On Saturday evening, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) quietly passed a resolution that addressed an issue central to the identity crisis that the party has suffered from since the 2016 presidential primaries: the role of donations from entities whose values are counter to those in the party’s platform.
Introduced by California DNC member Christine Pelosi, the resolution banning donations from these contributors passed by a unanimous vote, a stark contrast to the reception the idea has received in the past. The industries cited in Pelosi’s resolution include “tobacco, pay day lending, and gun [manufacturing]” and are couched in the principles articulated by President Barack Obama in his Farewell Address of “[reducing] the corrosive influence of money in our politics.”
This resolution is well-intentioned, and the relentless pursuit of it is a clear indication of Pelosi’s passion for the issue. However, it causes more conflict than it solves and amounts to nothing more than a band-aid over a bullet hole.
The swift passage of this resolution represents a superficial fix to the party’s deeper wound: the struggle between its progressive and establishment wings. Progressives argue that the party has lost touch with the people and that corporate influence is partly to blame. The business wing of the party, however, wants to ensure that the party has the resources it needs to finance increasingly expensive political campaigns.
Neither faction is incorrect in their concerns. The alarmingly tight 2016 Democratic primary coupled with the electoral college shellacking that Hillary Clinton took in the 2016 presidential election revealed a candidate and a party that was out-of-touch with the concerns of key constituencies. And the 2017 Q2 FEC filings show the RNC raised more than double that of the DNC for the quarter—the RNC raised $10.2 million, whereas the DNC raised just $3.8 million.
The party needs to address the image struggles that hurt it so badly in 2016, but it also needs enough funding to be sure that voters can see it fix those issues.
The extent to which big money in politics is a concern to voters is unclear. It was a top issue for 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and the unexpected momentum of his campaign demonstrates that it is an interest among Democratic voters. However, the issue rarely registers on lists of voters’ top concerns. Furthermore, the DNC resolution doesn’t ban all “big money”—just big money from a handful of sources that might be objectionable in the eyes of the party’s supporters.
There is no doubt that this will create conflict among members. The standards by which a corporate donor can be rejected are so far ambiguous at best. Beyond that, one named target of this resolution in particular—gun manufacturers—represents a thorny and unsettled subject for many Democrats, particularly those defending seats in red states in 2018. To declare gun manufacturers persona non-grata when it comes to donating to the Democratic Party will surely create tensions for those members that they’d rather not have.
All of this may be a moot point, however, because the resolution isn’t legally binding:
DNC spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa told Bloomberg that the committee’s leadership “will implement [the resolution] going forward.”’ But this resolution practically guarantees more infighting going forward between factions, between members, and between the party and members of Congress.
There are a substantial number of Democrats who yearn for a party that looks less like what they imagine the Republican party looks like, and this resolution attempts to address that concern. However, in passing this resolution, Democrats are doing little more than setting themselves up to look like hypocrites who can’t even abide rules they voluntarily set for themselves.
Candice Greaux is a communications consultant.