Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Is the DNC enforcing some rules and agreements and not others?

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Originally published on on Thu, 03/20/2008 – 1:34am


This is literally, capital letters and all, from a letter we received. But was it a violation? And more importantly, was it a violation of rules or an agreement? Does that make a difference? And if it is a violation, what was the penalty?

When I have written about the Florida-Michigan debacle, two things are clear. One, most people disagree with what I have written, and Two, rules are rules and rules shouldn’t be broken.

Okay, I get that rules aren’t to be broken. But what about agreements?

The rules were if Florida and Michigan went before they were supposed to, none of the delegates would be seated. For the sake of this piece, I won’t go any further about that.

But what about the agreements? I ask that initially because of The New York Times essay written by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Debbie Dingell, member of the Democratic National Committee, and wife of prominent Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).

“While Michigan Democrats were disappointed that our state was not selected for one of the four early contests, we appreciated the new rule for adding a bit of much-needed diversity to the early nominating process, and as a first step toward breaking the Iowa-New Hampshire lock. We announced that we would abide by the new calendar provided that other states did the same.

“But last August, the New Hampshire secretary of state indicated he was going to schedule his state’s primary before the date specified, clearly defying the sequence and timing the party had set. Michigan Democratic leaders repeatedly asked the Democratic National Committee if it intended to penalize New Hampshire for this violation, but the committee refused to act.

“Rather than allow this broken system to persist, we challenged it by deciding to apportion our delegates according to the results of a primary scheduled by the Michigan Legislature for Jan. 15.”

They use the word “rule” but it seems more like an agreement to me, but I’m not a lawyer. Assuming what Levin and Dingell are saying is true, did New Hampshire break the rules? Did New Hampshire break an agreement? What were the consequences?

The other reasons I bring this up are the side agreements the DNC had with candidates. And again as a non-lawyer, I figure you have to have agreements if rules don’t apply. The DNC had rules to not seat delegates. But the DNC felt like it had to have agreements on top of the rules. The punishment against Florida and Michigan apparently wasn’t enough — the DNC compelled more from the candidates on top of the punishment given to the two states.

You could easily argue that why would candidates go to states where the delegates didn’t count. But why did the DNC have agreements to further punish the states? Wasn’t the punishment, as laid out in the rules, not sufficient? The agreements went above and beyond the rules; they were outside the rules.

The agreements were to not campaign in those states (depriving voters of at least hearing from these candidates), not to be on the ballot (so voters could at least express an opinion, even if it would ultimately not count), not advertise in those states (so local TV stations wouldn’t get any money). But they did allow fundraisers — so to the people (not the parties) of Michigan and Florida, their cash was good enough but spending time with voters wasn’t?

So when the candidates violated those DNC agreements, were they penalized?

Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich all appeared on the Michigan ballot. Were they penalized for being on the ballot?

Gravel and Kucinich campaigned in Michigan. Were they penalized for campaigning on the state?

You would be surprised how many people have written in complaining that Barack Obama advertised in Florida. Obama did run national ads. And as someone who covered marketing for a living and has worked in broadcast media, national ads are national. You can’t run a national ad in only 48 states. Did the agreement only apply to local ads or any advertising? So if national advertising “counts” as advertising in Florida, did Obama break that part of the agreement? Were Obama and other candidates prohibited from running national ads because they would air in Florida? And if Obama violated the agreement, was he penalized for his actions?

And finally, did the candidates have an option to not sign the agreements in the first place. The DNC wanted the candidates to sign, but would there have been a punishment if they never signed it in the first place? And is an agreement binding if one party is forced to sign a deal? Again, I’m not a lawyer.

You could argue that the DNC doesn’t have to release every punishment for every infraction, but you would think that announcing penalties would deter future actions.

For right or wrong, many felt that the RNC would ultimately seat all the delegates, even though its punishment was denying half of them. And some felt the DNC would ultimately seat some if not all of the delegates. Again, I’m not sure that was a good thing or bad thing to think. The state parties of both major parties likely gambled that their delegates wouldn’t ultimately be denied.

It was a very bad gamble to take, but sometimes, organizations take those risks if they don’t feel like rules and agreements will be enforced. Levin and Dingell argue that Michigan’s stance stemmed from a lack of enforcement over New Hampshire. Selective enforcement of rules and agreements is a rather easy way to destroy trust. So if rules and agreements aren’t meant to be broken, we need to know that is true up and down the line.

It has been pounded into my head that parties have the full discretion to make up their own rules. But political parties aren’t monsters, they are human beings trying to do the best they can. They are us. If you can stand up in a room and proudly proclaim you are a Democrat and that you strongly support Democratic candidates, then you should have a say in how the Democratic Party is run.

We’re told by right-wing people “America: Love it or Leave it.” We reply that we want to make America better by making improvements. I don’t like the “Love it or Leave it” mentality; I would like to make the Democratic Party better by making improvements. One way to start is making sure rules and agreements are consistently applied.


Written by democracysoup

March 20, 2008 at 1:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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