Dark Money Corruption Is As Welcome In The Democratic Party As It Is In The Republican Party
Jacobin published an interview with soon to be New York State Senator Kristen Gonzalez by Karthik Puroshothaman. Gonzalez went up against the entire Democratic establishment— and kicked it’s ass. It’s an inspirational story and also a very important one, a David v Goliath contest that David won. The Queens Democratic Party Machine, one of the most corrupt in America and run by one of Congress’ most corrupt members— Gregory Meeks— backed Joe Crowley’s Republican cousin, Elizabeth Crowley, who pretends she’s a Democrat. Kristen Gonzalez is an unabashed Democratic socialist. Let’s skip to the end of the story:
Gonzalez campaigned on exactly the kinds of things the Democratic establishment and their big money allies on Wall Street and in real estate do not want to hear: “An important part of our campaign,” she said, “is that we are bigger than one seat, one elected, or one office. It’s about the larger movement… I’m also coming into this as an organizer, which is just inherently a different type of politics. We want to organize in office. We don’t want more career politicians. We had the largest coalition in the race. We had not only DSA but also Working Families Party (WFP) behind us, and by the end of the campaign cycle, we had over fifty endorsements from elected officials across the Left, unions, other political organizations, and advocacy groups. What makes this so important is that, at a time when we’re seeing the Right so incredibly organized in stripping away our rights at the federal level and trying to bring that energy into our State Senate and State Assemblies, we need candidates and electeds who are organizing and unifying the Left to counter the type of far-right politics that we’re up against in Albany and across the country… We’re going to continue organizing. Another seat is another way to implement our inside-outside approach. The organizing on the ground on the outside doesn’t stop. We’re one part of the climate movement that includes not only the DSA, but also Sunrise, and organizations such as Triage. We’re going to continue building with those organizations, doing joint canvasses, and actually speaking with New Yorkers— in short, our approach during the campaign is the same approach we’ll apply in office. It does not stop simply because the election happened.”
Puroshothaman: Given that every DSA race is pretty much running against the Democratic Party even if primarying to be the party’s nominee, and given the NY-10 Congressional race in which there is talk of the Working Families Party fielding a candidate, do you think New York City and state are prototypes for multiparty politics? On the other hand, now that you’re the nominee, do you gain the support of the Queens Democratic Party?
Gonzalez: I’m excited to be a Working Families Party–endorsed candidate, too, and what we’re doing that’s so powerful is that coalition-building. In New York, what we’re seeing actually is our candidates win when they’re backed by DSA and WFP. So maybe that’s less of an answer to the two-party system and more of what it means to unite the Left.
We raised in this campaign over $220,000 from over three thousand individual donors with a $46 average, including more in-district donors than all our opponents combined. So, this was fully a grassroots campaign funded by small-dollar donations, and we were up against an opponent who raised over $650,000 from real estate, Trump Republicans, lobbyists and corporations, and on top of that had PACs such as NY Forward, which was created by the Real Estate Board of New York to funnel additional real estate interests, all of which would have totaled well over a million dollars spent against us.
How we beat a career politician and that amount of money in this campaign is truly by doing the work of building a grassroots campaign funded by small-dollar donations with people behind us. We proved again that people always triumph over moneyed interests. As I mentioned before, we had nine hundred volunteers— it was our field and comms. In terms of field, we knocked on the most doors of any candidate in this campaign, so we did the work of talking to everyday New Yorkers regardless of where they were on the political spectrum. We had great conversations at the doors about what it meant to fight for working-class New Yorkers and how our government was failing us.
It wasn’t about whether I was doing that as a democratic socialist or Working Families Party candidate. I was doing it as a larger, unified movement candidate talking about how we need to push across the Left for these things in Albany. I think that made the difference, the combination of field game as well as the messaging at the doors where we were challenging people to think differently, which in turn was more about the values we were running on and less about the party we were part of.
As for the second question, yes I’m going to be part of Socialists in Office, but it is important to work with people who are part of the Democratic establishment and machine. It’s important to build relationships with more conservative Democrats, and even with Republicans in Albany that are coming from different parts of the state. I’m excited to build those relationships out, and all of those conversations will start from, “As a democratic socialist, I believe that working-class New Yorkers deserve universal health care, a Green New York, fully funded public schools and tuition-free CUNY.” I’m excited to work with them to continue fighting for and accomplishing those things. I’ve not spoken to the Queens Democratic Party since the victory, but I’m excited to start talking to them.
