In the latest striking example of how the Democratic Party resorts to cronyism (and perhaps corruption) to ensure that its favored candidates beat back progressive challengers in local races, a candidate for Colorado’s 6th Congressional District has leaked a recording of a conversation with Minority Leader Steny Hoyer to The Intercept which published it overnight. In it, Hoyer can be heard essentially lecturing the candidate about why he should step aside and let the Democratic Party bosses – who of course have a better idea about which candidate will prevail over a popular Republican in the general election – continue pulling the strings.
The candidate, Levi Tillemann, is hardly a party outsider. Tillemann had grandparents on both sides of his family who were elected Democratic representatives, and his family is essentially Democratic Party royalty.
Still, the party’s campaign arm – the notorious Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (better known as the DCCC, or D-trip) – refused to provide Tillemann with access to party campaign data or any of the other resources he requested.
Despite Tillemann’s work as an advisor for Obama’s Department of Energy, and his enthusiastic progressive base, the freeze-out he experienced at the hands of the D-trip just goes to show how the Democratic Party will always back the candidate who can pass the infamous “rolodex test” – where the candidate must go through their rolodex and demonstrate that they could raise at least $250,000 to run the campaign.
After Tillemann had a particularly heated phone conversation with a party apparatchik, Hoyer was dispatched to meet the restive progressive candidate at the Denver Hilton.
What follows is a recording of their conversation, in which Hoyer can be heard telling Tillemann that “a decision was made” months ago about which candidate the party would favor in the primary.
The decision to record his conversation with Hoyer came after months of being ignored by party officials, despite winning the support of grass-roots activists and other “resistance” groups in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Tillemann had trouble booking a meeting with senior party officials despite having notified them of his intention to run. When the Party listed Tillemann’s primary opponent, Jason Crow on its “Red to Blue” list – a supposed guide of Democrats who are expected to unseat incumbent Republicans in November. Mike Coffman, the incumbent in the district, has managed to hold on to his seat for several terms, despite his district voting for Clinton, and Obama before her.
Tillemann says the decision to record the conversation came after months of hints that party officials did not want him as the candidate. Though he notified the party of his intention to run, he had trouble gaining an audience with senior DCCC officials, obtaining polling data promised by the DCCC, or even gaining access to resumes of Democratic campaign staff. The party continued to promise neutrality while inviting only Crow to a candidate training seminar, Tillemann alleges.
In February of last year, Tillemann reached out over email to DCCC officials as he explored a bid and maintained contact with party staff through the launch of his campaign; he says he was continually stonewalled as he sought candidate resources. Nearly six months after the initial contact, with Tillemann’s internal complaints growing more forceful, the party committee offered some perfunctory assistance in exchange for access to details about campaign financials and organizing. The offer came after a heated exchange between Tillemann and a DCCC official at a campaign event, in which Tillemann argued that the party was more interested in boosting Crow than beating Coffman.
It wasn’t long until public campaign finance data confirmed Tillemann’s suspicions that he was being unfairly disadvantaged by the party.
While the DCCC still promised neutrality, publicly disclosed campaign donations confirmed Tillemann’s suspicions. In June 2017, a political action committee controlled by Luján, the DCCC chair, donated $1,000 to Crow. That month, PACs controlled by Hoyer also donated two checks for a combined total of $2,000 to Crow.
“We were put in a situation time and time again where what was communicated to us behind closed doors and what was communicated to the public was at odds,” says Tillemann of his decision to tape the conversation with Hoyer. “The breach of personal decorum,” Tillemann adds, “was much less important than the fundamental principle at stake in our democracy in 2018.”
Mariel Saez, a spokesperson for Hoyer, said that “we do not comment on private meetings. Mr. Hoyer supports Crow and donated to him last year, but he hasn’t engaged in the race since then.” Crow did not respond to a request for comment, and the DCCC declined to comment.
During Tillemann’s meeting with Hoyer, the party boss made no secret about which candidate had his support.
“Yeah, I’m for Crow,” Hoyer explained. “I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on. I didn’t know Crow. I didn’t participate in the decision. But a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation,” he said, referencing the three House Democrats elected from Colorado.
