The corporate media was abuzz on September 16th when the Working Families Party, who in 2016 overwhelmingly endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primary, announced its 2020 presidential endorsement of Senator Elizabeth Warren over Sanders.
WFP, which describes itself as a progressive grassroots political party, fleeing Sanders for Warren unsurprisingly didn’t sit well with Sanders’ avid base. Frustrating that base even more so was WFP’s refusal to publicly release the voting tally of its rank-and-file membership like it did when the party endorsed Sanders in 2016.
Sanders’ supporters wanted to see the breakdown because WFP’s endorsement votes gives equal percentage weight (50 percent) to its organization’s leadership that it gives to its tens of thousands of members across the country (50 percent). As Jacobin reported:
The WFP endorsement process works by tallying up party member votes and party leader votes. The member votes are given 50 percent of the vote weight while the leader votes are given the other 50 percent of the vote weight. To win the endorsement, you have to get the majority of the weighted vote. The WFP revealed that Warren received 60.9 percent of the weighted vote on the first ballot. Naturally one might wonder: how much of this vote came from the members and how much of it came from leaders? Surely WFP should release the member vote tally and the leader vote tally to answer this question.
Only, they didn’t release the tally. National Director Maurice Mitchell explained the party wouldn’t do so “for there to be one true vote, and to maintain the nature of secret ballot, all of that went into the back end.” The rationale seemed to be head-scratcher: why the sudden sanctity of the secret ballot when, three years ago, membership voting tallies were readily released?
New revelations regarding Senator Warren’s daughter’s financial connections to WFP may shed some light on this.
Amelia Warren Tyagi served as co-chair of the board of trustees of Demos, a progressive think tank, from May 2010 through May of this year. According to Demos’ IRS 990 form for the fiscal year starting July 1st, 2017 through June 30th, 2018, Demos issued three separate grants to the Working Families Party totaling $45,000. These grants to WFP made up of 20 percent of Demos’ total grants ($229,523) issued for the fiscal year. The grants were first uncovered by political activist Sam Finkelstein online.
A source familiar with the inner-workings of Demos told Status Coup the three grants were an “oddity” considering the think tank is more in the business of soliciting donations than issuing multiple grants in the same year to fellow organizations dependent on donations.
At the time Status Coup began reporting this story, Warren Tyagi was no longer featured on Demos’ website. But less than 24 hours after Status Coup reached out to Demos for a request for comment regarding the grants to WFP, Warren Tyagi was put back up on its website under its board section—this time as Trustee Emeritus rather than board co-chair.
A Demos spokesperson told Status Coup that Warren Tyagi’s removal from the website–and sudden return to it soon after we reached out—has nothing to do with the Working Families Party endorsement.
“Amelia Warren Tyagi served as Chair of Demos’ Board of Trustees from May 2010 to May 2019. This past Spring, Ms. Tyagi stepped down from her role on the board and was succeeded by Joshua Fryday. Weeks ago, in August 2019, she was elected as a non-voting Emeritus trustee of the board. When Ms. Tyagi stepped down from the board in May she was removed from our website. She is now listed as an Emeritus trustee on our site along with several other Emeritus trustees. While this was a planned update for our website given her election to Emeritus last month this was a recent update and one that we prioritized today to provide clarity on her current status on the board.”
Beyond Warren’s daughter, Warren campaign treasurer Paul Egerman, sits on Demos’ board as its secretary. Egerman has been dubbed as a “personal PAC man” and Democratic financial rainmaker with a history of big donations to pro-corporate Democrats; in 2016 he donated $650,000 to American Bridge, a Super Pac with dark money affiliation that was founded by Clinton attack-dog David Brock.
Neither Warren’s daughter or campaign treasurer’s role with Demos—and the think-tank’s grants to the Working Families Party while Warren’s daughter was co-chair of its board—were disclosed by WFP at the time of its Warren endorsement.
A source within the Working Families Party was fairly blunt in communications with Status Coup: the party is “broke” and, although the $45,000 in grants from Demos to the party a year before Warren ran wouldn’t typically be considered a major amount, it is really a “down payment signal” of more potential funding to the party if it backed Warren in 2020.
