Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

Our allies are letting down Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District. Here's why it's happening.

As endorsements came in for Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick from various groups in past election cycles, I was regularly bombarded with questions on social media. Folks want to understand how it is that Fitzpatrick gets the nod from certain groups when the Democratic candidate is so clearly more of an ally on a given issue, whether that be labor, the environment, guns or education. It is a unique feature of the congressional race here in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District that drives so many of our engaged volunteers to intense levels of frustration. 

But before we dig deep into the answers to this situation in which we find ourselves in Bucks County, there are three incontrovertible facts about Republican Brian Fitzpatrick that must be absorbed. Knowing these three policy facts are central to this discussion of how groups that are allies of the left in other regions are not doing right by us in Bucks County. These three facts are foundational for an assessment of how external groups are behaving in relation to our Republican lawmaker, and what we need to do as a community to change the incentives for how they behave.

Fact One: Brian Fitzpatrick supports national concealed carry reciprocity.

Despite being touted for his mixed bag of gun policy stances, there is one area where Fitzpatrick is as far-right as it comes.  He supports the policy of ‘national concealed carry reciprocity.’ That means that any one state must honor the laws – no matter how lenient – of another state as it relates to a person carrying a concealed weapon in public. So if Texas let felons or abusers carry concealed firearms in their state, then Pennsylvania would have to do the same! In this situation, we have a letter with Fitzpatrick’s own signature showing his commitment to this policy.

image 14 - Bucks County Beacon - Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

Fact Two: Brian Fitzpatrick is a union buster.

The first policy vote of this 118th Congress, after the GOP got past their 15 votes to determine a Speaker of the House, was the rules package. One of the line items in that rules package shut down the nascent congressional staffer unions that had just started to organize in the previous congress. Fitzpatrick joined all but one of his GOP colleagues in voting to kill off this union. This is the definition of union busting.

image 12 - Bucks County Beacon - Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

Fact Three: Brian Fitzpatrick backs book bans.

One of the messaging bills that the Republican Party introduced this session was a Moms For Liberty backed “Parents rights” bill. This bill had no chance of moving through the Democratic-led Senate, so it was clearly offered just to inflame the far-right extremists who are engaged by culture-wars in our schools. The National Education Association stated flatly that this bill “will exacerbate book banning and censorship.” Fitzpatrick voted for it.

image 13 - Bucks County Beacon - Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

Now that we are all on the same page about those three critical facts, let’s look at the way Brian Fitzpatrick takes advantage of the outdated philosophies at some issue-based advocacy groups and unions. 

When discussing issue-based advocacy groups, it is important to remember that they have two competing goals. 

Of course they have a suite of policy goals and presumably that is their priority, but to achieve those goals they must maximize their fundraising opportunities. And in many cases, the leadership of the advocacy organization feels that the appearance of bipartisanship or non-partisanship is key to keeping their donor base engaged. They cultivate that appearance by making sure they have members of both parties on their list of endorsees. In this bifurcated political environment, that means they turn to the least toxic Republican available, and in many cases, that is Brian Fitzpatrick. But “least toxic” does not mean he is an ally or good for the movement, as we shall see.

The perfect example and cautionary tale of the perils of this mentality comes out of the gun-reform groups Everytown for Gun Safety and their grassroots arm, Moms Demand Action. These groups were founded by former-Republican politician and very rich person, Mike Bloomberg, a man who talks about bipartisanship almost as much as Fitzpatrick does. The leadership of that group clearly feels that it is key to their success to ensure that their list of endorsees features members of both parties, even as fewer and fewer Republicans hold any views that are remotely in line with gun reform. They feel that if they were to only endorse Democrats – even though Democrats are the lawmakers who are most in line with their policy aims – then they will lose a huge swath of centrist GOP donors. Thus, they endorsed Brian Fitzpatrick, and keep endorsing him, even as the GOP goes further and further into the swamp of second amendment absolutism.

READ: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick Is A Loyal Soldier in the Crusade to End Reproductive Freedom and Ban Abortion

This untenable situation came to a head in 2018, when the Everytown/Moms Demand organizations decided that they were willing to lose an entire branch of their organization to keep Brian Fitzpatrick onboard as an endorsee, his position on national concealed carry notwithstanding. 

I spoke to Jessica Getz, the former leader of the now-defunct Bucks County Chapter of Moms Demand Action about the situation. 

“As active members of this community, we knew that Fitzpatrick’s record did not align with gun violence prevention legislation,” said Getz. “We had already experienced an Everytown endorsement of Pat Toomey in the spirit of bipartisanship which was ultimately detrimental to gun violence legislation initiatives in the U.S. Senate. We had an incredible candidate running against Brian Fitzpatrick that year who was a vocal supporter of Moms and attended many of our events; Brian Fitzpatrick, despite multiple invitations, attended none.”

Getz then detailed how the decision of the national organization impacted the local chapter. After hearing that Everytown was considering the endorsement of Fitzpatrick, the Bucks chapter did everything they could to dissuade the folks upstream: the wrote a letter to the national organization and asked them that at the very least, could they just stay out of the race and endorse no candidate. But it was not to be – the folks at the top had made their decision. 

