The joint-fundraising agreements (or JFAs) were almost custom-tailored to produce a conflict. The funny thing is that the Clinton and Sanders camps both appear to think there’s less to Brazile’s revelations than meets the eye. Clinton campaign officials have said the agreement was only about general-election details, and did not prejudice the primary. Mark Longabaugh, a top Sanders aide who was that campaign’s liaison to the DNC, dismissed the story for a different reason: “All Donna has done here is she’s put a little bit more detail on what we all knew,” he told me. “Hillary Clinton had a heavy hand at the DNC, if not outright control. If you look at the totality of the evidence, that’s indisputable.”
The JFAs serve to create another stream of revenue for the election. There’s a federal maximum amount that individuals can give to any candidate, but a major donor can also write a large check to the party, which can use the money to boost its candidates. Such agreements are standard, and while Brazile quoted a Politico piece that described the arrangement as “essentially … money laundering,” that’s a little misleading. On the one hand, they’re designed to allow donors to give extra money, and if, like Sanders, you’re a critic of the campaign-finance regime, you may feel that this is a bad idea. They are, however, legal.
The Clinton campaign signed its JFA in August 2015. Although that was unusually early in the primary cycle, Joe Sandler, a former DNC general counsel, told me it has not been uncommon for candidates to sign JFAs during the primary. What does seem to be unusual are the terms laid out in an addendum to the memo, which was obtained by both NBC News and NPR. On the one hand, the agreement stipulates that “Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC's obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary.”
Yet other provisions seem at odds with that. For example, the DNC agreed to hire a communications director (the post had been vacant) within a couple weeks, choosing from two Clinton-campaign-selected options. The Clinton team also had input on senior staff in several departments it viewed as central to the general-election effort, and the Clinton team would “be consulted and have joint authority over strategic decisions over the staffing, budget, expenditures, and general election related communications, data, technology, analytics, and research.”
There’s no obvious way to reconcile neutrality with the provisions, which were agreed upon when Clinton (and the DNC) still expected Sanders would pose no serious obstacle to her nomination. The idea that there would be any difference between the DNC’s interests in the primary and general must have barely registered.