Across Kentucky and the nation, hundreds of thousands watched the Kavanaugh hearings. They saw Dr. Ford testify. They heard Brett Kavanaugh rant a response. And, they saw the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court pushed through the Senate by one Addison Mitchell McConnell.
Hundreds of thousands were, once again, furious at Mitch McConnell for his cynicism, his manipulations, and his destruction of the Senate and of our democracy.
But one young man living in D.C. decided being angry wasn’t enough. He looked around for the organization, ANY organization, that was gearing up to take out McConnell in 2020. Amazingly, he couldn’t find one.
So, he decided to quit his job and start one. And the Ditch Mitch Fund was born.
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Ryan Aquilina has worked in Democratic politics for years. He primarily did fund-raising, especially online. He was a vice-president of a firm that raised over $443 million in small-dollar donations for Democrats. And, he had done campaign communications work as well.
“The week that Kavanaugh was confirmed, I watched a press conference where McConnell was asked if he was worried about blowback from the confirmation,” said Aquilina in an interview. And McConnell’s answer? “He said, ‘These things always blow over.’ And I realized he was right – they HAD always blown over.
“When the Republicans and McConnell are in the minority, they obstruct. When they’re in the majority, they rework our judiciary and destroy our democracy. When I heard him say that, it all just sort of came to a head for me.”
Determined not to let it blow over this time, and determined to defeat the man most responsible for it all, Aquilina looked around to see what he could do.
“I saw the energy against Susan Collins online, as that organization raised millions of dollars for her as-yet-unknown opponent, and I asked myself ‘Where is the organization dedicated to taking HIM on?’ I realized no one else was doing it – and I knew how.”
He started in October 2018, working on this idea at night and on weekends. (At this point, he still had his day job at the political consulting company.) He called some other people that he knew had done similar things, asking them the best way to proceed. He hired a lawyer to help him dot the Is and cross the Ts in terms of starting a political organization.
Then one day, he took the plunge: he decided to quit his day job, live off his savings, and make the Ditch Mitch Fund his full-time work.
And the response has been overwhelming.
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For the first six months, he didn’t take a salary. All the money raised went into building out the organization and raising more money.
He worked with the lawyer to file the paperwork – but first, they had to decide what sort of organization to be. They knew they wanted to go right at McConnell, so a 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 were both out. They looked at being a super PAC, but they didn’t want to take corporate donations or large hidden donations from individuals.
In the end, they decided to be a traditional non-connected political action committee. This means they cannot take corporate money, and they have to file with the Federal Election Commission.
“PACs have a bad reputation, and in many cases deservedly so – but I think a PAC is only as bad as what you put in it. We’re not taking corporate money, and frankly, I don’t even know anyone who could write us a $100,000 check. So we’re fine with going the small-donor route.”
And how is that working out? Let’s just say “exceeding expectations.”
“I had hoped we might raise a few million by 2020. The plan was to use it for some field work, and perhaps some online ads,” said Aquilina. “Instead, here we are in June of 2019, a year before the election season, and we’ve already raised over $1 million. We have right at 30,000 donors, and our average donation is $22.”
Due to the higher-than-expected fund-raising totals, the team is having to scale up their plans, including adding television ads to the budget in addition to the online ones. They fully expect to be able to provide significant non-coordinated help to McConnell’s opponent, whomever that may be.
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And speaking of the team, there is growth there as well.
For one thing, Aquilina is now taking a salary as executive director. And, he is bringing on other team members.
He wanted someone to design, shoot, and craft the TV and digital ads they would need, and wound up hiring Mark Putnam, who had done the ads for Amy McGrath’s campaign.
He is reaching out to people in Kentucky, who know the state and its people. He doesn’t want to share any names yet, as the team isn’t completely locked in. He noted that a lot of the political talent is involved in the statewide races this year, so he is having to wait to some extent. But, he expects to be fully staffed and ready to go soon after the 2019 elections, as attention turns to 2020 and the race for McConnell’s Senate seat.
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I asked Aquilina if he had any particular ties to Kentucky that might explain why he decided to quit his job and do this. Here’s what he said.
“I remember watching the videos of those women confronting Jeff Flake, saying ‘Listen to us!’ I remember watching the hearings, watching Dr. Ford testify, then Kavanaugh. And I was horrified at the idea that this was what our politics had come to.
“I thought about Merrick Garland. I thought about how Mitch McConnell had broken the system. I thought about the irreparable harm he has done to our democracy, to our country. And it all just came to a head for me.
“He represents Kentucky—or is supposed to—but the harm he is doing is to our entire country.
“My tie to Mitch McConnell is as an American. In school, I was taught how our democracy is supposed to work. And it doesn’t work that way now. It’s broken, and Mitch McConnell broke it.
“Sometimes you just have to be the one who steps up and takes it on.”