Yves here. Readers who read the post below by progressive activist and Naked Capitalism reader Jeff Epstein may wonder why Democratic party members of Congress submit to having the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee not only tell them how to spend substantial amounts of their time when in Washington but also aggressively monitor how much money they raise.
The answer is not only does the DCCC provide resources (subscriptions, access to research, policy recommendations) to Congressmen who have hardly any staffers, but even more important, the DCCC controls committee assignments and leadership slots. Professor Tom Ferguson published an important paper on this topic; we recapped some key points from an article he wrote about it in a 2011 post:
A new article by Ferguson in the Washington Spectator sheds more light on this corrupt and defective system. Partisanship and deadlocks are a direct result of the increased power of a centralized funding apparatus. It’s easy to raise money for grandstanding on issues that appeal to well-heeled special interests, so dysfunctional behavior is reinforced.
Let’s first look at how crassly explicit the pricing is. Ferguson cites the work of Marian Currander on how it works for the Democrats in the House of Representatives:
Under the new rules for the 2008 election cycle, the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] asked rank-and-file members to contribute $125,000 in dues and to raise an additional $75,000 for the party. Subcommittee chairpersons must contribute $150,000 in dues and raise an additional $100,000. Members who sit on the most powerful committees … must contribute $200,000 and raise an additional $250,000. Subcommittee chairs on power committees and committee chairs of non-power committees must contribute $250,000 and raise $250,000. The five chairs of the power committees must contribute $500,000 and raise an additional $1 million. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, and Democratic Caucus Chair Rahm Emanuel must contribute $800,000 and raise $2.5 million. The four Democrats who serve as part of the extended leadership must contribute $450,000 and raise $500,000, and the nine Chief Deputy Whips must contribute $300,000 and raise $500,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must contribute a staggering $800,000 and raise an additional $25 million.
Ferguson teases out the implications:
Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it, runs the challenge. They even sell on the installment plan: You want to chair an important committee? That’ll be $200,000 down and the same amount later, through fundraising…..
The whole adds up to something far more sinister than the parts. Big interest groups (think finance or oil or utilities or health care) can control the membership of the committees that write the legislation that regulates them. Outside investors and interest groups also become decisive in resolving leadership struggles within the parties in Congress. You want your man or woman in the leadership? Just send money. Lots of it….
The Congressional party leadership controls the swelling coffers of the national campaign committees, and the huge fixed investments in polling, research, and media capabilities that these committees maintain — resources the leaders use to bribe, cajole, or threaten candidates to toe the party line… Candidates rely on the national campaign committees not only for money, but for message, consultants, and polling they need to be competitive but can rarely afford on their own..
This concentration of power also allows party leaders to shift tactics to serve their own ends….They push hot-button legislative issues that have no chance of passage, just to win plaudits and money from donor blocs and special-interest supporters. When they are in the minority, they obstruct legislation, playing to the gallery and hoping to make an impression in the media…
The system …ensures that national party campaigns rest heavily on slogan-filled, fabulously expensive lowest-common-denominator appeals to collections of affluent special interests. The Congress of our New Gilded Age is far from the best Congress money can buy; it may well be the worst. It is a coin-operated stalemate machine that is now so dysfunctional that it threatens the good name of representative democracy itself.
If that isn’t sobering enough, a discussion after the Ferguson article describes the mind-numbing amount of money raised by the members of the deficit-cutting super committee. In addition, immediately after being named to the committee, several members launched fundraising efforts that were unabashed bribe-seeking. But since the elites in this country keep themselves considerable removed from ordinary people, and what used to be considered corruption in their cohort is now business as usual, nary an ugly word is said about these destructive practices.
By Naked Capitalism reader aliteralmind, aka Jeff Epstein, is an independent and progressive journalist with Citizens’ Media TV. Jeff was a finalist with Brand New Congress, was one of around forty candidates in the country to be personally endorsed by Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary, and was a pledged delegate for Sanders at the DNC. Copy edited by Ben Szioli. Originally published on Citizens’ Media TV
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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
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 lawsand 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:
- The DCCC endorsed Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey’s 2nd district for the current 2018 Democratic primary. Van Drew has a 100% “A” rating with the NRA and is one of only two New Jersey state senators to vote against marriage equality. Van Drew has two progressive competitors, Tanzie Youngblood and Berniecrat Sean Thom.
- The county Democratic Parties in New Jersey’s seventh congressional district anointed their own 2018 primary candidates (granting them the coveted “Democratic line”) in meetings where the progressive candidate, Peter Jacob, was completely excluded.
- Although some money was given immediately before the March 2017 primary, throughout most of the campaign, the party refused to support the Kansas congressional campaign of Berniecrat James Thompson.
- Washington State’s Sarah Smith is being denied critical access to Democratic voter data until, essentially, she wins, which is contradictory and nonsensical.
- The 2016 congressional campaign in Florida between Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tim Canova is currently under investigation. During this investigation, the most critical evidence, the paper ballots, were destroyedby county officials.
- Both major parties in New York require its citizens to register with or switch parties 193 days before the primary. In order to attract new voters, candidates must inspire them to register with or switch to the Democratic Party more than six months before going to the polls.
- The Democratic National Committee gave complete control of the party to their anointed candidate before the 2016 presidential primary even began. After being caught tilting the election in Hillary Clinton’s favor, the DNC’s chairperson, Wasserman Schultz, resigned and was immediately appointed by the Clinton campaign as “honorary chair” of their “50-state-program.”
- The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee was purged of Bernie Sanders supporters in October 2017, in an effort to prevent much of this nonsense from changing anytime soon.