According to the Wesleyan Media Project, Bernie Sanders spent more on advertising than any other candidate in the 2016 cycle. By the end of May, this totaled over $87 million. Unfortunately for Sen. Sanders, this was because he had to spend a lot of money on advertising.
In 2015, the Tyndall Report tracked nightly news coverage on NBC, ABC and CBS, and found that Sanders rarely received media coverage on the networks. This media blackout was one of the most significant obstacles to Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton, who was covered throughout mainstream media preceding the Democratic primaries as the default Democratic presidential nominee. What is just as sobering as the dismissal of Sanders’ campaign by corporate media, however, is who was profiting off of Sanders spending so much of his funds on advertising.
A percentage of every advertisement purchased was paid to Old Towne Media and Devine Mulvey Longabough for brokering the media contracts. The latter was run by Sanders’ senior strategist, Tad Devine, who also received a cut for deals brokered through Old Towne. Devine’s cut totaled at least $10 million by the end of May 2016, according to an investigative report by Slate—in addition to over $5 million paid to his firm. (This would be over half a million average donations to the Sanders campaign.)
Sanders’ campaign should have hired a consultant with the integrity not to make millions off of grassroots donations.
Devine, a top adviser to both Al Gore and John Kerry’s failed presidential runs in 2000 and 2004, was the most establishment-friendly political consultant in the Sanders campaign. He was the seasoned Democratic Party insider meant to help Sanders present a viable challenge to Hillary Clinton. Devine has worked on campaigns around the world, including in Bolivia, Honduras, Peru, Israel, Colombia and Ukraine—for ousted President Viktor Yanukovich.
Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, recently resigned due to negative publicity over his pro-Russian ties to Yanukovich. The Podesta Group—a lobbying firm founded by Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and run by his brother, Tony Podesta—received over $1 million from Yanukovich and his political party in Ukraine, which was funneled to the firm from Manafort. According to Reuters, the FBI and Department of Justice are currently investigating ties between the work of firms run by Manafort and Podesta and corruption involving the former Ukrainian president.
Each dollar that went to Devine and the other political insiders reaping millions off of the Sanders campaign meant less money for progressive grassroots organizers and activists on the ground. One of the greatest strategizing errors of the Sanders campaign was not focusing more money and efforts on creating a new grassroots method of campaigning. Instead, Sanders relied on traditional methods that made a few elite political consultants millions off the generosity of everyday Americans who supported him. Structures within presidential campaigning are designed to preserve the status quo, benefiting those who charge exorbitant fees for their services in the political world. Sanders’ political revolution failed to change how presidential campaigns are run.
“Democrats alarmed by the prospect of Sanders extending his fight with Clinton until the convention see Devine as their best hope of talking the candidate out of it,” wrote Evan Halper and Kurtis Lee for the Los Angeles Times on June 9. “One Democratic strategist who has worked with both men and is not currently affiliated with a presidential campaign called Devine ‘the voice of reason in the camp about the best path forward.’”
As the revelations come to light regarding how much money Devine earned from working for the Sanders campaign, it appears the campaign should have hired a political consultant who had the integrity not to happily make millions in profits off of grassroots donations.
Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.