Can you sue former President Barack Obama because he told you you could keep your doctor under Obamacare but your insurance company dropped you anyway? Not likely.
If President Donald Trump’s wall gets built but it comes out of American taxpayers’ pockets instead of Mexico’s, can we all sue him? Even a jury composed of nine Sonia Sotomayors with presiding Judge Kamala Harris wouldn’t convict on that case. Why?
It’s almost impossible to sue political parties and politicians in America because of our inherent cynicism about how politics actually works. Judges are loath to get involved in intraparty squabbles, and the law tacitly assumes a certain amount of shadiness, lying and chicanery in the political process.
Almost as important, voters expect any legitimate politician to take on the party to prove that he or she can handle the job. However, is there a line in the sand? When does politics move from being an encouraging Against All Odds narrative to Mission Impossible? That’s the story of the Democratic National Committee fraud lawsuit, the biggest story in politics that nobody is talking about.
In June 2016, Jared Beck and Elizabeth Lee Beck of Beck & Lee filed a lawsuit in Florida against the DNC, Wilding v. DNC Services Corporation, known online mostly as the #DNCFraudLawsuit. The case has slowly wended its way through the courts but has picked up steam in 2017 as court transcripts and allegations of intimidation have become public.
The plaintiffs have filed a class action suit on behalf of three classes of people, arguing that the DNC must return to Bernie Sanders donors, DNC donors and Democrats in general all donations given in the 2016 cycle. Why? They claim that the DNC defrauded donors in the 2016 primary by failing to remain neutral during the contest. Article 5, section 4, of the DNC bylaws states:
Chairperson, the designated Vice Chair as provided for in Article Two, Section 12(b) of the Bylaws, or the next highest ranking officer of the National Committee present at the meeting shall preside. Section 4. The National Chairperson shall serve full time and shall receive such compensation asmay be determined by agreement between the Chairperson and the Democratic National Committee. In the conduct and management of the affairs and procedures of the Democratic National Committee, particularly as they apply to the preparation and conduct of the Presidential nomination process, the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and evenhandedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process.
Beck & Lee site the hacked emails from WikiLeaks as evidence of Democratic Party leaders tampering with the primary process. Few people are surprised that the Democratic Party leadership favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. New DNC Chair Tom Perez admitted as much in a Freudian slip during a speech earlier this year. Some of that was to be expected: Clinton was a Democrat in good standing, while Sanders was not a Democrat and was essentially the “ally” who shows up three weeks before a protest march expecting a leadership position because he brought his dad’s pickup truck.
However, the core of Beck & Lee’s argument about fairness is bolstered by DNC lawyer Bruce Spiva basically giving the shoulder-shrug-and-“Come at me, bruh” defense to the allegations of an unfair primary. During an April 25 hearing (pdf), he stated:
THE COURT: So, are you suggesting that this is just part of the business, so to speak, that it’s not unusual for, let’s say, the DNC, the RNC to take sides with respect to any particular candidate and to support that candidate over another?
MR. SPIVA: Well, I’m not suggesting that that is par for the course, your Honor. But what I am suggesting is to have those kinds of allegations is the rough and tumble of politics.
In an ideal world, a political party arguing “Them’s the breaks” about electoral integrity would be worthy of pearl clutching, but we don’t live in an ideal world. I don’t think anyone can argue that the DNC treated Sanders fairly; the real question of the suit is whether that bias actually affected the primary outcome and, if so, whether paying people back their donations is a suitable punishment.
The DNC certainly didn’t want Sanders to win, but it wasn’t Clinton’s or Debbie Wasserman Shultz’s fault that Sanders couldn’t win black voters over age 40 (who are kinda necessary to win in Southern primaries) or that he couldn’t turn passion into votes.
The DNC lawsuit wants this to be Bernie Madoff, but it might just be deflate-gate. Yeah, the Patriots probably cheated, but they were going to beat the Ravens, Colts and Seahawks anyway. That’s not a good look for the DNC, but does making Democrats pay back donations solve the problem? Is that even what donors want?
Imagine giving thousands of dollars to a charity that was supposed to help kids with cancer, and instead you found out that Eric Trump spent a lot of the money on a golden hot comb for his pet beagles. Would people still give money? Some would. Now imagine that you gave thousands of dollars to your local chapter of Black Lives Matter, and instead of spending the money on getting activists out of jail, they were seen on Instagram profiling at the BET Awards. You might want your money back.
The point is, it’s almost impossible to prove that Democrats as a whole, let alone Bernie donors overall, feel cheated enough by the 2016 primary to be considered an aggrieved class. Some may see the DNC like the Trump charity: somewhat corrupt, but you still want some skin in the game. Some may see it more like Black Lives Matter, where you expect some specific actions or principles to be followed. Some Sanders supporters (not to mention Martin O’Malley’s or even Lincoln Chafee’s) gave precisely because they knew that he was up against party bias and wanted to pitch in.
The legitimate elements of the DNC lawsuit are hampered publicly by Jared Beck’s comfort in delving into conspiracy theory and allying himself with Trump supporters, Alex Jones and WikiLeaks, all of whom are less interested in Democratic Party reform than they are in punishing Hillary Clinton. Beck has suggested that former DNC staffer Seth Rich; a member of his legal team, Shawn Lucas; and even black federal prosecutor Berenton Whisenant were all killed as part of some vast cover-up orchestrated by the DNC.
The tendency of DNC-lawsuit supporters to turn the case into a click hole for conspiracy theorists is one of the reasons that most activists, Sanders supporters and major news outlets won’t touch the story. I’m sure that some “Bernie bros” would like to believe that Donna Brazile is hiding on rooftops with a long scope and a pink “I’m with her” logoed ski mask doing George Soros’ bidding, but it’s not that serious.
Judge William J. Zloch has still not decided whether to dismiss the charges against the DNC based on the hearings on April 25, although most legal experts expect him to do so. His final ruling, however, will neither absolve nor save the Democratic Party. Democrats must do a better job going forward to convince the party’s newer base that the process is fair and impartial. Even the suggestion of impropriety has to be squelched by Tom Perez and the new leadership if they have any chance of mounting a successful challenge to Donald Trump in 2020. This incredibly flawed lawsuit won’t scare the DNC straight, but it might make the “rough and tumble” of Democratic primaries more transparent.