The Democratic party’s undemocratic superdelegate system

Today the state of Wisconsin holds its primary elections which, on the Republican side, has 42 delegates up for grabs in a ‘winner-take-all’ system (actually, the winner of each of the state’s eight Congressional district gets 3 delegates, while the winner of the whole state gets 18) while the Democrats have 86 delegates to be elected on a proportional basis, plus 10 superdelegates. Both primaries are open. The total number of possible Democratic delegates is 4,763 of which 4,051 are elected and 712 are superdelegates (there is a slight disagreement about the exact number). Hillary Clinton has won 1,243 of the elected delegates so far while Sanders has won 980. But Clinton has a huge lead among the unelected superdelegates, 469 to 31. The strength of the campaign of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side has prompted closer scrutiny of their entire superdelegate system.

So who are these superdelegates that make up a whopping 15% of their delegates? They are mainly party insiders, consisting of 260 elected members of Congress and governors (193 members of the House of Representatives, 46 members of the Senate, and 21 governors), plus 432 members of the Democratic National Committee, plus 20 ‘distinguished party leaders’. You can see the full list and whom they are supporting here.

In an interview Elaine Kamarck, who helped design the system and is also a superdelegate who supports Clinton, explains the origins of the system and says that it was designed to give party insiders a way to play a role in the convention without having to run as delegates in the primaries.

Michael Winship writes that the superdelegate system needs to be scrapped and that the changing rationales for this system offered by Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (an oligarch-friendly party hack) shows how the party is planning to use it to tilt the nomination to Clinton.

These superdelegate VIPs are chosen not by the voters in this year’s primaries or caucuses but selected by the party solely for their status as members of the Democratic upper crust. As we wrote last week, Wasserman Schultz recently told CNN’s Jake Tapper that their appointment is necessary so entitled incumbents and party leaders don’t have to run for the position “against grassroots activists.”

(Just a few weeks later, though, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network, Wasserman Schultz swung her logic ’round 180 degrees. The superdelegates exist, she now declared, “to make sure that party activists who want to be delegates to the convention don’t have to run against much better-known and well-established people at the district level.” So which is it? Neither really makes total sense.)

But like so many of those rules, superdelegates symbolize something that has to go: the entrenched, inside-the-Beltway embrace of power and influence by the Democratic illuminati that does little for the poor and middle class and everything for the one percent that writes the big checks.

Last summer, Wasserman Schultz’s Democratic National Committee lifted a ban on lobbyists making donations to cover the costs of convention-related events, a precursor to the DNC’s February rollback of Barack Obama’s ban on contributions to the party from political action committees and federal lobbyists.

Anyone who’s attended any of the recent Democratic Party national conventions can attest that amidst all the confetti, assorted hoopla and solemn testaments of democracy at work, there are outrageous displays of conspicuous consumption as law firms, lobbyists, consultants and their corporate clients manipulate the funding rules and compete to see who can create the swankiest, most excessive shindig. With the lifting of that lobbyist cash ban, Philadelphia could be bigger than ever.

Most of the superdelegates (432) are members of the Democratic National Committee and are made up of officials from state Democratic parties and Margot Kidder describes how Clinton bought the loyalty of those entities, yet another example of how big money is trying to tilt the election to Clinton.

In August 2015, at the Democratic Party convention in Minneapolis, 33 democratic state parties made deals with the Hillary Clinton campaign and a joint fundraising entity called The Hillary Victory Fund. The deal allowed many of her core billionaire and inner circle individual donors to run the maximum amounts of money allowed through those state parties to the Hillary Victory Fund in New York and the DNC in Washington.

The idea was to increase how much one could personally donate to Hillary by taking advantage of the Supreme Court ruling 2014, McCutcheon v FEC, that knocked down a cap on aggregate limits as to how much a donor could give to a federal campaign in a year. It thus eliminated the ceiling on amounts spent by a single donor to a presidential candidate.

