The Atlantic

Beto O’Rourke and the New Democratic Purity Test

It used to be normal for candidates to accept corporate money. Now it’s seen as shameful.
Source: Carlos Barria / Reuters

Earlier this month, a revealing spat broke out on Twitter. David Sirota, a left-leaning journalist who once worked for Bernie Sanders, announced that he had uncovered something while mining campaign-finance data: “Beto O’Rourke is the #2 recipient of oil/gas industry campaign cash in the entire Congress.” Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and a former domestic-policy adviser to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, pushed back. “Oh look,” she tweeted, “A supporter of Bernie Sanders attacking a Democrat. This is seriously dangerous.”

The dispute escalated three days later when The Washington Post’s Elizabeth Bruenig wrote a column declaring that she “can’t get excited about Beto O’Rourke” as a presidential candidate, because, among other things, he lacks a “well-attested antipathy toward Wall Street, oil and gas.” To which Tanden replied, “Bruenig’s piece in the Post on Beto is just the latest attack by a supporter of Senator Sanders.” Then, on December 10, the journal Sludge, which investigates money in politics, defended Sirota’s charge and noted that the Center for American Progress itself “has in the past accepted donations from multiple fossil fuel companies.”

On one level, the fight over O’Rourke is a fight of Obama’s former campaign manager Jim Messina) to the 44th president’s. In a recent essay titled “,” the former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer declared that “the whole conversation around Beto has been eerily familiar to me, because these are the exact arguments people made to me when I told them I was considering working for Barack Obama 10 years ago.”

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