Last week, Democratic Party Social Media Land spent a lot of time talking about the decision by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to withhold payment from the DCCC, instead opting to use her money to support candidates in specific races. AOC is one of the only House incumbents to refuse to pay the money.
She made the right decision.
The frame of the story peddled by most major media on this particular topic displays the inherent bias toward the Establishment paradigm and against AOC’s decision. Many outlets referred to these payments as “dues”, as if AOC is required to join the DCCC membership when she got into Congress.
On the contrary, we all know that most early politicians and framers in the United States were wary of parties. Even today, there is no law or heralded tradition to be a part of the DCCC. And the DCCC itself attacks Democrats all the time.
It’s important to take note of what the DCCC truly is and how it operates. The DCCC is one of several arms of the Democratic Party. It is not the DNC or the Democratic Caucus as a body, but rather its own organization.
What does the DCCC do?
It’s a campaign arm for incumbent House Democrats staffed by Democratic strategists. It claims that it is there to “protect and expand the Democratic majority”. However, what is missing from that description is a series of behaviors that actually hurt the effort to uphold our professed party platform, win elections, and expand the Democratic Party’s tent. Because of its behavior, the DCCC actively works against our interests.
The DCCC Aids and Abets Trump Dems
The DCCC’s position on Democratic House incumbents is essentially to defend them no matter what their policies are.
Since the DCCC protects House incumbents, you might be wondering:
What happens when a Democrat violates our party values or votes for the Trump Agenda? It’s one thing for a party to have a big tent; it’s another for an officially sanctioned Democratic House team to embrace Trump-like reps.
Does the DCCC support them or pull the rug out?
The DCCC has run into just this scenario, and the unfortunate answer is that they will support the incumbent no matter what. Yes. When the chips were down, the DCCC has used money paid to them through House Democrats’ membership dues and Democratic Party donors to support right-wing Democrats such as Dan Lipinski and Henry Cuellar.
Lipinski (IL-3) is so right-wing he was the only Democrat to vote against the Affordable Care Act. He voted against the DREAM Act. He was on the wrong side of gay marriage until the day the Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional. He refused to endorse Barrack Obama for the presidency in 2012. He is also distinctly anti-choice and opposed to stem cell research funding; notably, he also does not pay dues to the DCCC because he doesn’t want his money going to pro-choice Democrats (which is to say, almost all of them).
Cuellar, like Lipinski, has a similarly atrocious policy track record. A darling of the private prison industry, Cuellar has sided consistently with John Cornyn on the issue of family detention, an alarming position for any Democratic politician. Last cycle, he supported private prison Repo John Carter at a congressional fundraiser. In the last Congress, he voted with Trump 69% of the time. He is one of the only Democrats not to cosponsor a comprehensive labor bill known as the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, a well-designed and thoughtful support bill for a wide variety of labor fights. He also has a history of supporting the predatory loan sharks, and has taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. Oh, and his environmental policies poison our air and water and cook the Earth like a pancake.
Thanks to the general power of the DCCC and its role in the political system, these men are protected in spite of being challenged by young, progressive candidates with real resources and capabilities. Yet when Nancy Pelosi was asked whether or not she is supporting Cuellar at a panel at TribFest last year, she was quick to offer her endorsement:
Similarly, House Democratic Leadership rallied to the aide of Lipinski last cycle, helping him squeak through reelection by just more than two points. Thankfully, progressive pressure has frightened the DCCC enough to get them to shy away from some of the stronger support they may have provided this time around.
AOC sees that her DCCC money would go to Cuellar and Lipinski. Based on their Trumpian voting records and the fact that Democratic challengers who adhere to the party platform are willing to take them on, she refused to give them the money they need to fend off their challengers.
And if that were all there was to it, that would be reason enough.
But there’s more.
The DCCC Meddles in Democracy
House Leadership’s defense of Lipinski and Cuellar is already a thumb on the scale of primaries in places that are quite a drive from the Beltway. Their involvement in those seats is basically them reaching their giant claws into tiny localities to affect the outcomes of congressional races by injecting free media and big cash into what should be a local competition.
However, the DCCC’s meddling in democracy at the local level is even more direct than that. Last election cycle, the organization notably launched a nuclear assault on candidate Laura Moser in 2018. They consistently recruit candidates for races, essentially selecting a horse in the primary instead of letting the primary voters within the party decide the outcome of the election.
This cycle, the DCCC has stuck its nose into TX-10. Mike Siegel, a strong progressive candidate who ran last cycle and is taking another shot, managed to cut the district to a five point deficit. He now faces two primary challengers that did not run before. One of those challengers, Shannon Hutcheson, appears to be receiving the DCCC’s de facto support. It is worth mentioning that Hutcheson also has a long rap sheet being on the anti-progressive side of several court cases, defending a private prison guard who assaulted an immigrant woman in civil court, conducting a borderline sham of an investigation into unwanted sexual advances by a university president, criticizing the Obama Administration’s enforcement of basic labor law, and covering for a whole host or corporate bad actors against claims of racial and sexual discrimination and deceptive marketing tactics.