“The decision, Tillemann was told, had been made long ago. It wasn’t personal, Hoyer insisted, and there was nothing uniquely unfair being done to Tillemann, he explained: This is how the party does it everywhere.”
Other candidates for the sixth Congressional district who spoke with the Intercept shared similar stories of being betrayed by the organization commonly referred to as the “D-trip”. Despite securing assurances that the party would remain neutral, David Aarestad, an attorney who had briefly entered the primary race but dropped out in March, described how he soon discovered the party was providing polling data and other resources to his opponent, but not to him – all despite having claimed that the party had “learned” from the 2016 presidential primary.
BUT THE DYNAMICS described in the audio tape and by Tillemann resonated with other former candidates in the district.
“The party did not give me the resources that they gave Jason Crow,” says David Aarestad, an attorney who had been running for the nomination for the 6th District. Aarestad dropped out of the race in March and endorsed Crow.
“It was the D-trip. I was given extensive promises in March of last year that they would not do anything to favor one candidate over another, that they had learned from the mistakes made during the Bernie-Hillary fallout, and that they would do everything the same for all of the candidates,” says Aarestad. “But, they made polling data available to Crow that they did not make available to me. They made other resources available to Crow that they did not make available to me, such as email lists for fundraising purposes.”
Another former candidate from Colorado’s sixth district says the party never even bothered to contact him.
Gabriel McArthur, another former candidate for the 6th District, says the DCCC never contacted him, even though he was the first candidate to enter the race. He says the party exercises influence not just over candidate selection, but how political money and media coverage operates in the state. McArthur says he had the most detailed policies on his campaign website, but could never gain serious media coverage for his race. While Crow for much of last year had no issues page on his campaign website, McArthur noted that the establishment favorite appeared to easily win endorsement after endorsement from local liberal groups and politicians along with fawning coverage from local media.
“Jason Crow has been hoisted up as the chosen candidate the entire time. The party officers say we need centrists to win against Mike Coffman, that’s just the way it is,” says McArthur, a former Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Hoyer’s involvement in the scandal is hardly a surprise. A former protege of California Rep. Tony Coelho – a lawmaker who, as the head of the D-trip in the 1980s and 1990s, helped transform the organization into the big-money political machine it is today – Hoyer has been supporting the party establishment against “outsider” candidates for his entire political career. And his dedicated shilling for the party elite has paid off: As the minority leader, Hoyer is literally a heartbeat away from the speakership, a position he has coveted for his entire political career.
But the fact that the minority leader flew out to Colorado to browbeat a candidate into dropping out of a primary is also representative of an endemic sickness in the Democratic Party. Instead of embracing progressive policies that helped establish Bernie Sanders as the most popular lawmaker in the country, the party establishment has continued to favor the same bland, corporatist centrists who fit the Hillary Clinton mold.
FOR THE 2018 midterm cycle, the party has not only courted moderate Democrats and formed a renewed partnership with the conservative Blue Dog caucus for candidate recruitment, but has discouraged candidates from embracing populist ideas, such as single-payer health care.
For Tillemann, however, the party’s closeness with the corporate elite is the very reason why the DCCC continues to lose general elections.
“They squash progressive candidates. They destroy the diversity of ideas in their caucus. They keep ideas like ‘Medicare for All,’ free community college, or impeaching Donald Trump from having a significant role in the national conversation,” says Tillemann. “The issues that resonate most with voters are not the issues that the DCCC is telling candidates to focus on.”
Is he worried that even if he is successful in his campaign, that he’s already betrayed one of the most powerful Democrats, making him an outsider as soon as he arrives in Washington?
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention. After all, this is the same Democratic Party that fed Hillary Clinton’s campaign questions for an upcoming CNN debate against Sanders, and whose former chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign when Wikileaks reveals the full extent of DNC cronyism for Hillary and against Bernie (and which apparently is now the Russians’ fault). The same party that became a tool of the Clinton campaign after the previous administration left it nearly broke and mired in dysfunction.
Apparently, despite the abundant evidence that its approach isn’t working, the Democratic Party has refused to change.
With this is in mind, one wonders if it is indeed a slam dunk that Democrats will “sweep” in November, or is it just objective, impartial and unbiased polls that make that claim, the same polls that have Hillary 95% odds of winning the presidency.
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