Hillary Clinton, one of the most powerful political operatives on planet Earth, was in on some shady political shit to give her the upper hand in a Democratic primary.
No, but seriously. As you’re undoubtedly aware, former DNC interim chair Donna Brazile has written a book and a recently-released excerpt from that book details how Hillary Clinton essentially took over the party via, among other things, a more favorable fundraising agreement than that offered to Bernie Sanders.
At the end of the excerpt (originally published by Politico and reprinted below), Brazile says the following:
When I hung up the call to Bernie, I started to cry, not out of guilt, but out of anger.
I’m sympathetic to that sentiment as I’m sure you are if you care anything about Sanders and his ongoing crusade to transform America into a socialist paradise.
That said, if you have any formal training in political science, then you can’t read Brazile’s account of the shenanigans without chuckling at least once – or maybe twice – or maybe three times. Is it wrong? Of course. Is it illegal? No – and even if it is, you can bet nothing will ever come of it. Is it funny? Yes.
Basically, Clinton took advantage of the “deplorable” (pardon the joke) state of the DNC to strong-arm the party before she was officially the nominee. The idea that Brazile – a veteran political operative herself – is surprised by this is either i) a testament to some misguided faith in a system she’s got to know is hopelessly corrupt, ii) feigned, or more likely iii) a little bit of both.
On Saturday, NBC is out reporting that the Bernie Sanders campaign says they now have proof that “the fix was in against us.” I’m going to excerpt a couple of passages here because again, you don’t know whether to laugh or, like Donna, cry:
Sanders and Clinton both signed boilerplate joint fundraising agreements with the DNC in 2015, which created a vehicle to split proceeds between the campaigns and the party.
But Clinton’s campaign also negotiated a side deal, first reported by NBC News on Friday night, that gave it influence over staffing and other decisions at the DNC during the primary, but with the stipulation that it only affect preparations for the general election and that other candidates could strike a similar deal.
The same offer was made to all candidates, Clinton allies have argued in countering Brazile, but only Clinton took advantage of it.
Apparently, there’s some truth to the notion that Sanders was “offered” a similar deal, but there’s a reason why we put the word “offered” in scare quotes there.
This is from the Washington Post and it basically suggests that everyone involved did the bare minimum when it came to keeping ol’ Bernie in the loop:
In a September 2015 email obtained by The Washington Post, a lawyer from Perkins Coie, a law firm representing both the DNC and the Clinton campaign, wrote the Sanders campaign with a copy of what was presented as a “standard joint fundraising agreement.”
“This is the same one we have used with other campaigns,” wrote attorney Graham Wilson.
At the end of the same email, Wilson suggested that should the Sanders campaign raise “significantly more” money than was required to pay for the party voter file, then Sanders could have a say in how those funds would be used “to prepare for the general election.”
“The DNC has had discussions like this with the Clinton campaign and is of course willing to do so with all committees raising funds for the Committee,” Wilson wrote.
Yes, “of course” we’re willing to do it for you, Bernie. Kind of reminds me of the classic Family Guy clip in which Ringo writes a song.
“Hey guys I’m running for President too!”
“Oh, that’s great Bernie. Fantastic. We’re just going to put you right over here.”
And wouldn’t you know it, the two members of the Sanders campaign who spoke to NBC for the Saturday piece (cited above) seem to suggest that they were never made aware of the opportunity to strike a similar deal or if they were it wasn’t really feasible. To wit:
However, Sanders’ joint fundraising agreement with the DNC, signed in November, 2015, which was also obtained by NBC News, does not appear to include a supplemental deal.
And two of the Sanders campaign’s former top officials say they were never specifically offered one like Clinton’s and had no knowledge of their rival campaign’s arrangement.
“We had no addendum like this, no memorandum, no agreement like this,” said Mark Longabaugh, who was the campaign’s chief liaison to the DNC. “They basically came to us and said, here’s the agreement, take it or leave it.”
In other words, the DNC “made them offer they couldn’t refuse.”
With regard to that last contention by Mark (i.e. that the DNC “basically came to Sanders and said, here’s the agreement, take it or leave it,” allow us to say the following unequivocally:
We don’t doubt it Mark. Not for a second.
And it all comes down to this, again from NBC:
Longabaugh acknowledged that the Sanders campaigns — which in the summer of 2015, had not yet become an online fundraising juggernaut — had little to offer the cash-strapped DNC and had to scrounge to pay the $250,000 bill for the party’s voter file.
There you go.
