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Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, speaks during a hearing on March 30, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

'Dark Money Is Dark Money': Sanders Calls on DNC to Ban Super PAC Cash in Primaries

"A super PAC is a super PAC, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged the Democratic National Committee to ban super PAC money from the party's primary process as special interest groups and billionaires pour money into elections in the hopes of defeating progressive candidates across the U.S., including Summer Lee in Pennsylvania and Nida Allam in North Carolina.

"The continuation of super PAC money in Democratic primaries will demoralize the Democratic base."

"The Democratic leadership has, appropriately, condemned Republican 'dark money' super PACs which spend huge amounts of money to elect their right-wing candidates," Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in a letter to DNC Chair Jamie Harrison. "I am concerned, however, that I have not heard any criticism from Democratic leaders about the many millions of dollars in dark money being spent by super PACs that are now attempting to buy Democratic primaries."

"The goal of this billionaire-funded effort is to crush the candidacies of a number of progressive women of color who are running for Congress," the Vermont senator continued. "I am writing to you today to demand that the Democratic National Committee make it clear that super PAC money is not welcome in Democratic primaries. I believe the party should make a public statement about our values and simultaneously consider actions that punish candidates who refuse to adhere to this principle."

Sanders' letter was sent the day of Pennsylvania's Democratic primary elections, which will feature Lee's run against corporate lawyer Steve Irwin for a U.S. House seat in the state's 12th Congressional District and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's contest against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) for a spot in the U.S. Senate.

Both contests have attracted national attention and torrents of super PAC cash. The Intercept's Akela Lacy reported Monday that in "less than a month, the United Democracy Project—the political action committee for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC—poured more than $1 million into ads in Pennsylvania's 12th District."

"The bulk of the messaging attacked Lee, though just over $100,000 went to materials supporting Irwin," Lacy noted. "In total, United Democracy Project has spent more than $2.3 million on the race so far."

In the Senate primary, meanwhile, some of the top financiers in the U.S.—including Bain Capital billionaire Joshua Bekenstein and Lone Pine Capital billionaire Stephen Mandel—have dumped money into Lamb's super PAC.

"The billionaire class is playing an outsized role in propping up Conor Lamb's sagging electoral chances," The American Prospect's Alexander Sammon wrote last month.

Sanders, who called out AIPAC by name during a rally for Lee last week, argued in his letter Tuesday that Democratic candidates should have to "compete with each other based on their ideas and grassroots support, not on the kind of billionaire super PAC money they can attract."

"A super PAC is a super PAC, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires. Dark money is dark money, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires," Sanders wrote. "There is no question but that the continuation of super PAC money in Democratic primaries will demoralize the Democratic base and alienate potential Democratic voters from the political process."

"Let us try to create a Democratic Party which is truly democratic," the senator added.

In a column for The Nation on Monday, Jeff Weaver, the manager of Sanders' 2016 presidential run and an adviser to his 2020 campaign, characterized the super PAC money flowing into primary elections as part of "a corporatist coup within the Democratic Party" that aims to "make elected progressives extinct and to extinguish the agenda of higher wages, affordable healthcare, criminal justice reform, addressing climate change, and putting more economic and political power in the hands of everyday people of all races."

"Even more than robbing working people of congressional representation, these Big Money interests are trying to change the game by robbing millions of the hope that things can be better," Weaver warned. "Every time a voter drops out of the electoral process or decides that corporate liberalism is all that is achievable the corporatists get one step closer to the defeat of a freer, fairer, more just America. Despair is their ally. Defiance is ours."


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