democratic opponents and six Republican challengers. Melton-Meaux poses the biggest (though still distant) threat. Omar raised $1.1 million for her reelection through last year’s third quarter alone and has nearly $1.6 million cash on hand mostly from small individual contributions, according to the most recent filings. Melton-Meaux, meanwhile, has raised $260,126.
Since entering office in the wave 2018 midterm elections, Omar, along with other members of the Squad, have been targeted by Democratic leaders to varying degrees. Some Minnesota Democrats reportedly began taking steps to find candidates to take on Omar just two months into her first term.
Taryn Rosenkranz, the founder and CEO of New Blue Interactive, previously served as managing director at the DCCC, where she oversaw digital communications for seven years, according to her bio on the firm’s website. In April 2019, she told Roll Call that building an email list was crucial to standing out in a crowded field of competitors. Neither New Blue Interactive nor Melton-Meaux’s campaign responded to a request for comment.
The House Democrats’ campaign arm has faced backlash over its vendor blacklist which, critics argue, keeps centrist Democrats in power while discouraging women and people of color to run for office.
“It looks like the DCCC’s blacklist is just for one side: progressives. The hypocrisy is stunning,” Justice Democrats spokesperson Waleed Shahid told The Intercept.
“When the DCCC talks about ‘protecting incumbents,’ it seems that is code for keeping out diverse, progressive candidates,” said Lindsey Boylan, who’s challenging Nadler in New York’s 10th District. “Otherwise, why would some firms be able to challenge progressives like Omar with impunity, while others are blackballed for challenging incumbents like Jerry Nadler?”