Nicole Gaudiano, USA TODAY 6:30 p.m. EDT September 7, 2016
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at an organizing event for Hillary Clinton in Lebanon, N.H., on Sept. 5, 2016. (Photo: Darren McCollester, Getty Images)
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ new activist spin-off organization, “Our Revolution,” will disclose any high-dollar donations it receives, two of the group's board members said Wednesday.
The two said the board made that decision during a Tuesday night conference call.
As a “social welfare” organization (or a 501(c)(4) group for tax purposes), Our Revolution doesn't have to disclose its donors. Its commitment to transparency was among several concerns raised by at least eight staffers who resigned as part of a staff revolt before the group launched last month. Our Revolution was set up to carry on the “political revolution” started by Sanders’ presidential candidacy, which targeted big money in politics
Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, one of the group's board members, said the board was unanimous in its decision to release high-dollar contributions. The precise definition of "high-dollar" has yet to be determined. Another progressive 501(c)(4) organization, MoveOn.org Civic Action, discloses all donations of $5,000 or more.
“We know that people really care about transparency and accountability and we’re not going to let people down,” Turner said. “We do take seriously the faith that people have in us as a movement and this organization as a symbol of that movement.”
Board member Catalina Velasquez, an immigration and LGBTQ activist, said Our Revolution has more than 4 million supporters and thousands of volunteers who "will continue to hold us accountable to make sure that the movement is continuing.”
Sanders, I-Vt., launched Our Revolution to help elect progressive candidates at every level of government and support progressive causes and ballot issues. As a U.S. senator, he said he won't direct or control the group.
The staffers who resigned objected to the group’s status as a social welfare organization. Such organizations often are referred to as “dark money” groups because they can accept unlimited funds without disclosing donors.
Paul Schaffer, one of the staffers who resigned, said such groups "have no contribution limits (and) they don’t need to disclose their donors, which seemed contrary to the spirit of how the campaign raised its money and Bernie’s statements about transparency and getting money out of politics.”
The staffers who revolted also questioned the competence and vision of Sanders’ former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, and resigned after Weaver was appointed president of Our Revolution. They believe Weaver was focused on accepting big checks from donors and running ads while they hoped, instead, to coordinate campaigns with down-ballot candidates, which is prohibited for 501(c)(4) groups. As an unwritten rule, such organizations must spend less than half their resources on political activities.
“We wanted to be working on these down-ballot elections and to be able to coordinate and work together as much as possible with these campaigns,” Schaffer said.
Weaver could not be reached for comment.
Larry Cohen, Our Revolution's board chairman and a former labor leader, said it’s “fine” that some staffers decided early on that the job wasn’t for them.
“I support their right to make that decision,” he said. “They’re all still totally supportive of the overall mission.”
In the future, a traditional political action committee could be set up, he said. For now, Our Revolution will ask supporters to donate to candidates the group endorses and will mobilize support for ballot measures and issue-based campaigns, such as the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The group will seek help from Sanders occasionally to speak at events.
“The philosophy of Bernie sanders will be the philosophy here,” Cohen said. “It won’t be direct because he’s not going got have any control, doesn’t want it and can’t as a senator. But it will definitely be in that same spirit.”