DNC Chair Jamie Harrison delivers a speech

Democratic National Committee Chair Jamie Harrison gives a speech on March 10, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

'Shouldn't Be Controversial': Calls Grow for DNC to Ban Dark Money in Primaries

"Billionaires and their super PACs must not be able to buy Democratic Party primaries," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

At the tail-end of a primary season that has seen torrents of dark money pour into districts across the U.S. to smear and defeat progressive candidates, the Democratic National Committee is facing mounting pressure to prohibit such spending in future elections, with supporters arguing such a ban would help jumpstart the process of cleaning up the nation's corrupt political process.

With the DNC scheduled to convene in Maryland later this week for its summer meeting, a group of more than 30 committee members spearheaded by Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer will demand approval of a resolution barring "the use of 'dark money' funding during any and all Democratic primary elections."

"If Democrats really believe in democracy and campaign finance reform, we must ban super PACs in primaries."

In an interview with The Nation last week, Whitmer warned that the "avalanche" of dark money is growing so large that voters are losing "their right to choose their own candidates."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has called Whitmer's resolution "courageous" and declared that "any DNC member who truly believes in our slogan 'people over politics' should vote" in favor.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation's editor and publisher, argued in a column for the Washington Post on Tuesday that "passage of Whitmer's resolution shouldn't be controversial."

"No one can doubt that action is imperative," vanden Heuvel wrote. "According to the nonpartisan research group OpenSecrets, dark money topped $1 billion in the 2020 presidential race. This year, the Wesleyan Media Project reported, nearly 60% of all ads in Democratic House primaries have been purchased by sources that did not disclose, or only partially disclosed, their donors."

"Democrats in both the House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly for H.R. 1, the sweeping voting-rights bill introduced in 2021, which included strong campaign finance elements," vanden Heuvel added. "President Biden campaigned for its passage. That bill was ultimately defeated but, now, the Democratic National Committee can take action to clean its own house. It should not fail this test."

Several high-profile progressive lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)--the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus--recently endorsed the idea of a dark money ban in Democratic primaries after watching progressive candidates lose congressional races that were inundated by super PAC cash, which is often difficult to trace due to the country's tattered campaign finance laws.

"It is now time to speak with one voice to end its influence in Democratic primaries--where record sums of money from millionaires and billionaires have infiltrated our primaries, and super PACs have drowned out the grassroots campaigns of working-class, progressive candidates," Jayapal, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote in a June letter to the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"Instead of Democratic primaries being an honest and free exchange of ideas with individual and small-dollar donor contributors dominant, corporate super PACs have flooded these races with millions in misleading mailers, digital ads, and television commercials," the letter continued. "Candidates who have worked hard to build grassroots support in their communities are being overwhelmed by a torrent of outside spending."

In a number of races this primary cycle, a super PAC formed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and bankrolled by Republican billionaires intervened on the side of corporate Democrats running against progressives such as Pennsylvania's Summer Lee--who ultimately won her race despite the opposition spending--and Jessica Cisneros, who lost by the thinnest of margins to right-wing incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), widely considered the most progressive Jewish member of the House, also lost his primary to fellow Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) in a newly drawn district after facing millions in opposition spending from the United Democracy Project, AIPAC's super PAC.

Sanders, who campaigned for Levin and vocally condemned super PAC influence on the race, tweeted Tuesday that "billionaires and their super PACs must not be able to buy Democratic Party primaries."

"If Democrats really believe in democracy and campaign finance reform, we must ban super PACs in primaries," the Vermont senator added. "I stand with progressive reformers advocating for this change."

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