Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both returned donations to their 2020 presidential primary campaigns from employees at hedge funds profiting off of Puerto Rico's debt, making the pair thus far the only two to do so among the crowded Democratic field.
Activists from a number of organizations sent an open letter to all Democrats in the 2020 primary asking them to return the donations on August 13, after a damning report from research organization Hedge Clippers exposed the way that hedge funds are making money off of the island territory's misery.
According to Hedge Clippers, there's a chance for change in Puerto Rico after a people-power-based movement turned former Governor Ricardo Rosello out of office in early August:
After the dust settles and Puerto Rico finally ends with a new governor, the oversight board, with their debt adjustment plans, will still be in place. Now more than ever there is an opportunity to bring accountability to the corporations and vulture funds that have worked with the former governor and the oversight board to advance a regime of austerity and privatization for Puerto Rico to ensure they profit.
In order to effect that change, said Julio López Varona, the co-director of community dignity campaigns at the Center For Popular Democracy, the consequences for profiting from the debt must be clear.
"No presidential candidate can call themselves a friend of Puerto Ricans while taking money from hedge funds driving austerity on the island," Varona told Common Dreams in a statement. "Puerto Ricans are not sitting with our arms crossed waiting for the vulture funds or presidential candidates for that matter to do the right thing."
"We marched for days to oust a corrupt governor," Varona added, "we will not stand idle for these abuses and will condemn anyone who builds their campaigns from them.”
The decisions of the Sanders and Warren campaigns to return donations sends a message, added Diáspora en Resistencia member Maria Torres.
"We want to thank Senators Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders for their leadership on correcting this wrong," said Torres. "We hope other candidates follow their leadership and show they have the capacity to admit when a wrong is done and they are quick to correct it."
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New York Communities for Change organizer Georgina de Jesus also praised the duo.
"No candidate should take contributions from hedge funds and vulture funds driving austerity in Puerto Rico," de Jesus told Common Dreams. "We thank Senator Sanders and Senator Warren for returning these contributions and implore all other presidential candidates to do the same."
As David Dayen pointed out in The American Prospect, Warren and Sanders didn't have much cash to get rid of from the companies:
For Sanders and Warren, sending back the funds was no great hardship, as they didn’t receive much money in the first place. For Warren, it was one $1,000 donation from an employee of Taconic Capital, and for Sanders, it was a single $2,700 contribution from an employee at BlueMountain Capital.
Other candidates received even more from the vulture funds. The champion recipient is actually longshot centrist Michael Bennet, who received $49,800 from seven different hedge funds. Beto O’Rourke enjoyed $28,750, most of it from Centerbridge Partners, whose founder and managing partner Mark Gallogy has endorsed and bundled donations for the former Texas congressman. Other top recipients include John Delaney ($26,300), Joe Biden ($25,350), Cory Booker ($23,300), and Pete Buttigieg ($21,350). The numbers are all as of the latest Federal Elections Commission filing on June 30.
In a statement, Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora co-founder Luis Ponce Ruiz celebrated Sanders and Warren's decision and warned other Democrats to take note.
"We are grateful for their campaigns taking the lead in returning the donation; we demand that the rest of the Democratic presidential camp follows their lead now!" said Ruiz. "If not, the Puerto Rican community will continue to press them and hold them accountable at rallies, town halls, via social media, and, of course, at the ballot."