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Build endorses Resolution #61: Reform the DSA for Bernie Independent Expenditure Campaign

This proposal makes a number of reforms to the DSA for Bernie Sanders Independent Expenditure Campaign ("Bernie IE Campaign"). To summarize, the resolution proposes that:

(1) Any chapter may opt into participating in the Bernie IE Campaign. All chapters, whether participating or not, will follow all relevant legal requirements and all legal guidance provided by DSA National.

(2) The campaign leadership shall be the Bernie Campaign Committee ("BCC"), consisting of any campaign manager hired by DSA National, four non-NPC, non-staff members chosen by the incoming NPC, and one member elected by each chapter that votes to participate in the Bernie IE Campaign. If more than 25 chapters opt into participating, a Steering Committee of no less than 15 BCC members may be elected. All BCC decisions may be immediately appealed to the NPC.

(3) All participating chapters will report monthly campaign metrics, including numbers of doors knocked and voters contacted, to the BCC. The BCC will report these metrics to the NPC each month, and also post them in summary form on the National Discussion Boards. Staff will track membership growth and decline comparing participating chapters to non-participating chapters, making reports to the NPC of membership growth and decline every six months through June 2021.

(4) The NPC will periodically evaluate whether the Bernie IE Campaign is efficiently spending DSA's scarce resources, building the organization, and helping elect Bernie Sanders. The NPC will continue the campaign so long as it is effective and efficient. If the NPC determines the campaign is ineffective or inefficient, it shall end the campaign and redirect resources elsewhere.

Be it finally resolved,

The full text of the resolution contains more detail and controls over this summary in the event of any dispute about interpretation. The full text is available here.

Why Is Build Endorsing This Resolution?

There are four main reasons why this proposal is essential:

  • Provide legal protection and local control. Volunteer-driven IE campaigns require a lot of resources and capacity to run effectively. They also create onerous legal reporting requirements. It’s very easy to accidentally break the law if you’re running an IE. For most chapters, it will be safer, cheaper, and more effective to send volunteers to work directly with Bernie’s own campaign. Under this proposal, chapters have the option to join the IE Campaign, but they have to affirmatively vote to join -- they won’t automatically be considered part of it.

  • Democratize the campaign! Currently, the Bernie IE Campaign is run by a closed committee appointed by the NPC. Their communications and decisions aren’t even visible to all of the NPC, so we don’t know how their decisions are made or what those decisions even are. This isn’t an acceptable way to run a marquee campaign! Under this proposal, each participating chapter would elect one member of the campaign’s leadership committee, all communications and decisions would be visible to the full NPC, and all campaign decisions could be appealed to the full NPC. If enough chapters joined that the leadership committee grows unwieldy, it could elect a smaller Steering Committee to handle the day-to-day work.

  • Let’s find out if the IE Campaign really works. DSA’s national campaigns traditionally have not released campaign data or only done so after a lot of time has passed, usually in summary form. The IE Campaign’s supporters claim it will be very effective and help grow DSA, but we don’t have any evidence for that. This proposal requires each participating chapter to report monthly campaign metrics, such as numbers of doors knocked and voters contacted. It also requires staff to keep track of membership growth/decline comparing participating chapters to non-participating chapters. With this proposal, we’ll find out if the IE Campaign is actually helping to elect Bernie and/or grow DSA!

  • Continue the IE Campaign if it works, end it if it doesn’t. This is a simple one. This proposal instructs the NPC to continue the IE Campaign if it’s effectively and efficiently helping to elect Bernie and grow DSA. If the IE Campaign is ineffective or inefficient, it should be shut down. Bernie’s campaign is too great an opportunity to approach it the wrong way. Let’s base our decisions on the evidence and do what works.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I’ve heard this resolution is misleading about the law. Don’t chapters have to participate in the IE to avoid breaking the law?

Answer: Whether chapters need to participate in the IE depends on what strategy they’ve chosen for their Bernie work. If a chapter wants to spend money on its Bernie work (for example, printing its own literature), then it DOES need to join the IE. But there’s a lot of Bernie work that chapters can legally do outside the IE, without spending money. DSA’s legal counsel has circulated some great legal guidance explaining how chapters can legally work directly with Bernie’s own campaign within certain limits, and some chapters (like San Francisco) have already voted not to participate in the IE Campaign.

Another Answer: This resolution states that chapters need to follow the law whether or not they participate in the IE Campaign. We even incorporated feedback from DSA’s legal counsel to make sure this requirement is 100% clear.

Question: Isn’t this a backdoor effort to kill the Bernie endorsement or sabotage the IE Campaign?

Answer: No way! This doesn’t revoke the endorsement, it simply reforms obvious flaws with the IE Campaign while making it more effective, democratic, and rooted in evidence-based decision making. This election is too important for DSA’s Bernie campaign to be insular and ineffective, and it’s just too big of an opportunity for DSA to miss (plus, many of us are yuuuuuge Bernie fans).

Another Answer: We tend to believe that it’s far more effective for chapters to work directly in coordination with Bernie’s own campaign than it is to run an expensive IE Campaign. But we also believe chapters must be able to decide their own strategy for themselves. Some chapters may be better off running an IE, especially large chapters that want to print their own literature and run their own canvases. Under this resolution, chapters can choose what their Bernie work looks like, based on their local conditions.

Question: Will my chapter be allowed to use National’s tech tools if this resolution passes?

Answer: If your chapter chooses not to participate in the IE Campaign, you can’t use Campaign-specific resources or data while the campaign is ongoing (and that’s true regardless whether this resolution passes). However, your chapter can still use any general tech tools or other resources provided by DSA National. Just don’t use it for Bernie work without approval, and make sure to follow all guidance provided by DSA’s legal counsel.

Question: Didn’t we decide democratically to do the IE? Why are you re-litigating decisions that were already made? What about the poll that 13,000 people voted on?

Answer: Unfortunately, the IE Campaign has never been debated. A closed, unelected committee appointed by the NPC wrote the IE Campaign plan in secret, and the NPC approved that plan in January 2019 with barely any debate, almost two months before DSA endorsed Bernie! There was never a chance for DSA to decide whether an IE made more sense than coordinating directly with Bernie’s own campaign. In fact, in the national membership poll, National only asked whether DSA should endorse Bernie. It didn’t ask people what they thought of the proposed IE Campaign or give members any options for what DSA’s Bernie work should look like.