Obama campaign veterans Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird have launched a training program for other political campaigners, asking them to pay $5,000 to learn their secrets before sending them out to work for five weeks, unpaid, for a candidate on an "important Democratic campaign."
The free gig requirement has Democratic operatives and activists concerned that putting paying customers into volunteer positions sets a dangerous precedent, reports BuzzFeed.
Stewart and Bird have named their company 270 Strategies, and will launch its first five-day "270/360 Training Intensive" program for September, with "graduates" finishing just in time to volunteer for campaigns heading into the November general election.
The pair also advises Ready for Hillary, the group already campaigning for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
"It's deeply concerning that leaders in our party are launching a 'pay to play' system for would-be campaign staff," said a Democratic campaign veteran. "As Democrats, we should be working together to eliminate workforce barriers — such as unpaid internships — rather starting programs that further discourage participation in electoral work."
According to the 270 Strategies website,
the program's intensive training course at the business' Chicago headquarters with Stewart, Bird, and other "architects of the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns."
After that, the students will head out for their five weeks of volunteer service, if they've paid for it. The actual cost for the five days with Bird and Stewart is $3,500, and if students want the extra five weeks of work experience, they'll pay an extra $1,500, for a total of $5,000 in costs that critics say is far more expensive than most campaign training courses.
The courses aren't only for people wanting to with campaigns in the United States, but for political organizers worldwide to learn and then return their own countries to run campaigns.
270 Strategies' top communications official Lynda Tran said there will be scholarships and discounts to allow participants to attend, and that the company is trying to think past the domestic political market.
But most existing campaign training programs, generally run by labor unions or campaign committees, charge little or no money to train volunteers. Instead, such groups pay workers a small stipend and volunteers obtain valuable connections to people in the political world.
And 270's emphasis on foreign students is different than the usual campaign training, which stick with domestic volunteers.
270 Strategies' participants will also work on television efforts and will learn to do the grunt work such as phone calls, knocking on doors, and working online.
Mikey Franklin, a former progressive field staffer who works against asking people to pay to volunteer, called 270 Strategies' program "shameful."
"How will we win for the 99% if we only recruit from the 1%?" he said.
But there are some Democratic trainers who say Bird and Stewart could provide valuable knowledge.
"I don't think think there's any question that a person who matriculated in their program would have made a worthwhile investment," said Robert Creamer, general consultant for the Chicago-based firm Democracy Partners and an expert in the modern Democratic campaign training system. "Can you get a similar experience in a situation where you didn't part with that much money? Probably."
Midwest Academy, another progressive training group, offers a five-day session for $850 for students who commute and $1,200 for people who need lodging. The academy also offers immersion training, but pays its trainees so it can expand its workforce.
"At Midwest Academy we think it's very important to pay people as we train them because it's important to get people who can't afford to get into the field," said executive director Judy Hertz. "We feel pretty strongly about paying people."
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