In other words, a single donor, by giving 10,000 dollars a year to each signatory state could legally give an extra $330,000 a year for two years to the Hillary Victory Fund. For each donor, this raised their individual legal cap on the Presidential campaign to $660,000 if given in both 2015 and 2016. And to one million, three hundred and 20 thousand dollars if an equal amount were also donated in their spouse’s name.

Kamarck states that since 1984 when the current system was put in place, the allegiance of the superdelegates has been fluid and in the end they have always gone along with whoever had the most delegates elected in the primaries.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton started out with most of the superdelegates. And as Obama won primaries and picked up public delegates, the superdelegates started to shift to Obama. And in the end, all the superdelegates voted for Obama. So, you know, the superdelegates simply are not bound by their state results. That doesn’t mean that they don’t pay attention to their state results.

But both Obama and Clinton were establishment–friendly candidates and so it would have been easy for superdelegates to switch between them. It is not clear that it will happen this year since the political establishment is solidly behind Clinton and against Sanders. If Sanders should get the majority of the elected delegates but the superdelegates give the nomination to Clinton, it would glaringly expose how the system is rigged in favor of the establishment.

The Republican party also has superdelegates but they have to vote according to the primary results of their state, so theirs is a more democratic process than the Democratic party where the superdelegates from a state can completely ignore the results from their state, as is the case this year with many of them supporting Clinton even though the primary results went to Sanders. It is ironic that the Republicans, an anti-democratic party if there even was one, may have a more democratic process of selecting their nominee than the Democrats.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I’m ashamed to say my comprehension of this post was brought to a crashing halt when I read this:

    officials from state Democratic parties and Margot Kidder describes how Clinton bought the loyalty of those entities

    Hang on… Lois Lane describes what now? Clicking the link… yeah, it’s her: “an actress and activist in Montana”. Back to the politics now…

  2. says

    The old Swiss Confederacy had a thing called the “Little Council” which was a subset of the “Great Council” — the oligarchs whose decisions actually mattered. It was an early example of a ‘managed democracy’, which is a nice word for a fake democracy, or a “representative” democracy. Americans have been falling for this shit for a very long time.

  3. --bill says

    the point of the superdelegates is so that things like Trump don’t happen; admittedly, it might work against Sanders in this case.

    in short: superdelegates mean you get a centrist candidate, while no superdelegates means you can get extremist candidates.

    The problem addressed by superdelegates is that voter turnout in primaries is low, and so primary/caucus results often reflect candidates whose supporters are most motivated, and such a candidate might not be the one the party (or the general electorate) would prefer running in the general election.

    It is a fundamental problem in the primary system: primary voters are not a randomly selected sample of the party’s voters in the general election; how does one correct for that?

  4. says

    The problem, as I see it, is not that the Democratic party desperately wants, and succeeding, to be the non(less)-misanthropic corporatist party but that there is no recourse for people who don’t like corporatist parties but particularly abhors the misanthropic one.

    Primaries and their arcane rules are stupid, but they’re private stupid. Very much unlike first past the post in the general election which is public stupid.

  5. says

    You’re falling for the false dichotomy of the two party system: if A sucks does B suck less?
    The answer is: both suck, neither should be in power at all, burn it all to the ground.

  6. Devocate says

    The trouble is that if the superdelegates use their power to OBVIOUSLY subvert the will of the people, they could well doom their candidate. I know a lot of Sander’s voters who might vote for Clinton if she wins ‘fair and square’ but who probably won’t vote at all if not. This would also cost the democratic party senate and congressional seats.

  7. says

    Clinton if she wins ‘fair and square’

    An electoral system that is as permeated with manipulation, gerrymandering, and money as the US’ … you are not allowed to even think of using the term “fair and square.”

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    …193 members of the House of Representatives…

    According to the House Clerk, the Democrats currently have 188 Democrats in that august and awesome body.

    Did Hillary Clinton & Debbie Wasserman Schultz shoehorn in five friends as “honorary” Representatives?

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