The candidates running to be the next Democratic National Committee chairman are debating whether to reinstitute a ban on the DNC accepting donations from corporate lobbyists.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a leader in the race to be the next national party leader, said at a debate in Washington on Wednesday night that he supports the ban but would not unilaterally implement it if elected.
Rather, Ellison said there needs to be a reckoning among DNC members about how to fill the budget hole that such a ban would create.
Ellison said he would put the matter to a vote of the 447-member body as chairman.
“If I become DNC chairman I won’t impose a policy, it will be a democratic process,” Ellison said at the debate, sponsored by the Huffington Post.
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, a former lobbyist for the Podesta Group, argued fiercely against the ban, pointing out that the DNC is $2 million in debt and could use money from lobbyists to rebuild state parties.
He said Democrats would not be compromised by such funds because DNC members don’t make laws in Congress, they merely work to strengthen the party electorally.
“Right now, to take away lobbyist and lawyer money would leave a hole of $18 million,” Harrison said. “I don’t see how you could replace that. … We get into this thing where we’re holier than thou … but it’s about doing what we need to do as a party.”
President Obama instituted the ban during his first term in the White House. Former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz lifted it for 2016.
Labor Secretary Tom Perez, another leading DNC chairman contender, called it a “complicated problem” and said it is “important to study the consequences, intended and unintended.”
A previous version of this story said that Ellison had backed away from a vow to unilaterally institute the ban on lobbyist money to the DNC. He has only said that he personally supports such a ban.