DNC Lobbyist Money Gives Bernie More Ammo

DNC Lobbyist Money Gives Bernie More Ammo

(Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Democratic National Committee’s decision to roll back the ban on lobbyist contributions initially imposed by President Barack Obama captures the complicated political money struggle going on between Democratic presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

On the one hand, Clinton may benefit from an influx of lobbyist money to the DNC. Sanders has done far better than Clinton in raising low-dollar contributions from a massive army of donors, a contributor pool that Clinton has struggled to bring in on the same scale. At the same time, the DNC’s decision has given Sanders fresh ammunition in his relentless attacks on Clinton and on “establishment” Democrats for allegedly being in the pocket of Wall Street and special interests.

Sanders has circulated a petition calling on supporters to “tell the Democratic National Committee that you support the restrictions put in place by President Obama that ban special interest contributions.”

The DNC’s decision to undo the ban—which was made completely under-the-radar—plays directly into Sanders’s main criticism of Clinton: Her reliance on special-interest money compromises her message. Sanders has not-so-subtly implied that the DNC is in cahoots with Clinton. A joint fundraising committee that Clinton operates in conjunction with the DNC brought in $26.9 million last year, money that is divvied up between the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Meanwhile, Sanders’s joint operation has yet to get off the ground.

DNC officials have said that repealing the ban was necessary for gaining “the resources and infrastructure in place to best support whoever emerges as our eventual nominee.”

“The DNC has realized that whatever political upside [the ban offered] did not outweigh the financial and political cost of telling people that their money is no good here,” Joseph Birkenstock, who was formerly the DNC’s chief counsel, told the Prospect. “Whatever the difference is—even if it’s just 2 percent—that’s what you’re foregoing.”

“The DNC never liked or agreed with Obama’s policy of removing lobbyists from campaign fundraising,” says Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist. “As we enter the election season in which a new party leader is to be selected, the DNC feels it can shed Obama’s ethics policies and pursue the interests of a new party leader.”

The Clinton campaign has made no pledge to reinstate the ban, something that Francis X. Clines of The New York Times has called consistent with the campaign’s thinking that in the real world of modern political fundraising, it’s futile to engage in symbolic protests in the short-term when so much is at stake politically. As Clines put it, the Clinton camp believes that “they must not ‘unilaterally disarm’ in the approaching ‘dark money’ war with the Republicans in the general election.”

But Holman calls it a “grave irony” that the DNC’s move to accept lobbyist money is only in line with one potential party leader, namely Clinton. Says Holman: “Clearly, the party bosses have picked their favorite and are acting accordingly.”