Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Primary Challenger Claims She Illegally Used DNC Resources Against Him
In an interview with Mimi Rosenberg and Ken Nash of WBAI’s “Building Bridges” radio program, Tim Canova, a law professor, a former Truthdigger of the Week and the Bernie Sanders-endorsed primary challenger of Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, explains why he filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Wasserman Schultz over information found in DNC emails made public by WikiLeaks and says Depression-era types of public investment would bring general prosperity to Americans.
“We’ve had this complaint going on for many months,” Canova said. “The campaign had been growing pretty rapidly. In the first four months we raised about a million dollars. Very unprecedented here. And the way we’re raising money is very much the way that the Bernie Sanders campaign did, in small contributions from many thousands of ordinary folks.
“As the campaign started growing we clearly got the attention of Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic Party establishment. We knew that from a number of things that she was doing on the ground that she was trying to impede us. Whenever I would go to a local union hall, for instance, or a local Democratic Party club to speak, quite often they would receive a call from the Wasserman Schultz camp trying to pressure them to not let me even speak. … [T]he state party had cut off our access to the [inaudible] voter database much like the DNC had done to Bernie Sanders.
“When the WikiLeaks emails were disclosed — WikiLeaks has a website devoted to the DNC emails — my staff went on it and plugged in my name to see if it would pop up, and it came up dozens and dozens of times. As we looked at the emails, there was a pattern that Wasserman Schultz was using party resources repeatedly to monitor our campaign and to strategize on how to crush it. That seemed to be a violation of federal law. We got some elections lawyers to take a look. They filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission for me. It’ll take time for that to play out. It’ll be after the election.”
About fixing the American economy and restoring dignified standards of living, Canova said: “We need public sector jobs modeled in the New Deal, I believe. Things like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.
“This generation’s overdue for a New Deal and it should be a green New Deal, and it should offer hope and opportunity for young folks in particular who are facing a very terrible job market. You take a look at what happened to this economy in 2008 when it fell of the cliff and it was really the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. We were shedding about 700,000 [or] 800,000 jobs a month for a lot of straight months, and that jobs depression, we’ve really never recovered from that. A lot of folks have dropped out of the labor market. The labor participation rate has plummeted to the point where the official unemployment rate is really a fiction. I see this as a teacher at the university level. A lot of folks are graduating deeply in debt, paying very high interest rates on their student loans, and they’re graduating into a lousy job market, an unforgiving job market. …
“I think what’s needed to finance a robust public sector approach would be a reorientation of the Federal Reserve from [Wall Street to Main Street] support like we had with the Federal Reserve in the 1930s and ’40s, and also a federal infrastructure bank like we had [in] the Reconstruction Finance Corp. from the ’30s well into the ’50s. And we’re one of the only advanced countries in the world that doesn’t have an infrastructure bank at the federal level.
“And it’s been promised. It was promised in 1992 by candidate Bill Clinton, in 2008 by candidate Barack Obama. It’s not being proposed by candidate Hillary Clinton. So these are the things that I would be fighting for in Congress.”
Read a full, rushed transcript of Canova’s remarks below.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Mimi Rosenberg: When WikiLeaks published a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee emails in July, it forced Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to resign her post as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Now the leaks have also triggered a formal Federal Election Commission complaint, which could lead to sanctions against the embattled Florida congresswoman. Tim Canova, the law professor mounting a grass-roots campaign to oust Wasserman Schultz from her seat in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, announced he had filed the complaint. He claims the email dump proves Wasserman Schultz illegally used DNC staffers to help with her re-election campaign.
Ken Nash: Welcome Tim Canova, professor of law and public finance and Occupy Wall Street activist, who has written extensively on the need for full employment and redirecting Federal Reserve Bank assistance from Wall Street to Main Street. Welcome to the show.
Tim Canova: Thank you, Ken and Mimi. I appreciate it.
