So You Want A Revolution?

More than a week before Hillary Rodham Clinton was officially nominated as the 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee, Senator Bernie Sanders planned the announcement of the launch of the 501 (C) (4)  social welfare group, Our Revolution.  Recall that the Independent Socialist from Vermont repeatedly made the claim that he had no Super PACs working for him during the 2016 presidential nominating cycle. While Sanders didn’t have a Super PAC using his name helping his 2016 Presidential campaign, he certainly did get help from Super PACs. So you want a revolution?  Sorry to disappoint, but even among the hard core Bernie 2016 staffers who helped start the organization, Our Revolution doesn’t cut it.

Our Revolution seeks to,

Reclaim democracy for the working people of our country by harnessing the transformative energy of the “political revolution.” Through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change and elevating the political consciousness, Our Revolution will transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families.”

They believe that,

“Wall Street and the billionaire class has rigged the rules to redistribute wealth and income to the wealthiest and most powerful people of this country. Our Revolution is sending a message to the billionaire class: “you can’t have it all.”

They want to,

“Empower the next generation of progressive leaders by inspiring and recruiting progressive candidates to run for offices across the entire spectrum of government. From school boards to congressional seats, a new generation of political leaders, dedicated to transforming America’s corrupt campaign finance system and rigged economy, will become involved.”

Their goals are the laundry list from the typical Bernie Sanders stump speech calling for a $15 minimum wage, ending trade agreements such as NAFTA, free college for all, single payer healthcare for all, guaranteed 12 weeks of paid family leave plus 2 weeks paid vacation for all workers, and of course, a pledge for legislation to break up the big banks.

By using the name and the agenda of Bernie Sanders, a sitting elected member of the United States Senate, Our Revolution is attempting to get around Federal Election Commission rules which clearly forbid any elected official or candidate for office from having any direct or indirect involvement with a 501 (C) (4) organization. However, by establishing itself as a 501 (C) (4) tax exempt organization doing social welfare work, limitless amounts of money can be raised, from hidden sources, allowing the organization to,

Engage in unlimited lobbying and promotion of candidates, provided that these efforts dovetail with the purpose of the organization.”

A problem clearly existed from the outset for Our Revolution in the form of the wife of the Independent Socialist from Vermont, Jane Sanders, who was deeply involved in the formation of the organization.

Before the official announcement launching Our Revolution was live streamed on August 24, 2016, Our Revolution was the subject of it’s own internal revolution. Just a matter of days before the announcement, some eight of the fifteen member leadership team resigned, following the naming of Jeff Weaver as the manager for the organization. Weaver’s elevation to manager was announced by Jane Sanders, who chaired the group’s board. This was followed by Jane Sanders announcement that,

“She would be resigning her chairmanship of the group’s board, in part of out of legal concerns over how close the senator should be to the group.”

Claire Sandberg, the organizing director of Our Revolution, who formerly led the Bernie 2016 digital organizing team, quit because of the inclusion of Weaver, saying that,

“Jeff was a total disaster who failed Bernie’s supporters with his mismanagement.”

Speaking for the group of former Bernie believers who left, and the intention of Our Revolution through Weaver to,

“Take big money from rich people including billionaires and spend it on ads,”

Sandberg also said that,

“That’s the opposite of what this campaign and this movement are supposed to be about.”

A 501 (c) (4) social welfare group is one whose,

“Primary purpose is to in some way promote the common good and general welfare of the community.”

Paperwork was filed by Our Revolution with the FEC on February 27, 2016, long before the Democratic Party nominated a candidate, meaning that the organization was at work whether Sanders had won the nomination or not. The person signing on behalf of Our Revolution, Lora Haggard, was the Chief Financial Officer for the 2016 Sanders presidential campaign. Ms Haggard is also the Treasurer for Friends of Bernie Sanders, the PAC supporting Bernie’s previous senatorial campaigns. Friends of Bernie Sanders had cash on hand in the amount of $3,877,831 as indicated in their 2016 end of year filing.

