Can ‘Unity’ Fix the DNC?

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Nomiki Konst, a DNC Unity and Reform Commission member and Young Turks correspondent, discusses the commission’s progress and her viral call for overhauling the DNC’s financial accountability

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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. The DNC Unity and Reform Commission was created to heal the wounds of the 2016 Democratic Primary. The Clinton campaign appointed 13 members and the Sanders campaign appointed the remaining 8. Last weekend, the Commission held its final meeting. Some gaps were breached. Critically, members agreed to propose reducing superdelegates and increasing voting access to primaries and caucuses. Concerns were also raised about money. In this viral video, Nomiki Konst, a Bernie Sanders surrogate, blasted the DNC’s financial dealings.

NOMIKI KONST: We spent a billion dollars, lost the easiest presidential race you could possibly imagine with Joint Fundraising agreements, state parties weren’t being funded. During the DNC chair’s race, there were some state party chairs who said “I’m an acting executive director and I have $3,000 cash on hand.” How are you supposed to rebuild the party if you have no idea where that money was spent? And you know what? I did go through FEC filings, and it doesn’t look good. It smells. We’re talking about close to $700 to $800 million between the Joint Fundraising agreement and the DNC being spent on five consultants.

This is outrageous, it’s unethical, it’s bad governance, and frankly it’s fucking, excuse me, corruption.

AARON MATÉ: Nomiki Konst joins me now. She is a correspondent for The Young Turks and a member of the DNC Unity and Reform Commission. Nomiki, welcome. Can you explain for an audience who might not be familiar with the financial issues you were raising here what exactly you were honing in on?

NOMIKI KONST: Well, thank you for caring about this. I just have to say this is probably the wonkiest topic and I’m so surprised that anybody was even paying attention. Okay, so the DNC has essentially moved away from the 50-state strategy under Howard Dean to solely being a vessel, in my opinion, for fundraising for presidential candidates, which is also where all the money is made.

So it went from being this decentralized organization that funded young Democrats and college Democratic organizations and field efforts all across America to that … We won the House in 2006. It went from that into being a centralized, Washington D.C.-based mechanism, tool for presidential races, which are now upwards of a billion plus dollars. The question was … We lost almost 1,200 seats in the last nine years under President Obama’s DNC. We also lost the easiest presidential campaign in recent history, where we burned a billion dollars. Okay, great. If those consultants that we were paying were winning, then maybe it was worth it, but the Democratic Party’s at its weakest point since 1929. Where are we spending the money, and why aren’t we spending it on state parties?

AARON MATÉ: Yeah. Can you talk about that in the context of the revelations recently from Donna Brazile with her book that came out where she revealed, or at least revealed for many people who didn’t know about it, about this Joint Fundraising agreement between the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC? One of her contentions is that a consequence of that is that the state parties got sidelined.

NOMIKI KONST: That’s true. Chairwoman Brazile, let’s not forget she wasn’t elected. She got that position ’cause she was the highest ranking person out of officers when Debbie Wasserman Schultz had to step down. So she inherited this mess of a DNC that she very quickly learned was being entirely controlled by Hillary Clinton’s operation in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was advising the executive director where to sign the checks and it was not being passed through Donna Brazile. Unless Donna Brazile asked a very specific question about how much something cost, she wouldn’t get the answer. No one would provide her with information.

What she talked about with this Joint Fundraising Agreement, which they have had in previous races … She was the campaign manager for Al Gore and they had one under Al Gore. But the difference is that they didn’t have it during the primary, and they didn’t offer one Joint Fundraising Agreement to Secretary Clinton and another one for Bernie Sanders. That was what happened was you had two different versions. And let’s not forget that Secretary Clinton went out there and told state party chairs, “I am gonna raise money for you. Support me ’cause you’re superdelegates. Get all of your DNC members in your state to support me because they’re superdelegates. I will make sure that I raise money and I throw it to the states.”

The problem is it was revealed that the money … it was actually revealed through Ken Vogel when he was at Politico last year, he was the one who reported on it, saying that the money was not going to the states. It was funneling right back up to the DNC and into the Hillary Victory Fund, which was what the Joint Fundraising Agreement allowed the DNC to do, to share the money. I mean, we could get even deeper. There were shared consultants with conflicts of interest all over the place. The DNC’s not supposed to have an opinion during the primary. They’re not supposed to take sides. They were sharing the same consultants and same lawyers as Hillary’s campaign, so there’s just … This really wasn’t illegal but it was highly unethical. And especially the lawyers in particular, Perkins Coie, they have to abide by ethics so there’s some questions about their role in all this as well.

AARON MATÉ: That same firm, by the way, being the one that helped pay for the Steele Dossier, but that’s another issue. Let me ask you, on the issue of consultants, the figure you raised in your address to the Commission was striking. Hundreds of millions of dollars on just five consultants? Can you name some names here and what exactly they were paid to do?

NOMIKI KONST: Everybody wants me to name the names. It’s not hard to find. It’s actually quite easy to find. So what had happened was during the DNC chair’s race, which was right around this time, it started last year and it ended at the end of February, you had Vice Chairman Ray Buckley, who was the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, he is also an officer of the DNC, and he talked about how he had never seen a budget. When he said that, I was like, “What?” This is a man who has a fiduciary duty to this party and he doesn’t know where the money was spent in this last election. He wasn’t a Bernie guy, he didn’t choose sides actually. He was a chairman.

So I started to go through FEC filings to try to figure out, well, how much money was spent and what was being declared and what wasn’t? It was very clear that it wasn’t just that it was in the DNC. The DNC, because of the Joint Fundraising agreements, combined the Hillary for America, the Hillary Victory Fund, the DNC, over a two-year period, not to mention the super PACs who were supporting Secretary Clinton and finding a legal way to put money into Secretary Clinton’s campaign. They shared a lot of these consultants.

