Three notes on Sean McElwee's campaign finance scandal
One for Data for Progress, and one for the journalists who are covering this.
1. If Data for Progress has reason to believe that Sean McElwee broke the law, they need to file a complaint with the FEC. Today, NYMag reports that internally at Data for Progress, Sean has been “accused of pressuring one of his employees to participate in a straw-donor scheme” and that this was the final straw that got him fired from the organization. If this is true and they want to keep their hands clean, they really do need to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission immediately. Just as a matter of PR this is the best thing they could possibly do to distance themselves from Sean, but the principle here is more important: if DFP is a progressive organization they need to walk the walk when it comes to campaign finance.
2) Wait - can Tides fire people from Data for Progress? A statement from the same article: “Following reports of potential misconduct that violated Data for Progress’s mission and values, the board of Data for Progress and fiscal sponsor Tides Advocacy immediately terminated Sean McElwee’s employment”. It’s been public knowledge for quite some time that Data for Progress has been taking money from Tides, and this obviously gives them leverage over what the think-tank does (whether anyone wants to admit it or not). But Tides co-signing this termination in a public statement makes it sound like their control over DFP is much more formal and direct than anyone’s reported in the past.
3) Reporters, please give the “downfall of an icon” framing a rest. Sean McElwee has been a prominent villain among much of the left for a very long time now. He even alludes to this himself in interviews on a regular basis:
McElwee…began listing all the leftists he has now alienated, and who, he says, write hit pieces about him in their small journals or talk smack about him on their podcasts.
“In their defense, I am kind of a sell-out,” he said.
By “small journals” Sean means publications like Jacobin, which has repeatedly run aggressive criticism of him from writers like DSA’s Charlie Baker and Princeton historian Matt Karp. By “podcasts” he means everything from Chapo Trap House to Bad Faith (where I talked about him a while back). You can find criticism of Sean everywhere on the left — from think tanks like People’s Policy Project to subtle disses by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Sean had a small network of loyalists and a larger audience of sympathizers among mainstream Democrats, but among rank-and-file activists and organizers, in left media and academia, from the lowliest dirtbag left Twitter posters to staffers in the House and Senate, Sean has long been regarded as an ambitious opportunist. This is not a story of the left being hoodwinked and watching their hero crash and burn; this is a story of journalists believing his hype for years and the left saying “we told you so.”
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