Did the DNC Help Hillary Clinton Beat Bernie Sanders? Fraud Lawsuit Takes Aim at Leadership

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the general election campaign trail. Did the DNC act fraudulently during the 2016 Democratic primaries to bury the Bernie Sanders campaign? Reuters

What is the role of the Democratic National Committee in presidential elections? Is it to sway the vote toward a safe, solid and respected insider who will supposedly drive the party straight into the White House, or is it to provide voters the ultimate decision as to which campaign will take the ballot, without any bias or partiality?

That is the question at the heart of a class-action lawsuit charging the Democratic National Committee with fraud, deceptive conduct and negligent misrepresentation over the course of the 2016 primaries, in which Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was defeated by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic ticket. Jared Beck, a Harvard law expert and one of the attorneys backing the suit, has demanded the DNC repay its donors and Sanders supporters for contributions made throughout the election, citing a misappropriation of public funds.

Related: Was the 2016 Election Rigged Against Bernie Sanders?

Article 5, Section 4 of the DNC's charter states the organization will operate with total neutrality throughout the course of the Democratic primaries. Court documents reveal the organization's lawyers made a lengthy case suggesting impartiality is nothing more than a political promise, however—even though the defense claimed it did not support any specific campaign over another.

Did the DNC rig the election for Hillary Clinton? A class action lawsuit demands retribution for Bernie Sanders' supporters who donated to his campaign and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election. Reuters

If the lawsuit gets past a pending motion to dismiss the case, currently under consideration with no specific time frame by a federal judge in southern Florida (with a hard-liner reputation on squashing corruption), Sanders supporters have a chance of fundamentally shaping how the DNC and the Democratic Party conduct their business.

But progressives should instead focus their efforts on working within the DNC right now to stop "the real opponent" currently in Washington, rather than hoping a class-action lawsuit shifts the way the institution operates in the upcoming midterm elections and general election in 2020, according to Scott Bolden, a Democratic strategist and former chair of the D.C. Democratic Party.

That opponent—for liberals, many independents and conservative Democrats alike—being the Donald Trump administration.

Protesters gathered to rally against President Donald Trump's firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, outside the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Reuters

"The DNC is not as dangerous as Donald Trump is," Bolden tells Newsweek. "Sanders supporters are forceful, they're vocal, but they haven't learned how to win yet. The importance of the DNC fraud lawsuit is that it shows they're trying to change the rules and regulations and the leadership of the DNC so they can win in upcoming elections."

Attorneys for the DNC and its former chairperson, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, attempted to dismiss the lawsuit on multiple occasions, originally claiming it wasn't properly served by Beck and his team, before stating there are no enforceable obligations for the organization to practice neutrality during the primaries.

That argument could be deadly to their chances of garnering support from Democrats, liberals and independents who grew inspired by Sanders' message of change in the Democratic Party last year.

"What if Apple went into a court of law and said, 'We actually don't believe we have any enforceable obligations to our shareholders,'" Beck said in an interview last week. "What do you think would happen to the Apple stock price?"

Meanwhile, strategists like Bolden say the party's best shot at winning back control of the House and Senate in 2018 would be to adapt its approach in engaging with Sanders supporters and working families who feel unrepresented by either party at the moment.

"I think the Democrats are still trying to win support from Sanders supporters, and whether they have been successful to date is still an open question," Bolden says. "You still have this lawsuit. You still have progressive factions who believe they and Sanders were wronged by the DNC. But at the end of the day, you can't prove he didn't get enough votes to beat Hillary because of the committee's actions.... What you can do is move forward together, which is something [DNC Chair] Tom Perez and Sanders will have to continue to fight for."