(Hutcheson defenders have rested on an old argument that Hutscheson’s defense does not mean she agrees with the morals of her clients, and that everyone deserves a reasonable defense. However, Hutcheson chose to take these cases on as the co-founder of her firm, and certainly any average Democratic primary voter would find fault in a Democratic candidate taking on, say, the Charlottesville organizers, as clients. CCA and the other clients Hutcheson has handled are hardly any better if not in many ways worse).
That’s not the only race where recruitment is taking place. Progressive candidate Kara Eastman-the previous winner of the Democratic primary to represent Omaha, Nebraska in Congress- came within only a few percentage points of winning her general election in 2018. That year, she had to defeat an anti-choice Democrat recruited by the DCCC, Brad Ashford, in the primary. This year, the DCCC is again looking for a Democrat to challenge Eastman, and per The Intercept:
Sam Barrett, who managed Ashford’s 2016 campaign, is now working for the DCCC. Ashford lost his primary bid to Eastman in 2018, and his wife, Ann Ashford, is now competing against her for Congress. (On Wednesday, Ann Ashford announced on Facebook that she had been endorsed by six former elected officials, including her husband.)
Perhaps worst of all, the DCCC shot itself and anyone interested in a Democratic House right in the foot in NJ-5, backing an NRA-approved anti-choice Democrat named Jeff Van Drew in 2018. Van Drew was facing several progressive primary challengers, but the DCCC wanted him, presumably because they believed he would have a better shot in the more conservative district. If Van Drew’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he decided to become a Republican in late 2019, going so far as to pledge “undying support” to Trump. Van Drew was richly rewarded for his treason, given a coveted spot on Education and Labor. The DCCC agreed to hire all of Van Drew’s former staffers after the defection and the district is now back on the organization’s target list… so the DCCC meddled in the primary to get a candidate who literally became a Republican and now are raising money to take his seat back from him.
If someone took your friend’s money and funded the opposite of their interests in a space in which they didn’t belong, would you write them a check?
The DCCC Disproportionately Hurts Women and People of Color, and the Next Generation of Democrats
One of the worst policies the DCCC has trotted out recently is its vendor blacklist. The blacklist prevents any consultant or other vendor who serves incumbent campaigns from also servicing primary challengers. As a result, relationships, resources, and campaign talent are flowing ever further away from challengers over to incumbents.
Marie Newman-Lipinski’s challenger-has felt the impact of this policy this cycle, losing four consultants once it was announced. And certainly, the vendor blacklist does further meddle in democracy and protect Trumpian Democrats by drying up resources for challengers.
It also reinforces a systemically bigoted position from a party in which many voices call for representation and equitable treatment. Newman and Jessica Cisneros-the young progressive taking on Henry Cuellar in the primary-must now find alternative talent to the usual pool, putting two women at an immediate disadvantage in their primary campaign. Women are already underrepresented in Congress, even on the Democratic side of the aisle, as are people of color. Now, women and people of color running for Congress will face the disadvantage of having less vendors available and an uphill fight to match up financially with the DCCC’s support for the white-skewed, majority male incumbency in the party.
It’s not just the candidates who get hurt; it’s also anyone looking to start a career in politics who cannot get hired on with an Establishment campaign. These new operatives will have to either join the DCCC Empire or face shunning on the job market. And just as House incumbents skew white, the DCCC has its own inclusion problem. In 2018, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called out DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos for cutting black and brown staffers out of high level meetings.
To add a little hypocritical icing, the DCCC has NOT blacklisted vendors who work with Republicans; they’re A-OK with you if you work with incumbent Democrats as well as people in direct political opposition to the Democratic Party. Several DCCC-approved vendors have actively targeted Democrats (so much for “defending and expanding the Democratic majority”).
The message is clear: join us, switch careers, or good luck paying your rent.
AOC, on the other hand, is actively fighting this problem. By donating directly to campaigns, she bypasses the DCCC and can help bolster the support of challengers who need all the help they can get to tackle the DCCC monster. She’s also creating a PAC to fight back against the vendor blacklist.
- The truth is that the DCCC wants control of the money. That’s why they collect “dues” and hold it against members when they break ranks.
- The DCCC is not the party as a whole.
- The DCCC is not the people in the party.
- The DCCC is not here to uphold party values.
- The DCCC, in fact, actively behaves in ways that hurt the values the party stands for.
Basically, the only thing the DCCC is good for is money and other resources.
The only thing they can do to help is pay up. Fund candidates once they’ve won the primary, then stay out of the way.
In the meantime, follow AOC’s lead and give directly to campaigns.
If the DCCC calls you to raise money, hang up on them.