This is an assertion Joe Dinkin, a spokesman for WFP, vehemently denied to Status Coup. When asked why Working Families Party didn’t disclose Warren’s daughter’s position with a think-tank that issued grants to WFP at the time of its endorsement, WFP said:
“We have never shied away from or hid our partnership with Demos. We’ve been allies for many years and we’re proud of it. They funded organizing and advocacy on successful campaigns to expand democracy, like winning public financing of elections in Washington DC and passing automatic voter registration in New Jersey. Those grants came well before Warren was a candidate. We’ve also accepted contributions from organizations and individuals that have backed Bernie Sanders. None of that has any impact on our decision making process, however.”
When asked whether WFP communicated with Demos during its endorsement process, WFP told Status Coup that, “Demos is an ally, and of course WFP speaks to Demos staff.” But the WFP stressed that “no grant could influence the WFP’s endorsement process or the many delegates, chapters, branches, supporters and members that participate in it.”
In a back-and-forth with Status Coup, WFP maintained its refusal to release the voting tally of its tens of thousands of members. It did offer Status Coup several sources of feedback it says it received from its members on why they chose Warren over Sanders.
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Some members took notice of Warren’s endorsements of WFP candidates in Philadelphia and West Virginia—races where Sanders did not endorse WFP candidates. Others were attracted to specific policy proposals of Warren, like childcare for all and a wealth tax (for the record, in 2011 Sanders proposed a childcare program covering children six weeks old through kindergarten and his 2020 campaign advocates for universal childcare; on taxes, Sanders has been calling for a wealth tax since the late 90s and officially proposed a wealth tax in 2014 and then again in 2017).
WFP told Status Coup other reasons members cited for choosing Warren was her advocacy and success in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while also pushing back against the Obama administration to crack down on Wall Street—indeed important accomplishments for Warren in her pre-Senate and early Senate days that originally endeared her to progressive voters and led to campaigns to get her to run for president in 2016.
While these Warren bona fides are valid, it’s important to note within the context of WFP members praising Warren’s anti-Wall Street bona fides: Sanders also served as a thorn in Obama’s side on Wall Street, holding up Treasury appointments he disagreed with along with the renomination of Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chair. In the more extreme, in 2011, Sanders received backlash among Democrats when he suggested Obama should be primaried from the left in the 2012 presidential election.
WFP concluded, “some people just think she has the potential to build the biggest progressive coalition to beat Trump.” The party was keen on the fact that its members “overwhelmingly feel positively about both Warren and Sanders.”
WFP also stressed to Status Coup that the reporting on their endorsement process has mischaracterized it to make it seem like 50 or so of the organization’s top leaders have equal weight (50 percent) in the presidential endorsement vote to tens of thousands of members (50 percent) nationwide. WFP explained those leaders are voting after their respective state committees have debated candidates and voted among themselves.
“Delegates on the WFP National Committee carry the position of WFP state chapters and local branches, which result from their own grassroots democratic and deliberative processes.” This is not the first controversial endorsement from WFP; in 2018, they endorsed New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over progressive challenger Cynthia Nixon. The party also endorsed then-Rep. Joe Crowley over then-challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
To date, Warren and Sanders have had a mutual do-no-harm pact where they served as a quasi-tag team in presidential debates. To anyone with objective eyes (or just working eyes), Warren’s polling surge has coincided with millions of dollars in free, positive advertising from corporate media. MSNBC and CNN have been particularly glowing on Warren; in the case of CNN, Status Coup exposed that the network had schemed to block Bernie Sanders supporters from the on-air Detroit debate cheering section and stacked the deck to make Warren supporters appear more prominently on CNN.
Meanwhile, to the surprise of no progressive, the coverage of Sanders’ campaign has only gotten worse since 2016; cable news segment after segment on Sanders is brought to viewers with punditry from bitter veterans and supporters of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign while outlets like the Washington Post—who infamously wrote 16 negative stories on Sanders in 16 hours during the 2016 campaign—continue its crusade against Sanders. The Post’s “Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler was universally panned recently when he gave Sanders three Pinocchios for making an accurate claim—that was reported by the Post itself months earlier—that 500,000 families in America file bankruptcy annually due to medical debt.
The Working Families Party endorsement of Warren will be followed by what the party claims will be a grassroots organizing campaign to attract a diverse coalition of voters to Warren—and help her win the Democratic nomination, and ultimately the White House.
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