Democratic Socialists Want Bernie Sanders to Raise Their Profile

The Democratic Socialists of America are using a 501(c)(4) to help out the surging presidential candidate. But they’re also looking to boost themselves.

Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Meskwaki Tribal Center in Tama, Iowa, September 4, 2015. (Bloomberg AFP/Getty)

Sen. Bernie Sanders frequently talks about the need for a political revolution. The Democratic Socialists of America are on board, and they’re willing to spend money to boost his candidacy as a means of raising awareness about their ideology.

According to its July quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission, the Democratic Socialists of America Inc., the group’s 501(c)(4), from April 1 to July 15 of this year had $741 in total contributions and spent $10,939.66 in independent expenditures, with many of the itemized receipts being reimbursements to employees for the cost of airfare or spending on small things like campaign buttons, office supplies, or making copies, along with salary for employees. All of the independent expenditures were listed as being used to support Sanders.

A 48-hour report filed on August 26 shows money being spent for fundraising calls in Iowa City for the purpose of supporting Sanders, among other expenditures.

DSA members, its website says, “share a vision of a humane international order based on both democratic planning and market mechanisms that equitable distribution of resources, meaningful work,” as well as a clean environment and racial and gender equality, among other things. The organization said it has 6,500 members.

The DSA has a history of supporting Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist. In 2006, the organization’s political action committee, which is separate from the 501(c)(4), spent around $60,000 for Sanders’s first campaign for Senate. Sanders also spoke at their convention in Atlanta in 2007.

David Duhalde, the organization’s deputy director, told National Journal that his group has also worked on local elections and for Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

Duhalde says his organization is backing Sanders because of his support for organized labor and raising the minimum wage. But DSA also wants more from the senator.

“Where he’s good on racial justice, we want him to be great on racial justice,” he said.

But there’s also another reason for backing the independent socialist's campaign: raising awareness about democratic socialism.

“He raises the profile of democratic socialism, and he brings people who might not have found a way to articulate what they were feeling into realizing they’re socialists,” Duhalde said.

There’s a certain amount of irony in a socialist group using a 501(c)(4) to back Sanders, who has made limiting money in politics an essential part of his campaign. A tax-exempt organization generally is not required to disclose donor names or addresses, but certain tax-exempt political organizations have to report the names and addresses of donors who contribute in the aggregate of at least $200.

But Sanders’s criticism of money in politics, Duhalde said, is not opposed to activity like that DSA conducts.

“He’s really talking about the billionaire class that’s exploiting the 501(c)(4) loophole,” he said. “He’s never talked about grassroots groups.”

Duhalde would prefer for elections to be publicly financed campaigns. But for the time being, he’ll have to settle for supporting a candidate who would make it so small groups don’t need to pull money together.