The DNC just reached a new low with its latest defensive filing in the class action lawsuit brought by a group of Bernie Sanders supporters.
To recap: a group of plaintiff donors to the Sanders campaign sued the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in federal court in Florida. The lawsuit alleges that the DNC’s favoritism of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders amounted to fraud, misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence. The plaintiffs have pointed to damning evidence in the shape of emails posted by Wikileaks proving that the Democratic Party was working against Bernie Sanders from the start.
On October 14, the DNC filed its brief in support of its motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and some of its defenses are real whoppers. The brief begins with the usual fare – arguments over procedural defects and jurisdiction. But nestled in the brief are two arguments that are deeply disturbing. First, there’s the contention by the DNC that the Bernie Sanders donors knew that the committee was biased. Second, and even more disturbing, is the argument that any statements about being neutral and fair to all candidates if made by the DNC were nothing but “political promises” and are unenforceable at law.
In describing some of the “inadequacies” in the complaint against it, the DNC called the court’s attention to the following example:
“For instance, Plaintiffs assert that “members of the [Donor Classes] have incurred an injury-in-fact because they … [made] donations, based on the belief that the Democratic presidential nominating process was fair and unbiased,” a belief they say was “propagated and confirmed by Defendants’ misrepresentations and omissions…”
According to the DNC’s argument, the assumption that the presidential nominating process was fair can not amount to an appropriate basis for a lawsuit because any indications of fairness are nothing more than “purported political promises.” Why did they make that argument? It was a clever legal maneuver. In general, neither donors nor constituents have standing to sue over broken political promises based on a variety of long-held legal principles, not the least of which is that as an appropriate remedy “voters are free to vote out of office those politicians seen to have breached campaign promises…” Only the 2016 election could make assumptions of basic fairness seem dirty and suspect.
Clearly, filing a lawsuit every time a politician fails to deliver on campaign promises isn’t the best course of action. However, this case is a bit different and characterizing an assumption that the DNC operates on an unbiased playing field as merely a “political promise” is nothing short of outrageous. A fundamental tenet of the law governing contracts as well as fraud is that when a fundamental assumption on which a bargain is based turns out to be untrue, that falsehood strikes at the heart of the underlying deal. Remedies differ depending on whether the perpetration of the falsehood was accidental or purposeful — but it’s always a bad thing for the deal. While I admire creative lawyering on the part of the DNC, such tactics shall not, cannot, and should not apply to organizations as influential the DNC while participating in in the election of a president.
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are donors who made contributions ranging from $5 to $2700 to the Bernie Sanders campaign. I think it was unlikely that any of them expected Senator Sanders to fulfill every campaign promise in its entirety. The average American knows that politics are a complicated game, and that promises often go unfulfilled. And there’s a certain amount of political shadiness that even the least sophisticated among us expects. But basing a legal defense on the premise that the presidential nomination process was known to be rigged even before it began far exceeds what is reasonable. The DNC has valid, logical, and respectable defenses it can assert with regard to this lawsuit; its choice to advance this one was wrong-footed and irresponsible.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed here are just those of the author.
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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.