Chapter 6: DNC fundraising, spending, and strategy.
A year after the general election, in November 2017, Donna Brazile released an excerpt from her upcoming book that confirmed what Sanders staffers, supporters, and Bernie Sanders himself had long suspected: The DNC not only favored Clinton, they made a contractual agreement with the Clinton campaign to give them a great amount of control over DNC decision-making — on matters of staffing, spending, fundraising, messaging, and overall strategy.
This has never happened before. Historically, presidential nominees only take control of the DNC once they become the nominee — or if they are the incumbent, in which case, it is already under their (the President’s) control.
In 2015, the DNC became a wing of the Clinton campaign — not completely, but strongly and clearly — and this was true from at least five months before the first votes were cast.
A snippet of the contract reads:
Of course, even after this revelation, the same Clinton defenders would find excuses that these actions were somehow justified. And of course, this did not affect the final outcome of the primary.
What the contract ultimately meant for Sanders, though, is that he was effectively running against the Democratic National Committee (DNC). This is absurd precisely because of the DNC claim of “impartiality” toward its candidates.
Unlike its claims during the primary of “neutrality,” if the DNC in reality prefers one candidate over the other, then it would take many strong actions to boost the preferred candidate and undermine the disliked candidate. And that is exactly what the DNC did.
The DNC was used by the Clinton Campaign to massively breach campaign finance limits by laundering money from state parties.
During the primary, one talking point generated from the Clinton campaign (and then pushed by pundits and supporters through the media) is that Bernie Sanders is in it “for himself” — but Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is interested in building the Democratic Party from the ground-up. Bernie Sanders, we were told, is “doing nothing for down-ballot candidates,” but Hillary Clinton is raising money for the DNC and down-ballot candidates. Arguments like the following were echoed through media outlets, and social media accounts (often paid to do so, as we’ll see in the next chapter), to boost Clinton and discredit Sanders:
But as it turns out, this was just a talking point, and ultimately a lie. In May 2016 — after most state primaries had occured, and after Hillary Clinton had nearly locked up the nomination — a very different truth was exposed in a Politico report.
To understand what really happened, it is worth reading all of the following from the Politico report:
“In the days before Hillary Clinton launched an unprecedented big-money fundraising vehicle with state parties last summer, she vowed “to rebuild our party from the ground up,” proclaiming “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”
“But less than 1 percent of the $61 million raised by that effort has stayed in the state parties’ coffers, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings.
“The venture, the Hillary Victory Fund, is a so-called joint fundraising committee comprised of Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees. The setup allows Clinton to solicit checks of $350,000 or more from her super-rich supporters at extravagant fundraisers including a dinner at George Clooney’s house and a concert at Radio City Music Hall featuring Katy Perry and Elton John.
“The victory fund has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88 percent) was quickly transferred to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee, POLITICO’s analysis of the FEC records found.
“By contrast, the victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.”
The Sanders team became aware of this money-laundering operation — that’s exactly what it was — which they already suspected.
BURLINGTON, Vt. – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, on Monday criticized a Hillary Clinton campaign fundraising scheme that state party leaders told Politico has been used as a self-serving “money-laundering” conduit.
Despite Clinton’s pledges to rebuild state parties, Politico found that less than 1 percent of the $61 million raised by the Victory Fund has stayed in the state parties’ coffers.
“Secretary Clinton is looting funds meant for the state parties to skirt fundraising limits on her presidential campaign,” Weaver said. “We think the Clinton campaign should let the state parties keep their fair share of the cash.”
Sanders’ and Clinton’s primary campaigns both raised about $26 million in April, but Politico documented how the Hillary Victory Fund, a supposedly joint fundraising committee, has been exploited to inflate her presidential primary campaign.
Source: Sanders press release
The Sanders law team sent a “cease and desist” to the DNC:
Important: The “joint fundraising committee” was conducted “through the Hillary Victory Fund,” and created “by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary for America (HFA).” This is the DNC and Clinton team operating in tandem to implement the money laundering operation which forced a “loophole” in campaign finance laws, in order to raise massive amounts of money for Hillary Clinton — through the “neutral” DNC.
