San Francisco DSA Calls on the DSA National Political Committee to Defer the Question of Endorsing Bernie Sanders to the 2019 National Convention and Reject the Previously Approved National Independent Expenditure Campaign
On February 19, 2019, Bernie Sanders announced that he is running for President of the United States. This set in motion an immediate response from the DSA National organization, and an announcement that the DSA National Political Committee (or NPC, our elected national board of directors) would vote by March 21, 2019 whether to endorse Bernie in his campaign for the Presidency.
Our chapter values democratic debate, bottom-up campaigns, and facilitative leadership. This structure has led it to many worthy struggles and successes, including (to name just a few) our successful electoral campaign to enshrine into law the nation’s first-ever universal right to civil counsel for renters facing eviction, our ongoing campaign to unionize workers at the Anchor Brewery, and our many struggles in partnership with longstanding community groups fighting against housing insecurity, environmental racism, and police brutality. The instruction to consider Bernie’s campaign was not something we were given a choice in, and we speak on it now only because we find DSA National’s actions and proposed plan to be unacceptable.
Positions on Bernie Sanders in our chapter run the gamut. To list just a few of the opinions held by our members, some strongly desire to endorse Bernie, believing that DSA’s supporting his run for the Presidency in some fashion is a critical recruiting tool and way to build power for the American left. Others believe that whatever Bernie’s merits, it is far too early to consider endorsing a candidate who has not requested our endorsement, particularly when it is a full year before California’s presidential primary. Still others believe that we should not endorse a presidential candidate at all or Bernie in particular in light of certain political positions he has taken in opposition to DSA’s values, notably his vote in favor of FOSTA/SESTA and his failure to support BDS.
These beliefs are all fairly held and deserve more time than we are being given to address them. We cannot resolve our position on Bernie’s campaign as a chapter in the span of a few weeks at the very beginning of a presidential campaign, particularly not when it was not our decision to begin discussing the issue.
Our chapter is, however, united on two critical points: First, the NPC’s accelerated endorsement process has been unacceptable in its lack of transparency, in ignoring chapter and member input, and in favoring a particular tendency and strategy by seemingly rushing to endorse Bernie Sanders and implement an expensive national independent expenditure campaign (the “Proposed National I.E. Campaign”) as early as possible. It is the 2019 National Convention that should decide whether DSA endorses Bernie Sanders, not the NPC. Second, if the NPC nonetheless carries out its seemingly preordained decision to endorse Bernie Sanders before the convention, the Proposed National I.E. Campaign must be rejected.
The NPC’s Unacceptable, Anti-Democratic Process
Our membership is severely troubled by the behavior of the NPC and National Staff in attempting to pass an anti-democratic endorsement plan without allowing meaningful input by chapters or members. As we see it, the below-listed events demonstrate that the endorsement process is intended to create a pretense of democracy only:
- Fall 2018: At its October meeting, with little debate or explanation, the NPC voted to circumvent the National Electoral Committee — the national body properly vested with debating these issues in the first instance — to instead create the “Exploratory Committee for the 2020 Presidential Primary” or “2020 Exploratory Committee” consisting of a small cadre of nine individuals, apparently chosen based on their political tendency and desire to implement a national independent expenditure campaign for Bernie 2020.
- January 21, 2019: After several months of secret work, the 2020 Exploratory Committee released its “Report from the Exploratory Committee for the 2020 Presidential Primary” on the DSA National forums. This plan was widely panned, and an alternative proposal quickly written and adopted by the Libertarian Socialist Caucus garnered hundreds more member signatures in a matter of days, indicating a groundswell of opposition to the 2020 Exploratory Committee Plan.
- January 26-27, 2019: At its January 2019 meeting, the NPC approved the 2020 Exploratory Committee plan. Notably, the NPC rejected amendments to the 2020 Exploratory Committee Plan that would have increased chapter input and bottom-up democracy. One amendment put forth would have required the “DSA Bernie 2020 Committee” (the governing committee for the proposed campaign) to include one representative chosen by each chapter in an early primary state; other amendments would have required the NPC to give chapters or members binding votes on the proposed Bernie endorsement. The NPC, on apparent factional lines, rejected all amendments to the 2020 Exploratory Committee Plan.
- February 9-10, 2019. During the Bernie 2020 debate required by DSA National at the California-Hawaii Regional Conference, the first of the planned regional conferences, the majority of the voices in the room were outright opposed to endorsing Bernie or expressed significant concerns with the endorsement process and Proposed National I.E. Campaign.
- February 19, 2019. Bernie announced his campaign, triggering DSA National to email all members and announce an emergency NPC meeting would be held by March 21 to vote on whether to endorse Bernie. DSA National announces that an “advisory poll” would be emailed to all members. However, it appears this poll will present a binary choice of “Yes” or “No” as to the endorsement, but will give members no say on whether to accept or reject the Proposed National I.E. Campaign.