Rosenberg: Let’s begin by capping the issue of your complaint, relevant to your campaign and relevant to the email dump, and what it proves, and why you felt that it is strategic to file a complaint against Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Canova: We’ve had this complaint going on for many months. I jumped in in early January. The campaign had been growing pretty rapidly; in the first four months we raised about a million dollars. Very unprecedented here. And the way we’re raising money is very much the way that the Bernie Sanders campaign did, in small contributions from many thousands of ordinary folks. And as the campaign started growing, we clearly got the attention of Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic Party establishment. We knew that from a number of things that she was doing on the ground that she was trying to impede us. Whenever I would go to a local union hall, for instance, or a local Democratic Party club to speak, quite often they would receive a call from the Wasserman Schultz camp trying to pressure them to not let me even speak. The way she practices politics at the national level, not surprisingly, we see it play out here at the local level. They had even, the state party had cut off our access to the [inaudible] voter database, much like the DNC had done to Bernie Sanders. When the WikiLeaks emails were disclosed—Wikileaks has a website devoted to the DNC emails—my staff went on it and plugged in my name to see if it would pop up, and it came up dozens and dozens of times. As we looked at the emails, there was a pattern that Wasserman Schultz was using party resources repeatedly to monitor our campaign and to strategize on how to crush it. That seemed to be a violation of federal law. We got some elections lawyers to take a look. They filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission for me. It’ll take time for that to play out. It’ll be after the election, our primary date is Aug. 30; today was the first day for early voting in Miami-Dade County. My district spans two counties—Miami-Dade and Broward County. Early voting starts in Broward on Saturday; vote-by-mail has already been out for the past couple of weeks. So there are lots of issues that are on the table. And it’s interesting—take a look at how badly she handled the DNC and one of the main criticism is the way the DNC scheduled very few debates between the presidential candidates and hid those debates at inopportune times so that there would be small audiences, and much the same has played out here. I challenged Wasserman Schultz to a series of debates four months ago, and she completely dodged the question of whether she would have a single debate with me. As the heat rose on her, it became apparent that she couldn’t run away forever, and our campaign just kept on growing—we raised over $3 million now and we had an endorsement from Bernie Sanders in May—she finally agreed to a single debate. And when we got the details we saw that it was a half-an-hour show on a Sunday morning, and after commercial interruptions and introductions it would probably be all of a 15-minute debate. And we objected to it. We said 15 minutes is really a slap in the face to constituents. We shamed them into agreeing to an hour-long debate. At that debate, a lot focused on her performance at the DNC, but we never really managed to get to some of the major issues that voters here are concerned about, and she just tried to run up the clock during the debate. The moderator let her do that. I did mention at the end of the debate that we had received invitations from America [inaudible], which is the leading Hispanic TV station in south Florida, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, both have put out invitations for debates. And Wasserman Schultz just said she was too busy campaigning. So she just shows who she is. She’s the enemy of transparency. She had a failed leadership at the DNC. She resigned in disgrace and she doesn’t want to talk about the issues. But the issues are resonating here. We’ve raised a lot of money in small contributions and we’ve been putting together a great campaign with a wonderful field operation. It might be the largest field operation of any congressional campaign in the country right now.Nash: One of the issues that did come up in the debate was Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s reluctance to support any improvements to Social Security. I wanted to ask you what that’s all about. I know she has made some changes under pressure. But does she support enhanced Social Security improvement so that people would receive more benefit?
