What Is Bernie Sanders Even Doing?

I happened to read an article in Politico, by Gabriel Debenedetti, that compares the fundraising of the Sanders and Clinton campaigns [h/t to Shaker Lysis for the link]. In it, I read that both campaigns have raised an impressive amount of cash: Clitnon raised $38 million in the fourth quarter, and Sanders raised $33 million. Wow!

Each campaign also released the amount of funds they had separately raised for the Democratic Party, money that will be used to help elect Democrats on downticket ballots. Clinton: $18 million. Sanders: zero.


To be clear, raising the money for downticket races is important because presidential candidates have a lot of clout and visibility. Lending that to the party overall helps ensure competitive races in the House and Senate, something very much needed for a Democratic president hoping to enact a progressive agenda. As gerrymandered as many districts are, it's going to be a real challenge.

So I find the Sanders campaign's explanation of this more than a little bizarre:

...while the independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate could be raising money for the party by making calls to major potential contributors, he refuses to do so on principle.

Sanders' campaign hopes such stands are precisely why his "political revolution" won’t need the Democratic infrastructure’s help — top aides believe the sheer breadth of energy from Sanders backers should be more than enough to elect fellow Democrats on his coattails come November 2016.

“Bernie is the only candidate generating the kind of broad-based enthusiasm and excitement that Democrats must have in order to raise funds for a general election campaign and keep the White House and make gains in Congress,” said campaign manager Jeff Weaver in his campaign’s fundraising announcement.

As I understand this, Weaver is saying that only Bernie can raise enough funds for other races. But apparently, he's not going to do so through the Democratic Party. So, when exactly is he going to start his own pool of funds for electing other Democrats? Or does Weaver really believe that the sheer force of Sanders' coattails is going to elect people to Congress, no cash required? (In that case, sorry Jeff Weaver! I am having trouble visualizing Bernie Sanders as a magical unicorn!)

I get that Sanders doesn't like working within a party structure. He's managed to carve out a very successful niche for himself in Vermont outside of it, with a special truce between himself and the Vermont Democrats. And I get that there are some really big problems with the Democratic Party.

But at some point, if you're going to run for the Democratic Party's nomination, you probably need to think about cooperating with them more closely. And using their infrastructure for debates and exposure while refusing to fundraise for them doesn't strike me as smart politics. Nor, frankly, does it seem very ethical, particularly considering his campaign explcitly agreed to fundraise with them.

As Liss put it in a private communication to me (that I am sharing with her permission): "He is happy to make use of the Democratic infrastructure to give him visibility and access he wouldn't get as a 3rd party candidate, but then refuses to contribute to the funding of that infrastructure 'on principle.'

"That's some hot garbage, right there."

Bernie Sanders has a hard-earned reputation for integrity. Refusing to support the Democratic party while accepting their support (and in in fact suing the party over his own campaign's wrongdoing, and then fundraising off the incident) is eventually going to tarnish that reputation. And that's a bad thing, not only for Sanders personally, but for his cause, for his supporters, and for the people who really were hoping for something different from him.

What are you even doing, Bernie Sanders?

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