Politically charged fundraising e-mail on Arizona shootings draws scrutiny
January 12th, 2011
08:22 AM ET
10 years ago

Politically charged fundraising e-mail on Arizona shootings draws scrutiny

Washington (CNN) - Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told political supporters Tuesday that there needs to be a concerted effort by Arizona Republicans to help create a safe environment for people with opposing political ideologies, following the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona.

Sanders, an independent who aligns himself with the Democratic Party, went as far as to specifically call on his colleague, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to lead the effort.

“First, this horrendous act of violence is not some kind of strange aberration for this area where, it appears, threats and acts of violence are part of the political climate,” Sanders wrote in note that also solicited political contributions. “Nobody can honestly express surprise that such a tragedy finally occurred.”

Sanders then listed previous acts of vandalism at Giffords’ office, and he referenced Sarah Palin’s political campaign that targeted 20 Democrats including Giffords for defeat in 2010. A graphic for the Palin campaign effort had crosshairs placed over the 20 individual Democratic districts.

And Sanders also noted that there were other “threats of violence against Democrats in Arizona,” and he named Rep. Raul Grijalva and former Rep. Harry Mitchell as well as federal judge John Roll, who was killed in the shooting Saturday in Tucson.

“In light of all of this violence – both actual and threatened – is Arizona a state in which people who are not Republicans are able to participate freely and fully in the democratic process? Sanders wrote in the e-mail. “Have right-wing reactionaries, through threats and acts of violence, intimidated people with different points of view from expressing their political positions?

“My colleague, Senator John McCain, issued a very strong statement after the shooting in which he condemned the perpetrator of the attack. I commend him for that. But I believe Senator McCain and other Arizona Republicans need to do more. As the elder statesman of Arizona politics McCain needs to stand up and denounce the increasingly violent rhetoric coming from the right-wing and exert his influence to create a civil political environment in his state.”

Michael Briggs, Sanders’ spokesman, said the Vermont senator had not spoken to McCain prior to sending the e-mail but intended to talk to him about it.

A McCain aide said the senator was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Republicans zeroed in on the fact that Sanders addresses political fundraising in the first graph of the nearly 1,600-word e-mail.

“I also want to thank the very many supporters who have begun contributing online to my 2012 reelection campaign,” he wrote. “There is no question but that the Republican Party, big money corporate interests and right-wing organizations will vigorously oppose me. Your financial support now and in the future is much appreciated.”

Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, charged that Sanders was using the Tucson tragedy for political gain.

“We will leave it up to the voters to decide the appropriateness of Sen. Sander’s decision to raise campaign donations off of the murder of six Americans,” said Walsh.

But Briggs denied that was the case and offered up this explanation:

“This was an e-mail letter that the senator’s campaign sends out, and will continue to send out, to supporters in Vermont and around the country on a regular basis,” Briggs said in the statement sent to CNN. “This quite long newsletter gives the senator’s views on the major issues facing our country. Most of the space in this newsletter dealt with the senator’s views on the economic implications of what will be happening in the new Congress. Given the enormity of the tragedy in Arizona, however, it would have been absurd not to comment on what happened there.

“The main point that the senator made about Arizona is that given the fact that Rep. Giffords’ office was attacked last year after her vote for health care reform, that a protester had previously brought a gun to an event she held, that Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva had to close his district office when someone shot a bullet through his window, that former Rep. Harry Mitchell had to suspend a town meeting in his district because of threatening phone calls and that Judge John Roll had received numerous threatening calls and death threats, one should not have been completely surprised by the tragedy of last Saturday. There is clearly a pervasive climate of fear and violence in Arizona and the senator very much hopes that the state’s leading public officials will do what they can to create more civility so that people there can express their political views without fear,” Briggs said in the statement.

“As he always does, the senator devoted one sentence in a four-page newsletter to thanking his supporters and another sentence indicating that their support in the future would be appreciated,” Briggs added.

Sanders served 16 years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2006.

Filed under: Bernie Sanders • Gabrielle Giffords
soundoff (95 Responses)
  1. Kari Hope

    Where do I send money to Sanders reelection campaign?