But it’s not that simple. Or at least probably not. Think about this from a common sense perspective. No one thought Donald Trump had a chance to win the election no matter who the Democratic candidate was. But no one wanted to even chance an outcome that would install a reality TV show host in the Oval Office. So, given that Sanders’ platform was considered far-fetched by a lot of voters, and given that Hillary Clinton is, well, Hillary Clinton, the thinking was probably pretty simple. Something like this:
There is no way we are going to risk putting this wild-haired, old socialist curmudgeon up against Trump, because that will be a complete circus and what happens if he fucks up and loses? The we’ll be blamed for being the idiots that let Donald Trump become President by allowing ‘Crazy Bernie’ to run instead of a member of the goddamn Clinton family.
Of course that turned out to be one of the most disastrous calculations in the history of American politics and with the benefit of hindsight, it’s entirely possibly that Bernie could have beaten Trump just by goading him into having a meltdown at one of the debates.
So yeah, egg on your face DNC – and there was a lot of egg there already.
At the end of the day, the idea that Bernie Sanders was ever going to be allowed to win that primary is of course laughable and everyone knew it. Now we just have what appears to be proof.
Before we leave you with Brazile’s piece, we would note the following: this doesn’t do anything at all to exonerate Donald Trump. Hopefully that’s obvious. This ongoing effort to pretend like things that Hillary Clinton has done somehow exonerate Trump for colluding with Russians is about like someone breaking into your house and then, in court, claiming that they are innocent because they can point to any number of instances when other people broke into houses.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note the extent to which the following sounds like it walked right out of a goddamn mob movie.
If you really want to get a good laugh, read this once, and then read it a second time. Only the second time around, replace every mention of “Hillary Clinton” with “Fat Tony” or maybe “Johnny Roastbeef.”
By Donna Brazile as excerpted from Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House and as published by Politico
Before I called Bernie Sanders, I lit a candle in my living room and put on some gospel music. I wanted to center myself for what I knew would be an emotional phone call.
I had promised Bernie when I took the helm of the Democratic National Committee after the convention that I would get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process, as a cache of emails stolen by Russian hackers and posted online had suggested. I’d had my suspicions from the moment I walked in the door of the DNC a month or so earlier, based on the leaked emails. But who knew if some of them might have been forged? I needed to have solid proof, and so did Bernie.
So I followed the money. My predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, had not been the most active chair in fundraising at a time when President Barack Obama’s neglect had left the party in significant debt. As Hillary’s campaign gained momentum, she resolved the party’s debt and put it on a starvation diet. It had become dependent on her campaign for survival, for which she expected to wield control of its operations.
Debbie was not a good manager. She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party—she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was. How much control Brooklyn had and for how long was still something I had been trying to uncover for the last few weeks.
By September 7, the day I called Bernie, I had found my proof and it broke my heart.
The Saturday morning after the convention in July, I called Gary Gensler, the chief financial officer of Hillary’s campaign. He wasted no words. He told me the Democratic Party was broke and $2 million in debt.
“What?” I screamed. “I am an officer of the party and they’ve been telling us everything is fine and they were raising money with no problems.”
That wasn’t true, he said. Officials from Hillary’s campaign had taken a look at the DNC’s books. Obama left the party $24 million in debt—$15 million in bank debt and more than $8 million owed to vendors after the 2012 campaign—and had been paying that off very slowly. Obama’s campaign was not scheduled to pay it off until 2016. Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance.
If I didn’t know about this, I assumed that none of the other officers knew about it, either. That was just Debbie’s way. In my experience she didn’t come to the officers of the DNC for advice and counsel. She seemed to make decisions on her own and let us know at the last minute what she had decided, as she had done when she told us about the hacking only minutes before the Washington Post broke the news.
On the phone Gary told me the DNC had needed a $2 million loan, which the campaign had arranged.
“No! That can’t be true!” I said. “The party cannot take out a loan without the unanimous agreement of all of the officers.”
“Gary, how did they do this without me knowing?” I asked. “I don’t know how Debbie relates to the officers,” Gary said. He described the party as fully under the control of Hillary’s campaign, which seemed to confirm the suspicions of the Bernie camp. 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.
“Wait,” I said. “That victory fund was supposed to be for whoever was the nominee, and the state party races. You’re telling me that Hillary has been controlling it since before she got the nomination?”
Gary said the campaign had to do it or the party would collapse.
