With the current brouhaha about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and whether emails leaked by a hacker in Russia show wrongdoing, I think it’s important that folks know exactly what the applicable rules mean in terms of how Democratic Party officials are supposed to conduct themselves with regards to contests for a Democratic nomination.
Many people seem to be attempting to apply these rules in a way they were not intended.
I’ve been subject to similar rules in the past. As a past precinct chair, then District Leader and then County Public Relations Chairperson for the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee in Florida, we were subject to the following rule:
Endorsement of Candidates
The endorsement of candidates in Primary elections is prohibited to the County Committee, the Chair of the PCDEC, and all groups within its jurisdiction, except as otherwise provided by the FDP Bylaw
Every two years, at least while I was an officer of the PCDEC, the county chairperson would go over with us exactly what that means and how it affected us.
The main idea is, you cannot endorse any candidates or make it seem to voters as if you were using your office to promote a candidate for the Democratic nomination or that the local county apparatus endorsed someone. You were absolutely permitted to volunteer for a campaign, work for a campaign and to have a strong personal preference for a candidate. The key is not to make a public endorsement. If you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to do otherwise. To prevent all local Democratic Party officials from working on campaigns removes the most active Democrats from helping candidates until very late in the process. That is not the intent of the rule.
Now let’s examine the DNC bylaws applicable to the situation with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz:
DNC Bylaws Article 5, Section 4
In the conduct and management of the affairs and procedures of the Democratic National Committee, particularly as they apply to the preparation and conduct of the Presidential nomination process, the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process.
The bold, italics and underlining are mine and they are the key point to this rule. Again, the point is not that the national chair and DNC members can’t have a strong preference for who wins the nomination it also doesn’t mean that the national chair and other DNS members can’t express their preference privately. It doesn’t mean that a candidate can’t anger them or that they can’t express that anger privately.
Understanding the rule, did Debbie Wasserman Schultz break it? I don’t think so.
Let’s also understand that we are dealing with extraordinary circumstances here. I want everyone reading this to picture this scenario. For 25 years you have been a member of an organization that you believe in and whose goals you believe are very important. During that time, an outside individual has been attacking your organization and calling it insincere. He says he upholds the principles your organization espouses better than you do and says joining your organization would be committing treason to his beliefs. He belittles and criticizes your organization at every turn. When it comes to making decisions in a group he does support what members of your organization are doing but only because it serves his interests to do so.
At the end of those 25 years, he joins your organization, something he said he would never do, only because it is the only way he can try to get something he wants and he contends in the highest level election against someone who has been a loyal member of your organization for 30+ years. Your responsibilities are as article 5 section 4 express them above.
Do you think you and/or members of your organization would have a strong preference against this individual? Do you think you might express that privately in emails since that does not violate the rule? When it turns out that members of this individual’s campaign have early in the process improperly used computer resources to gain an unfair advantage in the campaign, do you think it would make you upset? Whose fault is it that there is antipathy toward this individual in your organization? I think the answers to those questions are obvious.
But hold on, it’s more than that. When Sanders’ campaign was caught improperly accessing Hillary Clinton campaign information on DNC servers and the DNC moved to sanction him, Sanders sued the DNC to avoid the punishment. So you have retaliatory litigation against the DNC by Sanders on top of everything I discussed in the previous two paragraphs. Now what kind of a relationship and private opinion do you think DNC leadership and staffers have with/of Sanders?
One of the things I keep asking myself when I think about the relationship between Sanders and the DNC is, did Sanders ever do anything to reach out and mend fences? You have his 25 years’ worth of attacks on the Democratic Party. If you were in the position he was in at the start of his campaign, wouldn’t you have seen the need to try to work to improve the relationship because of your prior behavior/statements? Did Sanders ever do anything at all along those lines? If so I haven’t heard of it. For someone who purports to have the skill to be President, a job where negotiations, diplomacy and dealing with countries and foreign leaders, not to mention domestic members of the opposite party, whose opinions might differ for yours and where you need to be able to craft compromises, are we to understand he was unable to reach out and try to come to some sort of détente with the DNC?
Another issue is whether any of this had any impact on the race. Hillary’s early and insurmountable lead came from winning African American votes in the South by huge margins and from Florida which has long been a Clinton stronghold. Nothing that I have seen has proposed anything that suggests that the DNC influenced that in any way. I am not sure African Americans in the South care that much about what the DNC says nor is there much else the DNC could do to change how they would vote. So whatever the DNC did had little impact on the race.
Of course the other upsetting point is that the leak of the DNC emails comes from a Russian hacker who almost certainly operates with the tacit or full-fledged permission of Putin. People in Russia who do things Putin doesn’t like have a tendency to disappear or turn up dead see http://news.sky.com/story/the-putin-critics-who-have-been-assassinated-10369350 and note this is an abbreviated list. Even when they escape Russia, many of them have a tendency to end up dead before their time and some by horrific means, like Alexander Litvinenko https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvinenko so I think it’s fair to say that this hacker operates with Putin’s permission. Putin’s attempt to put his finger on the scale here for Trump against Hillary indicates one of two things, either he really likes Trump and thinks Trump sees eye to eye with him on world affairs, or it means Putin thinks Trump is a dupe who would be easy to control or subvert. Neither possibility is a good one.
I don’t care what things were said about the candidates among DNC members in private emails. But, if Debbie Wasserman Schultz or other members of the DNC went beyond privately talking/emailing and expressing personal preferences, even though it’s something that any sane person knowing the background would probably understand, they should face repercussions for that. To this point, I haven’t seen any evidence that they did.