READ: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick’s Support for New House Speaker Mike Johnson Shows Voters Who He Really Is

Sadly, Getz concluded, “when Everytown disregarded our concerns in favor of playing politics with their endorsement Brian Fitzpatrick, it became clear that the time we had invested in building the institutional knowledge of our district, relationship building with local leaders, police, and community organizations, and the dedication of our leadership and members, all of whom were volunteers, was inconsequential. After that we could not, in good faith, continue to dedicate our time to an organization that had so little regard for its members and we had no choice but to make the incredibly difficult decision to dissolve the Bucks County chapter.”

The Bucks branch of Moms Demand Action closed up shop after that 2018 Fitzpatrick endorsement, and the organization’s national leaders promptly went about imposing Twitter blocks on several PA-01 activists who dared to politely call them out on their decision to endorse a lawmaker who voted to rescind bills that prevented mentally ill people from getting firearms on top of his previously mentioned concealed carry reciprocity position. But for Moms Demand Action, dissent will not be tolerated, even principled dissent. To this day, Moms Demand Action continues to endorse Brian Fitzpatrick. And they continue to have zero presence in Bucks County.

image 15 - Bucks County Beacon - Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

Other advocacy groups, however, have taken a better path. The League of Conservation Voters is the perfect example of this. They are an issue-based organization that focuses on the environment, and they have endorsed Brian Fitzpatrick in the past. But they made it clear last term that their future endorsement was going to depend on how lawmakers voted on the Inflation Reduction Act, a suite of investments in clean energy and policies that address the climate crisis. When Brian Fitzpatrick voted against that bill, he found himself missing out on the 2024 League of Conservation Voters endorsement.

image 16 - Bucks County Beacon - Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick
Note the absence of Brian Fitzpatrick from this lineup.

That brings us to Unions and their endorsements. Unions face similar competing pressures as advocacy groups – policy goals and fundraising – but they also have to balance the representation of their member base. And despite Labor allies amongst lawmakers being predominantly Democrats, the union membership is not uniformly blue. On top of that, some labor leaders prioritize access to lawmakers over allyship. They want to back the winner so they can get a friendly ear in Washington.

We are still waiting to see which of those competing priorities is going to drive the behavior of a handful of powerful unions.  The AFL-CIO has yet to share their House of Representatives endorsements for the 2024 cycle. But they have released their legislative scorecard. And while Brian Fitzpatrick’s lifetime score is barely a passing grade of 61%, so far this cycle he has an abysmal 10%. So no matter if Brian Fitzpatrick shows up to visit a picket line now and again, sharing only 10% of a union’s policy goals when it comes to voting and then participating in some actual union-busting? That’s an insult on top of an injury!

image 17 - Bucks County Beacon - Analysis: How Some Liberal Advocacy Groups Fail Voters with Their Flawed Endorsements of Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick

Teachers’ Unions find themselves in a similar position. Some have endorsed Fitzpatrick in the past. But in this 118th Congress, the powerful National Education Association campaigned strongly against the previously mentioned “parents rights” book ban bill.  They wrote a Dear Colleague letter that outlined in detail all of the flaws of the legislation, closing with “We urge Congress to avoid spending time on divisive issues that do not contribute to student success. Instead, please focus on getting students the individualized support they need, keeping guns out of schools, and addressing educator shortages…Please vote NO on H.R. 5.”  

Fitzpatrick disregarded their explicit pleas, and voted YES.

We can only hope that the AFL-CIO and the teachers’ unions will follow the lead of the League of Conservation Voters by choosing to withhold their endorsements from Brian Fitzpatrick after he so blatantly scoffed at their policy priorities. We’ve seen promising signs from educators, with the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania endorsing Fitzpatrick’s Democratic challenger, Ashley Ehasz. But those aforementioned competing influences within these organizations, particularly that desire to keep a GOP lawmaker in their fold to “prove” that they are not a one-party team, is strong. So it is incumbent upon us, particularly those of us who belong to unions, to write to the leaders of these groups to let them know that our support and engagement is dependent upon them sticking to their policy-based principles. We must let them know that we will not tolerate them making decisions based on lawmaker access or appearance of bipartisanship.

READ: After Jan. 6, GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick Opposed 14 Out of 18 Bills to Strengthen Democracy

And when it comes to advocacy groups, we must use the power of our purses/wallets. We cannot keep donating money to groups that fail us. And it is not enough to simply stop donating.  It is infinitely more powerful to follow-up your stopped donation with a quick note to the group to explain WHY you are no longer giving them money – specifically, their choice of endorsees. A good place to start is with gun reform groups. There are a lot of them out there other than Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety who so callously betrayed our district. One example is CeaseFirePA, a wonderful advocacy group that is not wading into our PA-01 congressional race by endorsing Republican Brian Fitzpatrick! 

We have the power to shape unions and advocacy group endorsements. It requires some effort to reach out to the groups, but if enough of us work to ensure that these groups know we will not support them when they throw our district under the bus yet again, then we can make change happen!  Happy writing!

Executive Assistant to the President – Gina Lemmon

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Kierstyn Zolfo

Kierstyn Zolfo is a volunteer organizer with Indivisible Bucks County and Pennsylvania Indivisible. She and her husband live in Newtown Township.

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