OPINION: The Democrats raising big money to defeat Marjorie Taylor Greene

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 5, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Greene was one of three congressmen to vote against trade sanctions for Russia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., speaks during a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 5, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Greene was one of three congressmen to vote against trade sanctions for Russia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Marcus Flowers’ campaign headquarters in downtown Rome, Ga., looks like any other you’d see four weeks away from a primary election, with campaign signs taped to the windows and a folding table as a make-shift reception desk in the nearly empty space.

But online, the Flowers campaign is a humming, outreach and money-raising machine. The Democrat’s campaign has brought in an astounding $7.1 million in the last year, despite the fact that Flowers was an unknown, first-time candidate when he got started last year.

Among his famous donors from around the country-- actresses Patricia Arquette and Felicity Huffman, along with Scott Galloway, the Florida businessman who podcasts as “Prof. G.” Nearly all of the rest-- about $6 million-- came from unitemized, small dollar contributions, which are typically raised online through text and email blasts.

The real secret sauce for Flowers and every other challenger in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District is the woman he’s trying to defeat — U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. Altogether, five Republicans and three Democrats have qualified to take Greene on in 2022.

Greene’s rise to fame as a Q-Anon-adjacent, Trump-loving, Satan-blaming, GOP bomb thrower has also been a cash cow for the congresswoman’s campaign. She’s the fourth-ranked money-raiser among Republicans in the House, with $8.4 million raised for her first re-election bid this year, mostly from small-dollar activists around the country, too.

But a small cottage industry has risen quickly around the effort to defeat her, with consultants, fundraisers, and even other candidates who live nowhere near Georgia all looking to capitalize, and cash in on, Greene’s notoriety.

While the Republicans challenging Greene have struggled to break out (businesswoman Jennifer Strahan has done the best and raised just over $330,000), the Democratic field against Greene offers a prime test case of the value of the new tools of online fundraising, which can often cost almost as much money as they generate.

Flowers’ campaign is the highest-profile example of the spend-money-to-raise-money model. Of the roughly $7 million he’s raised, $5 million is already gone.

The Army veteran and former military contractor has spent huge chunks on political consulting firms that offer to find, target, contact, and pitch anyone in the country who might want to help unseat Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Flowers paid $994,000 to Atlanta-based Blue Chip Strategies to create and buy digital ads, which most go toward generating more online fundraising.

Run the World, a Wisconsin-based digital firm, promises progressive Democrats it will “engage your supporters, generate contributions, and boost your bottom line.” It has charged the Flowers campaign $999,980 so far.

Other firms provide “analytics” and strategy. They’re all making bank.

Pitching in $5 or $10 is a bargain for exasperated donors across the country, who see Greene’s incendiary behavior on the national news and instinctively turn to Google to find the candidates running against her.

The easiest to find is Flowers, whose online presence (thanks to his consultants) is prominent and productive.

His campaign’s Google ad is the first to appear if you Google, “Marjorie Taylor Greene opponent.” A link sends you directly to Act Blue, an online portal that asks for donations from $5 to $500.

A punchy, pitch-perfect online video introducing Flowers as the antidote to Greene, black cowboy hat and all, has also rocketed him to the head of the money race, despite the fact that he does not live in the 14th district and is a relatively new transplant to the area.

Holly McCormack, another first-time Democratic candidate, has also raised big money, $1.6 million, though far less than Flowers.

The working mom from Ringgold is an independent insurance agent and said she decided to get into the race after Jan 6th. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

As soon as she filed her FEC paperwork, she said she was inundated with hundreds of consultants pitching themselves to work against Greene.

“When people saw ‘Georgia-14,’ it just started exploding,” she said of the flood of consultants. “I had to be very strong in what I believe and what I want to do for Northwest Georgia and then see if I could trust these people.”

Of the $1.6 million that she has raised, just $85,000 remained at the end of March. During a lengthy interview over coffee in Rome, McCormack said her campaign is deliberately spending the money as soon as she raises it.

“We have never held our money back,” she said. “We bust our butt to raise it, because we knew we needed it for this race. And then we put it back into the district with boots on the ground with voter registration.”

Along with establishing an online presence for her campaign to compete with and capitalize on Greene’s, McCormack said she has used her money to do the kind of party building that Democrats haven’t had the resources or reason to invest in the heavily Republican territory.

“The work has to be done because it never has been in northwest Georgia at this level, ever,” she said.

The heavily conservative district is not considered competitive by any measure. Greene ran away with the race in 2020 with 75% of the vote in 2020 after her opponent dropped out before Election Day. Trump signs still dominate much of the mountainous landscape.

But Democrats there insist they could change their district the way Jon Ossoff changed the neighboring 6th Congressional District. That’s where former GOP Rep. Tom Price won by 23 points in 2016, but Ossoff pulled within 4 points of Karen Handel six months later. Democrat Lucy McBath then flipped the quickly urbanizing district in 2018.

The Ossoff campaign in 2017 drew huge money and national attention, as is the effort to oust Greene.

“The reason that people around the country are giving, even though they don’t live here, is that it does affect everybody,” McCormack said of Greene’s behavior. “She’s dangerous for our democracy.”

One of the less familiar Democratic candidates against Greene nationally is probably the best-known candidate in the district itself — Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis.

Unlike McCormack and Flowers, Davis has been elected locally twice and was involved in Georgia Democratic campaigns, including as a consultant, for 20 years before that.

Davis got the same consultant pitches after she filed her paperwork with the FEC, but turned them down.

“I talked to consultants who told me I could raise millions of dollars doing what they’ve done, which is spend an overwhelming amount of money to raise money,” she said. “And from the get-go, that struck me as odd.”

Davis said she has no regrets about choosing the bargain-priced approach to campaigning, which has still netted nearly $500,000, over the luxury model.

But she does worry about the effect on politics and political discourse when campaigns are transformed from door-knocking and coffee talks to email blasts and money bombs, which the Flowers campaign has perfected by sending donors four to five emails per day.

“What has bothered me is this exaggeration, ‘If you don’t send $10 by midnight, our democracy is over,’” she said. “The false urgency and the demonization of our enemies raises a lot of money. But I think that’s what’s wrong with our political discourse.”

Marcus Flowers was not available for an interview for this piece.

Instead, his campaign manager sent a short email, naturally, explaining that Flowers has “sparked a movement to unseat Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

“More than 300,000 contributions from all 50 states have joined our grassroots movement,” it said. “As a result, the Flowers campaign is making a historic investment in northwest Georgia that will not only help unseat congresswoman Greene but also lift statewide candidates in other important races.”