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Majority of Top 2020 Democrats Backed by Outside Groups

Almost all the presidential candidates had earlier distanced themselves from super PACs.

Citizens show up to vote at Discovery Well Park in Signal Hill on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

Democratic presidential candidates started their race to the White House with the promise to reject support from outside groups.

But with just a few days left till the early primaries, yet another TV ad campaign by an outside group –– this time in support of former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg –– indicates the 2020 Democrats are opening up to outside money. Three of the top five candidates are refusing to disavow outside groups spending on their behalf.

VoteVets, a hybrid PAC, has spent roughly $610,000 on TV ads to support Buttigieg, according to its most recent disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Although Buttigieg is not violating his pledge to refuse donations from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists, the candidate’s acceptance of the PAC’s support is facing criticism.

The ad buy is set to begin in New Hampshire on Wednesday, more than a month after the PAC endorsed Buttigieg. It’s the first time the group has endorsed a particular candidate during a Democratic presidential primary. The ad is reportedly scheduled to run through Monday, Feb. 3.

Almost all the presidential candidates had earlier distanced themselves from super PACs. But super PACs are supposed to be independent of campaigns, allowing candidates to distance themselves from the outside spending efforts.

“A candidate’s got no involvement in that sort of thing,” Buttigeig said when asked about potential spending on his behalf, according to The New York Times.

Buttigieg is the fourth Democratic candidate to benefit from super PAC advertising ahead of the early primaries.

Unite the Country, a super PAC supporting former Vice President Joe Biden, has spent over $4.5 million on TV ads with the first Democratic caucus scheduled for Feb. 3 in Iowa. This came after Biden softened his stance on outside support just days before Unite the Country was formed, notably at a time when donations to his campaign dwindled and his polling average dropped in October 2019. The super PAC has provided a needed boost in Iowa, where it is outspending the Biden campaign on the airwaves.

Meanwhile, a staunch critic of super PACs and outside money, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has benefitted from nearly $280,000 in outside spending support from Vote Nurses Values, a super PAC tied to the nation’s largest union of registered nurses. Additionally, he recently distanced himself from Our Revolution, a tax-exempt nonprofit created by Sanders’ 2016 campaign aides that has come under fire from watchdogs who say the group should register as a political committee.

Among the other front-running Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are the only ones that are not being backed by major outside groups. In support of former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the hybrid PAC Reason to Believe has spent more than $1.8 million on ad buys in early primary states. The former governor told NBC that although he’s “not crazy about super PACs” he wouldn’t refuse their support because he’s playing “catch up” in the race. Reason to Believe helped Patrick lay the groundwork for his campaign. Because the hybrid PAC took in its money earlier this year, the group’s donors won’t be known until after the New Hampshire primaries.

Two super PACs have spent almost $350,000 supporting entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who recently qualified for the February Democratic presidential debate.

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