Canova: We’ve been putting out ads saying that she’s been dragging her feet on supporting any increase on Social Security benefits or coverage. That certainly had been the case for a very long time. On the eve of the debate she sends out a press release denouncing the charges and calling me a liar, and she listed six bills and one House resolution that she had co-sponsored. All of those co-sponsorships—or just about every one of those co-sponsorships—had occurred in the past several weeks, even though these were bills that had been introduced more than a year ago. So it’s a pattern. She had been pushing for a Republican bill to prevent the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from regulating payday loans. We had been attacking her for that from the very beginning of my campaign and raising the heat on her and it got awfully uncomfortable for her and she finally backed away, just a little bit, not completely. She ended up supporting some rather minor regulations that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau came out with, but those regulations don’t even cap interest rates. Here in south Florida—here all over the state of Florida—those payday lenders are charging over 300 percent interest rates on a lot of these loans, trapping low-income, vulnerable people in a cycle of debt. So, you know, if she didn’t have a primary challenger, I don’t think she would be taking any of these steps to enhance Social Security or to even have minor regulations for payday lenders. And nobody would even notice. And that’s the way it’s been for her throughout her congressional career. It’s a solidly blue district and, I should say, Broward County is also the bluest county, I believe, in the state of Florida, and yet she’s never had a primary challenger, which means the general election is a cakewalk for her. She’s been able to change her politics considerably in a corporate direction over the course of her congressional career, taking millions of dollars from Wall Street corporations and corporate banks, and she’s voted according to their interests. And that’s not just my opinion. That’s PolitiFact, and the Center for Responsive Politics has all the statistics. And she now has trouble running away from her record. It’s a sad sight. And finally, on Social Security, you’ve got the Supplemental Security Income program, which covers the poorest senior citizens and disabled people, folks who are living on an income of, I think, less than $11,700 a year, and it hasn’t been updated since the 1970s. It’s administered by Social Security, and here in south Florida, in Miami-Dade and Broward County, it’s about 125,000 senior citizens and disabled folks are badly in need of a benefits raise. These are folks who are having trouble making ends meet and in some cases cutting their prescription drugs in half just to make them last longer, having to make tough decisions between food and housing and medicine. Last year, Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation—the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act—a House companion bill was introduced and Wasserman Schultz still has not co-sponsored the House bill. So she does drag her feet on these kinds of issues that would help elderly and low-income folks. She’s done little for the communities in this district that are struggling for jobs and struggling under the burden of housing and education costs, but if you’ve got a $5,000 check from the [inaudible] political action committee, then you get her attention right away.
Rosenberg: Tim Canova, let me ask you this. The positions of Debbie Wasserman Schultz relative to—and if you can explain what this is, because not everybody knows—payday lenders, issues of private prisons to unfair trade policies, help articulate those. And, of course, your own positions.
Canova: Sure, and I’ll start with the unfair trade policies, because that’s what really got me interested in her record last summer. I was active with the Citizens Trade Campaign, lobbying the entire Florida congressional delegation against TPP. Her office was least responsive of the entire delegation. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a large trade deal that would outsource millions of American jobs to Pacific Rim countries. It would increase prescription drug prices because it was negotiated by very large companies, including pharmaceutical companies, with even members of Congress left in the dark. Elizabeth Warren had said about the TPP that it was a rigged process, and when you have a rigged process you get a rigged outcome. It would also transfer the cost of complying with environmental and health and safety regulations and food and labor laws from investors to the taxpayer, and that’s through the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions of the TPP, which are much like NAFTA’s. Countries that are included in this trade deal include [inaudible] and Malaysia. These are countries that really lead the world in human trafficking and that have draconian laws in how they deal with homosexuality and women’s rights. It’s just a terrible trade deal. And I’ve been steadfast against the TPP, and Wasserman Schultz was the only Florida Democrat in the House delegation to vote to fast-track the agreement.
