POLITICO sends out a new edition of the email newsletter every weekday, usually around mid-afternoon—hours after the frenzied morning political primers, but comfortably before the end-of-day recap material. It’s titled “Influence,” which is a more polite term for what it really covers: Money. The newsletter includes a list of the day’s new political action committees, joint fundraisers, and lobbying registrations and terminations. In other words, it includes everything that anyone might need to understand federal politics as a business, which is, arguably, all that anyone might need to understand federal politics.
I subscribed to the newsletter in Summer 2016, when it provided helpful context for an internship in political journalism. But I’ve kept receiving it, long after having left political coverage, primarily because of an inexplicable interest in the daily listing of the new PACs. There are plenty that fit the traditional description of “big money”—candidate committees that will collect millions of dollars, resulting in slick television advertisements and corporate backing. There are some that will traffic in “dark money”—PACs that lead back to nondescript office buildings in Delaware, whose tax laws make it favorable to anonymous shell corporations. There are an awful lot of terrible acronyms.
On October 4, there was something different: Mets Are A Good Team Committee Super PAC.
Like many large corporate entities, MLB has its own PAC: Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball Political Action Committee. The Federal Election Commission’s database, though, turned up nothing when it came to committees about actual baseball teams. (Someone had registered “Phillies 2008,” but that had nothing to do with the club’s victory in the World Series. George Phillies, a retired college professor, tried to use it to get a presidential campaign off the ground that year.) There wasn’t much precedent for a baseball team to pop up here, and after the 2018 Mets’ 77-85 campaign, there wasn’t much for anyone to be calling them good, either. Who, then, was behind the Mets Are A Good Team Committee Super PAC?
The FEC’s paperwork made it appear like the work of one person, someone named Ben Aybar. He’d listed himself as the chairman, treasurer, and custodian of records. The headquarters was a residential address in the suburbs of New York City, and the organization’s listed preferred bank was nearby. There weren’t any of the typical signs of organized activity—there weren’t multiple people involved, there weren’t any office buildings or P.O. Boxes, the headquarters and bank were in the same state. Instead, it seemed like… well, it seemed like it might actually be one person who thinks the Mets Are A Good Team. I reached out to the email listed on the form, asking if he’d be willing to talk. Sure, he said. The next day at 10 a.m.?
I began with the most basic question, and the most important. Who is he?
“My name’s Ben Aybar, and I’m a high school student. I’ve been working on how to form Super PACs for….” he took a beat, trying to remember how long it’s been. “A little over a week, now?”
Was he at school right now? Yeah, he said. Free period. He had a chem test later, but that’s later. Still: Could he talk after school, maybe, with his parents’ permission?
“Well, fun fact,” he said. “My parents don’t actually know that I’ve started a Super PAC.”
Later that day, he came clean to them.
“It’s really not something that my husband and I know anything about, how to form a Super PAC,” said his mother, Susie Aybar. “But I suppose it’s not that hard a thing to do, as he’s established.”
Ben is 15, with two younger brothers. His family certainly hadn’t known that he’d been filing federal paperwork in his free time, Susie said, but this wasn’t completely out of the blue. As she describes him, it’s not too hard to see how this came to be. He’s been politically engaged since he joined a current events club in middle school, and he’s used one of his other hobbies—computer programming—to build election forecast models. And, of course, like his parents, he loves the Mets. Susie had tickets to watch them in the 1986 World Series, and the whole family went to watch the team in the playoffs in 2015. (They saw Matt Harvey start; Ben is quick to say that he now “disavows” the pitcher, since traded to the Cincinnati Reds. At present, his favorite player is Steven Matz.)
As Ben grew more interested in politics, he grew increasingly suspicious of political money. Approaching this year’s midterm elections, he thought he’d try to get involved, even though he’s not old enough to vote. “I sort of was interested in using the idea that I could form a Super PAC as being a point against Super PACs,” he said, now speaking outside of school hours. “Look how easy this is to do. If I could do it, anyone can.” Still, he was surprised at just how easy it was. Google turned up the paperwork, and he filled it out within a few minutes.
“I get an email, five minutes later, telling me, ‘Congratulations, this committee has been verified,’” Aybar said. “I was sort of like, are you serious? They obviously didn’t look at this!”
He believed in the name, Mets Are A Good Team, as much as he believed in anything. (That’s not without caveats; he was “really frustrated all year” with the team’s performance but was pleased by the strong finish.) At first, though, he didn’t know what to do with his handiwork. He’d made the point that he was trying to prove—that anyone, even a teenage boy, can form a political action committee about anything, even a baseball team. Should he just accept that, and let it fade out? Find a way to use it to push the team for success in free agency? Support local candidates who shared his fandom?
It took a few days—and a check-in with his uncle, a lawyer, to make sure that he had everything straight—but he got it. Aybar wants to embrace the team’s traditional status as an underdog by advocating for what he deems their political equivalent: new candidates, operating without the backing of large corporate donations.
“It was just sort of a joke. But we want it to be, at least, less of a joke,” Aybar said. “Because we think we can do something serious with it.”
He wants to see more oversight for the creation of PACs, he said, and he wants to support candidates who will work against corruption without large war chests of their own.
“He really wants to make a difference,” Susie said. “It’s hard as a 15-year-old boy to enact change when you can’t vote.”
Ben thinks he’s found his strategy to counter that. He’s still sifting through all of the technicalities, and the whole thing is all a little inside baseball. But, of course, that’s the point.