The Democratic National Committee moved one step closer toward reforming its presidential nominating process Tuesday, as the Unity Reform Commission created to deal with the aftermath of the last primary voted to advance new rules that would essentially make superdelegates irrelevant.
The compromise, which emerged after the URC’s suggestions were debated by the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, would prevent the hundreds of unpledged delegates — figures as diverse at former presidents and low-ranking DNC members — from voting on the first ballot of a presidential nomination. While they would be free to make endorsements, their support would not count toward a candidate’s delegate total, except in the event of a brokered convention.
“It’s the most democratic and equitable option,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said on a conference call with URC members, which was open to the public. “No candidate will be able to build an accumulated lead, whether perceived or real, before a vote has been cast.”
That reform, which was first pitched by party activists at the 2016 convention in Philadelphia, diverged from the URC’s original recommendation. Led by supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), commission members initially debated proposals that would have bound superdelegates to the results of state primaries, and bound superdelegates who did not represent states to the national vote total.
The idea, initially embraced by Sanders supporters, was rife with logistical problems. After the “no vote till second ballot” compromise emerged, Sanders himself endorsed it, smoothing its path through Rules and the URC.
But other reform priorities — Sanders has delineated four of them — were handled more skeptically. The one that most rankled some URC members was an effort to open up the budget process. The URC’s original recommendation was that all DNC members get to look at the budget during the election, an idea designed to prevent a repeat of 2016, when, Sanders supporters claimed, Clinton allies were getting key contracts, teeing up her nomination:
In addition to ex officio members (DNC CEO and COO), the composition of the Budget and Finance Committee should be by election of qualified members, allowing for adequate representation of the Party’s caucuses and councils and State Party Chairs and regional caucuses. No person under contract with the DNC or any Democratic Party affiliate organization should serve on the Budget and Finance Committee. As called for in the Bylaws, the Budget and Finance Committee should provide the Executive Committee for discussion, in a closed session, its “annual reports … on the goals, purposes of expenditures, and results of expenditures and staff.” The results of the report and the Executive Committee discussion should then be sent to the full DNC membership.
The revised language voted through Tuesday cut out most of the new transparency requirements:
[T]he Budget and Finance Committee shall review the budget of the Democratic National Committee on an on-going basis and make periodic reports, including an annual report to the Executive Committee and the full Democratic National Committee on the goals, purposes of expenditures and results of expenditures. The Budget and Finance Committee should issue its annual report in writing to ensure full transparency and accessibility to the information.
That, said URC member James Zogby, would be a point of contention as the reform package advanced. In five weeks, when the full DNC meets in Chicago, some URC members would suggest that the original financial transparency language be restored.
“We should not wait until a reporter writes a story or Donna Brazile writes a book to find out we have problems,” Zogby said. “If the only reports we get, as DNC members, are how much we raised and how much we owe, that’s not transparency.”
Brazile, who served as interim chair of the DNC during the 2016 campaign, released a 2017 memoir that raised questions about whether Clinton allies got favorable treatment from the party.