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Donkeys or asses? Democrats bray but won't pay

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The DNC's rebuttal to these allegations is revealing, coming as Democrats try to rebuild after 2016 with a semblance of unity. (AP Photo/Matt York

Attorneys for the Democratic National Committee defended their party from accusations of fraud late last month in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom.

Bernie Sanders supporters are suing on behalf of a potentially immense class of donors and party members, and claim that the DNC charter requires the chairman to "exercise impartiality and evenhandedness as between the presidential candidates and campaigns."

The plaintiffs accuse former Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of failing in this by rigging the contest for Hillary Clinton. In sabotaging Sanders in the primaries, they say, the DNC and its leader defrauded Sanders' donors and violated a fiduciary duty to them and to all registered members of the Democratic Party.

The DNC's rebuttal to these allegations is revealing, coming as Democrats try to rebuild after 2016 with a semblance of unity. Both the new DNC chairman, Tom Perez, and the "unity reform commission" working on changes to the presidential primary process, are trying to restore confidence to the party's left wing that it will be treated evenhandedly in future.

But nobody shared the memo on this with the DNC's lawyers. According to a court transcription, DNC attorney Bruce Spiva responded to the allegations in this lawsuit by arguing that party rules are voluntary guidelines, not legally binding, and that party officials could just as easily choose their nominee in a smoke-filled room.

"We could have voluntarily decided that, 'Look, we're gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way,'" Spiva argued. "And that would have also been their right. And it would drag the court well into party politics, internal party politics to answer those questions."

The court may find this argument sound as a matter of law, and dismiss the case. But which is the real position of the Democratic Party? Should we buy their public rhetoric that they are establishing a fair process to include everyone and prevent abuses? Or should we believe what they say under penalty of perjury, that their rules are non-binding and party officials are always free to go back to business as usual?

Democratic behavior is also clashing with Democratic rhetoric in a separate Pennsylvania federal court case. The DNC and state Democratic parties are fighting a lawsuit over an issue that would seem to be near and dear to Chairman Perez's heart. As Labor Secretary, he tried to expand federal overtime rules to cover more workers. As party chairman, he now points to Republicans' resistance to this as evidence that they "don't give a shit about people."

But when Democratic campaign workers go to court to claim overtime pay from the DNC and the various state parties, the DNC line is completely different.

That class action lawsuit asserts that potentially hundreds of Democratic campaign workers in seven states routinely worked 80-hour, seven-day weeks for pay ranging from $2,500 to $3,000 per month during the 2016 election. The DNC, it alleges, runs the show and directs state parties to classify these workers improperly as being exempt from federal overtime protections.

The workers are suing for overtime pay, and party lawyers are fighting them with every tool available. They say the court lacks jurisdiction; that the various Democratic Party entities don't share "a common business purpose" and therefore should not be considered joint employers; and even (as the Democratic Party of Virginia argues) that as a nonprofit political organization they fall outside the scope of federal wage and overtime rules.

Again, even if such arguments stand up in court, it's quite something to see Democrats use them to wriggle out of paying staff the way the party insists other employers should pay theirs. From one side of its mouth the party talks like a predatory, pin-striped employer, and from the other, it denounces businesses and Republicans if they object to their hypocritical version of "economic justice."

Perez and his party don't, in truth, give a damn about the principles they proclaim, and they refuse to abide by the policies they wish to impose on others.