    January 11, 2011 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  2. gc

    I don't believe that the current climate of uncontrolled hate and anger caused this man to do this terrible thing. However, we are in a climate that says those uncontrolled feelings are perfectly okay. It can affect the nut cases, that is why it needs to be discussed and we need to respect each other and our differences of opinion once again. Just because I don't agree with you, doesn't make me bad, dumb or evil.

    January 11, 2011 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  3. jim

    Shame on him.

    January 11, 2011 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  4. Glenn Koons

    Mark Penn told the media, Obama needs an OKCity. Sheriff Dupnik outrageously tried to blame the Net, Talk Radio, et al for this madman. MSNBC went on a rampage for two days blaming conservs ,Pubs, Talk Radio for these murders. They pray this is the way back from the Nov electoral disaster for Obama. So the Prez goes to AZ to exploit this Wed. Sanders , Leahy, Durbin all have lied about this tragedy for their political gain. Americans may not be as fooled as they were in 1999. Apparently nearly 60% of Americans do want free speech and do not think speech causes ....murder. The Left may find their hat handed to them again for playing this ploy to get Obama back in the game.

    January 11, 2011 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  5. Gil

    It should be no surprise that this attack took place in Arizona, John McCain's state! With his stupidity to choose sarah pathic palin as his running mate what else could be the results! Notice how big mouth sarah is laying low. Where is she! I hope feeling guilty!

    January 11, 2011 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  6. TommyJ

    I drove through Montpelier, VT several years ago and felt as though I was transported back in time to the late sixties...like I was in the final nesting place for all those lost hippies and draft dodgers... I finally understand why Bernie Sanders exists...and feel very sad for the decent folk I met in rural VT.

    January 11, 2011 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  7. SkiDoc

    Sanders, using this tragedy for personal gain, is sickening beyond dsescription!!!

    January 11, 2011 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  8. Henry Miller

    I guess we can add Bernie Sanders to the list of those trying to take political advantage of the actions of a lunatic with a gun.

    Even though Sanders is an admitted Socialist, I'd accorded him the respect of at least being honest about that. I guess my respect was misplaced.

    January 11, 2011 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  9. proud mother of soldier

    In our political and economic environment, this tragedy is not a surprise. The media plays a large part enflaming citizens with their rehtoric, the politicians have fostered class warfare to further their agendas and we live in a society where civil discourse is impossible. The american society is in a shambles!

    January 11, 2011 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  10. Chad from Tampa

    This man is sick in the head to raise money from these murders.

    January 11, 2011 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  11. Ted

    I like Sanders, but I think he should've waited a while before connecting these two events in the same letter.

    January 11, 2011 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  12. kevbotx

    why focus on the one paragraph for fundraising in a very long email to supporters? did the message not hold its own? perhaps that is what republicans decided to focus on with a fury, simply because they can't respond adequately to the other 1,539 words in the post

    January 11, 2011 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  13. D

    Ah, I hope Mr Walsh also complains about the Tea Party Express sending out fundraising emails over this as well.

    January 11, 2011 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Actually, this was my thought also. I immediately wondered why the Sr. Senator from AZ has not used his influence to
    try and tone down the rhetoric from his state. I also happened to see him and his wife on stage at a ralley with Palin. From the looks of it, Palin sounded like she was in complete control.......as if the roles had now been reversed. I really hope he has not conceded his dignity!

    January 11, 2011 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  15. Leon

    Everyone can help reduce this shameful rhetoric by NOT contributing to a campaign that uses the Tucson tragedy for political gain.

    January 11, 2011 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  16. independent

    Draws scrutiny? Draws scrutiny or Republicans criticize the email in order to deflect part of the contents of the letter which points the finger at the hate-filled rhetoric of the Republican Party? Come on CNN, who is writing your headlines?

    January 11, 2011 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  17. GonzoinHouston

    The far right insists that the left is just as guilty of spreading hate and anger. I'm curious, though, about how many conservatives have been threatened or attacked or had their homes or offices vandalized in the last couple of years? And by "threatened" I mean something that the FBI has taken seriously.