San Francisco DSA does not believe that chapters or members are being given a meaningful democratic choice as to whether our organization endorses Bernie Sanders.
DSA National’s Proposed Independent Expenditure Campaign is Flawed, Exposes Us to Significant Legal Risk, and Must Be Rejected
Beyond the binary issue of whether to endorse Bernie, our chapter has severe concerns about the structure of the Proposed National I.E. Campaign. Endorsing Bernie does not require DSA to adopt the expensive, elaborate campaign structure set forth in the 2020 Exploratory Committee Report. We question why National has not presented us with any other options for what DSA’s support of Bernie would look like if we do endorse. Certainly, there are other options available.
While we defer until later the question of exactly how (or if) San Francisco DSA will become directly involved in Bernie’s campaign, for now we recommend that our members who wish to support Bernie’s campaign for president do so by applying to work with his campaign as open socialist organizers, or by working with our allies in Our Revolution or other organizations supporting Bernie. We believe this kind of rank-and-file approach, in concert with other Bernie staff and volunteers from many backgrounds, is the best approach to use Bernie’s run to spread DSA San Francisco’s socialist values beyond our chapter’s boundaries. By having our organizers work directly with Bernie’s campaign, we can show critical socialist support for his run while helping to educate progressives on the ways that Bernie can still improve, notably with respect to FOSTA/SESTA, BDS, and imperialism. Indeed, a number of our members have already expressed interest in working as paid staff or volunteers for Bernie’s campaign or with our allies in the local Our Revolution affiliate, the SF Berniecrats.
It disturbs us that DSA National would consider putting in place the Proposed National I.E. Campaign, which might legally prevent our members from pursuing this kind of work in coordination with our allies. We fear that the Proposed National I.E. Campaign would expose us to significant legal risk at the hands of the Republican-controlled Federal Election Commission, the agency that enforces federal campaign finance violations.
Our chapter includes members who have done extensive work on independent expenditure campaigns and are familiar with implementing them. These kinds of campaigns come with significant, complicated legal restrictions, notably that members working on a candidate’s campaign cannot have contact with individuals working on an independent expenditure campaign (such as are often run by PACs). In our experience, having to implement these kinds of necessary legal barriers between members has often created unhelpful divisions that serve to split members apart, rather than bring them together in generative coordination.
Based on the discouraging interactions our chapter has had with National to date, we do not believe that the National Political Committee, the National Electoral Committee, or National’s staff have developed the capacity to build up the necessary infrastructure that chapters will need to run a legally compliant independent expenditure campaign. While our chapter is large and fortunate enough to have significant resources, we are very skeptical that National can deliver the kind of compliance infrastructure and training necessary to ensure that we (let alone smaller, resource-poor chapters) avoid running afoul of elections law.
We do not wish to expose our members to complex legal risk. If DSA does ultimately endorse Bernie, a rank-and-file strategy encouraging members to work directly with Bernie’s own campaign and Our Revolution makes far more sense and is much safer than establishing the expensive, risky, counterproductive Proposed National I.E. Campaign.
ACCORDINGLY, in light of all of the above, it is hereby RESOLVED:
- San Francisco DSA calls on the NPC to defer the issue of whether DSA should endorse Bernie Sanders to the August 2-4, 2019 National Convention, the highest decision-making body of our organization, and joins the DSA Fresno Co-Chair’s “Petition: Defer Endorsement Vote to August Convention” under Art. X Sec. 3 of the DSA National bylaws;
- San Francisco DSA rejects and will not participate in the proposed independent expenditure campaign set forth in the “2020 Exploratory Committee Report” that was approved by the NPC at its January 26, 2019 meeting. In the event that the NPC does endorse Bernie Sanders prior to the 2019 National Convention, San Francisco DSA calls on the DSA NPC to amend the plan set forth in the 2020 Exploratory Committee Report to:
- Eliminate the proposed independent expenditure campaign that the Bernie 2020 Exploratory Plan calls to be run through DSA National’s own 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation entity;
- Forbid DSA National from spending any of its own money or devoting any in-kind resources (including paid staff labor) to support an independent DSA Bernie 2020 campaign, whether styled as “Democratic Socialists for Bernie” or otherwise;
- Encourage all chapters to determine in a democratic manner whether they wish their work (if any) on Bernie 2020 to be conducted in coordination with Bernie Sanders’s own campaign and/or with Our Revolution, or instead through local independent expenditure campaigns funded through chapter-level PACs;
- Encourage interested DSA members to seek staff and volunteer positions on Bernie Sanders’s own campaign and/or with Our Revolution; AND
- Add to the proposed Bernie 2020 Committee one member from each chartered chapter (selected by that chapter’s own processes) in each state holding a primary up to and including Super Tuesday.
- San Francisco DSA calls on all DSA and YDSA chapters to pass this resolution.