U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accused front-runner Hillary Clinton of apparent campaign finance violations on Monday, ratcheting up the rhetoric against his rival one day before New York state's crucial primary elections.
The Sanders campaign questioned whether Clinton's campaign violated legal limits on donations by paying her staffers with funds from a joint fundraising effort by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.
Sanders has long maintained that the DNC has favored Clinton over Sanders. The U.S. senator from Vermont is a democratic socialist who has run as an independent in his Senate campaigns.
“While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time - it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” said Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver.
Okay so when I read this I at first did not know what to think. After all this is the Sanders' campaign accusing the Clinton campaign and the DNC of illegal fundraising during a primary, that is a pretty serious charge.
So as usual when I am not entirely clear on what is happening I waited until the Rachel Maddow Show last night to clarify what was going on, and whether there was any "there there."
The first thing I learned was this:
Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that the Democratic National Committee offered Team Sanders the identical opportunity for a joint fundraising operation, but the senator declined – not because the joint victory fund is illegal, but because Sanders preferred to simply do his own thing, separate from the national party.
So if this same arrangement was offered to the Sanders' campaign, and they rejected it because they felt their own fundraising was adequate, and are NOW bitching because they see Clinton raking in mountains of moola, how is that Clinton and the DNC's fault?
But is it illegal?
Not not according to a former counsel for the FEC:
Andrea Mitchell said on the show last night that Larry Noble, who served as the FEC’s general counsel for 13 years, believes the allegations don’t make a lot of sense. Rick Hasen, an elections law expert, added yesterday that Team Sanders seems to have a “weak” case.
"Clinton, like Sanders and other presidential candidates, has set up a joint fundraising committee with her political party. The JFC allows you to raise a huge chunk of change (more now than in past campaigns, thanks to the Supreme Court blowing out the aggregate federal limits in the McCutcheon case). A small bit goes to the candidate’s committee under the federal limits (currently $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general). The next bit goes to the DNC, and the rest so state parties in $10,000 chunks. Sanders is accusing the joint committee of raising really big donations, and then having the JFC using some of those really big donations to engage in direct mail and internet targeting of small donors. When those small donors donate small amounts, contributions up to the first $2,700 benefit Clinton under the JFC agreement, and because these are small donors, it means Clinton gets all that small donor money.
The [Sanders campaign’s] letter cites no authority showing that this use of the JFC is not allowed, and it is hard to see what provision of the law it violates when donors give only small amounts that happen to benefit only Clinton. The letter says that maybe this is like an in-kind contribution from the DNC to the Clinton campaign, but I don’t see how it is that if the money is coming from the JFC not from the committee. The letter even says this means that those giving big checks to the DNC might thereby be giving more than the $2,700 to Clinton, which is not literally true – it is what the JFC is doing with the money, over which the donors have no control."
Okay so color me confused, what exactly is the Sanders' campaign complaining about?
I watched a Sanders' spokesperson on cable news this morning confronted with these facts, and he literally had nothing by way of an explanation for what was illegal about all of this, and instead simply fell back on campaign talking points that the Clinton campaign was receiving preferential treatment from the DNC.
But once again how is that possible if the Sanders' campaign was offered the exact same opportunity?
It should also be noted that while the Sanders' campaign sent a letter to the DNC in protest, it did NOT contact the FEC which of course is what one does if they believe there are any fundraising irregularities.
So to be clear it appears that Bernie Sanders and his campaign are falsely attacking his opponent, AND the Democratic party, on the day before a huge Democratic primary in New York.
That does NOT seem like a good idea, and forgive me for saying so, but sounds suspiciously like something Donald Trump would do.
Update: And the plot thickens:
Bernie Sanders received a warning from the Federal Election Commission, citing problems with his campaign's February finance report.
The letter states the report lists amounts of contributions, receipts, expenses and disbursements that "appear to be incorrect."
The letter also cites possible impermissible contributions that exceed the allowed limit per election cycle ($2,700 for individuals) along with donations that come from outside the United States and from unregistered political committees.
The FEC sent the letter Thursday to the campaign asking for more information regarding the report filed Feb. 20. The letter warned: "Failure to adequately respond by the response date noted above could result in an audit or enforcement action."