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Bernie Sanders' New Group 'Our Revolution' Launches Amid Internal Turmoil

The group has not yet figured out how to handle donations.

ByABC News
August 24, 2016, 4:57 PM

— -- Bernie Sanders helped launch a much-anticipated organization Wednesday night dedicated to continuing the legacy of his presidential campaign.

“Tonight, the question on the minds of a whole lot of people is, 'OK, we ran a great campaign, we woke up the American people, but where do we go from here?'" the Vermont senator said during a livestream.

During his hour-long speech, Sanders recounted the major accomplishments of his progressive campaign, but also, as if transitioning power, introduced his supporters to the new advocacy organization called "Our Revolution." He also introduced the former campaign staff who will lead it.

“Over time, Our Revolution will involve hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "These are people who will be fighting at the grassroots level for changes in their local school board, in their city councils, in their state legislatures and their representation in Washington. As I have said many times -- election days come and go, but the struggle for justice continues.”

But even before it gets off the ground, the organization has already been plagued by major internal turmoil, a number of last-minute resignations and lingering questions about the size and scope of the donations the group will solicit.

The group will function as a 501(c)(4), according to its website. Last week, ABC News reported that the unique tax status could allow it to accept unlimited contributions without having to reveal its donors. However, because of the organization’s close ties to Sanders, a sitting senator, the group could be limited by campaign finance regulations.

On Wednesday morning, just hours before the kickoff event, Sanders’ former campaign manager and newly-appointed head of the organization, Jeff Weaver, told ABC News the group still had not ironed out how it would handle donations. He said there had not been further conversations internally about whether, for example, the group would proactively limit the size of donations or disclose its donors.

"We are going to do everything here by the book and make sure we fully comply with every applicable law and regulation," Weaver said during a phone interview.

Earlier this month, the newly-formed organization sent out an email with the senator’s name "Bernie" branded at the top and bottom, directing followers to donate directly to a congressional candidate in Florida, Tim Canova, who is challenging former Democratic Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Despite this, Sanders said during his remarks that he will not be involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization.

“As a United States Senator I will not be directing or controlling Our Revolution, but I have the utmost confidence that this leadership team and the board being assembled shares the progressive values we all hold and I expect very big things from them and from all of you who join with them,” Sanders said.

This week, however, the organization lost several key members of Sanders’ former campaign staff who had previously agreed to stay on and work for Our Revolution, including all of the organizing outreach team and much of the digital team as well.

As first reported in Buzzfeed, several of these younger, tech-savvy folks walked out after the Senator changed his mind and decided Weaver would run the organization. Sanders’ former senior advisor, Shannon Jackson had been made the Executive Director and will remain in that role.

According to sources, Sanders had personally assured staff that Weaver would not be involved in a major way, but last Monday on a conference call, it was clear Weaver had been put in charge and would serve as the organization’s president. People with long-standing personal grievances with Weaver’s management as well as philosophical disagreements about how the group should operate asked Sanders to reconsider or limit Weaver’s role. When that did not happen, they resigned.

For months –- and perhaps for the entirety of the Senator’s campaign -– there were disagreements about the role and responsibility of online organizing. Younger members of the staff, engaged in this work, often felt underappreciated and that tension seemed to come to a head this summer, as Sanders and his team struggled to figure out their next steps.

As a result of the last minute walkouts from some of the campaign’s core aides, the new organization is reportedly very understaffed, and, arguably, without the folks who created some of the special grassroots sauce that propelled Sanders’ insurgent campaign.

Our Revolution hired a for-profit, Washington, D.C.-based digital marketing team in part to make up for the loss of staff.

"We have all the infrastructure in place," Weaver said. "We are just going to hire a few more people to reconstitute the team."

Sanders spoke highly of the remaining team who now face the tough challenge of keeping his supporters engaged and inspired. “Jeff has worked with me for most of the last 30 years,” Sanders said during the speech Wednesday. “Shannon Jackson did a great job as my assistant and point person throughout this campaign, and I am sure he is going to do a great job in his new position.”

The fledging group has promised to endorse and support progressive candidates around the country as well as educate followers about environmental, economic and social justice issues. Sanders took the opportunity Wednesday to acknowledge five specific candidates he and the group were endorsing, including a Native American man running for school board in Nebraska and former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold who is again fighting for a senate seat in Wisconsin. Sanders said the group was in the process of identifying dozens of other candidates to back as well.

He spoke in favor of a number of state voter access and health care ballot initiatives in Alaska, Colorado and California too and encouraged his supporters to organize around local causes such as these.

Jackson said the group would be organizing phone banking and social media campaigns around state and federal measures, most specifically against the trans-pacific partnership trade deal. He said the group needed help pinpointing worthwhile candidates to support.

"Obviously, the imperative is the November election right now and then beyond that the organization will continue to help create a progressive bench and help keep people organized around the country," Weaver told ABC News. Weaver clarified in some circumstances the group would provide money to local progressive grassroots as well as "technical assistance."

The organization’s board also remains in flux, but Sanders’ wife, Jane Sanders, will be stepping down from her post as chair, sources added.

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