2 Berkeley faculty to help lead nation’s largest liberal super PAC

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Less than three years before the 2016 presidential election, two UC Berkeley faculty members have taken leadership positions at a powerful liberal fundraising group.

Jennifer Granholm will co-chair the Priorities USA Action “super PAC,” and Maria Echaveste will sit on the group’s board, according to a press release from the group.

Granholm, who served as the governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011, is currently a Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Echaveste teaches at the UC Berkeley School of Law and was once White House deputy chief of staff for former president Bill Clinton.

Granholm said the group ultimately wants to ensure a Democratic candidate is elected to the White House in 2016 and mentioned Hillary Clinton as a strong potential candidate, although Clinton has yet to announce whether she is running.

“The mission of the PAC is to communicate a progressive vision that increases security and mobility for middle class families,” Granholm said.

Priorities USA Action is the nation’s largest liberal super-PAC, a special type of political action committee that can raise an unlimited amount of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals and spend unlimited sums to advocate or oppose political candidates. It cannot, however, donate directly to candidates.

This is not the first election cycle for Priorities USA Action. In 2012, the group raised more than $79 million in support of President Barack Obama, according to OpenSecrets.org, a site that promotes transparency in political spending. Jim Messina, who served as Obama’s campaign manager in the 2012 election, will co-chair the super PAC with Granholm.

“The primary focus for this PAC is going to be on paid media (and) to also include this robust and innovative digital operation that uses the latest campaign technology,” Granholm said.

Super PACs have been controversial because of the amount of outside money they infuse into politics. Some liberals, including Granholm, have spoken out against the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which helped set the stage for the creation of super PACs.

“The Citizens United decision unleashed the way for special interests like super PACs to dominate in influencing our political system and to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Disha Banik, vice president of membership for Cal Berkeley Democrats, in an email.

Still, Granholm justified the use of a super PAC to counter the sum of money spent on Republican campaigns.

“Sometimes you have to play the game in order to shut the game down,” Granholm said. “Nobody wants this to have to exist, but because this does exist and because there’s so much money on the other side, we cannot cede the territory.”

Mitchell Handler covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.