Sen. Bernie Sanders may have lost the Democratic primary, but Our Revolution is continuing to work toward manifesting his political vision through a variety of channels.
Sanders said throughout his campaign that what he calls the “political revolution” – getting people involved in the political process to advance progressive policies – was not about him or the success or failure of his candidacy. Though he won’t have the chance to do this work from the Oval Office, he’s finding other ways to remain influential.
Back to the Senate and beyond
Sanders’ term as U.S. senator representing Vermont isn’t over until 2018, at which point he may run again. We can expect him to continue to draft and support progressive legislation in Congress.
But Sanders’ influence will go, and has gone, beyond what he does in the Senate. The popularity he gained during the primaries gives him a lot of clout as an endorser in elections to come, and he test-ran the power of his influence in down-ballot races during the Democratic primaries.
Sanders endorsed a number of progressive candidates in an effort to stack the Democratic Party with candidates more to the left than typical. Some of his endorsees, like Zephyr Teachout, candidate for U.S. representative for New York, and Pramila Jayapal, running for the House representing Washington, won their primaries and will be on the ballot in November.
Not all Sanders’ endorsees saw a “Bernie bump,” though. He backed Tim Canova, for example, who was challenging former Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her House seat in Florida, but Canova lost. And House candidate Lucy Flores of Nevada lost her bid as well despite the Sanders seal of approval.
As we approach the general election, how many of Sanders’ endorsees make it to their desired offices remains to be seen.
Sanders’ endorsement arm is being extended by the organization Our Revolution, which Sanders officially launched in August. Sanders can’t technically direct the organization, since he’s a senator, and it’s a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt entity – that means it can collect unlimited amounts of money without disclosing where the money came from, and an elected official can’t take part in that business.
But Our Revolution is staffed with Sanders backers, most notably his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, who is at the head of the organization. Our Revolution will work to recruit progressive candidates and campaign for them (though indirectly for the most part – they can’t technically coordinate with candidates), presumably ones the senator endorses or at least who support the progressive positions Sanders campaigned on throughout the primaries. It’s currently endorsing dozens of candidates for everything from school board to Congress.
Though it will be involved in political activities and campaigns, because of its 501(c)(4) status, the organization must conduct most of its work in the name of “social welfare.” When it’s not involved in elections, the group will work to provide educational materials to the public regarding income inequality and climate change.
Also because of its status, it’s a bit unclear the extent to which the organization can work to support candidates it endorses. Its website states that it will “train” candidates; however, according to the IRS, that’s an overreach for a 501(c)(4) entity. That status has created controversy within the Sanders circle; his campaign was all about small-money donations and eschewing Super PAC assistance.
Weaver insisted that the organization won’t be relying on big money: “There’s no reaching out to the Koch Brothers or Exxon Mobil,” he said. “The truth of the matter is we’re going to rely primarily on small donations.”
The Our Revolution donation page suggests donations of up to $1,000, but emphasizes $27, the average amount Sanders touted garnering from donors during the primaries.
And this brings us to another major component of Sanders’ legacy: campaign finance.
Along with whether Sanders will be successful in his post-primary efforts to keep his supporter base mobilized and stacking government with progressives, one of the big questions going forward is whether his campaign finance mechanism will be picked up by more candidates.
One of Sanders’ major talking points against Sec. Hillary Clinton throughout the primaries was that, unlike the vast majority of political candidates, including Clinton, he wasn’t into Super PACs, which collect large sums of money from wealthy individuals and corporations.
Sanders’ campaign showed that a candidate can be competitive while relying primarily on small-money contributions. This could inspire other candidates to do the same.
Sanders wants the movement he jumpstarted to stay strong. He’ll continue to do the work by wielding his influence to get more progressives involved in politics at all levels, reaching out to his supporter base and doing his thing in the Senate.
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