CRESTON, Iowa — Allies of Sen. Bernie Sanders railed against a Democratic National Committee rules change that was announced on Friday and framed it as an attempt to boost billionaire presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore brought up the change at a Sanders campaign town hall at Iowa’s Southwestern Community College where he spoke along with the independent Vermont senator’s wife, Jane Sanders. Moore suggested the rules change could have been made because Bloomberg promised to give money to the DNC.
“I’d like to hear full transparency from the DNC and tell us how much he has offered to give in the November election if they let him on the stage,” Moore said of Bloomberg. “I just think this is what we’re so used to on our side where people that are supposed to be on our side end up being for the people with the money.”
Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director of the DNC, told Yahoo News “there was not” a promise of any donation from Bloomberg. She also had harsh words for Moore.
“This is outrageous. These conspiracy theories divide our party. Our criteria reflects the actual votes in two states and broad support through polling. Period,” Hinojosa said.
The original rules that were announced by the DNC ahead of the Democratic presidential primary race required candidates to meet polling thresholds and have hundreds of thousands of donors in order to participate in debates. Those requirements led several major candidates to be excluded from participating. The new rules, which are in effect for the debate scheduled for Feb. 19 in Nevada, require presidential hopefuls to meet a polling threshold in multiple surveys or win a single delegate in the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primary.
Bloomberg donated $300,000 to the DNC two days before he entered the presidential race in November, Vice News reported. The New York billionaire has also pledged to pay roughly 500 of his staffers to continue working through Election Day, whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
Hinojosa also defended the rules change in a tweet where she pointed to past comments DNC Chairman Tom Perez made last year indicating the committee might consider changing the rules as people began casting votes in early states.
“We have said for months … that once people start voting, the debate threshold would change and the results of those contests would be reflected. We will have the results of TWO elections by the NV debate,” Hinojosa wrote, referring to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Bloomberg is self-funding his campaign with his personal fortune, which is reported to be worth more than $50 billion. He would not have been able to qualify for debates through the prior rules that counted donors. Bloomberg entered the race relatively late and will not be participating in the first four states to vote in the primary, including Iowa, which holds its caucuses on Feb. 3, and New Hampshire. While he won’t be able to meet the new delegate requirement, the polling threshold provides an avenue for Bloomberg to be included in the Feb. 19 debate. So far, Bloomberg has met the threshold in one national poll that would count under the rules change. He will need to earn similar numbers — 10 percent in four national polls or 12 percent in a pair of polls in South Carolina and Nevada — by Feb. 18 to qualify. Bloomberg’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Moore, who has been campaigning for Sanders in Iowa while the senator has been in Washington for President Trump’s impeachment trial, told the town hall audience that the donor requirements were a good way for candidates to show they have “enough support.” He also noted Sanders has more individual donors than any other Democratic candidate and alluded to the fact Bloomberg began his political career as a Republican.
“They removed that rule today so that they could allow Michael Bloomberg to be on the stage, to allow a billionaire who was elected the Republican mayor of New York City in 2001. They did this just for him,” Moore said of the DNC. “He doesn’t have to prove that he has any support amongst people who’d be willing to give him money, because of course, he’s just using his own money so that he could actually buy his way onto the stage.”
Moore’s comments echoed a statement from Sanders’s senior adviser, Jeff Weaver, that the campaign sent out shortly after news of the rules change broke.
“To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong. That’s the definition of a rigged system,” Weaver said.
The back and forth with the DNC echoes the 2016 presidential race when the Sanders campaign argued the committee was favoring former first lady Hillary Clinton over Sanders by, among other things, scheduling debates in poorly watched time slots. In the aftermath of that race, Sanders was allowed to select allies who helped come up with reforms to the presidential nominating process along with elements of the Democratic Party establishment.
Jane Sanders, the senator’s wife, found out about the rule change from Yahoo News just after she spoke at the town hall.
“Did they decide on it?” she asked in apparent disbelief.
Jane then let out an exasperated sigh and referenced other Democratic candidates who missed debates due to the prior requirements.
“The rules have been clear, and Cory Booker and Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard have not met one of the two requirements and they haven’t gotten any breaks,” Jane said. “Is it just the billionaires who can change the rules? That doesn’t seem right.”
Booker cited missing the debates as a major factor when he dropped out of the race earlier this month. He likely could have qualified under the new requirements. Booker’s former campaign staffers have been vocal in criticizing the rules change on Twitter. Addisu Demissie, Booker’s ex-campaign manager, responded to a question about the switch by posting a GIF. It showed the pop singer Justin Timberlake staring ahead in clear frustration.
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