Separating Our Revolution from the Senator and the 2016 Presidential candidate seems difficult, if not impossible. Further, the clear intent of Our Revolution seems to be setting the ground work for the next Bernie Sanders run for the presidency as,

Our Revolution is built upon the success of Bernie Sanders’ historic presidential campaign, and will continue to thrive with the support of an unprecedented level of grassroots organizers.”

Bernie Sanders first became an elected official at age 39 when he ran as an Independent, becoming the first Socialist Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981. Mayor Sanders became the first Socialist elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1990. Congressman Sanders became the first Socialist elected to the United States Senate in 2006.

Jeff Weaver, worked as the driver for Sanders, when Sanders failed as a Socialist Vermont Gubernatorial candidate in 1986.  Weaver ran for Mayor of St. Albans as an Independent, losing the race and when he conceded Weaver said that,

“People haven’t seen the last of Jeff Weaver, or the hundreds of other people in this city who are seeking an alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Mr. Weaver joined the Congressman Sanders’ staff as legislative assistant then Weaver earned a degree from the Georgetown University School of Law while continuing to work for Sanders. Weaver managed the 2006 Sanders Senatorial campaign and he was rewarded for that effort with the job of the Senator’s Chief of Staff.

Like peas in a pod, it doesn’t appear that Bernie Sanders and Jeff Weaver will be separated anytime soon. Weaver’s influence and control over Our Revolution also appears to have the full backing of the Senator as well. It also appears that the work of Our Revolution is more directed towards the continued employment and enrichment of Sanders, his family, and the people closest to him rather than to fighting the system and the billionaire class.

The Nation has pointed to the movements threatening elected Democrats that they should be on notice that they will be replaced if they do not oppose the Trump agenda at every turn, saying that groups such as Our Revolution,

“Will hopefully coordinate to recruit and support candidates at every level of government. As the fight against Trump escalates, DINOs—Democrats in name only—will face greater pressure from these activists, and perhaps primary challenges as well.”

While Sanders and Our Revolution have resisted answering questions about joining with the “we will replace you” strategy, Claire Sandberg, acknowledged that no Democrat in Congress, Sanders included, meets the purity test of complete resistance. Sandberg acknowledges that this could cost Democrats red state seats in Missouri and West Virginia in 2018.

Southern state Democrats worry that the Our Revolution purity test will hurt the party, as more moderate Democrats in those areas usually don’t turn out for primaries. Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, a likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate, has said that,

“My hope is that Our Revolution — or anyone else — will understand that purity to a progressive ideal does not [necessarily] mean purity in service of the community.”

Senator Sanders appears to get a pass from being challenged for not opposing the administration at every turn, as he has voted yes on three cabinet selections, and has indicated that he would work with the administration on certain issues such as infrastructure repair and trade policy. The Vermont Senator has also praised the new President for killing the Trans Pacific Partnership. Most recently, were the positive words in an April 16, 2017 interview on CNN, when speaking about the New President, Sanders said that,

“He believed Trump understood he needed to work with China to rein in the North Korean nuclear threat.”

The Independent Socialist Senator from Vermont gets a pass whenever he talks about working with the Republican Administration, or when he praises the new President, or when he actually votes yes on something the new President wants. The notion that we will replace you is strictly limited.

Recent history shows that mounting primary challenges from the left do not always work out as planned. Take for example the challenge in 2006 to replace Joe Lieberman, then the sitting Democratic Senator from Connecticut, who was a forceful supporter of  George W.  Bush’s War in Iraq. Senator Lieberman was beaten in the primary by an anti-war challenger from the left, Ned Lamont. Lieberman still won in November, running as an Independent. By January, 2013, Senator Lieberman retired as,

“An independent without a comfortable spot in either political party.”