    And as for the abuse heaped on W, let us remember that right after 9/11 he enjoyed a 95% approval rating. He was allowed to appoint whom he wished with little resistance from Congress, and then only in the most extreme cases. It was only after Iraq that the language got heated, and then the accusations were largely fact-based: No WMD's, no links to Al-Quaida, warrantless wiretapping, state-sanctioned torture, Katrina, etc. The Patriot Act was the most blatantly unconstitutional law I had ever seen, and no state's Attorney General challenged it in court. It wasn't until the last few years, when the record of W was well-established, that the rhetoric began to really get hot.

    For Obama, on the other hand, it was white-hot from day 1. "I hope he fails!", the birthers, the incredible list of exaggerations and outright lies, and the violent vitriol have been non-stop and coming, not from the fringe, but from the official and unofficial leaders of the Republican party.

    While there has been some excessive language from the left, it pales in both quantity and extremism to the volcano on the right.

    January 11, 2011 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  18. John

    Sounds pretty sensible and reasonable to me. Why the outrage at Sanders? He is 100% correct. In a place where people routinely carry concealed weapons maybe a voice of sanity - like "DON'T LET PEOPLE BUY HIGH POWERED WEAPONS AND HIGH CAPACITY CLIPS AT THE CONVENIENCE STORE" IS NOT THE OUTRAGEOUS ONE, It is all the kooks who think it is perfectly normal to run around armed to the teeth like Tuscon is Kabul that need their heads examined.

    January 11, 2011 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  19. KIM

    It's disgraceful. How American people elected this distasteful person become U.S Senator? Six people were murdered included nine years old girl. How CNN Jessica Yellins exploited this tragedy? why??????????

    January 11, 2011 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  20. valwayne

    If Sen Sanders wants to point a finger of blame at those using extreme rhetoric maybe he would like to start with this quote: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun"! I'm sure that Sen Sanders would condemn the quote as one leading to an atmosphere of violence don't you think? After all Mr Laughner followed the thought in the quote and brought a gun! So guess who in American Politics owns this quote? Yes.....you're right Obama!!!!! So maybe Sen McCain isn't really the right person to lead Sen Sanders campaign.....maybe his finger of blame and the responsiblity to repair the heated rhetoric belongs with President Obama? How about it Sen Sanders?

    January 11, 2011 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  21. Davis

    The same John Mccain that unleashed Palin on us all?....no chance

    January 11, 2011 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  22. Dave

    No wonder the Congress approval rating is so low. Is this guy for real? I am glad that he doesn't represent me in Congress. I would be ashamed.

    January 11, 2011 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  23. XWngLady

    OMG. Ok. I'm a Democrat. I do think that the amped up rhetoric of Republicans and their Tea Party friends was bordering on incitement to violence and I don't think that the shooter is as "deranged" as people are trying to say that he is...but this what Sanders has done is just plain STU-PID! Why, even if Mr. Sanders felt that way about the Republicans, why would he put ANYTHING in his e-mail about fundraising..... I don't think that the vast majority of Democrats who are complaining about hateful rhetoric are "playing politics". They actually feel that the Republicans have purposefully poisoned the political atmosphere in their bid to take back control of the Congress in 2010 and that has led to verifiably higher level of threats, vandalism, spitting on Congresspersons, disrespect of our President, etc. Unfortunately, Sanders' action does nothing but give credence to Republicans' largely unsubstantiated complaints that Dems are using this tragedy for political gain....

    January 11, 2011 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  24. Peter s

    Sen. Bernie Sanders the charged political environment is not only a problem in Arizona it`s every where! when people running for office tells their supporters to make sure that, people with different ideologies don`t live their homes fear and intimidation becomes the norm!

    January 11, 2011 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  25. LW

    Too bad a tragedy like this had to happen to get people talking about actually DOING something about the devisive, dangerous actions and statements. It happened on the campaign trail, with Palin's supporters at her 'rallies'. McCain FINALLY had to step in and say something – a bit too late, but I guess it was getting embarrassing for him. I live in Arizona, and I've noticed such a change in the last 8 years or so - negative, exclusionary, mean-spirited rhetoric. You might find this kind of talk and these kinds of actions from bullies on the playground, but it's coming from adults. How disgusting. Using gun analogies to get votes is deplorable, but I guess that's what their constiuents react to. Sad.

    January 11, 2011 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
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