The Democratic National Committee’s charter states that the chairman must be a full-time employee, a revelation that is raising questions about the candidacy of Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.
There appears to be wiggle room in the charter, because it does not specifically prohibit a lawmaker from serving as DNC chairman. And the most recent chairman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida – split her duties between the DNC and Congress.
“The National Chairperson shall serve full time and shall receive such compensation as may be determined by agreement between the Chairperson and the Democratic National Committee,” Article V, Section Four of the charter reads.
Some Democrats believe the party overlooked that portion of the charter to accommodate Wasserman Schultz because President Obama directly appointed her.
The DNC did not respond to a request for comment.
But a DNC official who has not endorsed any candidate highlighted that section to The Hill, making the case that committee leaders need to clarify the rules that will govern the race for the next chairperson.
Some Democrats believe that even under a strict reading of the charter, the party would waive the provision if it sees Ellison – the first Muslim elected to Congress and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus – as best equipped to lead.
Still, it could become a sticking point among Ellison’s rivals as the race heats up.
Democrats are scrambling to get up to speed on the rules that govern the first DNC chairman election since 2004, the last time they lost the White House.
The assumption among most going into Election Day was that President-elect Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE would choose a new DNC chief in January, as is standard when the party controls the White House.
Instead, her loss set off a furious scramble for power that is being viewed as a proxy battle over the future of the party.
Ellison is the early favorite, and he launched his bid on Monday with the support of liberal icon Bernie SandersBernie SandersDon't let partisan politics impede Texas' economic recovery The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs MORE, Senate Democratic leaders Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE and Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE, progressive grassroots groups and several state party chairmen.
But some Democrats are worried that the party risks repeating past mistakes if it selects a chairman whose responsibilities are divided between the DNC and Capitol Hill.
Wasserman Schultz’s tenure atop the DNC was rife with conflicts between her dual roles. Sanders was so displeased with her work that he backed her primary opponent after accusing the DNC of seeking to sabotage his presidential campaign.
Former DNC Chairman Howard Dean, who is running for the position again in 2016, and several others have argued that the next chairman should not be an elected official. That’s a call echoed by South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, the latest contender to enter the chairman race.
They say that at such a critical time for the party, the role requires the full attention of someone whose sole focus is on rebuilding the national party.
Ellison insists that’s not an issue.
“I have a work ethic that people who know me know that nobody’s going to outwork me," Ellison said Monday night on MSNBC. "I’m going to be tireless working all the time and I’m going to be making sure that the message gets to the people.
"This is not a job just for one person,” he added. “We’re going to raise and inspire millions of people all over this country, anybody who thinks this is just one guys who is going to do everything, it’s not true, my vision will be to empower people across the grassroots."
Other potential contenders who have either expressed interest or have been floated as possible candidates are Vice President Biden, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Reps. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) and Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraBipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy Bottom line Overnight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all MORE (Calif.), and DNC National Finance Chairman Henry Muñoz III.