Less than three years after it endured withering criticism for its lack of diversity, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made great strides to increase the racial and identity diversity of its staff and vendors, according to a new memorandum assembled by the group, which is House Democrats’ campaign arm.
Using a system of self-identification, the DCCC found that 43% of its staff members are people of color, 53% are women, 25% are members of the LGBTQ community, 1% identify as a gender other than man or woman, and 13% are people with a disability.
Among what the DCCC considers senior staff, 47% of people identify as people of color, and 26% identify as members of the LGBTQ community.
In addition, the DCCC’s spending on firms owned or run by people of color has increased dramatically. The DCCC says it spent $695,000 on contracts with vendors owned by people of color during the 2014 election cycle, the first election cycle when it tracked such data.
Now, with the benefit of more detailed data, the DCCC says it spent $30.7 million on firms owned or led by people of color in the 2020 cycle.
“The DCCC believes in living and practicing the values of the Democratic Party,” said Tasha Cole, the DCCC’s deputy executive director for diversity. “The work that we’re doing is around putting practices and protocols and accountability in place so we can measure our progress and more importantly measure our outcomes and how those outcomes lead us to keeping the majority.”
The group does not have information on how many of its vendors were led by people of color during the 2014 election cycle, so there is no opportunity for an exact comparison of the increases it has achieved in the intervening years. But party officials believe that even using the broader category of firms “led” by people of color, vendor diversity was very low in 2014.
As for the current elections cycle, the DCCC’s spending is just beginning to get underway, so data is not yet available on the makeup of those firms.
The lack of more detailed diversity in previous election cycles is part of a problem the DCCC has spent years trying to solve. The DCCC hired Cole, a former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation executive, in November 2019 as part of an effort to diversify its ranks.
At the time, the DCCC and its then-chair, Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), faced criticism from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for what they felt was a lack of racial diversity on DCCC’s staff, particularly at the senior level.
Latino and Black lawmakers argued that the DCCC’s lack of investment in diverse hiring showed a lack of respect for the lawmakers and voters who keep the campaign group’s lights on, but also a failure to understand that the perspectives of Black and Latino staff are essential to effectively reach Latino and Black voters.
Unlike the data it has on its vendors dating to 2014, the DCCC does not have data on the diversity of its staff during previous election cycles, so it is difficult to evaluate exactly how much the organization’s personnel has changed in recent years.
But Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ political action committee, applauded the DCCC’s improvements, crediting both Bustos for responding to feedback and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), who is the current DCCC chair. (Maloney is the DCCC’s first chair from the LGBTQ community.)
“It’s doing better ― that’s for sure,” said Meeks, singling out Cole for praise. “Tasha is indeed a change agent in my estimation.”
To diversify, the DCCC had to build new vehicles for recruitment and for contracting with the vendors that conduct polling, make direct-mail items, and produce television advertisements.
To that end, Cole and her team revamped the DCCC’s “request for proposal” process such that it subjects all DCCC contracts for over $100,000 to new layers of scrutiny from the DCCC’s diversity, equity, and inclusion specialists. The DCCC’s DEI staff ensures that firms with diverse ownership have adequate opportunities to bid on contracts, and has made the diverse hiring practices of those firms a factor in how the DCCC assesses whether to work with them.
This cycle, the DCCC debuted the “DCCC Firm Directory” ― the first comprehensive list of outside vendors that meet DCCC standards for diverse hiring, use of organized labor, and other criteria.
Cole told HuffPost that a key part of increasing the diversity of DCCC vendors and staff has been a willingness to engage people and firms who have not previously worked in politics. One example of a new vendor with whom the DCCC has formed a relationship under Cole’s supervision is Liquid Soul, a Black-owned marketing firm in Atlanta that had previously only done work for corporate clients.
Firms like Liquid Soul are “talking to consumers who are also voters,” Cole said. “And so I think the talent and experience that they bring can guide how we want to mobilize and talk to voters and meet our voters.”