The disappointing 2016 Congressional elections have surfaced a significant level of frustration by mainstream Democratic political consultants with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. We are now reading published articles about frustrations that would previously only be whispered about over bar tab debriefs. What is startling is that the grousing is mainly emanating from campaign consultants who had at one time or another benefited from the insular "go along to get along" culture of the DCCC and who now feel that the inner circle has tightened to their detriment.
A recent article in Politico posted by Thomas Mills described a situation in which he, an established mainstream Democratic consultant, could not even get a decent pitch meeting for his 2016 client. It reminded me of a meeting back in 1993 when I was visiting the DCCC to speak with them about a Latina candidate by the name of Loretta Sanchez. We were told at that meeting that Latinos did not turn out to vote and that the DCCC would not be investing in the race. The meeting was short and not sweet.
Obviously the DCCC was wrong. And while my Sanchez story is old, it is one that is experienced over and over again by consultants from African American and Latino communities every congressional election campaign cycle.
It seems that even many of those that once had a real if sometimes tortured path to decision-makers at the important $216-million-a-year committee now find themselves out in the cold struggling for support.
The out-in-the-cold consultants only need ask their Latino and African American counterparts if they want an indication of how chilly it can get outside of 433 Capitol Street.
The current insular state of the DCCC (aka “the building”) should be no surprise to anyone. The nature of any insular organization is to become more so. The one thing that may come as a surprise to those mainstream political consultants who have suddenly found themselves outside the ever tightening DCCC circle this cycle is that it can get worse. The out-in-the-cold consultants only need ask their Latino and African American counterparts if they want an indication of how chilly it can get outside of 433 Capitol St.
Latino and African American Democratic consultants have had the now derided outsider experience for as long as any of us can remember. Just two years ago an independent group, Power Pac, conducted an analysis on the spending patterns at the DCCC and found that the organization that champions affirmative action at the policy level in Congress falls below the standards of vendor diversity met by most big box retailers. Progressives in DC don't need to fly to the Silicon Valley to find a corporate culture that just can't seem to find diverse partnerships. They can walk to one from any Capitol Hill office.
The DCCC has continually rejected offers from minority consultants to work with them and innovate the messages and manner they use to reach African American and Latino communities. While the internal excuses are that the vendors fall below the standards of those in their current stable, the committee has done little to nothing to develop minority consultants they are willing to work with.
The organization also suffers from real systemic problems in the bidding process that stymie diversity and are not in line with its own mission. One example is that the bidding process used by the national organization does not consider state-by-state political and economic differences. This lack of adaptability has created a situation where vendors from states with more progressive minimum wage policies are forced to compete without any special consideration against vendors from states with conservative minimum wage policies. The outcome is to penalize vendors who pay better wages to their employees, which is contrary to the basic philosophy of the Democratic party itself.
There is no doubt that the DCCC must do better. Currently more and more Latinos are choosing to register as voters with no party preference in states where a serious investment of political and real capital could create a path to congressional relevancy by Democrats. This is not a short-term game. It is a mid-term play that if not taken can lead to all Democrats being left out in the cold.