The Rigged Primary Did Cost Bernie Sanders Votes; What Democrats Do Now Matters

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The Rigged Primary Did Cost Bernie Sanders Votes; What Democrats Do Now Matters

Yesterday, Politico reignited the Democratic Party’s blood feud, when it published an excerpt from the new book by former interim DNC chair and CNN commentator Donna Brazile. Titled, “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC,” the piece details how, following her appointment as interim DNC Chair, Brazile had uncovered proof that the 2016 primary was rigged against Senator Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton.

“By September 7, the day I called Bernie, I had found my proof and it broke my heart,” she wrote, explaining that an internal document showed that from August of 2015 onward, Clinton’s campaign had control over the DNC.

There has long been speculation surrounding the primary—from the sparse debate schedule with its strict “no unsanctioned debates” policy, to emails showing a cozy relationship between the former Secretary of State’s campaign and the party. However, Clinton allies have maintained that there was no impropriety undermining Hillary’s historic achievement in becoming the first woman nominated by a major party.

But Brazile's article suggests otherwise, that the outcome might not have been so independent from the impropriety.

The former interim DNC Chair explains more fully a joint-fundraising scheme, initially uncovered by Politico, which was agreed upon just four months after Clinton declared her candidacy, because the party was left bankrupt by President Obama's 2012 campaign. According to Brazile, the deal gave her campaign effective control over the DNC—including having final say in hiring decisions. The purpose of this arrangement was to allow Clinton to circumvent campaign finance restrictions on maximum allowable donations. By ensuring that money raised through the party went almost exclusively to her campaign (at the expense of down-ballot Democrats), the former Secretary of State was able to raise more than she could have otherwise. Meanwhile, the Party was kept on “life support.”

She explained:

The campaign had the DNC on life support, giving it money every month to meet its basic expenses, while the campaign was using the party as a fund-raising clearinghouse. Under FEC law, an individual can contribute a maximum of $2,700 directly to a presidential campaign. But the limits are much higher for contributions to state parties and a party's national committee.

Individuals who had maxed out their $2,700 contribution limit to the campaign could write an additional check for $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund—that figure represented $10,000 to each of the 32 states' parties who were part of the Victory Fund agreement—$320,000—and $33,400 to the DNC. The money would be deposited in the states first, and transferred to the DNC shortly after that. Money in the battleground states usually stayed in that state, but all the other states funneled that money directly to the DNC, which quickly transferred the money to Brooklyn.

Through Brazile's piece, we can infer answers to some of the biggest questions from the primary—like why superdelegates and party leaders lined up behind Clinton so quickly, why Clinton's campaign and DNC offices were sometimes in the same location, why the debate schedule was a team effort, and why after the Politico story broke about how the former Secretary was not helping down-ballot races (a charge she'd leveled against Senator Sanders), the campaign and the party coordinated to blunt the story in the press.

There was no separation between the two entities. The party worked as an arm of the campaign, insulating Clinton from critical narratives, even if doing so meant starving her outsider opponent of airtime.

Although he grew in popularity the more people learned of him, Sanders struggled throughout the primary to get his name out there. A study of media coverage during the 2016 election by the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, revealed that coverage of Sanders was lacking in the nascent primary. That had the effect of costing him in early races which was then compounded by the fact that he'd become a long shot in later races. The “Oh I like Bernie, but he can't win” narrative was constant. There is no question this is what cost him the primary.

Yet, some still don't seem to get it (or refuse to):

These individuals represent a problem, because until there is contrition from Clinton's establishment, Democrats will remain divided—a situation that does not bode well for 2018 or the Census-year election, 2020. A failure by the party to perform in both of these elections, at least at the state level, will mean the GOP redistricts the House again. In that event, the Democratic Party is likely finished.

UPDATE: NBC News obtained a copy of the memo cited by Brazile. It specifies that ”[n]othing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC's obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process,” and ”[a]ll activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary.” The language is telling. “Preparations for the General Election” does not necessarily mean “during the General Election.” Moreover, the provision about hiring the new DNC Communications Director from the two candidates “identified as acceptable to HFA” to: occur by September 11, 2015—long before the primary had concluded. The agreement appears to commence in August 2015.