The Democratic National Committee is one of the most powerful political organizations in the country. It’s also not just a political organization—it’s a private company, and many of its members have experience in corporate lobbying and influence.
Just don’t expect the DNC to tell you that.
“When Democratic Party voters realize the DNC is a private company that can write and follow its own private rules with very little accountability to its members, then some things kind of fall into place,” says journalist David Moore.
Moore is the co-founder of Sludge, an investigative journalism website focusing on government corruption. Back in February, the site began profiling the Democratic National Committee’s 447 voting members and their potential conflicts of interest. Moore’s most recent piece, published last Thursday, details how “a measure to bar corporate lobbyists from serving on the DNC was rejected with several corporate lobbyists on the DNC Rules Committee voting against it.”
Unsurprisingly, no other media organization had profiled the DNC’s voting members’ potential conflicts of interest before. Aside from a few higher ups, the DNC’s own website is bereft of information about its delegates or major committee members. The party’s corporate interests have been somewhat of an open secret for decades, but since 2016, members have demanded more transparency from an organization that offers almost none.
“Traditionally, the DNC’s leadership and culture has not insisted on having these simple ethics rules and conflict of interest policies that you might see in other private corporations, like a neighborhood car dealership,” Moore says. “They might have more checks and balances than the DNC has entirely.”
Moore and the Sludge team have looked at the organization’s main committees—Executive, Rules and Bylaws, Budget and Finance, Resolutions, and Credentials. Of 47 Executive Committee members, 17 have backgrounds in lobbying and 13 are currently registered lobbyists. Nearly two-thirds of the Rules and Bylaws Committee have lobbying or legal backgrounds, including its co-chair James Roosevelt. Roosevelt, grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, has chaired the committee since 1995—and has also served on the Health Insurance Trade Association Board. That means the head of the committee that could pass measures against conflicts of interest has direct conflict of interests himself.
“[Roosevelt] has income from the private health insurance industry,” Moore says, “which has fought so hard against single payer healthcare in the U.S. and has even brought in dark money groups to campaign against the single payer system.”
The DNC’s conflicts of interest and direct corporate interests become even more obvious upon further inspection. Moore says some party reformers believe things are moving in the right direction in terms of transparency, but there’s still a long way to go—both in holding the DNC accountable and raising awareness about it.
“It’s a process that goes back many years,” Moore says. “We spoke with several longtime reformers who told us this has been a long struggle.”
A struggle that will continue through the 2020 election and beyond.