The unfair advantage for Hillary Clinton is very clear. Bernie Sanders had an effective limit of $2,700 per individual donor, which is campaign finance law. Hillary Clinton “technically” had the same limit, but in reality, through money-laundering via DNC and state parties, Hillary Clinton’s fundraising limit for “individual donors” became $353,400.
If Hillary Clinton was limited to $2,700 instead of $353,400 — like the law requires — far less money would have been raised for her campaign. As the previous documents make clear, this money was used by the DNC, in direct collaboration with the Clinton campaign, in the form of direct mailers, campaign staff, online advertising, and a host of other campaign expenses. It’s worth repeating from the Politico report,
“And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.”
Those who argue that this operation “didn’t help the Hillary campaign” are saying empty, meaningless words. The simple fact is that money is extremely important for a campaign, and without these funds, the campaign would have suffered greatly — Clinton would not have gained nearly as much support, not as many volunteers or staff, far fewer donations, less of a lead and lower perception of “electability” — and ultimately, less voters turning out in the election.
Hillary Clinton and her team used a loophole to skirt campaign finance regulations. In the process, she gained massive amounts of campaign funding — under the guise of “helping local and state parties” — while claiming that Sanders was the one who is being shady and not helping state and local parties. If the DNC was fair and neutral, like it claimed, this simply would not have happened.
Again, we know for a fact that the DNC was answering directly to the Clinton campaign, and working closely with Hillary for America (HFA) and the Hillary Victory Fund (HVF). That’s why this was allowed to happen.
To know that massive amounts of campaign funding does, in fact, give a candidate an advantage in the final vote, we only need to take away millions of dollars from a campaign and see what happens. The answer is obvious. It hurts the campaign and the final turnout. For anyone to argue that this operation “did not affect the outcome of the election,” they are essentially saying that the massive amount of money and resources obtained by the Clinton campaign, and re-directed through the DNC — through secretive and unethical means — did not affect any final votes. Any honest person who has worked on a political campaign would know that this is pure nonsense.
Then, there was another way the DNC boosted Hillary’s campaign in its ability to raise funds. And only Hillary’s campaign.
2. DNC rolls back Obama ban on federal lobbyists
As Bernie Sanders became competitive with Hillary Clinton in fundraising — and immediately after he won the second primary by a large margin (New Hampshire by 22 percent) — the DNC moved to change another set of rules on financial contributions.
“The ban has been in place since 2008, when President Obama became the party’s presumptive nominee.
“With the DNC now accepting all lobbyist and PAC donations, it has reversed the policies that were adopted in 2008, when Obama vowed to curb the influence of special interests in Washington.”
“Campaign finance watchdog group Democracy 21 chided the DNC’s decision, calling it “a major step in the wrong direction.”
Source: The Hill
Of course, since Bernie Sanders was funding his campaign through small donations, this move was made with full knowledge that it would help Clinton but not Sanders.
The Sanders campaign responded that the DNC should keep the ban, which was established by Obama in order to “curb the influence of big money interests in Washington.”
Hillary Clinton insisted during her primary campaign that she was willing to take on these same interests that Sanders would take on, and yet, she was fine with the sudden deregulation of federal lobbying restrictions that Obama established in 2008. It’s not rocket science why Clinton went along with the action. Even if it would increase the influence of big money interests in the U.S. political process, it benefited her and her campaign.
It is not rocket science, either, why this specific deregulation, initiated by the DNC, happened at this precise time: It was right when the Clinton campaign was beginning to feel truly threatened by the Sanders campaign.
By February 2016 — for six months already — the DNC was largely under the control of the Clinton campaign. The DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was Clinton’s campaign manager in 2008, and later, after being forced to resign from the DNC, would be instantly re-hired by the Clinton campaign. The deregulation was not an accident or a coincidence. It was orchestrated by the DNC — with the DNC chair, Schultz, playing a major role — to help the Clinton campaign and only the Clinton campaign.
