During its summer meeting over the weekend, the Democratic National Committee quietly amended its bylaws, giving the narrower body power to override decisions made by its members at its quadrennial convention.
The national committee approved language requiring that it must ratify any bylaw amendments that the convention, a broader body, wants to adopt. “No such Bylaw or amendment shall be effective unless and until it is subsequently ratified by a vote of the majority of the entire membership of the Democratic National Committee,” the amended measure from the Rules and Bylaws Committee states.
“These decisions are made to move ultimate power from the members of the convention into the hands of the committee, and that can become a dangerous precedent,” Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer told The Intercept. “These seem to us as increasingly anti-democratic decisions. And it brought a lot of outrage from progressives and moderates alike.”
The amendment removes the authority over DNC decisions from the national convention, which includes thousands of members, and places it instead with the smaller national committee of just under 500. According to three people present, several DNC members were frustrated with the change.
“We’re hearing that a very small group may try to disrupt the General Session,” read a text a DNC staffer sent to members on Friday. “We cannot afford this disruption less than 60 days before the election (also, it could prevent the VP from being able to speak tomorrow). We recommend you enthusiastically vote to support the reports as written and adopted overwhelmingly by your colleagues on standing committees. Wondering if we can’t count on you to support the chair and reports?”
The following day, when the general session took place, Democratic National Committee Member Jessica Chambers of Wyoming — who received the text and is among the leaders who will now have the power to approve bylaws — read the message aloud on the floor. Chambers said the text went to at least 100 individual members.
“There is not a disruptor among us,” Chambers said to a round of applause. “Our staff should not be telling us how to think or vote.” The Intercept reviewed an audio recording of her remarks during the session.
“Our staff should not be telling us how to think or vote.”
Chambers called the DNC “the least democratic organization that I’m involved with,” in part because paid staff whip votes against members. The recent attempt to suppress dissent is an example of how committee staff undermine elected members “for someone else’s agenda,” she added. “And I don’t know whose agenda it really is.”
Whitmer, who did not receive the text herself but had it shared with her by a fellow member, called the message an “intimidation tactic” that created division within DNC membership.
Two press representatives for the DNC did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, nor did Rules and Bylaws Committee co-chairs Minyon Moore and James Roosevelt Jr. Moore is the former chief executive officer of the DNC and was the director of White House political affairs under President Bill Clinton; Roosevelt has provided volunteer legal counsel to the Massachusetts Democratic Party and is a former associate commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration.
“The DNC members are at a very clear disadvantage to the staff and the interests of the establishment,” Chambers said. “I hate that word, but I don’t know how to describe it. There are people who are running the DNC that are not the DNC members.”