PHILADELPHIA — Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee staffers began the gradual process of merging operations and consolidating key campaign functions weeks before the primary ended, emails in last week's WikiLeaks release show.
Starting in May, the staffs at the DNC and Hillary For America integrated their distribution of press and television clips and what's known as "media monitoring," a standard but robust and time-consuming research operation aimed at tracking a candidate’s friends and foes around the clock on cable, local, and national news.
Once a candidate has become the presumptive nominee, it’s typical for their campaign and the party to join forces, building out a coordinated effort for the general election and consolidating day-to-day functions between the two offices.
But messages show this process began while Bernie Sanders remained a viable candidate, sooner than previously reported or publicly disclosed.
DNC research director Lauren Dillon informed a group of colleagues about the shift in an email dated May 20, more than two weeks before Clinton became the presumptive nominee and three weeks before the last contest of the Democratic Party.
“The research teams at DNC and HFA are going to join forces on media monitoring starting Monday morning,” Dillon’s email reads, noting that the party’s communications and research teams would be “relieved of a chunk of” work.
“Basically this means you will be getting national TV clips in real time and we won't have to send around the articles about Trump ourselves,” Dillon adds.
Between subscription services and staffing, maintaining a media monitoring operation on a presidential campaign can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Messages from earlier that month show the DNC communications team also asked to be added to Clinton’s “clips” list, the internal campaign listserv where aides share relevant articles, tweets, and videos on a daily real-time basis.
“I’ll get you added to the clips list,” Clinton rapid response director Zac Petkanas wrote on May 9 in response to DNC communications director Luis Miranda.
The cache of 20,000 DNC emails, published by WikiLeaks on the eve of this week’s convention here in Philadelphia, have elicited concerns among major party figures and outrage among progressives over an anti-Sanders sentiment in the DNC.
In quick order, the DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned over the leaks, and party officials have apologized, particularly for an email in which one official questions Sanders’ religious beliefs and suggests that those beliefs could be used against him.
DNC allies insisted this week that party staff offered Clinton and Sanders the same services and support throughout the hard-fought Democratic primary, and that the process of integration was done in a gradual and “respectful way,” as one Democrat put it, only after Clinton had established a nearly insurmountable delegate lead.
The DNC research team, for instance, moved to the campaign’s Brooklyn headquarters, but not until June 8, the day after Clinton clinched the nomination.
The following week, when her campaign manager Robby Mook visited the DNC, he told staffers they would finally become “one big family,” but stressed the importance of doing so in a way respectful to Sanders, according to a person in the meeting.
Little-noticed emails also show that DNC staffers did not reserve their criticism for Sanders: Party officials complained that the Clinton team had no “backbone,” was “a mess,” and operated with the attitude that they could “win without anyone else.”
Still, the early media monitoring consolidation speaks to questions on the left and right about structural advantages Clinton may have had over Sanders.
“It was a fixed race,” Donald Trump told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday, seizing on the email leak news. “It was totally rigged.”
Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate hoping to win over Sanders voters, noted that after Wasserman Schultz resigned on Sunday, she was given the title of honorary chair of the Clinton campaign's 50-state program.
“Let's remove Debbie after the convention so she can go take a job doing what she's been doing already: working for the Clinton campaign. Their solution just confirms how incredibly corrupt the whole process is to start with,” Stein said. “It's endemic in the organization. It's endemic in the party.”
The Clinton campaign did not immediately comment when reached on Wednesday.
This spring, Sanders allies disapproved of the way the Clinton campaign used a joint fundraising agreement with the party that allowed Hillary for America to seek large amounts of money, much of which went to the DNC. (Both campaigns had joint fundraising agreements, a standard feature of presidential campaigns.)
Clinton had a steady working relationship with the DNC throughout the primary.
Jen O'Malley Dillon, a former deputy campaign manager to Obama in 2012 who is now at Precision Strategies, a firm co-founded by senior Clinton aide Teddy Goff, has informally advised the Clinton campaign and also served as an adviser to the DNC in a role described by some Democrats this spring as a frequent go-between.
Sanders, a frequent Wasserman-Schultz critic, never enjoyed the same dynamic.
This spring, the DNC held daily communications conference calls with both campaigns, designed to assist each candidate in equal measure. But as one adviser to the Sanders campaign described it, theirs was always just perfunctory.
“Eventually,” the adviser recalled, “we just put our intern on the call.”