The failure to support a public option in 2008 as part of President Obama’s signature healthcare achievement, the ACA, cost Arkansas Democrat, Blanche Lincoln, her Senate seat. Lincoln upset Bill Halter, the sitting Democratic Lieutenant Governor, in a runoff for the 2010 Democratic nomination, but lost in November to the Republican candidate, John Boozman.

Support for the ACA helped end the career of Mary Landrieu, the Democratic Senator from the oil production dependent state of Louisiana, who was also attacked from the left in 2014 because of her support for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Bill Cassidy defeated Landrieu as part of a 9 seat Senate pickup for Republicans in 2014.

There is a small track record to date for Our Revolution endorsed candidates. They claim that 59 of their endorsed candidates won, while 47 of their candidates lost in 2016. Their record in 2017 hasn’t been good, as only 5 of their 15 endorsed candidates have won so far this year.

No Our Revolution backed candidate has broken through with a win so far this year in any race with national implications, the most important of which was the Our Revolution endorsed candidate for DNC Chairman, Keith Ellison, losing to Tom Perez.

Arturo Carmona was the Bernie 2016 Deputy National Political Director and the Director of Latino Outreach, who entered the race to replace Xavier Becerra in California’s 34th Congressional District. Despite being,

“One of the few districts in California that voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential primary.”

Mr. Carmona still failed miserably. He came in fifth with 5.2% of the vote, in a crowded primary where only 14% of eligible voters participated, and the top two finishers advanced to the general election to be held June 6, 2017. Interestingly, Senator Sanders did not make an endorsement before the primary.

James Thompson, who lost to Republican Ron Estes by 6.8%, in the special election in the 4th Kansas District, did get an Our Revolution endorsement. While Senator Sanders praised candidate Thompson for his impressive showing, Sanders also  blasted the DNC saying that,

“The Democratic Party should have put more resources into that election.”

Last November, the 4th Kansas District voted for the Republican presidential candidate by a margin of 20.42%, and for the Incumbent Republican Congressman, now CIA Director, Mike Pomeo, by 31.1%.  The seat has been held by a Republican for 22 years, yet the Socialist Senator from Vermont blames the DNC for candidate Thompson’s loss.

Democrats all over the country received a collective shot in the arm when the Democratic candidate, Jon Ossoff, came very close to an outright win in the Georgia 6th District special election to replace the now Secretary of Health and Human Services. Ossoff bested thirteen Republican and four Democratic candidates with 48.1% of the vote, coming very close to topping the 50% required to win the seat outright.   A runoff between Ossoff and the second place finisher, Karen Handel, will be held on June 20, 2017.

Our Revolution and the Independent Socialist Senator from Vermont did not lift a finger to help Jon Ossoff. The Vermont Senator, who did not endorse Ossoff, explained why saying that,

He’s not a progressive.”

Despite the Sanders view, Jon Ossoff has received support from,

“Progressive organizations like and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee,”

There are those who believe that the failure by Sanders and the people and organizations taking their cues from him, are hurting Ossoff and the chances of the Democratic Party because,

“Not only does this contribute to the disunity in the party in a time when we need unity, but these acts to damage Jon Ossoff’s prospects of winning his district as it fractures the broad coalition supporting him, that supported him whether or not he is a “progressive.”

David Nir, Political Director for the Daily Kos, tweeted that,

“Bernie Sanders isn’t helping-he’s hurting. He should either endorse Ossoff and raise money for him, or keep silent.”

The Our Revolution track record to date is basically inconsequential. As there are an estimated 520,000  elected officials in the United States, the fledgling Our Revolution has a record to date of 64 wins and 57 losses in a tiny fraction of elections taking place nationwide. Only two Our Revolution endorsed candidates, Jamie Raskin from Maryland’s 8th District, and Pramila Jayapal, from Washington’s 7th District, were newly elected members of Congress in 2016. The importance of the endorsement from Our Revolution for both of those candidates, who easily won their races, is not known. So you want a revolution?  Sorry to disappoint but Our Revolution doesn’t cut it.

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