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Science Careers Blog

May 24, 2012

Super Postdoc Founds His Own SuperPAC

This presidential election year, super PACs, political actions committees that can accept unlimited contributions and make independent campaign expenditures, have proliferated to support candidates of all ideological stripes.  Among the least likely superpacs is Americans for a More American America (AFAMAA), established by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) postdoc Michael Invernale.

When not working on smart materials for use in treating diabetes, in the Langer lab at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research or at Boston Children's Hospital, he is selling official AFAMAA T shirts, organizing hotdog eating contests, tweeting, and planning other fundraising activities in his role as Grand Vizier (his actual title) of AFAMAA, "the superPaC to end all superPACs," according to its slogan.  "The idea" or the fundraising, Invernale says, "is eventually to do some ads."

It was not, Invernale says, working in an MIT building named for billionaire industrialist, philanthropist, and political donor David Koch that inspired him to start political fundraising.  Rather, it was the example of another superPAC founder, political satirist and TV personality Stephen Colbert.  A self-described "loyal member of Colbert Nation, since 2005, when Colbert's show, the Colbert Report] began," Invernale was also a fan Colbert's earlier work on Jon Stewart's The DailyShow. But it was Colbert's memorable portrayal of science teacher Chuck Noblet, in the even earlier TV series "Strangers with Candy", that first made Invernale a devoted fan. 

In March, Colbert, who had already founded his own super PAC, offered a SuperPAC Super Fun Pack for $99 to viewers who wanted to start super PACs of their own.  "As soon as he said 'decoder ring,' I gave him my $99," Invernale recalls. According to Invernale, the fun pack also included a small American flag, a small canned ham that Colbert claims resembles political strategist Karl Rove, a T-shirt with the slogan "Turtles don't like peanut butter," an Allen wrench ("included pointlessly," Invernale notes), a sign with the message "Official superPAC in progress," and instructions for how to set up set up an honest-to-goodness, registered-with-the-Federal-Election-Commission superPAC.

Invernale filed the forms, and Americans for a More American America SuperPAC was born.  Like Colbert's own super PAC and others Colbert has inspired, AFAMAA is intended as a broad satire of the legal arrangements that permit super PACs to exist.  Thus far, "several dozen" donors have contributed less than $200 each to AFAMAA. Because of the small size of the donations, Invernale does not have to reveal their names, although he does have to make a number of official filings during the year.  All his super PAC's dealings are "completely above board," he emphasizes, although he adds that "there are very few laws that I can actually break."

Americans for a More American America SuperPAC has "not yet taken an official candidate stance"  in the upcoming presidential race, Invernale says, but he intimates that his views "probably skew to the left rather than to the right."  His group has garnered media attention from  Roll Call magazine, All Things Considered" on National Public Radio, and Colbert himself.

Invernale insists that he is "not a slacker" and has the resume to prove it: 19 scientific publications and three more in press or under consideration; 3 patents; and a position as a founder of Alphachromics, Inc., a company working to commercialize research done at the University of Connecticut where Invernale earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry.

Invernale, who writes on his LinkedIn profile  that he would like to have a career in industrial research or a government lab, apparently doesn't see a long=term future for himself in political fundraising. The goal of his and Colbert's superPACS, after all, is to raise awareness of what they consider the absurdity of super PACS and ultimately to drive them out of existence.

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