Our Revolution's Quest to Destroy Itself: Can the System Change from Within?

Our Revolution’s Quest to Destroy Itself: Can the System Change from Within?

Using Citizens United To Overturn Citizens United

Our Revolution-sponsored candidates run on a platform which would eventually eliminate the “social welfare” SuperPAC.

It was one of those melodramatic events us armchair provocateurs live for: a spate of resignations from Bernie Sanders’ spin-off organization, reportedly on moral grounds, raising questions about the group’s role in the simmering revolution—this is what has become of left populism? A poorly managed, and now quite understaffed, political SuperPAC?

The news hit like gossip of a dear friend’s recent misdeeds. I don’t know about all that. You say over a pint. But I know Bernie. And Bernie’s good people.

Our Revolution’s tax designation, 501(c)(4), owes its very existence to Citizens United. But as progressive bushwhackers spreading Bernism to every level of government, Our Revolution candidates overwhelmingly oppose the 2010 ruling; the organization supports a platform which would eventually eliminate their own “social welfare” SuperPAC. “The philosophy of Bernie Sanders will be the philosophy here,” says Board Chairman Larry Cohen.

In so many words, Our Revolution follows Sanders’ lead in attempting to change the system from within.

That this was, indeed, the causative factor in the resignations will surprise no one familiar with ideologues. It’s a hard sell: the system, they say, changes you. When you play by their rules, you’re bound to end up cynical and corrupt. “It’s about both the fund-raising and the spending”, said former Organizing Director Claire Sandburg. “Jeff would like to take big money from rich people including billionaires and spend it on ads. That’s the opposite of what this campaign and this movement are supposed to be about and after being very firm and raising alarm the staff felt that we had no choice but to quit.”

Sandburg was referring to Sanders Campaign Manager Jeff Weaver, who is less than averse to big-money donors. Many staffers quit after Weaver took on a greater role in the organization, unable to reconcile their principles with the proposed fundraising system. They simply weren’t convinced Our Revolution wouldn’t succumb to the sweet songs of corporate sirens.

Any sufficiently advanced grassroots infiltration, then, requires a litmus test. If Our Revolution truly intends to carry progressive populism forward, while operating in the system they wish to dismantle, they must prove they won’t succumb to big-money vices. And while many looked away, disturbed that the “revolution is tearing itself apart”, as Politico framed it, that litmus test was answered.

A Radical Commitment To Transparency

Our Revolution will disclose all high-dollar donations it receives.

Paul Schaffer, one of at least eight staffers who resigned last month, said continuing the revolution through a 501(c)(4) ran counter to the campaign’s principles:

“[501(c)(4) groups] have no contribution limits (and) they don’t need to disclose their donors, which seemed contrary to the spirit of how the campaign raised its money and Bernie’s statements about transparency and getting money out of politics.”

In spite of these objections, or perhaps because of them, Our Revolution board members announced Wednesday their intention to disclose all high-dollar donations the group receives. They follow a precedent set by progressive activist group Move On, who disclose all donations over $5,000.

“We know that people really care about transparency and accountability and we’re not going to let people down,” says former Ohio senator and current board member Nina Turner. “We do take seriously the faith that people have in us as a movement and this organization as a symbol of that movement.”

Catalina Velasquez, another board member, says Our Revolution’s millions of supporters and thousands of volunteers “will continue to hold us accountable to make sure that the movement is continuing.”

The decision to disclose high-dollar donations was unanimous, and grants Our Revolution the ideological legitimacy it heretofore lacked. Its effectiveness as a progressive SuperPAC who dreams of a world in which it doesn’t exist remains untested. But it remains the most unique channel through which the post-Bernie populist energy flows.

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Timothy Bertrand is an author and journalist from Houston, Texas. He is the Associate Editor at Reverb Press and splits his time between covering breaking news and penning thoughtful literary essays.