“Wiley Cash has a super PAC.” I was at a social event a couple of weeks ago when someone dropped that bit of info into conversation.
“What?” I retorted.
“Wiley Cash has a super PAC.”
Confused, I scratched my head.
I think of people like the Koch Brothers as having super PACs. Those guys probably have matching ones, for crying out loud. No offense to Wiley, but my impression is he’s a solid middle-class guy, who has worked hard and achieved success as a writer—but not in a financial way that, say, Stephen King has. Still, in a very respectable way that makes one think of two kids and a house with a yard. And, frankly, it’s the kind of success almost every writer I know would love to have. But it’s not enough to churn out millions on attempting to change the political tide.
So I reached out to Cash to ask.
“The PAC was actually started by some writer/directors, me and a former CIA agent,” he explained.
And the story became even more intriguing … and hard to wrap my mind around.
The rise of super PACs is traced primarily to the 2010 US Supreme Court decision of Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission. The simplest explanation of the decision comes from an NPR interview with Stephen Colbert’s attorney, Trevor Potter. He represented Colbert in the forming of Colbert’s super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Potter summed it up in 2011:
“If an individual has a constitutional right to make an independent expenditure”—meaning one not directly associated with a particular candidate or campaign—“then a group of individuals has the same right acting as a group.”
PACs stand for Political Action Committees and are utilized to contribute money directly to a candidate. Ballotopedia explains it further:
“PACs are political committees established and administered by corporations, labor unions, membership organizations, or trade associations. The general definition is a group that spends money on elections but is not run by a party or individual candidate.”
Super PACs can raise unlimited money; however, they cannot give it directly to a candidate. Still, they can pay for advertising for or against a political message.
Ballotopedia explains how super PACs are also known as Independent Expenditures Only Committees (IEOCs) and accept unlimited contributions:
“[They] spend an unlimited amount supporting or opposing federal election candidates, but they cannot directly donate to federal candidates or parties. In 2012, there were more than 400 active super PACs.”
In reality many super PACs are closely tied to specific candidates through very thin screens and staff affiliations. What does this mean? Well, in essence, it seems political donations by individuals aren’t capped. But, according to the Federal Election Commission, there is an individual cap of $2,700 per candidate per election in 2018.
The possibility of super PACs, which seem to be the instruments of the wealthy, harnessed by the middle-class is fascinating.
Wiley Cash is an extremely busy man: He writes, teaches, tours, and maintains family life. And he was gracious enough to answer some of encore’s questions about his new venture and if indeed the middle class might be getting a handle on a tool to turn the tide of politics as we know it.
encore (e): So whose idea was the super PAC? Did you wake up one morning and say, “I have a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a successful writing career, and the respect and admiration of my colleagues. However, my life is sadly lacking a super PAC. I need one. Where do I get one?” Or was there a different path to this?
Wiley Cash (WC): The PAC was founded and created by [Nick Basta, Steve Chisholm and me]—all of us from diverse backgrounds and of various ages. Very few of us knew one another before the process of creating the PAC began, but we met and bonded over our support of progressive candidates and our intense frustration with the issues confronting the state and the country—issues that have been largely created, driven, and worsened by Republican leadership. Those of us who would go on to form the PAC looked at one another, nodded our heads, and said, “Let’s do something about it.”
e: What is the name and why?
WC: The name is Turn NC Blue. Historically, North Carolina, even in the most contentious moments of our state’s history, has been a moderate state. We swing back and forth between elections. Many of us have grown tired of the pendulous nature of history, especially because Republicans have dismantled so many things in such little time: voting rights, powers of the governor, environmental protections, civil rights. We want a permanent swing toward consistency, toward a government that believes in equal rights under the law, to protect our environment and children, and the role of government to support and protect a thriving state and nation.
e: How hard was it to register and what is the paperwork like?
WC: I was not part of the registration or filing. More capable hands than mine headed up those responsibilities. But I can tell you the process was not long or arduous.
e: What is the objective? How are you choosing causes/candidates to support and why?
WC: Those of us who organized the PAC looked around at the members of the progressive community in Wilmington; many of us had already donated the legal maximum to state and federal candidates, and we didn’t know what else to do. The PAC allows us to donate and allocate money that will be used to support messaging that aligns with the issues and candidates we have already supported.
e: How successful has it been so far?
WC: We’ve only been around for a few weeks, but we have a considerable social-media presence, and citizens and candidates from around the state are contacting us and asking how to take part. Anyone interested in volunteering time or donating money can find out how to do so on our website, turnncblue.org.
e: Is the fundraiser at TheatreNOW in September the first one? What can audiences expect?
WC: The first fundraiser [will have] a special VIP reception beginning at 6 p.m. There are other fundraisers on the horizon, but I don’t know where they’ll fall on the calendar. The September 19 event will feature some of our state’s best writers, including Clyde Edgerton, Celia Rivenbark and Kelly Rae Williams, all reading from work that focuses on issues facing our state and nation.
I will serve as the MC and will read a piece of my own. (Spoiler alert: It’s about liberal tears being found in the Cape Fear River and the billions of dollars the state and federal GOP are willing to spend to remove them.) As part of admission, guests will enjoy heavy hor d’oeuvres and beer and wine. Special cocktails will be available for sale, with proceeds going to Turn NC Blue. It’s going to be blast: listening to and carousing with your favorite writers while eating and drinking well, all in the name of making our state and nation better, fairer, with safer places to live and work.
e: Will it continue after the election?
WC: Yes—absolutely! These issues are too important, and we all enjoy one another’s company too much to stop now. Revolution is fun.
e: How has this experience changed the way you perceive the political process?
WC: Big money and super PACs have long been believed, at least by me and people like me, to be the sole provinces of the Republicans and GOP elite. Guess what? Progressives can raise money, too, and we can do it within our communities while not relying on dark money from outside North Carolina and outside the United States. Unlike the NRA, you won’t ever hear about Russian spies infiltrating Turn NC Blue.
e: What would you like the public to know about the process and super PAC specifically?
WC: The political process is open to everyone, and it doesn’t begin or end on election day. I see the political process as the maintenance we must perform on our republic. You can’t just kick the tires every other November and expect the engine of our democracy to run smoothly. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves, pop the hood, grab your tools, and get to work.