Before moving on to the next chapter, let’s take a look at one more occurrence from the primary that clearly shows how the DNC was working for Clinton — and how they would hurt the Sanders campaign, at just the right times, to help Hillary Clinton.
3. Removal of VAN Access
In late December — in the critical weeks leading up to the beginning of primary voting — the DNC removed the Sanders’ campaign’s access from a database of information that is critical to fundraising, communications, and campaigning.
One Sanders staffer was accused of viewing information from the Clinton campaign that became transparent after a software glitch.
The DNC chair and Clinton campaign insisted that the Sanders campaign was engaging in unfair actions: that they were “stealing” Clinton’s own voter information to use against them.
Under a false pretense, the DNC crippled the Sanders campaign at a critical juncture by locking them out of their own campaign data.
The Sanders campaign launched an internal investigation and filed a lawsuit against the DNC. The Sanders staffer would have to be fired by the Sanders campaign, despite that his momentary “viewing of data” did nothing to hurt the Clinton campaign or help the Sanders campaign.
The DNC — which, once again, was strongly under the influence of the Clinton wing — locked the Sanders campaign out of its own data in the critical weeks leading up to the first primary election. The DNC made this decision not based on “proof” of malicious activity, or even evidence of malicious intent, but they simply used a software bug in VAN to hit the Sanders campaign when and where it really hurt.
This time, it wasn’t the Clinton campaign unfairly gaining campaign funding. It was the Sanders campaign unfairly losing campaign funding. And it was not just a matter of fundraising. The Sanders campaign would be crippled in the days leading up to the first primary election (caucus) — which would be an incredibly important election for both visibility and the perception of “electability.” This “unelectable” argument would become one of the main tools employed by the Clinton campaign against Sanders, to lower turnout and enthusiasm for Sanders. Any unfair process that hurt Sanders’ visibility, and perception of “electability,” ultimately affected his vote count. And the VAN revocation affected these factors greatly, particularly in Iowa, which is the first state and very psychologically important in the race.
Hillary Clinton ultimately won the Iowa caucus by a few tenths of a percent. It is very easy to imagine that Bernie would have won Iowa had his VAN access not been removed. If Sanders won both Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states, this could have greatly affected all the states that would follow in the primary. That is why political campaigns put so much into the first two primary states. Historically, Democratic primary candidates who win both Iowa and New Hampshire are much more likely to become the nominee.
A later independent investigation confirmed that “the Sanders campaign told the truth.”
Knowing what we know about the shared interests of the DNC and Clinton campaign — and the evidence surrounding this incident — it must have been just a “coincidence” that VAN was cut off for the Sanders campaign, but not the Clinton campaign. And it must only be a “coincidence” that later Wikileaks emails showed leading DNC officials in a discussion of how to use the VAN incident in undermining credibility for the Sanders campaign, by creating a narrative that it showed they don’t have their act together.
The original Wikileaks email can be read here. (Read that email alone, and then honestly tell me the DNC wasn’t working against Sanders.)
To top it all off, another interesting fact: in the 2008 primary elections, a bug in the same VAN software “accidentally exposed Obama’s voter data to the Clinton campaign. But the DNC didn’t take any action in ’08. It certainly didn’t suspend anyone’s access.”
In the end, it was Bernie Sanders who raised money for down-ballot candidates. And it was Bernie Sanders who inspired a new era of small-donor fundraising, for grassroots candidates across the nation.
No thanks to the mass media. In 2015 and 2016, the U.S. media had its own agenda, its own structure, and its own bottom line to preserve. Independent media and social media were forced to become the media for Sanders, otherwise, his campaign wouldn’t have been possible. Meanwhile: the mainstream media, in collusion with the DNC and Clinton campaign, would work to suppress and smear Bernie Sanders through the primary cycle.