Warren reverses central stance on PAC support: ‘That’s how it has to be’

The candidate who's built her bid rooting money out of politics has PAC support.

LAS VEGAS -- Despite grounding her campaign message in the fight against the influence of big money in politics, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has not discouraged a new super PAC created this week from boosting her message around the country.

Warren has criticized other candidates for accepting PAC support, and continued to do so even as a new PAC called “Persist” threw its support behind her. Warren has indicated that she will not disavow or reject its support unless all the other candidates do the same.

“So here’s where I stand, if all of the candidates want to get rid of super PACs, count me in. I’ll lead the charge. But that’s how it has to be. It can’t be the case that a bunch of people keep them and only one or two don’t,” Warren told reporters on Thursday morning at a campaign stop in Las Vegas.

Warren similarly stood by the support of the new super PAC on Wednesday night, fresh off the debate stage and argued that PAC support was furthering the gender divide in the 2020 primary.

"I asked on this stage 10 days ago and no takers, not a Democrat would stand up. And I understand how eventually, women looked around and said, 'Wait, let's get this straight, all the guys on this stage have got PACs working for them. The only ones who don't are Amy [Klobuchar] and Elizabeth [Warren]," and they put together a PAC," Warren told ABC News, referring to the three women who are directors of the Persist PAC.

The only candidates who didn’t have super PAC support ahead of the New Hampshire primary were the two women in the race, Warren and Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator, and both have since seen PACs pop up to support them.

Warren’s reversal on super PAC help comes on the heels of her lackluster finishes in the first two presidential contests and a drop in national polls. She has since seen a much-needed fundraising boost from her performance in the debate Wednesday night, but still faces strong competition from opponents like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Buttigieg, who pulled victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Previously, Warren has issued strong criticism of candidates who switched stances during similarly difficult points during the race.

When Biden reversed his stance on accepting PAC support back in October, Warren said, “It’s disappointing that any Democratic candidate would reverse course and endorse the use of unlimited contributions from the wealthy to run against fellow Democrats.”

The former vice president, like Warren, had previously said that he would reject any help from a super PAC but dropped his opposition in October after his fundraising numbers fell well short of his Democratic opponents.

Warren’s own campaign website pledges that the Massachusetts senator “rejects the help of Super PACs and would disavow any Super PAC” — a statement that was still on her website as of Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve got to overturn Citizens United because our democracy is not for sale,” the campaign website states. “In the meantime, Democrats should show some moral backbone by refusing their own Super PACs in the 2020 primary.”

The new super PAC backing Warren, “Persist,” was launched earlier this week by a group of progressive women. They filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday afternoon and released an ad the same night.

The PAC’s name echoes one of Warren's taglines. "Nevertheless, she persisted" has long been a core mantra for the campaign's brand, following a contentious exchange with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor in 2017.

The PAC is putting seven figures behind pro-Warren ads leading up to Saturday’s caucuses and expects to run more ads in primary states to come.

Persist PAC is led by DC-based Democratic strategist Karin Johanson and Kim Rogers, the former political director of Heartland, a PAC started by former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack aimed at electing Democratic governors.

Also on the board is Kristine Kippins, who is separately the policy director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, work unaffiliated with the PAC's efforts; prior to, she served as counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The group hasn't filed donor disclosure records providing details on who's funding it, though the New York Times reported that EMILY’s List contributed $250,000 to both Klobuchar and Warren’s super PACs.

Throughout her presidential run, Warren has sought to distance herself from big-money groups, swearing off contributions from PACs and rejecting private high-dollar fundraisers. But the campaign cannot control outside groups' independent expenditures in support.

For their part, a spokesperson for the Persist PAC said they support Warren's goals to keep big money out of politics, but emphasized that it might not happen unless they play by the campaign rules that exist today.

"When you don't grow up rich, you learn how to work," narrated a female voice in the PAC's first ad, released late Tuesday night.

"When the system is broken, you step up to fix it," the narrator said as the ad featured a photo of Warren, hands with "Stop Kavanaugh" penned in ink on the palm. "That's why Obama picked her."

"It's why she'll take him on — and win," the narrator said, quickly intercutting a shot of President Donald Trump.