[S]election: The ever-increasing sabotage of progressive candidates by the Democratic Party

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An editorial by Jeff Epstein, Editor-in-Chief of Citizens’ Media TV
Copy edited by Ben Szioli

Citizens’ Media TV is 100% financially supported by its readers. Please help pay for Citizens’ Media TV.

This article was re-published on Naked Capitalism, with an insightful and complementary introduction.

Get the memo

Less than two days after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) wrote a strong opposition research article about Laura Moser’s Congressional candidacy, the Texas progressive had raised $60,000.

The DCCC’s unprecedented attack against one of its own comes only months after the organization, which calls itself the “official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives,” sent all potential 2018 U.S. House candidates a “memorandum of understanding” (MoU). The memorandum requires candidates to refrain from attacking other Democrats during the primary election, calling it necessary in order to avoid “tactics that do harm to our chances of winning a General Election.”

Although candidates are forbidden from criticizing one another, there are no such requirements for super PACs (or, at least in the case of Moser, the DCCC itself). So, while the candidates themselves talk about rainbows, unicorns, and lollipops, the super PACs, which are supposed to have no connection to the candidates, take care of the mud-slinging dirty work. Unsurprisingly, the DCCC, the Democratic Party, and the unlimited, dark-money super PACs most often back the same candidate. This requirement is therefore a clear disadvantage to most candidates without party backing, such as progressives and upstarts.

Screenshot from DCCC MoU regarding not attacking other Democrats. Here is the full MoU. (More info on the MoU).

Dialing for dollars

The terms of the MoU, which candidates must sign in order to receive DCCC support, prioritize fundraising above all. In practice, this inevitably disconnects candidates from their voters. From the Intercept:

Prioritizing fundraising, as Democratic Party officials do, has a feedback effect that creates lawmakers who are further and further removed from the people they are elected to represent. In 2013, the DCCC offered a startling presentation for incoming lawmakers, telling them they would be expected to immediately begin four hours of “call time” every day they were in Washington. That’s time spent dialing for dollars from high-end donors.

This “dialing for dollars” separates candidates from their potential (and less-wealthy) constituents. This is true even when off the phone, because that is when the promises made on the phone must be fulfilled. As impossible fundraising goals are missed, the candidate is under more and more pressure to depend on wealthier and wealthier donors, many of whom may not even be constituents. Meanwhile, most constituents, who cannot afford substantial donations, are left further and further behind. Not only are the needs of these powerless constituents no longer met, the candidate likely loses touch with what those needs even are.

Trojan horse

Candidates must also agree to keep the DCCC abreast daily of their progress towards fundraising goals. Every day. The goals are suggested by the DCCC itself and are often unrealistic for campaigns who choose to forsake large donations.

Screenshot from DCCC MoU regarding fundraising

According to Paul Perry, a former Pennsylvania congressional candidate, when the goals are not met, the DCCC ratchets up the pressure:

As the campaign dragged on and their sense of the weakness of the field and my campaign gathering strength, my finance director started getting more calls from their finance people. They wanted weekly numbers, down to the number of hours I had spent on the phone with donors each week, how much money I had raised on a weekly and daily basis, and even average contribution estimates.

Perry suspended his campaign.

This pressure is further emphasized by the story of Lee Carter, a 30-year-old democratic socialist and now-state legislator from Virginia. Carter stopped giving the DCCC updates, resulting in his candidacy being abandoned by the party. Carter believes that these daily updates were a Trojan horse for the party to take day-to-day control over his campaign, especially as it relates to fundraising. (Carter also claims that the party leaked confidential campaign information, although he did not elaborate.)

According to the Richmond Times Dispatch:

Lee Carter, the Democratic candidate against [Republican incumbent and then-State House Majority Whip] Miller, opted out [of providing daily updates]. So his party essentially cut him off, saying that without him providing information they had no choice but to put financial resources into candidates they know are doing what the party believes is required to win.

In the same article, the Virginia Democratic Party justified the decision:

Unlike the Virginia House Republican Caucus, we do not have unlimited resources and must make informed and judicious decisions about where to invest the hard-earned dollars of our donors. We ask candidates to regularly report the number of doors they have knocked and dollars they have raised, so that we know we are investing the generous contributions of our donors in candidates who are willing to do the work necessary to win elections.

After Carter’s “unexpected” win, the reporter of the above article stated that the Democratic Party was upset that he reported on Carter’s candidacy at all. This was especially due to Carter’s positions against fossil fuel interests, which stand in direct conflict with the large donations received by the Virginia state party.

(In addition, the MoU states that candidates should run their campaigns “focused on highlighting our shared values as Democrats,” which could easily be interpreted to mean that views to the left of the Democratic Party are just as undesirable as those to the right.)

Enriching consultants

Finally, the DCCC’s MoU also serves to enrich its own consultants. It requires candidates to reserve 75% of their campaign coffers for “paid communications,” which includes television and radio. For candidates who choose to focus their money on reaching voters through grassroots efforts such as door-knocking and last minute get-out-the-vote outreach, this restriction is suffocating.

Candidates are also required to hire a “research consultant” and other “professional consultants,” which, not coincidentally, can be chosen from among a “comprehensive list” provided by the DCCC.

Screenshots from DCCC MoU regarding consultants

Crushing dissent

The DCCC’s actions are further examples of a party that makes it extremely difficult for truly progressive candidates – or newcomers or outsiders of any kind – to get a foot in the door. The Democratic and Republican parties may be different when it comes to social and environmental issues, but they are no different when it comes to who they stand for and against: they fight for the interests of their big-money donors and most often against the needs of their powerless constituents.

Our government no longer represents the bottom 90% of Americans (link to video)

Two examples of this:

  • Current polling shows that seven in ten Americans want stricter gun laws and 97%, want stronger background checks. Yet, in the wake of the largest mass shooting in modern history, the DCCC instructed its candidates, in all caps, “DO NOT POLITICIZE THIS TODAY.” Instead of discussing gun policy, candidates were told to “offer their thoughts and prayers.”
  • There is broad and bipartisan support (see page 88) for single-payer healthcare, but in April of 2017, the DCCC instructed its candidates only to discuss how the Republican plan is harmful. They were to talk about their own proposals “only if asked”! Most importantly, two full pages of the letter was dedicated to listing misleading Republican criticisms of “[Bernie] Sanders’ plan” for single-payer healthcare, with no counter arguments. An example criticism is that single-payer healthcare will cause “millions of Americans to lose their current health insurance plan.” Although narrowly and technically true, it ignores the fact that the very definition of single-payer healthcare means that every single American is fully covered – just no longer by the private insurance industry.

This is all summed up by the executive director of Justice Democrats, an organization supporting progressive candidates who refuse big-money donations: “[the] DCCC is scared stiff that after 2018 there will be a huge wave of progressive Democrats taking over the party that won’t be accountable to their corporate interests.”

The Democratic Party prioritizes fundraising above all else and chooses candidates who cater to the needs of their big donors. (A cynical interpretation could be that the most important quality the Democratic Party looks for in a candidate is a willingness to be bribed.) The ostensible goal of the Democratic Party may be to “defeat Republicans,” but it seems that just as much energy, if not more, is spent fighting against progressive policies and the candidates who truly stand for them. At least in some cases, such as with Laura Moser and Lee Carter, the strategy is beginning to backfire.

Appendix: Further evidence

An extremely un-comprehensive list of further examples demonstrating how the Democratic Party shuts out progressives:

Citizens’ Media TV is 100% financially supported by its readers. Please help pay for Citizens’ Media TV.


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