DNC Arm Cracks Down on Activist Offshoots

August 29, 2019 Updated: August 29, 2019

An arm of the Democratic National Committee is cracking down on activist groups within the party for allegedly duplicating efforts and poaching donors. Those faithful to the DNC have complained for years that the groups have been competing with and undermining DNC and state-level organizations.

Many Democrats have complained that the party’s operating infrastructure was neglected in the years that Barack Obama, who entered politics as a community organizer, was president.

The tactical about-face comes as longtime DNC member James Zogby and other party operatives sound the alarm that Democrats are already being out-organized by President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Trump is reaching out to swing voters, while Democrats are focusing on expanding their base, the party sources said.

“I am frustrated beyond belief at the sheer neglect of the constituencies I represent,” Zogby told The Daily Beast.

“There’s a general unease right now among operatives and others who believe the DNC is not doing enough to build out the infrastructure before the next election,” an unidentified DNC member said. “There’s a deep concern that while we’re turned inwards, the Trump campaign is already out there talking to general election voters.”

These complaints came as the Association of State Democratic Committees, which is housed within the DNC, announced Aug. 27 that every major candidate seeking the party’s presidential nomination has promised to not form “any organizing or messaging infrastructure that is parallel or duplicative” of DNC or state party efforts, according to Politico.

The pledge, which has been signed by former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and 16 other contenders, compels candidates to use state parties as their organizing, messaging, and political arm should they secure the nomination, while obligating candidates to implore their supporters not to form new outside groups on their behalf.

The pledge requires the eventual nominee to share all of the data he or she acquires during the election cycle with state parties and the DNC, but doesn’t force the nominee to hand over his or her email lists.

One of the objects of party operatives’ ire over the years has been Organizing for Action (OFA), a large, well-funded nonprofit with more than 30,000 volunteers nationwide, that is at the head of former President Obama’s network of left-wing activist groups. OFA, which grew out of Obama’s electoral campaigns, has upwards of 250 offices across America, and from 2013 to 2017, it raised more than $40 million. His other nonprofit, the Barack Obama Foundation, is building Obama’s presidential library in Chicago.

As Donald Trump began his term as president in early 2017, OFA organized demonstrations across the country to protest a Trump executive order temporarily banning visitors from seven terrorism-plagued Muslim-majority countries. The group also defends Obama-era policies on health care, climate, gun control, immigration amnesty, and net neutrality rules. Working with the Indivisible Project, OFA developed a training manual for protesting Trump and disrupting Republican events.

This new intraparty directive is likely to disrupt business as usual in the world of Democratic retail politics and in national organizing.

“It’s a huge shift,” said Jane Kleeb, who chairs the Nebraska Democratic Party, told Politico. She added that the move sends two messages: “You cannot create another OFA” and “the DNC is an important national infrastructure, but it’s not in the states—we are.”

“[State parties] are never the shiny object that gets funded with all the appeals from podcasts or big donors,” Kleeb added.

It is unclear what will happen to Our Revolution, a group created by Sanders to push his agenda, should he win the general election. Kleeb said if Sanders wins, Our Revolution may have to shut down or “shift its message.”

The DNC shift also came after Obama launched a new campaign on Aug. 26 called “Redistricting U” to combat partisan gerrymandering in key battleground states that Democrats hope to win in the 2020 presidential election and beyond.

Redistricting U will provide free training for volunteers so they can “be leaders in the movement for fair maps,” according to the campaign’s website, Allontheline.org.

“Training is at the heart of organizing. It’s why I’ve always made it a priority—from my 2008 campaign until now,” Obama wrote on Twitter on Aug. 26.

“The movement for fair maps will determine the course of progress on every issue we care about for the next decade. And we can’t wait to begin organizing when the redistricting process starts in 2021. We need to build this movement from the ground up—right now,” Obama said on the website.