The un-Democratic National Committee

August 1, 2016

There's more wrong with the Democratic Party than former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz or her e-mails, writes Elizabeth Schulte.

WIKILEAKS' RELEASE of nearly 20,000 e-mails and more than 8,000 attachments from seven officials on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) just before the party's convention meant a quick end for Debbie Wasserman Schultz's position as DNC chair, after the e-mails revealed favoritism toward the Clinton campaign and organized hostility to rival Bernie Sanders.

But if the e-mails--and the convention itself--show anything, it's the undemocratic nature of the whole Democratic Party, and firing one official won't come close to fixing that.

The e-mails paint a picture of a party infrastructure that was not only rigged for the establishment choice in the presidential nomination race, but that trades lucrative donations for access on a daily basis.

The e-mails, which span the period from January 2015 to late May 2016, are crystal clear about party insiders' view of Bernie Sanders' left-wing campaign for the nomination. Probably the most quoted one since their release is a May 5 e-mail in which a DNC staffer questions Sanders' religious beliefs. Under the subject line "No shit," DNC CFO Brad Marshall wrote:

Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Danuta Otfinowski | Fortune Most Powerful Women)

It might may [sic] no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.

He adds, "It's these [sic] Jesus thing"--to which DNC CEO Amy Dacey responds: "AMEN."

In e-mail correspondence, former DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz, who is supposed to be unbiased during the nomination process, doesn't bother hiding her contempt for Sanders and his campaign. In response to Sanders' claim that if elected, he would get her out of her DNC chair position, she commented: "This is a silly story. He isn't going to be president.

It will have surprised no one that after Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as DNC chair, she quickly got a new title: honorary chair of the Clinton's 50-state campaign to boost the chances of Democratic candidates.

The leaked e-mails also reveal the DNC's close working relationships with key members of the Clinton team. For instance, when the Sanders campaign was drawing attention to the Clinton campaign using funds earmarked for state campaigns under the auspices of the DNC, committee staffers got some useful advice--from Clinton's campaign lawyer.

"My suggestion is that the DNC put out a statement saying that the accusations the Sanders campaign are not true," attorney Marc Elias wrote on May 3 in response to an e-mail sent by communications director Luis Miranda to other DNC staff that copied Elias and another lawyer at his firm, Perkins Coie.

Of course, this isn't the first time the DNC has shown how cozy it is with the Clinton campaign. It was revealed earlier this year that in Nevada, the Clinton campaign rented offices inside the DNC offices in Carson City. You remember Nevada, right? Where during the May convention, chair Roberta Lange ignored motions from the floor and miscalled voice votes obviously favoring Sanders--and then accused Sanders supporters of "rioting."

BUT EVEN more revealing than the DNC's ties to Clinton is its intimate connection to money and power.

Many of the leaked e-mails concern where major donors will sit at gala events, and their proximity to President Barack Obama and other top government officials. DNC staffers pored over the seating charts for the convention, deciding which donors would be relegated to the far corners and which would get star treatment.

Some contributors are offered the chance to join "roundtables," where they could take part in discussions about national economic and social policy.

In one leaked e-mail attachment, a menu of contributions and corresponding rewards are listed. For a donor to reach the "Rittenhouse Square" level, they had to raise a minimum of $1.25 million or personally give $467,600. Among the perks they received in return:

-- Priority booking in a premiere hotel within the National Finance Committee room block
-- VIP credentials for all Democratic National Convention proceedings
-- Nightly access to stadium/arena VIP lounges
-- Six tickets for an exclusive preview and photo opportunity at the 2016 Convention podium
-- Six reserved places for an exclusive roundtable and campaign briefing with high-level Democratic officials

In one e-mail, Alexandra Shapiro, a deputy to the national finance chair, laments the news that Obama wouldn't make it to an event in in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to secure $350,000 in donations. Shapiro writes, "so they really won't come down 20 minutes? thats fucking stupid."

BUT YOU didn't need a leaked e-mail to recognize the lack of democracy--hidden in plain sight--at the Democratic convention.

On the convention floor, delegates reported DNC handlers ripping signs from their hands or turning the lights out if they tried to raise demands that didn't fit the Clinton campaign's script--like opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership or fracking, chanting "No More Wars" or simply supporting their candidate Bernie Sanders.

Delegates who had protest signs weren't allowed to enter the convention, and their seats were filled with replacements so that the arena still looked full.

The protest placards might have marred the picture-perfect sea of signs that the DNC planned for each speech: "USA" signs for ex-CIA ghoul Leon Panetta; "Change Maker" for former President Bill Clinton of crime bill and welfare "reform" fame; and "Stronger Together" for Bernie Sanders, when he took the convention stage to call on his supporters to abandon their hopes for an alternative and fall in line behind Clinton.

Several hundred delegates took part in walkouts from the convention--one marched to a media tent to hold a silent vigil. In order to be seen on the darkened convention floor on the last day, one group of Sanders delegates wore lime-green T-shirts that glowed in the dark and read, "Enough is enough."

But if you watched the convention from home, you probably didn't see any of this. Instead, you probably saw network broadcasters talk about the "historic" nomination of a woman presidential candidate--or compliment the DNC's stage-management, oohing and awing at every say-nothing speech or maneuver to keep Sanders supporters in line.

The Democratic convention is the most moment in a long election year that is exposing the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system in general--and the Democratic Party in particular.

A system where millions are unable to even register to vote because they were caught in the net of the criminal justice system and their state doesn't allow felons to vote. A system where the political conventions aren't about democratically debating and electing a candidate, but wining and dining rich donors. A political system where the "official" choices are so narrow that the choice is between the "lesser evil" and "greater evil."

Carlos Marroquin, a convention guest from California, was among those protesting the alleged purge of some 2 million voters from the rolls before the California primary. He told Democracy Now!:

[W]e represent literally millions of young people that...put their lives on hold, so that they can actually go out there and register other people to vote. We have children. We want to teach them the right way.

We want to teach them responsibility, to vote...We cannot do that in good faith, to tell them, "Go ahead and be a Democrat, because they are going to stand up for the rights of the people." They're not doing that. Why? Why is it that they are so quiet, suppressing the vote of the people?...

And if you think that we are leaving out of this convention inspired, you're wrong. We are leaving out of here divided. We have broken hearts.

Further Reading

From the archives