When current New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez secured a stunning win in her 2018 Democratic primary over longtime Rep. Joe Crowley, progressives and digital consultants alike celebrated. Her historic campaign combined youth outreach with innovative digital marketing strategy, and a cottage industry of progressive, high-tech consulting groups popped up in her wake.
But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — House Democrats’ campaign fundraising arm — had a different reaction. Under a controversial 2019 policy known as the “DCCC blacklist,” consultants and firms that worked with primary challengers were barred from contracting with the DCCC in a bid to protect incumbents and help reelect existing Democratic House members.
Now, newly elected chair Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) has followed through on a campaign promise to reverse the policy, as first reported by Politico’s Ally Mutnick.
“This policy change means that the only criteria for a vendor to be listed in the directory are our standards for fair business practices related to use of organized labor, critical diversity and inclusion standards, and other minimum qualifications,” DCCC spokesperson Chris Taylor told Vox in a statement.
For two years, groups like Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee that supported the successful challenges of Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and Middle Seat Consulting, a digital consulting firm that has successfully used social media and text message canvassing in electing progressives like Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush, were sidelined from working with or being recommended by the DCCC.
Justice Democrats created a website naming 30 groups that were on the blacklist. Progressives decried the policy for discouraging women and people of color from running for office or consulting on campaigns. And Ocasio-Cortez declined to pay DCCC dues altogether, creating her own PAC to support her preferred candidates.
Progressive members of Congress and consultants praised Maloney’s decision.
Sean McElwee, the executive director of the previously blacklisted progressive polling firm Data for Progress, said the reversal would strengthen House Democrats’ campaign efforts. (Vox partners with DFP to provide exclusive polling on key policies under Joe Biden’s administration.)
“The blacklist treated progressive consultants as a group that should be crushed, but some of the most innovative firms were barred from key districts because of it,” he tweeted. “The party would be stronger if it worked with progressive firms.”
In an interview with Politico, Ocasio-Cortez called the decision an “enormous win” for the progressive movement.
“The escalation and aggression against the progressive wing of the party with an explicit forward-facing ‘blacklist’ created a lot of dissuasion against candidates even considering grassroots organizing firms,” she said.
Maloney, a centrist Democrat himself, sought the DCCC chair position on a platform of improving Democrats’ digital marketing. He promised to overturn the ban as a means of bolstering Democrats’ social media outreach capabilities after the party lost 13 House seats in the 2020 elections.
Democrats squabbled internally after the election over what to make of their House losses. Some argued that support of language like “defund the police” over the summer allowed Republicans to hammer Democrats in swing districts. But progressives like Ocasio-Cortez, who had long advocated for reversing the DCCC ban in order to give the most innovative strategists access to more Democratic campaigns, had a different take, blaming Democrats’ lacking digital presence.
“The party — in and of itself — does not have the core competencies, and no amount of money is going to fix that,” she told the New York Times in an election postmortem interview, blaming the poor digital strategy of the DCCC, then led by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) for the losses.
In an interview with Politico, Maloney made clear the DCCC’s top priority is still protecting incumbents — and that he would be evaluating the best policy to do that. The DCCC sends paying members lists of recommended vendors, and even without an explicit ban, they could still ice out firms that have worked with primary challengers.
“No one should be looking for work around here if they want to go after one of our members at the same time,” Maloney told Politico. “But I don’t think the blanket ban ever made sense. And we’re gonna replace it with a new approach.”
Waleed Shahid, the spokesperson for Justice Democrats, applauded the DCCC’s decision. But he took Maloney’s warning to heart, noting that Justice Democrats only consults on campaigns in safe districts so as not to benefit Republicans.
“This is an important victory for progressives, but we should ensure that a formal ban isn’t simply replaced with an informal ban,” Shahid told CBS News’s Aaron Navarro. “When over 70 percent of congressional districts have no competitive general election, primaries are often the only venue where voters can have a real say in our democracy.”