A cadre of moderate Democrats and Republicans are joining together to revamp a political action committee to fight against progressive primary challengers to establishment Democrats.
With President Joe Biden’s former campaign manager as the PAC’s only consultant and a defense contractor executive as its treasurer, the Moderate PAC — not to be confused with the older Moderate Democrats PAC — stands to be an exemplar of the Democratic Party’s corporate-friendly, centrist wing. Its financial heft, though, comes from the other side of the aisle: So far, Republican megadonor Jeff Yass, the richest man in Pennsylvania, is virtually the only one putting money into the group.
“They would rather buy elections than let working-class progressives even run.”
“The corporate-backed establishment will stop at nothing to prevent more bartenders, nurses, principals, community organizers, and regular people from entering the Democratic Party in Congress,” Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas said in a statement to The Intercept. “They would rather buy elections than let working-class progressives even run. They will do everything in their power to make themselves richer at the expense of robbing poor and working-class Americans.”
Axios reported last week that the PAC planned to raise $20 million to fight off Democratic primary challengers in 2024 and “scare off” progressive groups like Justice Democrats that have backed several successful primary challengers and helped create a growing squad of progressive lawmakers in Congress. The article did not mention the group’s ties to the Biden campaign and the defense industry, nor the Republican funder.
As the number of progressives in Congress has continued to grow since 2018, the revamped PAC is one of several organizations launched in recent years to target progressive Democratic primary challengers and protect centrist incumbents. (The Moderate PAC did not respond to a request for comment.)
Ty Strong, the Moderate PAC president and founder, worked for a decade as a financial and business management analyst at Booz Allen Hamilton before joining a smaller financial firm in Pennsylvania in 2020 that closed abruptly the following year. He joined the Moderate PAC in October 2021. The committee’s treasurer, Marysue Strong, is chief financial officer at ProSync Technology Group, a defense contractor that provides IT services to the federal government. (Ty Strong did not respond to questions about his political experience or whether he and Marysue are related, though public records suggest that they are.)
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal last January, Ty Strong criticized what he called a “Democratic circular firing squad” and “progressive purity tests” that have threatened the political careers of centrist Democrats like Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. If Democrats in purple states can’t find a way to “pivot back to the center and avoid death by circular progressive firing squad,” Strong wrote, “get ready for Republican control of both houses of Congress in 2023.” Less than a year later, Sinema announced that she was leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent.
The Moderate PAC has raised just over $1 million since last year, all from a single donor: Yass.
Yass, co-founder and managing director of a Philadelphia-based investment firm, gave the PAC $1 million in July. (The Democratic leadership’s house campaign arm, House Majority PAC, gave the Moderate PAC results from a poll in September 2022, which is recorded in disclosures, though no money changed hands.)
A vice chair at the Cato Institute, Yass has come under fire for using creative money-moving structures to avoid some $1 billion in taxes, according to ProPublica. Yass, most recently registered as a libertarian, occasionally gives to centrist local and national Democrats, but the overwhelming balance of his political contributions go to GOP candidates.
While Yass has recently expanded his focus to national politics and spent $47 million backing Republicans in federal elections last year, he has been most politically active in his home state of Pennsylvania. He backed Republican candidates up and down the ballot during last year’s midterm elections in the Keystone State.
Yass’s Commonwealth Foundation, a group based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, advocates to take the state’s public policy “back to its roots.” The group has drawn criticism for pushing policies that Yass’s critics say help him continue to accumulate wealth while avoiding taxes, like cutting funding for schools and public services. In addition to funding Republicans, Yass has funded state-level Democrats who align with his conservative objectives: He put money into the campaigns of Democratic officials in Pennsylvania who played a key role in the charge last year to try to impeach progressive Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
As Yass has expanded his focus beyond Pennsylvania politics toward the national stage, his critics raised the alarm and warned both parties not to accept his money.
“Yass is a threat to democracy in Pennsylvania,” six organizers wrote in an op-ed last week titled “A deep-pocketed donor from Pa. is moving onto the national stage. That’s a problem.”
Yass has amassed his wealth in part by successfully avoiding paying taxes and used his financial influence to push candidates and policies for his own benefit, they wrote. “We need to call Yass’ donations what they are: money from a billionaire seeking to buy power,” the organizers wrote. “No one in public office should take money from billionaire Jeffrey Yass — Democrat or Republican.”
Correction: January 25, 2023, 8:00 p.m. ET
This story has been updated to reflect that, in 2023, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema left the Democratic Party to become an independent, not a Republican.