Pro-Choice PAC EMILY's List Testing Attack Ad on Bernie Sanders

The ad would've compared the socialist senator to President Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton at EMILY's List 30th Anniversary Gala on March 3, 2015 / Getty Images
February 14, 2020

A powerful Democratic PAC was testing attack ads against presidential frontrunner Bernie Sanders until details of the ad leaked late Thursday, highlighting tensions between the socialist Vermont senator and the Democratic establishment.

Sanders supporter Brendan James posted an image of what he claimed were the plans for "an anti-Bernie TV campaign next week" prepared by Women Vote, the independent expenditure operation of pro-choice PAC EMILY's List.

"The ad fools the viewer at the top into believing that we are talking about Trump," reads the document James posted. "The truth that is revealed is that we are talking about Sanders."

EMILY's List is a heavy hitter in Democratic politics, spending more than $76 million to elect abortion supporters in 2016 and 2018. The attack ad was tested despite Sanders's staunch support for abortion. The Vermont senator enjoys a 100 percent rating from NARAL. EMILY's List confirmed the authenticity of the image, but deflected blame to a contractor.

In a carefully worded statement, EMILY's List acknowledged the script attacking Sanders was genuine. "Earlier tonight a script with our name on it was posted online," the group wrote. "This script was drafted by a vendor, presumably leaked by vendor, has not been approved and has not been tested. That being said, every sophisticated political organization tests negative messages, whether you agree with them or not, because our job is to know what impact they will have on the race, wherever they come from."

EMILY's List vowed to back the eventual Democratic nominee, but the organization's stated mission to support pro-choice women would presumably tilt the scales toward senators Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) or Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) over Sanders in a heated primary.

Tensions between the Sanders camp and EMILY's List have remained high ever since the organization endorsed Hillary Clinton mere hours after she announced her 2016 presidential campaign. EMILY's List acted as Clinton's enforcer during the primary, accusing the Sanders campaign of sexism and saying that Sanders "believes the political revolution is built by calling women leaders 'unqualified' and calling abortion a 'social issue.'"

Sanders and EMILY's List continued to clash after the campaign, with the organization blasting the 2017 Women's Convention's decision to invite the Vermont senator to speak. "This announcement sends the wrong message to women everywhere. We have reached out to the organizers of the Women's Convention directly to share our surprise and disappointment, and to offer our help to strengthen the program," it said in a statement.

In 2019, EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock responded to attacks on Warren by criticizing Sanders, saying, "I have seen Senator Sanders. And I'm just going to tell you, he's not that likable."

One male candidate that EMILY's List may be more amenable to is Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire has contributed more than $5.8 million to Women Vote since 2012. Bloomberg headlined EMILY's List's 2018 New York City convention, despite the fact that he had questioned the #MeToo allegations against PBS's Charlie Rose that same week.

It's not just Sanders supporters crying foul at the group's comparison to Donald Trump. "We rate this ad as half true," said the pro-life American Principles Project in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon. "While Bernie Sanders's radical support for the abortion industry—which makes most of its profits from poor and minority women—does make him incredibly anti-woman, to suggest that President Trump is anti-woman is complete fiction."