Although one of its founders is a longtime D.C. political insider found by an independent probe last year to have wasted D.C. taxpayers’ money, the pro-Obama super PAC 1911 United claims to have a more populist bent than other independent committees that have sprung up in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.
The super PAC plans to focus on seven swing states with high African-American populations and will spend its resources on voter mobilization and training, as well as something more common to independent-expenditure-only committees: advertising.
The group will set itself apart in three ways, according to co-founder and board member Che Sayles, who declined to divulge his occupation but said he lives in the Washington area. Compared to other super PACs, he said 1911 United will be more public, more altruistic and more representative of everyday people. “This PAC represents the 99 percent, not the 1 percent,” he added.
But the group will not be doing everything differently from other super PACs. “At this moment, we’re not releasing the people we’ve spoken to. That part remains traditional for the moment,” he said.
The group has talked to a number of wealthy donors and business leaders, Sayles said, and aims to raise at least $1.5 million. These donors would likely remain hidden until April, when the PAC's quarterly report would be due with the Federal Election Commission.
The other co-founder, and treasurer, is Sinclair Skinner, a fraternity brother and campaign aide to former Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty who was found to have overcharged D.C. taxpayers for contracting work during the mayor’s tenure. An independent probe by the D.C. City Council found that his firm, Liberty Engineering and Design, passed on more than $500,000 in contracting costs to D.C. taxpayers, according to the Washington Post. The firm paid subcontractors to do about $400,000 of work but then charged a city contractor nearly $1 million for that work.
Skinner was out of the country on Friday and Sayles would not comment on Skinner's past, saying that he considers "anything outside the PAC" to be "separate." Skinner told the Washington Post that the markups were justified and that the independent investigator “didn’t understand the engineering process.” Skinner was a top campaign staffer to Fenty in 2006 before starting his engineering firm the following year.
The super PAC’s name refers to the year the cofounders' historic black fraternities—Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi—were founded. However, Sayles said the super PAC has no official ties to those fraternities.
He said the super PAC was active earlier this month in the New Hampshire primary, busing up to hand out pro-Obama flyers near polling stations. More activities are being planned for upcoming primaries in Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Sayles sees his group as playing a role in changing what it means to be a super PAC, a new breed of committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to play in the political process.
“We’re doing a lot in the evolution of super PACs in campaigns. Most people never even saw the people involved (with super PACs).”