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Philly PACs 101: How TV and social media could drive millennial votes

More millennials in Philly means clout and influence in City Hall. Hence four millennial-centric political action committees hoping to influence both the primary in May and the general election in November.

But their influence remains to be seen and, like anything else in politics, it all depends on money.

These PACs, groups that organize and fundraise with the purpose of electing or defeating certain candidates, have garnered attention over the last several years as their influence in elections has increased. Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a rule that limited how much individuals could contribute to PACs, calling it unconstitutional.

Since then, the organizations have wielded significant power through dark money, which is scary political-speak for fundraising through wealthy, anonymous donors. In this year’s mayoral election, candidate and former DA Lynne Abraham went so far as to ask her competitors to reject dark money completely, and said she wouldn’t accept it. Her major competitors in Tony Williams (backed by charters) and Jim Kenney (backed by unions) have made no such promise.

Philadelphia 3.0, a group that’s technically classified as a 501(c)4 and not technically a PAC, is widely seen as the only millennial political group that could have serious influence in the upcoming primary. The group is backing six candidates for City Council — only one of them an incumbent — and is rumored to have gathered $2 million to spend on the election.

The group, reportedly being bankrolled by Parkway Corp. principals Joseph and Rob Zuritsky, isn’t giving away details about donors or specific strategies at this point. However, 3.0 Deputy Director Thomas J. Hurst said that in addition to backing candidates, the organization hopes to inform millennial voters through “a mix of grassroots efforts and high-tech analytics.”

The other three PACs that have popped up are:

1. Philly Set Go, which is focused on gathering millennials to turn out to vote in the mayoral race.

2. The 5th Square, which came from an urbanism site called This Old City and is focused on mostly issues of urban development.

3. Focus Philly, which is a student-run PAC that was crowdfunded in order to get off the ground.

Of the three groups that responded to requests made by Billy Penn for information, only Philadelphia 3.0 is prepared to actually spend money on advertising to round up millennials to vote in the primary, whether those ads exist on social media or on TV. Meanwhile, PhillySetGo is focusing more on a grassroots social media structure and Focus Philly is aiming for an events-based model that will concentrate on the general election.

Here’s a rundown of each group and its outreach plans:

Philadelphia 3.0

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Mission: This non-partisan, dark money group hopes to spend its significant funds on mobilizing enough young people in Philadelphia to vote and have an impact on the City Council election by electing younger and fresher representation on Council.

“The goal is to win,” Hurst said. “The goal is put good people in office, and anything we can do to move the needle, we’re going to do.”

Hurst said that because of the group’s classification as a 501(c)4, it must spend a large portion of its expenditures on outreach and the so-called “getting out the vote” portion of the mission of many PACs. Much of that will be done through targeting areas highly populated by millennials and knocking on doors with volunteers in order to register people to vote.

They hope that registration translates to showing up at the polls, and if it does, it could make a difference. In 2011, Sherrie Cohen — who is running for council again this time around — garnered just 1,500 fewer votes than Jim Kenney and missed winning a seat as an at-large council member. Registering 2,000 voters and translating that to showing up at the polls could easily swing a seat.

Endorsements: Philadelphia 3.0 today announced that it’s backing six candidates for City Council, the only incumbent being 7th District Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. Other than that, they’re going to support Democratic at-large candidates Tom Wyatt, Paul Steinke, Derek Green and Isaiah Thomas. On the Republican side, they’re backing Terry Tracy.

Funding: The group, led by Director Alison Perelman of the Perelman family fortune, is being tight-lipped about where its funding is coming from and says it’s not going to publicly speak about who its donors are or how much money it’s amassed. Hurst would say only that the group’s financial status “will be significant.”

Outreach model: The group insists that much of its outreach model will be based on grassroots efforts that equates to knocking on doors in areas where there’s an influx of millennial residents. But it also plans to spend money advertising on both social media and television. When those ads will start rolling out is unclear.

Events: The group’s field office at 35 S. 16th St. is opening tonight, and the public is invited to attend. More information here.

PhillySetGo

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Mission: The group officially formed in January and was founded on the mission of uniting millennials for the cause of political involvement — especially those young people not already registered and civically engaged, according to Chairwoman Gabriela Guaracao. She added that the organization hopes to engage young people by showing that local primary elections can often have more effect in the short-term than presidential elections, which young people have historically showed up to more consistently.

Guaracao, who is also the director of strategy and operations for Al Día News Media, said PhillySetGo has its eyes set on the mayoral primary and less on the Council races, and is aiming to inform younger voters about their options on the ballot. What else they’re advocating for in terms of specific policy is still to be determined.

Endorsements: The group plans to endorse a mayoral candidate, but hasn’t yet released who that candidate will be.

Funding: Philly Set Go intends to raise the majority of its money from millennials through events and individual donations.

Outreach model: PhillySetGo doesn’t plan to spend any money advertising on Twitter and Facebook, but is probably the most active on social of the PACs that have emerged. It’s using its Twitter and Facebook presence to not only get the word out about itself, but to curate news and content from across the city on its social accounts to draw young people.

Events: The group’s event this week will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Brauhaus Schmitz on South Street. You get two free beers with a donation. More information here.

Focus Philly

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Mission: This group is a completely student-run political action committee that supports millennial leadership and wants to promote civic engagement around the millennial generation, according to President Alvin Oommen, a junior at Penn State who’s helping to run the organization remotely from State College. The rest of the group’s members are students at Philadelphia schools, he said.

The group doesn’t have the funds to have an impact in the mayoral race, but hopes to inform young voters and mobilize college students to vote in council races now and in the future. Its goals are longterm, and its events-based model won’t get fully off the ground until this summer.

Endorsements: The group has sent out questionnaires to candidates and hopes to endorse several people running for Council.

Funding: The group used IndieGoGo to crowdfund a bit more than $500 to get off the ground. Oommen said that while the group can’t immediately donate to candidates, it has “hundreds” of college students it’s engaging through events.

Outreach model: The group is active on both Facebook and Twitter, and is attempting to target its efforts by spotlighting young people from across the city who are engaged in politics.

Events: Representatives from Focus Philly are attending events at colleges across the city that have been set up by already-existing politically-focused groups on campuses. Its first events will take place this summer.

The 5th Square

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Mission: 5th Square representatives didn’t respond to Billy Penn’s requests for comment, but according to its website, the group is a PAC that advocates “for smart policy for transportation, public space, land use, and better governance in Philadelphia.”

The group seems to be focused on urbanist issues, and platform highlights include adopting a Vision Zero plan, allowing for better transportation for college students, creating more protected bike lanes and more. The group’s 2015 platform can be found here. 

Funding: The group is raising money on its website (donate here) and, according to site, has so far raised $1,550 through that. According to Philly.com’s Ryan Briggs, the group hopes to raise $100,000 through corporate donations, but has so far raised around $10,000.

Events: The group is holding a fundraising event at Benjamin’s Desk on April 15. More information about that, here.

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