Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) speaks at a news conference on November 17, 2014, during which new members of the House Democratic leadership team were announced. Luján had just been selected to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a position he still holds. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is making several demands of candidates preparing for the 2018 House elections, according to an internal memo obtained by TYT. The memo dictates policies on campaign spending and sexual harassment, and outlines requirements for Democratic Party “unity.” An email accompanying the memo gives campaigns until Friday, December 8, to respond.
The memo was sent by DCCC Executive Director Dan Sena on December 1 to candidates and campaign managers. Sena did not respond to a request for comment, nor did DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly.
Although the memo does not mention the highly contentious 2016 presidential primary, it includes a requirement that the campaigns must agree “not to engage in tactics that do harm to our chances of winning a General Election.” The memo does not identify what tactics it is prohibiting.
Candidates also must “hold a unity event with their primary opponents following a primary,” the memo says. What would constitute a “unity event” also is not made explicit.
With a wave of left-wing primary challengers seeking office, the memo’s dictates are being seen by some campaign staff as discouraging intraparty debate. One strategist working on a Democratic congressional campaign, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that barring primary candidates from using tactics that might disadvantage the winner in the general election gives the edge to “corporatist candidates who have super PAC backing.” Those super PACs could carry out such attacks while smaller, grassroots campaigns without super PACs would be unable to respond.
“This is systematically designed to disadvantage progressives,” enrich DCCC “cronies,” and discourage the hiring of “progressive campaign staff,” the strategist said.
The Democratic National Committee press office did not reply to a request for comment.
The memo requests the signature of the candidate, but it’s unclear the extent to which it would be legally binding. The memo says the DCCC will provide “trainings and template campaign tools to candidates who have open lines of communication with the [DCCC].” Howie Klein, an activist who said he spoke to several candidates who received the memo, said “every one of them is laughing at it.”
“No one wants anything from [the DCCC] but money. And I’m talking even about candidates who are favored by the DCCC.”
The memo is addressed to candidates running in “Majority Makers” districts—House districts seen as having vulnerable Republican incumbents—but not all candidates in these races appear to have received the memo. What criteria the DCCC used for selecting recipients could not be ascertained.
The document also requires that candidates “establish a strong written sexual harassment policy for their campaign and all staff” and “complete an extensive online sexual harassment training, to be offered through the DCCC by a third-party vendor.” Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a freshman Democrat from Nevada, has been called on to resign by current DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed his campaign’s finance director in 2016. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of the House, announced his “retirement” Tuesday after a slew of harassment allegations.
According to one Democratic strategist currently working for a House campaign, the sexual harassment language represents an attempt by Democratic leadership to insulate themselves from political and legal liability, more than a serious effort to curtail sexual misconduct. “The policy is a way for [the] DCCC to advertise that they don’t tolerate sexual abuse without holding any candidates to account,” the strategist said, noting that the policy provides for “no actual recourse from a higher authority.”
“I mean, if a candidate harasses us, what are we supposed to do?”
The memo requires that candidates hire “professional staff and consultants who can help execute a winning campaign” and says that the DCCC “will provide staff resumes and a comprehensive list of consultants” to help satisfy this requirement.
The memo mandates that candidates preserve at least 75 percent of all funds they raise for “paid communications”—which is seen as code for T.V. advertising, a method viewed by much of the new generation of Democrats as outmoded, especially for mobilizing young and minority voters who could be critical in 2018.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign and super PACs supporting her spent vastly more than Donald Trump did on television advertising during the 2016 campaign. According to one analysis, for instance, Clinton spent 53 times as much as Trump did on T.V. advertising in Florida markets during the final months of the race. Trump won the state.
While small-scale congressional races differ from presidential races, the emphasis on television advertising still irks some younger Democrats wary of the national party apparatus and seeking a new way of running political campaigns, modeled on the example of Bernie Sanders. “The [memo’s] template budget is really dishonest,” said the campaign strategist. “It’s meant to funnel money away from local parties and push it into their consultant class.”
Norman Solomon, an activist who was a Bernie Sanders 2016 convention delegate and in 2012 ran for Congress in California as a Democrat, said, “The DCCC has a very bad history of pushing out more progressive candidates during a primary—and the bad history has not ended. It’s always a subtle blackmail; if you don’t show that you can play ball, we’re going to freeze you out.”
Full text of memo, which TYT is not publishing in its original form in order to protect the source, can be found here: