Members of the DNC Resolutions Committee attend a meeting

Members of the DNC Resolutions Committee, including Ron Harris and Earl Fowlkes, attend a meeting on February 2, 2023 in Philadelphia.

(Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Once Again, DNC Panel Blocks Vote on Dark Money Ban in Democratic Primaries

Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer, the lead sponsor of the resolution, said that dark money is "being used to silence the voices our party most needs to hear."

For the second time in less than five months, the Democratic National Committee's resolutions panel refused Thursday to allow a vote on a proposed ban on dark money in the party's primaries, despite substantial support for the change among DNC members and prominent progressive lawmakers.

Judith Whitmer, the chair of the Nevada Democratic Party and lead sponsor of the dark money resolution, wrote on Twitter that "these funds are being used to exclude, not empower."

"They're being used to silence the voices our party most needs to hear," Whitmer added. "The DNC did not pass my dark money resolution, but my voice was heard. Our elections are not for sale."

According to DNC member R.L. Miller, the founder of Climate Hawks Vote, "not a single person" on the Resolutions Committee "dares move to even put it for a vote, just like summer 2022."

During that meeting, which took place in September, the panel also declined to let the proposed dark money ban advance to a vote, as Common Dreams reported at the time.

Recounting the September meeting in an op-ed for The Nation, longtime DNC member James Zogby—who helped craft the dark money proposal—wrote that after Whitmer delivered a "powerful" statement to the resolutions panel in support of the ban, the panel's chair "asked if any member of the committee wanted to put our resolution up for a vote."

"There was dead silence in the room," Zogby wrote, suggesting that members were likely pressured by DNC leadership to stonewall the dark money proposal. "With not one of the two dozen committee members in attendance willing to call for a vote, the resolution died."

The DNC's proceedings are notoriously anti-democratic and untransparent—and they are likely to become even more so under bylaw changes that the body quietly enacted during its September gathering.

As The Intercept's Akela Lacy reported following last year's meeting, "The national committee approved language requiring that it must ratify any bylaw amendments that the convention, a broader body, wants to adopt."

"The amendment removes the authority over DNC decisions from the national convention, which includes thousands of members, and places it instead with the smaller national committee of just under 500," Lacy noted. "According to three people present, several DNC members were frustrated with the change."

"If we don't get the dark money—what I call 'the dirty money'—out of Democratic primaries, it becomes increasingly impossible to elect the challengers, the insurgents, the progressives in those primaries."

The DNC doesn't publicize the membership lists of its standing committees, though 2020 reporting from Sludge identified at least three corporate lobbyists who were serving on the resolutions panel at that time.

As of the September 2022 meeting, Patrice Taylor and Rich Fitzgerald were the co-chairs of the DNC Resolutions Committee.

The committee's obstruction of the proposed dark money ban comes in the wake of the most expensive U.S. midterm cycle on record. According to OpenSecrets, super PACs spent an astounding $1.35 billion during the 2022 midterm election cycle.

An outgrowth of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, super PACs are legally required to disclose their donors—but many of them are effectively dark money groups because of how difficult it is to trace the sources of their funding.

During last year's Democratic primaries, progressive candidates across the country faced barrages of opposition spending from super PACs, including one bankrolled by Republican billionaires.

The torrent of super PAC cash provided the impetus for progressives' push to ban dark money in Democratic primaries, an effort that garnered the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who caucuses with Senate Democrats—and other members of Congress.

Ahead of the winter DNC gathering in Philadelphia, which is set to formally kick off this weekend, Sanders wrote in a letter that "the Democratic Party must not allow oligarchs and their super PACs, often aligned with Republicans, to buy Democratic Party primaries."

"Virtually all Democrats talk about the need for campaign finance reform," Sanders added. "Talk is easy. Now it's time to walk the walk. Let's stand up for democracy."

Larry Cohen, a DNC member and board chair of the progressive group Our Revolution, lamented in an organizing call earlier this week that the DNC is "a shitshow."

"There's no other way to describe it," Cohen said. "If we don't get the dark money—what I call 'the dirty money'—out of Democratic primaries, it becomes increasingly impossible to elect the challengers, the insurgents, the progressives in those primaries."

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