Payday lending, these are lenders that prey on the most vulnerable people in the population, folks that can’t afford to get bank accounts and can’t get credit through normal sources, and they take advantage of it. Payday loans will quite often charge hundreds of percent interest rates. I spent most of my career as a law professor writing and in activism seeking interest rate caps at the state level, and as I mention, here in Florida you’ve got 300 percent interest rates, and Wasserman Schultz was hailing the Florida payday lending statute as a model for the nation. Well, that Florida law was adopted in 2001. Wasserman Schultz was very involved in that; she was a state legislator at the time, and it’s not a model for the nation. And the Florida consumer alliance, the NAACP, all kinds of consumer groups and civil rights groups have denounced it, but she said this was a way for the poor to get access to credit, which is just ridiculous. This is a way for income to be transferred from poor folks to payday lending companies, over time in the billions of dollars, and she says that if they didn’t have payday lenders, then they’d have to go to loan sharks and presumably pay even higher interest rates. Canova:My response to all of that was that there are progressive alternatives, such as postal banking. And I’ve advocated for postal banking for years. I know Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have as well, and we had postal banking in this country for decades. From 1911 to 1967, I believe, the postal service had bank accounts for low-income, working folks that allowed them to cash checks, for instance. Now, here in Florida, if folks cannot afford to get a bank account, they’ll go to a check-cashing store and they’ll have to pay 10 percent of the check over to the store. So, there are progressive alternatives. We see it in American history, we see it overseas. I think Japan, Italy and Spain, many countries have postal banking.
And you mentioned private prisons, I believe?
Rosenberg: Yes, I did.
Canova: So, Wasserman Schultz takes money from some of the largest private prison corporations in the country, and she has supported private prisons. Right here in this district, in Southwest Ranches, she wrote to the director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE, in favor of an ICE detention center—a privatized ICE detention center—it would have been owned by the Corrections Corporation of America. And it was stopped only from the activism of members of the Southwest Ranches community. It cost the community a lot of money to stop this. So she’s not even looking out for the interests of her own constituents. She’s tried to defend it as an economic development measure for Southwest Ranches. If this is her idea of economic development, seriously, this is time for a new representative in this district.
Nash: A lot of your work as a law professor has gone into questions of economic policy and full employment. If you could tell us whether you think either of the mainstream candidates for president has a good policy on that, especially with regard to both full employment and eliminating under-employment, and what your views are on what the role of the Federal Reserve should be.
Canova: I don’t see a lot of hope in either of the mainstream candidates in this regard. There’s lots of room for improvement, for instance, in the Democratic Party platform and in Hillary Clinton’s agenda. And if I’m elected, I would try and push that agenda in a full-employment direction. I had worked in New York years ago for the National Jobs for All Coalition, and I’ve been a board member there more recently, and it’s a group that is made up of academics and community activists and people in the [inaudible] community pushing for a full-employment agenda. You know, we need public sector jobs modeled in the New Deal, I believe, things like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. This generation’s overdue for a New Deal, and it should be a green New Deal, and it should offer hope and opportunity for young folks in particular, who are facing a very terrible job market. You take a look at what happened to this economy in 2008, when it fell of the cliff, and it was really the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. We were shedding about 700,000 to 800,000 jobs a month for a lot of straight months, and that jobs depression, we’ve really never recovered from that. A lot of folks have dropped out of the labor market. The labor participation rate has plummeted to the point where the official unemployment rate is really a fiction. I see this as a teacher at the university level. A lot of folks are graduating deeply in debt, paying very high interest rates on their student loans, and they’re graduating into a lousy job market, an unforgiving job market. I just read a piece in The New York Times about a month ago or so that, for this millennial generation, I think they said 18- to 34-year-olds, well into their 30s people were more likely to be living at home with their parents than starting families of their own and living on their own. Even Gen-Xers and baby boomers, like my generation, who got flattened by that downturn have not really recovered. A lot of people lost their life savings, their wealth, their homes, their careers got shattered. With a job market like this, it has not been easy to come back. You know, I think what’s needed to finance a robust public sector approach would be a reorientation of the Federal Reserve from Main Street to Wall Street [sic], support like we had with the Federal Reserve in the 1930s and ’40s, and also a federal infrastructure bank like we had [with] the Reconstruction Finance Corporation from the ’30s well into the ’50s, and we’re one of the only advanced countries in the world that doesn’t have an infrastructure bank at the federal level. And it’s been promised. It was promised in 1992 by candidate Bill Clinton, in 2008 by candidate Barack Obama. It’s not being proposed by candidate Hillary Clinton. So these are the things that I would be fighting for in Congress.
