After Senate defeat, Joe Kennedy III plots new path in politics

In this image from video, retiring Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., speaks on the floor of the U.S. House Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Former Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who ended his eight-year career in Congress three weeks ago after losing a bid to unseat Senator Edward J. Markey last summer, is launching a new political action committee aimed at bolstering grassroots organizing efforts in Massachusetts and overlooked states around the country.

The initiative, called Groundwork Project, will try to leverage the former congressman’s substantial network of donors and allies to support community activists and “hyperlocal” organizing efforts to help Democrats expand their base, win elections, and deliver on progressive policy priorities, according to materials announcing the launch.

Kennedy’s new effort will seek to identify groups both in Massachusetts and nationally doing organizing work in underrepresented and disenfranchised communities and “lift them up” — through fundraising, help with media attention, volunteers, or other resources, Kennedy said in an interview with the Globe.


“Help them be able to build and strengthen,” Kennedy said, “so that we can drive the change that we want to see together.

Kennedy, 40, said the idea for the project started to gel in the months after he lost the Sept. 1 Democratic primary. Losses in key House and Senate races in November further clarified his belief that more long-term investment is needed to win elections up and down the ticket; Democrats poured substantial resources in certain places, but only for a few weeks or months, and came up short.

“We saw nationally a bajillion dollars spent trying to flip these handful” of seats, Kennedy said, pointing to House and Senate races in South Florida, South Carolina, and Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. By contrast, Democrats eventually flipped two Senate seats blue in Georgia, a success widely attributed to grassroots work to register and educate new voters, led by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

Kennedy said that work in Georgia is one of the inspirations for his own effort, but said it is important to note that the Georgia success came “because people were working on this for a decade.”

That’s the sort of long-term commitment that needs to happen elsewhere, Kennedy said. “What you don’t see is enough of the institutional support to build the lasting change.”


That includes Massachusetts, Kennedy said. He pointed to wealthy, predominately white suburbs where election turnout reached 90 percent or more, contrasted with Gateway cities and other working-class communities of color where turnout was much lower.

Massachusetts is not living up to its national reputation as a progressive state, Kennedy said, noting challenges on housing equity, transportation, environmental justice, among others.

“Look at COVID and the location of our vaccine rollout,” referring to statistics that show the state’s communities of color are getting hit harder by the virus but also receiving fewer doses of the vaccine. “You can’t tell me that we are living up to the values that people project on, or expect, in Massachusetts. . . . This should be ground zero for actually making good on those promises.”

Groundwork’s initial focus will be on the Commonwealth, supporting community groups focused on building political power in places where voters have traditionally been less engaged, and less heard, according to Kennedy and one of his aides. In time, the goal is to build out nationally, as well.

Kennedy and the handful of former advisors helping him set up the new organization have held conversations with a variety of potential partners, both here and around the country, but have not yet settled on any specific projects. The group is aiming to formulate an action plan for 2021 over the next four to six weeks, according to an aide.


The move is Kennedy’s first major post-Congress announcement, and follows an embarrassing revelation this fall that Kennedy’s Senate campaign had improperly spent $1.5 million of donations intended for the general election in the Democratic primary. Kennedy reimbursed the funds with his own money to resolve the violation.

A prodigious fundraiser, Kennedy stressed that Groundwork would do more than raise money for its local partners; the focus will be on asking what its local partners need, rather than assume what is needed, an aide said.

The Boston-based Groundwork Project will be structured as two separate entities under the single umbrella. One side with be a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, a type of advocacy group that will allow it to give money and other support to other nonprofit advocacy groups, not just individual candidates and state parties.

The other will be a federal “hybrid” PAC. According to the Federal Election Commission, these PACs essentially have two bank accounts, one that functions as a so-called Super PAC and can solicit unlimited contributions but cannot give to federal candidates, and a second that is subject to traditional federal campaign finance limits, but which can give money to federal candidates.

The voting rights organization that Abrams established in Georgia, Fair Fight PAC, is also organized as a hybrid PAC.

Groundwork won’t be the only enterprise Kennedy spends time on in his post-Congress life, he said. The rest of his plan is still coming into shape, he said. But he plans to give paid speeches, an aide said.


Asked whether those still-unresolved future plans include thoughts about running for office again, Kennedy did not mince words: “No plans whatsoever.”


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