Progressive activists in Maryland form new PAC, seek more clout

Progressive Maryland isn’t hurting for causes. The political advocacy group’s lengthy “to do” list includes making health care more affordable, minimizing big money’s role in elections, and closing corporate tax loopholes.

What the organization’s favorite candidates often lack is money to promote their ambitious agenda.


“That’s a huge problem progressive candidates face,” Larry Stafford, the organization’s executive director, said in an interview Saturday. “Sometimes you’re going to struggle a little with fundraising.”

Eager to better support state and local progressive candidates — and recruit many more — the organization announced on Saturday the formation of a new political action committee, the New Era PAC.


The PAC began operations a few weeks ago and has raised $25,000, Stafford said during a Zoom call to unveil the committee.

State Sen. Jill Carter of Baltimore said on the call that she hopes the PAC can help progressive candidates who are Democrats but — at the same time — maintain agendas that often set them apart from others in the party.

It is so important for us to establish ourselves as independent of the Democratic establishment,” said Carter, whose own causes have included criminal justice reform and “Medicare for all” health coverage.

“As much as we love them, it is our job and obligation to push them to be better,” said Carter, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the 7th Congressional District seat won by Democrat Kweisi Mfume.

“I may be one of the very few people that hold elected office in the country that has become less financially secure during my long reign in politics than others. Most people make money while they’re in politics,” Carter said.

Progressive Maryland already has a PAC called the Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance. It raised money to support Mayor Brandon Scott’s 2020 campaign.

But that committee — which is continuing to operate — is an “independent expenditure” group. That means that, while it is allowed to spend money on political activities that support candidates, it cannot legally coordinate with campaigns.

The new PAC can be directly involved with candidates it supports. Those are expected to include many General Assembly candidates, but also some contenders for local offices, according to Stafford.


The Maryland Democratic Party organization had no comment on the PAC, spokesman Zachary Holman said.

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Several activists on the call said the coronavirus pandemic has heightened the need for progressive policies by disproportionately worsening the health status and incomes of the poor.

“The wealth divide in our state has gone from being the Grand Canyon to being something even deeper than that,” said Democrat Ben Jealous, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Republican Larry Hogan but says he is still promoting progressive causes.

The informal Zoom call featured statements by activists and elected officials, slam poetry and music by a women’s ensemble. Jealous appeared from his car, saying he was on a fishing trip with his son.

Among those on the call was author Wes Moore of Baltimore, who has stepped down from a nonprofit organization that fights poverty and says he is “seriously considering” running for governor in next year’s election.

Moore donated to help stage Saturday’s online PAC kickoff, according to Stafford, but did not address the participants.


Jealous said Moore is “exactly the leader that the state needs in this moment.”

Stafford said it is too soon for the Progressive Maryland to endorse any gubernatorial candidate.