A national Latino campaign group has emerged for the first time as a Washington fundraising powerhouse, a sign both of the growing institutional power of Latino voters and of the massive opposition to President Donald Trump.
Bold PAC, the campaign arm for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has traditionally raised less than $1 million during entire two-year campaign cycles, and contributed to roughly a dozen candidates each time. But since Trump began his presidential run, the group has seen its fundraising soar. The PAC raised $6.1 million during the 2016 election cycle, more than a sixfold increase from what it raised for 2014.
And already this cycle, the group has pulled in nearly $6.4 million, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, the PAC chair, told BuzzFeed News the group is “on track to exceed $12 million” before the midterm elections in November.
“I think since [Trump was] elected, our fundraising capabilities have really risen,” Rep. Norma Torres, a board member for Bold PAC, told BuzzFeed News.
The Trump administration has given Latinos no shortage of reasons for concern. Beyond the long-standing promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, Trump moved to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that provided protection for young, undocumented children, and pardoned Joe Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff found guilty of contempt of court for refusing to stop traffic patrols that targeted people they suspected were undocumented immigrants.
“That’s what we’re up against, and that’s why we think Donald Trump could be the very greatest Latino organizer of all time,” Cristobal Alex, the president of Latino Victory fund, a close partner of Bold PAC, told BuzzFeed News.
Much of Bold PAC’s 2018 money has been raised off of small, online donations, but the figures are staggering for a once-small group, particularly in a nonelection year, which is traditionally a hard time to fundraise. But in the Trump era, members said donations have been flooding in.
“I think we were incrementally getting bigger and bigger and I think that would have continued, but I think Trump helped accelerate [fundraising] and helped grow the list,” Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, told BuzzFeed News.
Members said that the organization was already growing, but attributed the significant increase in donations over the last two cycles to renewed energy among the Democratic base, at least in part. “I think with each year, Bold PAC has raised more and more money, but I think certainly there is a level of engagement in this election cycle that we’ve not seen quite for some time, and so I think their success in raising has something to do with that,” Rep. Linda Sanchez told BuzzFeed News.
The goal for Bold PAC has been to get 50 Latino Democrats elected to Congress. There are currently 31 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a traditionally Democratic group of lawmakers that focuses on issues related to the Hispanic community.
Cárdenas, who’s been at the helm for the 2016 and 2018 cycles and gets praise from members for the way he’s led Bold PAC, said that he promised his colleagues when he took over that they would do things that “before were uncomfortable,” like having a presence in primaries.
Having those additional resources has allowed the group to dedicate energy to primary races, as well as to begin investing in “professionalizing” the organization. Cárdenas told BuzzFeed News that the group has focused on hiring up on staff (like getting a political director) and is in the process of buying a building for the organization, which Cárdenas said is near the Democratic National Committee headquarters in DC.
“By professionalizing ourselves, we will be able to stop missing opportunities,” Cárdenas told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. “One of the biggest reasons why organizations never live up to their hopes and dreams is because they don’t have the resources. They don’t dedicate the resources to be able to meet the needs that they’ve dedicated themselves to do.”
In the primaries, Bold PAC has been endorsing candidates like Sylvia Garcia, a Texas state senator who won the primary to replace retiring Rep. Gene Green in a heavily Democratic district on Tuesday. Garcia would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas.
“I think but for the work that Bold PAC is doing, there’s no other, you know, Latino group out there, other than Latino Victory Fund, that are doing this for Latino candidates across America,” Garcia told BuzzFeed News.
Beyond just getting Latinos elected, a lot of the bigger-picture focus has been on winning back the House for Democrats, including supporting non-Latino candidates. “We’re looking to be team players and to help elect good people all over the country, so we can take back the majority,” Sanchez said.
Cárdenas laid out the PAC’s list of priorities: “The basic order in which we prioritize at Bold PAC is incumbent Hispanics are … the highest priority in the general. Then after that it’s Latino candidates who are viable and who we feel will be good representatives once they join Congress.”
“And then after that, we look at other Democratic candidates. Incumbents first, to support them, make sure that we backfill and they stay here, and then secondly, non-Hispanic candidates who are viable and are good on the issues that we care about.”
Currently, Bold PAC has 13 endorsements listed on its website, including Garcia, Randy Bryce, who is running against Speaker Paul Ryan, and current Nevada Rep. Jacky Rosen.
They’ve also thrown their weight behind Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democratic candidate running against Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo. Curbelo tried to become the only Republican to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last year but was rejected by its members, who argued that he did not share their “values.”
Cárdenas told BuzzFeed News that Bold PAC wouldn’t have a “purity test” for candidates, though it will support Democrats.
“Bold PAC is watching what everybody does. We certainly would like everybody that we endorse to be 110% aligned with what Bold PAC’s values and what our tenets are, yet at the same time, Bold PAC is not going to be one of those organizations that says that, you know, you have to be 100% with us,” Cárdenas said in response to a question about future support of candidates like Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who is running for Senate and has taken votes that have in the past angered Latinos.
“Kyrsten Sinema, I do believe that she will be a United States senator, and I believe that the vast majority of the time she’s going to be aligned with Bold PAC, that’s my personal opinion,” Cárdenas said.
As for districts that interest Bold PAC, Torres said Bold PAC is “focusing” on districts that have “at a minimum” 20% Latino voter registration.
“I think we’re gearing up for the long haul,” Torres said. “We want to make sure that while we have resources we continue to grow that platform.”