Local Sanders delegates get stuck paying lavish bills to support a populist agenda
By John Seeley
The Bernie Sanders campaign generated several firsts in modern presidential politics — embracing the word socialism, for one — but its biggest breakthrough was to show that a candidate backed by small donations from the “little people” (that now-famous $27 average contribution) could put up a big fight.
So it’s a major irony that the key players in the Sanders campaign’s last act, the delegates backing him and his platform at next week’s Democratic National Convention, will have to spend yuuuge money — close to $4,000 each — to play their four-day roles in Philadelphia.
Of course Clinton delegates have to contend with the same airfare, lodging and meal expenses. But, tending to be older and more established in their careers, they won’t find those costs quite so insurmountable as many young Berners just entering the workforce.
When the state’s Sanders delegate caucus gathered for the first time in June at the California Democratic Party meeting in Long Beach, the primary topic of discussion wasn’t Hillary’s primary victory or fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It was how to find money for the convention trip.
Citing legal obstacles to tapping campaign donations, a Sanders campaign official advised they turn to online crowdfunding. Later, the website adoptaberniedelegate.com (a sort of clearing house for delegate GoFundMe pages) boosted the visibility of the problem.
As of Tuesday, delegates had raised just over $500,000 of about $1.6 million sought, according to the similar website fundberniedelegates.com, and recently the Sanders campaign announced it would come through to defray some hotel expenses for delegates in need.
Two of the three Sanders delegates in Rep. Ted Lieu’s largely coastal 33rd Congressional District have launched crowdfunding pages.
Bruins for Bernie cofounder Brian Carolus’ GoFundMe page has brought in about a fifth of his $3,600 fundraising target, so he’s been selling stuff on eBay and recently participated in a dunk-a-delegate booth at a July rally. Even so, he might end up sleeping on the floor of a shared hotel room in Philly.
Sanders delegate Alexis Edelstein, a resident of Playa del Rey, set a higher target — $4,650 — and he’s almost halfway there, perhaps aided by his training in marketing.
Despite some dismay at Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton, Edelstein hopes discussions with Clintonites at the convention will help bring about a more progressive and environmentally friendly party platform. But fundraising eats away at time to spend on organizing.
“Between social media, texting, calls and going to events for me and other people, I must have put in over 40 hours,” Edelstein says.
The other delegate from the district, Los Angeles for Bernie lead organizer Lauren Steiner, is paying her own way and contributing to the collection cups
of needier Berners.
Practical problems aside, is choosing the Democratic Party nominee really a lower-case-“d” democratic process if it costs so much?
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state poll taxes a half-century ago in deciding Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, it ruled that “a state violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.”
Fernando Morales, a delegate from Karen Bass’ 37th Congressional District (including Mar Vista and Del Rey) and a staffer for state Sen. Ben Allen (D- Santa Monica), sees a parallel issue here.
“It’s a huge barrier to access for a lot of people in lower-income communities,” Morales says of the cost of attending
There’s no legal case to be made, since convention expenses aren’t compulsory, but Edelstein says “the party, or the state party, should have some kind of fund” to support low-income delegates and make conventions accessible to all.
In the Republican Party, however, there doesn’t appear to be any turmoil over delegate expenses for at least three reasons: The RNC costs less to attend, delegates tend to be more financially stable, and there’s a general acceptance that individuals paying convention expenses is the natural order of things.
Even though Republican National Convention delegates must pay a $900 delegate fee covering shuttles, breakfasts, and the like, they’re looking at a much lower final bill. Whether Cleveland is less expensive than Philly or Republicans are much better bargainers than Democrats, GOP delegates are paying only about half
as much for lodging.
Still, “there were some younger folks who wanted to go [as delegates], but looking at the costs just couldn’t afford it,” says Los Angeles County Republican Chairman Mark Vafiades.
But he doesn’t see a problem with that. Regarding the plight of the underfunded Sanders delegates, Vafiades chuckles.
“That’s what Bernie Sanders is all about — somebody else should pay. They just don’t understand how the economy works,” he says.