Clinton Has a Big Organizing Head Start on Trump

It’s amusing to see the different ways that political operatives can grumble. On the Democratic side, we hear complaints that Hillary Clinton’s big ticket fundraisers (like the one recently hosted by actor George Clooney) are not as advertised. The joint fundraising Hillary Victory Fund, which is supposed to gather money for thirty-two participating state parties, the DNC, and the Clinton campaign, seems to only be helping the DNC and the Clinton campaign. The state parties look like little more than convenient and temporary bank accounts where the money is laundered.

The victory fund has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88 percent) was quickly transferred to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee, POLITICO’s analysis of the FEC records found.

By contrast, the victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton’s campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton’s campaign if and when she becomes the party’s nominee.

There’s really three complaints here, maybe even four. The first is that the donors are being told that a significant portion of their money will go toward building up the state parties.

In the days before Hillary Clinton launched an unprecedented big-money fundraising vehicle with state parties last summer, she vowed “to rebuild our party from the ground up,” proclaiming “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”

So, donors may feel that they are not getting what they paid for. Relatedly, even people who haven’t given money to the victory fund may be alarmed that the state parties are being neglected. A lot of folks think this is a rejection of the 50-state strategy that was employed by Howard Dean when he served as the chairman of the DNC.

The third complaint is that a lot of the money from the fund, including the cash going to the DNC, seems to be benefitting Clinton rather directly (at Bernie Sanders’ expense):

And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton’s campaign, including $2.8 million for “salary and overhead” and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion.

And this concern is tied to the fourth complaint, which is that this whole “joint fundraising” structure is just a fraudulent vehicle designed to circumvent limits on individual donations.

Yet, the Republican operatives have an almost diametrically opposite objection, which is that Donald Trump hasn’t done nearly enough of this joint fundraising and because of this, they’re getting slaughtered on the state level.

POLITICO surveyed nearly two dozen GOP chairmen, officials and operatives in key swing states who said the RNC hadn’t delivered on promises, imperiling their ability to launch the robust voter-turnout operation needed in the general election…

…The long primary season delayed until last week the party’s formation of a joint fundraising agreement with Trump, which enables him to raise money for the RNC in large increments. Even as he begins holding his first fundraisers for the party, there’s deep-rooted uncertainty that Trump will be able to raise the $1 billion many GOP operatives say they think he’ll need. Last month, the committee reported having just $16 million, a fraction of what it had at the same point in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

The Politico article goes on to detail the staffing shortages that Republicans are experiencing in keys states: Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Things are so bad that Arizona’s state party chairman, Robert Graham, says that he has only paid RNC staffer at his disposal and John McCain has resorted to hiring his own staff of organizers. In Ohio, Rob Portman is trying to build his own army of 600 interns.

By comparison, the Democrats are staffed up.

In Florida, the Democratic National Committee has more than 80 field staff on the ground, and state party executive director Scott Arceneaux projected a team of close to 200 by the middle of June. In Ohio, there are more than 70 full-time field staffers working the state. In New Hampshire, there are 25, with at least 60 expected to be crisscrossing the state by July.

And in Arizona, Democrats have 67 field staff in place, and have a goal of reaching 200 by August, according to the state party chair.

Arizona isn’t even supposed to be a battleground state, but the Democrats have a 67-to-1 staffing advantage. What this demonstrates is that there’s more than one way to organize a state. Clinton has been busy preparing for the general election and building up state organizations, even if she hasn’t been delivering the promised money to the state parties. Her victory fund has enabled this.

That doesn’t mean that the Sanders folks should smile on this arrangement, as it treats them as if they don’t even exist. But, for practical purposes, they haven’t existed for a couple of months now. The Clinton campaign and the DNC may humor the Sanders campaign, but they moved on a while ago and began preparing for the real contest. How outraged you are by this is probably directly proportional to how math-challenged you are about the delegates.

What Clinton has done is build up a very large organizational advantage over Trump that has the Republicans at the state level and at the Republican National Senate Committee completely panicked. So, it’s hard to really credit the argument that Clinton has neglected the states. Would the Democrats really have such a huge head start in Arizona if she had relied on the state party to staff it up?

Again, the Sanders folks see this as an unethical finger on the scale by the DNC, and I can understand why they feel that way. On the other hand, I’ve lost patience for listening to the arguments of people who can’t cope with reality. Clinton could have waited until Sanders conceded to begin organizing, but I fail to see why she should have been held hostage to a completely non-credible theory that Sanders could sway the superdelegates and win the nomination despite losing the popular vote and the battle for pledged delegates.

Still, that doesn’t mean that this has been a fair process, and it’s precisely because the charge has a lot of merit that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz should consider stepping down and not try to act as a unifier at the Philadelphia convention. I can’t see how she could never succeed in that effort.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.