Dems flip script to woo millennials, big donors

Dems flip script to woo millennials, big donors
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The Democratic National Committee (DNC) plans to overhaul its fundraising operation as it looks to tap into the grassroots energy on the left and fulfill campaign promises made by its new chairman, Tom Perez.

In an interview with The Hill, DNC Finance Committee Chairman Henry Muñoz III — one of the few elected officials to carry over from the previous leadership — detailed the organization’s plans to appeal to the young voters who turned Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema White House to make 400 million N95 masks available for free MORE (I-Vt.) into a small-dollar-fundraising juggernaut in the 2016 presidential race.


The DNC is mulling several initiatives aimed at enriching the state parties that have expressed frustration over the lack of funding, resources and attention they’ve received from the national party. 

In the past, the DNC would cut state parties a monthly $7,500 check and then stop communicating, only to sometimes swoop in for competing fundraisers that local officials knew nothing about.

The organization is now also aiming to have a more transparent budgeting process it hopes will root out waste and lead to more effective spending. Under former Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the budget was a clandestine document that didn’t require the approval of anyone but her.

And Perez officials — working closely with Deputy Chairman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a progressive favorite who lost the chairmanship race to Perez last weekend — are telling party members they can expect changes on all of these fronts.

“This redesign of the financial organization will be a better reflection of the times while also returning to the more relationship-based, philanthropic model we got away from,” Muñoz said. “There was a time, when Obama was running for president for the first time, when we were innovative. Everyone is ready to get back to innovating.”

The new fundraising and spending strategies are an acknowledgement that the DNC was not ready to capitalize on the energy of young liberals who felt more tied to Sanders, who officially remains an independent, than to the Democratic Party as a whole.

In recent years, the party became dependent on big-dollar donors. But many of those deep-pocketed donors are burnt out and say they will sit on their money in the wake of the disastrous 2016 elections.

The DNC also hopes that the new initiatives will repair the relationship between state parties and the national party and set Democrats up for local electoral gains ahead of congressional redistricting in 2020.

A more transparent budget process could go a long way toward alleviating the deep-seated feeling among liberals that the DNC squandered its millions enriching Washington consultants, whom many in the party blame for widespread Democratic losses.

Still, donor skepticism runs deep.

Florida lawyer John Morgan, a top fundraiser for the party’s 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE, said he is encouraged by Perez’s leadership and cheered by Ellison’s magnanimity.

But Morgan says he will invest in individual congressional races rather than send his money “into the black hole at the DNC.”

“If the DNC were a stock on the New York Stock Exchange, the question is whether I would invest in it,” Morgan told The Hill. “Today, the answer is, ‘Hell no.’ ”

The DNC is now working to earn the trust of the grassroots liberals who proudly circumvented the national party to invest in Sanders, whose $27 average for individual donations became a rallying cry for his supporters.

Sanders has so far declined to share his valuable fundraising email list with the DNC. Still, it took former President Obama some time to do the same after his 2008 win. Clinton is also still in sole possession of her list.

This is where Ellison, who leveraged Sanders’s list to raise more than $1 million in small-dollar donations in his bid for DNC chairman, could be an asset.

Far from being only a symbolic appointment, Ellison has been by Perez’s side ever since the chairman chose him to be his top deputy. Ellison has been in close contact with the DNC’s finance team and appears eager to help the national party transition to the Sanders donor model.

The DNC is working on what one official described as “an innovative, small-dollar digital fundraising effort” authored by Perez and Ellison that is “designed to reach the most diverse cross-section of our party as possible.”

Among the ideas being bandied about is a way for small-dollar donors to invest in specific programs at the DNC.

In the past, the DNC would send an email broadly asking for $5. Going forward, if a young liberal wants to give $5 to the DNC’s voter registration drive rather than to a general campaign fund, they would have that option.

The DNC will also be looking to create more meaningful and “educational” content on Facebook and other social media platforms as an entry point for potential contributors.

“There’s plenty of research that shows millennials don’t identify with the Democratic Party; they identify with the principles and personalities that we have,” Muñoz said. “Bernie taught us a lot about how to create an online revolution and how to fund it with low-dollar ownership in something. Now we need to offer those people something invest in.”

Another top priority for DNC leadership will be reconnecting to the state parties, a commitment that is in line with Perez’s vow to return to former DNC Chairman Howard Dean’s “50-state strategy.”

The DNC is considering raising the discretionary spending allowance it sends every month to the state parties, but only as a starting point.

The national party is also looking at signing joint fundraising agreements with the state parties.

And DNC leaders are talking about offering fundraising training sessions, listening to pitches from the state parties seeking grants or looking to launch new programs that require seed money or offering financial incentives to state parties whose innovations produce electoral wins.

That’s music to the ears of state party chiefs who have long felt frozen out of the national party.

“We were truly separate to the point you’d hear second-hand about a DNC fundraising event in your state that you didn’t know about,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “That baseline of financial support the DNC provides is great, but we’re hopeful that going forward it will include opportunities for new programs or other ways they can invest in us. I think we’ll see that change under new leadership.”

The Perez administration is also pledging to bring greater transparency to the budget process.

Several DNC officials told The Hill that, under Wasserman Schultz, the finance chairman would raise the money and the chairwoman would spend it, all with little collaboration from anyone outside of her inner circle.

Going forward, there will be input from DNC members and state parties who can pitch new programs for investment. The budget will for the first time go through an approval process.

“In the past, it was only the command staff who knew where the money was going and who had been hired for consulting work, no one else knew, and you couldn’t ask,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “It will be a much more democratic process going forward.”