Sen. Bernie Sanders’s ongoing hustle of the Democratic Party was revealed at the very end of his interview with Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.
Lauding the Independent from Vermont’s fundraising prowess, the MSNBC anchor asked Sanders when he might start applying his considerable abilities to benefit the Democratic Party. In his response, Sanders pointed out that the average $27 contribution to his presidential campaign is “a very different way of raising money than Secretary Clinton has pursued.” So, Maddow pressed him.
MADDOW: Well, obviously your priority is the nomination, but I mean you raised Secretary Clinton there. She has been fundraising both for the nomination and for the Democratic Party. At some point, do you think — do you foresee a time during this campaign when you’ll start doing that?
SANDERS: Well, we’ll see. And, I mean right now, again, our focus is on winning the nomination. Secretary Clinton has access, uh, to kinds of money, uh, that we don’t, that we’re not even interested in. So let’s take it one step at a time. And the step that we’re in right now is to win the Democratic nomination.
“We’ll see”? “Secretary Clinton has access, uh, to kinds of money, uh, that we don’t, that we’re not even interested in”? To appreciate how those two comments expose Sanders’s hustle, you need some background.
Sanders, the self-identified Democratic Socialist, is a registered Independent who caucuses with the Senate Democrats. Not only has he been helpful in raising money for them in the past, he also has availed himself of those same funds. But in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders has done nothing. In fact, he has disparaged Clinton at every opportunity for doing so.
The most recent object of his self-righteous ire is the upcoming big-money fundraisers featuring Hollywood glamour couple George and Amal Clooney. The fundraising events set for April 15 in San Francisco and April 16 in Los Angeles will raise a ton of money. At the first fete, it’ll cost you $353,400 just for two seats at their table.
“It is obscene that Secretary Clinton keeps going to big money people to fund her campaign,” Sanders told CNN’s Jake Tapper on March 27. “Now, I have a lot of respect for George Clooney. He’s a great actor. I like him. But this is the point. This is the problem with American politics, is that big money is dominating our political system. And we are trying to move as far away from that as we can.” Two days later in Appleton, Wis., Sanders told a cheering crowd, “One of the reasons that we can speak to hundreds of thousands of people around this country is that I’m not wasting my time going to rich people’s homes begging them for their campaign contributions.”
This campaign is speaking to thousands of people, not going to billionaires’ homes begging for money.https://t.co/Jc1l1LQkSl
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 29, 2016
Sanders makes it sound like Clinton is raising such obscene amounts of money for her campaign. In actuality, she’s raising money for herself, the Democratic Party and state Democratic parties around the country. Those funds would then be used to finance everything from “get out the vote” operations to phone banks and email blasts not only for the presidential nominee but also for House and Senate candidates down the ballot. In an election year in which the Republican presidential nominee could be Donald Trump, the prospects of Democrats holding the White House and possibly retaking the Senate AND the House are not remote. Having money to do this for the November elections will be essential.
Both California fundraisers are for Clinton’s Hillary Victory Fund. This is a so-called joint committee comprised of Hillary for America, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state party committees. Now, the maximum donation to the Clinton or Sanders presidential campaign is $2,700 in the primary and another $2,700 in the general election. But as NPR’s Peter Overby explained in December, a joint committee can raise much more money.
Donors who are rich — and willing — can give $5,400 to the Clinton campaign, $33,400 to the Democratic National Committee and $10,000 to each of the state parties, about $360,000 in all. A joint fundraising committee lets the donor do it all with a single check.
So far, the Hillary Victory Fund has raised $26.9 million with more than $22 million of it going to the DNC and the state party committees. Clinton has a formidable delegate lead but that doesn’t mean that Sanders still doesn’t have a chance. The Bernie Victory Fund is practically dormant. But the fundraising haul of $43.5 million in February and his goal to surpass that record-breaking effort for his presidential campaign in March means Sanders is in the race until the bitter end. And if he threads the needle, he very well could become the 2016 presidential nominee.
Now, here’s where the Sanders hustle comes in. While most people still assume that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination, all that money she is raising for the DNC and state parties will go to helping said nominee in the general election — even if that ends up being Sanders. The master fundraiser who hasn’t lifted a finger to help his adopted party. The fiery campaigner who has hammered his opponent for raising the money to fortify the DNC for the general election. The person who stands to benefit enormously from Clinton’s big-money prowess without sullying his carefully crafted aura of campaign-finance purity.
If he doesn’t want to “[waste] my time going to rich people’s homes begging them for their campaign contributions,” if he really is “not even interested in” the kinds of money Clinton has access to, then he should forego all the money she has raised for the DNC and state committees if he were to become the Democratic nominee.
Sanders would need every dime of that money to fight the Kraken released on him by the Republicans. But given all that Sanders has said, wouldn’t it be the height of hypocrisy to capitalize on the money he’s so gleefully scorned? Sure would be. And not relying on it would be unbelievably stupid. Sanders is not stupid, even though his campaign rhetoric in this regard is.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj