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UMass students join boycott of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

  • In this Oct. 1, 2018 file photo, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley speaks at a rally at City Hall in Boston. On Nov. 6, Pressley became Massachusetts' first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. AP PHOTO/MARY SCHWALM



Staff Writer
Friday, May 10, 2019

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst College Democrats are one of a growing number of college Democrat groups announcing a boycott on donations to the influential committee that seeks to elect Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The groups’ boycott of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, comes after the committee announced in late March that it will not do business with any consultant working for a candidate who is challenging a sitting Democrat. Critics say that the “blacklisting” of vendors and firms working for primary challengers is undemocratic and works against efforts to diversify the party.

“The rule would financially deter and greatly disadvantage vital new voices in our party, who are often younger and come from underrepresented and historically marginalized communities and identities,” reads an April 24 statement written by the Harvard College Democrats and co-signed by more than 60 college Democrat groups. “Primary challengers are essential to ensure that the Democratic Party is continually held accountable to the needs of our constituents.”

The rule is part of a “standards for DCCC political vendors” form that people are required to sign to become a preferred vendor for the 2020 election cycle.

“The core mission of the DCCC is electing House Democrats, which includes supporting and protecting incumbents,” the rule reads. “To that end, the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus.”

To Tim Ennis, the incoming president of the UMass Amherst College Democrats, the policy undercuts the young candidates who could be the party’s future and the grassroots organizing they are involved in.

“We think by just automatically blacklisting people because they ran against somebody in a super-safe district, you’re really sacrificing a lot of the young talent the party has for no reason,” said Ennis, who is currently a sophomore political science major.

Ennis said that the policy has frustrated young Democrats like those in his organization. And they are often the ones “doing the grunt work of politics,” he added — phone banking and door knocking, for example, or interning with campaigns for little or no pay.

He acknowledges that college Democrat groups don’t have that much financial influence on the DCCC, but says they’re opposing the rule to make a point.

“College groups aren’t doing it just because we’re trying to push the party to a certain political side,” Ennis said, adding that the UMass Amherst College Democrats have members from across the left-leaning political spectrum who call the Democratic Party home. “We’re doing it just because we think the policy is bad.”

Lawmakers’ voices

In addition to the Harvard and UMass Amherst College Democrats, the College Democrats of Massachusetts and the College Democrats of Boston College have signed onto the boycott. And state lawmakers have likewise criticized the new policy.

“I believe fiercely in the potential of our party, but we cannot credibly lay claim to prioritizing diversity & inclusion when institutions like the DCCC implement policies that threaten to silence new voices and historically marginalized communities,” U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Boston, wrote on Twitter after the DCCC’s policy was announced.

Pressley was herself a candidate who successfully defeated an incumbent in September when she beat U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano in a surprising upset. Following Pressley’s criticism of the DCCC policy, state Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, joined her in criticizing the rule.

“Democrats shouldn’t be afraid of democracy,” Domb tweeted. “This rule would’ve blacklisted qualified courageous candidates who are now our amazing elected officials & colleagues.”

Matt Barron, a Williamsburg-based political consultant who has long worked to elect mostly Democrats, said the new policy “goes against ‘small-d’ democratic principles.”

“First of all, it’s very difficult to defeat an incumbent,” Barron said. “If you have to resort to these kinds of tactics to protect your majority, that’s pretty sad.”

Barron worked on the campaign of Tahirah Amatul-Wadud when she unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal in the state’s 1st Congressional District, but he said the policy wouldn’t affect him. He has never done any work for the DCCC and doesn’t care to, he said.

“I do know from years of working with top polling firms and media firms that they’re not happy” with the policy, he said. Barron also added that in many solidly blue districts like the 1st Congressional District, the Democratic primary determines who will fill the seat come November. To take those races off the board, he said, is undemocratic.

As for the UMass Amherst College Democrats, Ennis said they think the DCCC does plenty of great work for campaigns. He pointed to the help the DCCC gave attorney Antonio Delgado when he successfully beat a Republican incumbent to become a U.S. representative in New York’s 19th Congressional District. Members of the UMass Amherst College Democrats drove several hours out to New York almost every weekend this past fall to knock on doors for Delgado, Ennis said.

“The DCCC does a lot of great work for these campaigns,” Ennis said. As for the money it distributes, “We want to make sure that it’s being given out equitably and making sure that if somebody challenges an incumbent, they’re not subject to a blacklist just because they thought it was their time to be in Congress.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.