Rosenberg: Tim Canova, one of the things that has been of enormous distress to me is that whether either of the two candidates, certainly not Trump, certainly not, actually, Hillary Clinton, nor has Bernie Sanders, nor has Jill Stein from the Green Party, nor has the Libertarian candidate done virtually anything to deal with the issue of abject poverty in our society and to address the social safety net or the realization of the unraveling of the welfare system through the 1996 Welfare Reform and Reconstruction Act, which was passed under the Bill Clinton administration with not a mumbling word from Hillary. So tell me, what are we to do as a society about the issue of those who are now in abject poverty? How are they to survive?
Canova: My view is that we do need some kind of a guaranteed income. A minimum income. You know, this might sound radical, but some decades ago it wasn’t considered all that radical. Richard Nixon proposed it as a president. Milton Friedman of all people, a Chicago school [economist], proposed a minimum income. Certainly the society can afford it. The problem is the distribution of wealth and income that’s so top-heavy. And when you start talking about redistributing, of course they’ll call you a socialist. When you look at the distribution in another way, basically, what is helping to sustain the distribution the way it is, we see a lot of government support for those at the top. The Federal Reserve, for instance, in the first two years after the financial collapse, in 2009 and 2010, the Federal Reserve made over $29 trillion in near zero-interest loans to the largest Wall Street banks and hedge funds that created the crisis. We’re talking about loans at .25 percent. You see big sugar subsidies down here in Florida for the big sugar companies. You know, there’s so much corporate welfare, the conference board last year had a report called “Corporate Capitalism.” So if the federal government is that involved in propping up the wealthy and large corporations, philosophically there should not be any objection to the federal government using its taxing and spending powers to tax some of that wealth that it’s supporting and to use that to support folks so that we don’t have poverty in this country. And I think there needs to be a real revitalization of the public sector. I mentioned those first two years in 2009 and 2010, when the Fed was helping Wall Street; well, at the same time, state budgets were under stress. The Federal Reserve was not helping state budgets. The federal government wasn’t doing revenue sharing to help state budgets, and state budgets were falling apart because of the mass unemployment suddenly. And what was their response? It was to cut their public sectors dramatically. And I think something like 700,000 schoolteachers in this country lost their jobs during this period of time. Now, we should be hiring more schoolteachers and paying them better. In 1960, John Kennedy, in his debate against Richard Nixon, talked about the federal government subsidizing local schoolteachers’ salaries. Now, we say we value education. We say we value veterans. We say we value firefighters and police officers and public servants. But, you know, it’s just empty words if we’re not going to back it up to find the resources to really support them and to give them the kind of compensation that allows them to have a decent life.Nash: And Tim, we’ve only about two minutes left, if you could tell us about the importance of reforming our campaign contributions law.
Canova: Well, I think it’s everything. You know, the other issues that are of importance in this district are the rising sea levels and climate change, the water pollution coming out of Lake Okeechobee from the big sugar plantations and other big agribusinesses, the war on drugs. A lot of the issues you get all over the country, the need for jobs and justice. But you can’t make progress on any of these issues as long as you have a political system in which the politicians, the members of Congress, are dialing for dollars, 30 hours a week or more, going to these call centers and on the phone 30 hours-plus a week with wealthy folks and CEOs. You need to have publicly financed elections in this country. I think my campaign is the closest thing you have to a publicly financed congressional campaign right now. We’ve got about 185,000 times people have gone and clicked on their mouse pads and given [a contribution] of $17. And that is what has allowed us to abide by my pledge that I made on day one: that I would not take a single penny from any corporate interests. None of their PACs. And we don’t have any corporate super PACs. And my opponent does. My opponent has been swimming in this kind of money. So I think campaign finance reform is the key. We’re not going to have any progress in this country until we can clean up this political system.
