The Bernie Sanders campaign has sent a letter of complaint to the DNC on the eve of the New York primary about Hillary Clinton's joint fundraising committee -- an FEC approved committee to raise money for the DNC, the Clinton campaign, and downticket races.
The complaint comes just one day after a protest at George and Amal Clooney's home in California which ended with Bernie Sanders' supporters throwing one-dollar bills at Hillary Clinton's motorcade as she left. Clinton was attending a fundraiser for the Hillary Victory Fund, which is her joint fundraising committee.
The Sanders campaign “is particularly concerned that these extremely large-dollar individual contributions have been used by the Hillary Victory Fund to pay for more than $7.8 million in direct mail efforts and over $8.6 million in online advertising." They further allege that this improperly benefits the Clinton campaign "by generating low-dollar contributions that flow only to HFA [Hillary for America] rather than to the DNC or any of the participating state party committees.” (Full text - PDF)
In a press call earlier today, Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook pointed out that the Hillary Victory Fund is structured the same way as the Bernie Victory Fund, with the only difference being that he has chosen not to raise funds for his. They further pointed out that the agreement between downticket candidates, the Clinton campaign, and the DNC is permissible under FEC regulations and that all allocations of expenses are being made in accordance with the rules set forth by the FEC.
Election law expert Rick Hasen weighed in on this:
Here’s the deal. 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 Deutsch 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.
So legally this seems weak.
And politically, it is quite odd for Sanders, who would need the DNC’s support to win the presidency should be be the Democratic nominee, to be attacking the DNC. (Then again, Trump has relentlessly attacked the RNC, so this must be the celebration of the season.)
The proper channel for complaints about campaign finance is the FEC, not the DNC. I have found no evidence of a complaint being filed with the FEC on these grounds. If I do, I will write about it in a separate post.