“That was the deal that Robby struck with Debbie,” he explained, referring to campaign manager Robby Mook. “It was to sustain the DNC. We sent the party nearly $20 million from September until the convention, and more to prepare for the election.”
“What’s the burn rate, Gary?” I asked. “How much money do we need every month to fund the party?”
The burn rate was $3.5 million to $4 million a month, he said.
I gasped. I had a pretty good sense of the DNC’s operations after having served as interim chair five years earlier. Back then the monthly expenses were half that. What had happened? The party chair usually shrinks the staff between presidential election campaigns, but Debbie had chosen not to do that. She had stuck lots of consultants on the DNC payroll, and Obama’s consultants were being financed by the DNC, too.
When we hung up, I was livid. Not at Gary, but at this mess I had inherited. I knew that Debbie had outsourced a lot of the management of the party and had not been the greatest at fundraising. I would not be that kind of chair, even if I was only an interim chair. Did they think I would just be a surrogate for them, get on the road and rouse up the crowds? I was going to manage this party the best I could and try to make it better, even if Brooklyn did not like this. It would be weeks before I would fully understand the financial shenanigans that were keeping the party on life support.
Right around the time of the convention, the leaked emails revealed Hillary’s campaign was grabbing money from the state parties for its own purposes, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races. A Politico story published on May 2, 2016, described the big fund-raising vehicle she had launched through the states the summer before, quoting a vow she had made to rebuild “the party from the ground up … when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”
Yet the states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had amassed from the extravagant fund-raisers Hillary’s campaign was holding, just as Gary had described to me when he and I talked in August. When the Politico story described this arrangement as “essentially … money laundering” for the Clinton campaign, Hillary’s people were outraged at being accused of doing something shady. Bernie’s people were angry for their own reasons, saying this was part of a calculated strategy to throw the nomination to Hillary.
I wanted to believe Hillary, who made campaign finance reform part of her platform, but I had made this pledge to Bernie and did not want to disappoint him. I kept asking the party lawyers and the DNC staff to show me the agreements that the party had made for sharing the money they raised, but there was a lot of shuffling of feet and looking the other way.
When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.
The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer.
When the party chooses the nominee, the custom is that the candidate’s team starts to exercise more control over the party. If the party has an incumbent candidate, as was the case with Clinton in 1996 or Obama in 2012, this kind of arrangement is seamless because the party already is under the control of the president. When you have an open contest without an incumbent and competitive primaries, the party comes under the candidate’s control only after the nominee is certain. When I was manager of Al Gore’s campaign in 2000, we started inserting our people into the DNC in June. This victory fund agreement, however, had been signed in August 2015, just four months after Hillary announced her candidacy and nearly a year before she officially had the nomination.
I had tried to search out any other evidence of internal corruption that would show that the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary, but I could not find any in party affairs or among the staff. I had gone department by department, investigating individual conduct for evidence of skewed decisions, and I was happy to see that I had found none. Then I found this agreement.
The funding arrangement with HFA and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.
I had to keep my promise to Bernie. I was in agony as I dialed him. Keeping this secret was against everything that I stood for, all that I valued as a woman and as a public servant.
“Hello, senator. I’ve completed my review of the DNC and I did find the cancer,” I said. “But I will not kill the patient.”
I discussed the fundraising agreement that each of the candidates had signed. Bernie was familiar with it, but he and his staff ignored it. They had their own way of raising money through small donations. I described how Hillary’s campaign had taken it another step.
I told Bernie I had found Hillary’s Joint Fundraising Agreement. I explained that the cancer was that she had exerted this control of the party long before she became its nominee. Had I known this, I never would have accepted the interim chair position, but here we were with only weeks before the election.
Bernie took this stoically. He did not yell or express outrage. Instead he asked me what I thought Hillary’s chances were. The polls were unanimous in her winning but what, he wanted to know, was my own assessment?
I had to be frank with him. I did not trust the polls, I said. I told him I had visited states around the country and I found a lack of enthusiasm for her everywhere. I was concerned about the Obama coalition and about millennials.
I urged Bernie to work as hard as he could to bring his supporters into the fold with Hillary, and to campaign with all the heart and hope he could muster. He might find some of her positions too centrist, and her coziness with the financial elites distasteful, but he knew and I knew that the alternative was a person who would put the very future of the country in peril. I knew he heard me. I knew he agreed with me, but I never in my life had felt so tiny and powerless as I did making that call.
When I hung up the call to Bernie, I started to cry, not out of guilt, but out of anger. We would go forward. We had to.