Rosenberg: Well, I can’t let you go, even though time is short, without addressing the issue of immigration and the positioning of all the parties thus far, which has been tepid relative to any meaningful immigration reform by the potential Clinton administration, and we know what Trump’s position is. And similarly, we have not discussed the reality that Black Lives Matter and how that comes into your campaign.
Canova: Sure. With immigration, I have supported a comprehensive approach to immigration for a long time. Obviously, Trump is way on the other extreme when he talks about rounding up 12 million or more undocumented workers in this country and deporting them. That’s a travesty. My frustration with the Democrats in the past is that while they might talk about comprehensive immigration reform, it’s really got to be high on the list of priorities. When there’s a new president in the White House, I’m one who believes that if you don’t demand it in the first 100 days, it just doesn’t happen. And immigration has to be on that list of a dozen things that are demanded in the first 100 days. You know, for Black Lives Matters, it’s horrifying to see what’s happening around this country. There are a lot of solutions that have been proposed; I think policing needs to be reformed. Recruitment has to happen from the neighborhoods in which the police are policing. There has to be a different type of policing, with better training for conflict resolution and not just training on how to discharge your firearms. But policing is an impossible job in this society right now, and police are just not often paid well, and they’re in dangerous situations. All the studies show that as unemployment rises, so does depression, homicide, suicide—all sorts of social pathologies. Alcoholism, drug abuse. I think if you have a full-employed economy, it goes a long way toward helping address those problems, but even with a full-employed economy, you’ve got to address the issues of racism in this country. It gets back to the war on drugs, in my mind. The war on drugs has been a boondoggle for the private prison companies, and Florida leads the country in private prisons. They make money by filling the beds, and you take a look at how the drug laws are enforced and they’re enforced in very much a racially and ethnically discriminatory fashion. It’s mostly African-American[s] and Native American[s] and Hispanics who are paying the price for this drug war, for often doing the drugs that even whites are using at a higher rate than these other groups. So I think it’s time to declare the drug war over. It’s been a failure, and there’s a generation that needs more jobs and not prisons. And, you know, what I find distressing in the past eight years has been Democrats and Republicans alike taking the attitude, taking the view that there’s no such thing as public sector jobs, that it always has to be private sector, and that’s not what built this country. It’s not what made this country great. We have to, as progressives, return to our values and speak clearly.
You know, even President Eisenhower—this is what gets me—in his farewell address that’s so well known for other reasons, he talks about the need for a balance in public and private sector. If you want capitalism to flourish. If you want a free-market private sector to flourish, you’ve got to have good investments in public infrastructure. And that means roads and bridges, but it also means schools and hospitals, you name it.
Rosenberg: And we’re going to have to pretty much leave it there.
Canova: Let me just say, if you want to have the revenue for that robust public sector, you also need a good free-market sector, and that means Main Street capitalism and not Wall Street capitalism.
Rosenberg: Well, Tim Canova. We’ll be hearing more from you on many different levels. But we hope, we hope it will be in your role as congressperson, because knowing Congress, Debbie Wasserman Schultz absolutely served as a pro-militarist and corporatist tool of the high, high bidders. And among her recent disgraceful acts was her vote to enable racial discrimination in car-buying. We’ll talk about that in the weeks to come, but we want you to go to the website for Tim Canova, who is giving Debbie Wasserman Schultz a run for our money, really. Tim Canova is a professor of law and public finance and Occupy Wall Street activist who has written extensively on the need for full employment and redirecting Federal Reserve Bank assistance from Wall Street to our Main Street. Tim Canova, good luck, thank you, and I encourage our listeners to go to his website and continue to support people like Tim Canova to usher in change.
Canova:Thank you Mimi. And thank you Ken.
Nash: Thank you.
Canova: I really appreciate you having me on.
Nash: Good luck on the campaign.WAIT, BEFORE YOU GO…
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