Puroshothaman: Since the dwindling of Build Back Better and the Roe overturn, the morale of progressive let alone socialist politics seems to be on a downtrend. As someone who resoundingly won a tough election, what do you have to say about “the movement” to Bernie supporters who might be doubting whether the movement is still alive?
Gonzalez: It’s alive, and it’s growing! Our victory shows that our numbers grew in every part of the city. Our membership has grown in every part of the city. Our movement is alive, well, and growing. I want to refer to what Senator Jabari Brisport once said, which was a beautiful sentiment: “I extend an olive branch.” To everyone who may have doubted us before and who maybe endorsed against us, I invite them to join our movement because we’re not going anywhere, and we want to work with as many people as possible.
So, to the Bernie supporters who might think that the movement was dying and may have taken a setback— olive branch; come back, join us, and help us continue to win. To people who have not been part of our movement or had doubts about democratic socialism, such as our mayor? Olive branch, come work with us. We’re fighting for the right things, and New York deserves to win some.
And that brings us to the DNC and the resolution that was supposed to ban dark money in Democratic primaries. The was a lot of excitement on a grassroots level about that this month. I told people I was willing to bet that the DNC would never, never let that happen no matter what. It goes right to the existence of the careerists who control the DNC.
In the end the DNC’s Resolutions Committee just killed the resolution without even allowing a vote by the whole DNC— which would have killed it anyway, but caused lots of embarrassment to careerists who dress up like progressives. So what the Resolutions Committee passed was a proposal with no teeth to “condemn” dark money in primaries, rather than the one proposed by Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer and the left demanding to ban dark money. This one:
Much of the anger involved the dark money spent in primaries to defeat progressives this cycle by AIPAC, DMFI, crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, all of it coordinated by would be congressional leader Hakeem Jeffries. Our Revolution is one of the groups standing up to Team Hakeem. Joseph Geevarghese is their executive director and he noted that the Resolution Committee’s decision to kill the proposal is “abhorrent and anti-democratic.” The few progressives on the DNC will try to bring the resolution directly to the floor.
In covering this for CommonDreams.org yesterday, Jake Johnson noted that “The Democratic Party's 2020 platform includes an explicit rebuke of dark money, which has surged in the years following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. The platform states that Democrats ‘will bring an end to dark money by requiring full disclosure of contributors to any group that advocates for or against candidates, and bar 501(c)(4) organizations from spending money on elections. Democrats will ban corporate PACs from donating to candidates and bar lobbyists from donating, fundraising, or bundling for anyone they lobby,’ the document adds.”
James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and a longtime DNC member, tweeted Thursday that he is "furious" about Thursday's outcome and "all Dems should be too."
"The last time party leaders did this was on my February 2003 resolution to oppose the Iraq War," Zogby added. "Wrong then, wrong now!"
In recent months, prominent progressive lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have called on the Democratic leadership to support a dark money ban to prevent anonymous donors from manipulating the primary process and stacking the deck against candidates who rely on grassroots support.
"It is well beyond time for the Democratic Party to practice what we preach and ban super PAC spending from our primaries," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in May after progressive Summer Lee narrowly overcame millions in opposition spending. "Dark money should have no role in deciding elections."
In his wrap up of the L.A. congressional race to replace Karen Bass, Culver City Mayor Daniel Lee, the progressive in the race, noted that the nearly quarter million dollars spent by AIPAC and DMFI against him kept him out of the November general election by 579 votes. He wrote this morning that “$238,000 was spent by outside entities AIPAC and DMFI against our campaign. These funds were not spent in… direct donations to opponents but in TV + Hulu attack ads and attack mailers against us specifically… Despite these efforts we missed the general election by approximately .6%. While three campaigns raised more funds than ours we were considerably less expensive in the cost per vote analysis. Our opponents attempted to create a narrative of inevitability which unfortunately convinced many of those who were more aligned with us politically.” Daniel spent $3.22 per vote, while Sydney Kamlager, the establishment-anointed candidate spent $14.59 per vote (not counting the independent expenditures on her behalf), Jan Perry spent $24.11 per vote and Michael Shure spent $102.48 per vote. If the DNC thinks there’s no problem with campaign finance reform, they’re collectively drunk."