Some of them are obvious ones like GMMB, they actually received the most money. They are the media buyers, so that’s where you make all the money. You buy the ads in big markets and they get 20% of it. So they didn’t get all of the money that was sent, they obviously had to use that money to produce the product and make the actual buys, but they got 20% on that end. But it was still spent. Perkins Coie, not a consultant but they’re a law firm. They have all the business. They have a monopoly on the business of the Democratic Party. They have not just the presidential campaigns but the DNC, they have the DSCC, which is the Senate committee, they have the Congressional committee, D Triple-C, and then super PACs. I mean, they’re just everywhere. Most major candidates, the Democratic candidates, they’re also covering.

Some of the other ones were SKDKnickerbocker, which is what Donna Brazile mentions in her book, this firm that she didn’t know they were still paying them and they weren’t even in the DNC. They were like “What?” She asks “Why are we still paying them? They’re not here. We terminated their contract.” And then Precision, Stephanie Cutter’s firm, and Joel Benenson, who was the pollster. Benenson received quite a bit of money as well. You know, there’s serval other expenditures that are questionable but those alone … the amount of money was just so jaw-dropping. Obviously, consultants need to get paid but it was a lot and there were a lot of losses, so people are angry.

AARON MATÉ: In terms of the other measures that came out of the commission, proposing a effectively 60% reduction in superdelegates, can you talk about that and what happens now? These were just recommendations, they have to be approved by the wider DNC. Do you expect that to happen?

NOMIKI KONST: You know, because this has been a topic of debate in previous elections … I mean, if you recall Secretary Clinton’s campaign, at that time, she was senator, she debated Barack Obama about superdelegates and they wanted to eliminate superdelegates. I think this is something that has such a … it just leaves such a bad taste in so many Democrat’s mouths and it really hasn’t … The utility of superdelegates when it was created, when they were created out of the Hunt Commission, was to prevent another McGovern.

I actually said this to Elaine Kamarck, who’s a presidential historian and she’s on our commission … She was one of the architects, the people who came up with the idea of superdelegates and she loves superdelegates. I said to her, I said “Well, why do love them so much? I don’t understand. They’re just completely undemocratic,” and I do know the history of it and she shared a lot of the history. She says “You know, we just wanna prevent another McGovern from happening.” I said, “Well, is it the map? McGovern only won two states when he ran. Is that what you’re afraid of?” She says, “Yes,” and I said, “Did you look at the map last year?” They didn’t do their job. If their job is to make sure there’s not another McGovern, that type of loss, they didn’t actually prevent that type of loss. Now, granted there were a million other factors that led to that loss but they didn’t do their actual job. If they were doing their job, they would know that the only person in the race last year, in the primary, that could beat Donald Trump and all of the Republicans was the one that they were not supporting.

So I, along with Senator Nina Turner, was the only one on the commission … and it’s not because our side didn’t want to. I mean, I don’t think anybody on our side wants superdelegates, to be fair. But we voted against the resolution just to make a statement that superdelegates are incredibly undemocratic. Even if you are a dignitary and you worked your way up through the party, there’s a lot of other ways to feel special than to control the outcome of our democracy. I mean, that’s essentially what’s happening here is you’re empowering a select few to represent 250,000 voters. Who’s to say that … The arguments I hear were “Oh. Well, they know these people personally.” It’s like, that’s not an excuse.

So they are reduced by 60% and it’s gonna go before the Rules and Bylaws Committee next year after we present our resolutions and make a case. I do think that public pressure’s very important, internal pressure’s important. I will probably be surprised by a lot of folks. I mean, Tim Kaine came out and said they need to go, and Tim Kaine benefited from superdelegates. So if he says it, I’d be surprised who else comes out and agrees with him

AARON MATÉ: You know, that George McGovern reference there is interesting, and the contrast is worth discussing because I’m not sure what’s worse, for George McGovern to lose … he did lose a landslide race to Nixon, he only won Massachusetts. But that was a time when Nixon was overseeing the Vietnam War, he was popular. He had some domestic programs that were even kind of liberal that were popular. I’m not sure if that’s worse than losing to reality TV show host Donald J. Trump, as you raise. I wonder if when they talk about preventing another McGovern, they mean preventing another progressive candidate like McGovern, because although he wasn’t perfect, he had some strong progressive bona fides.

NOMIKI KONST: Yeah. I think that is essentially the coded language for “We don’t want a grassroots candidate.” It’s unfortunate because when you see where we’ve actually won in history and been able to … It’s been when we had the grassroots candidate. Kerry did not win. Al Gore arguably didn’t win, and he’s more progressive than some. Bill Clinton, he’s definitely not progressive but he ran sort of as this renegade candidate at a time that no one really … He wasn’t the front runner, as we all recall in history. So I just don’t really understand the logic on that.

I think at this point, you’re putting … it’s country first, not establishment first. Right? So who’s gonna win in 2020 when it’s so clear who the most popular politician is in America, and the world, and he offers policies that would really get to the root issues that cause so many injustices in our country. I just think that anybody who’s blind to this at this point is just self-sabotaging for the sake of keeping power over an empty vessel that’s not even operating. I don’t understand it. If you wanna feel special, go do a photoshoot with your family or … I don’t know, like take out ads, do something else, but don’t hold up our democracy because you want a special title. That’s ridiculous.

AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Nomiki Konst, correspondent for The Young Turks, member-

NOMIKI KONST: Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: … of the DNC Unity and Reform Commission, thank you.

NOMIKI KONST: Thank you, Aaron. I appreciate it.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.