Politically charged fundraising e-mail on Arizona shootings draws scrutiny
January 12th, 2011
08:22 AM ET
9 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. CTYank

    Methinks our friends on the right margin project too much, once again, assuming that folks that they don't see as "us" do things from the same motivations as they do or would.
    Grow up, lighten up, and stop with the knee-jerk whining. The right fringe has much to be ashamed of with their rhetoric of multiple recent years. This stuff is on tape, and pictures exist, so they can't roll it back.

    January 11, 2011 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  2. Bob in PA

    so it the responsibility of Republicans to create a environment for Democrats and make sure they are safe from liberal progressives, communists and anarchistsss.

    Mr. Sanders, no offense sir, but its time to resign. If you can't look at the situation in Airizona and determine the gunman was neither a Conservative or a Republican, then you just need to retire and let someone else represent your state.

    January 11, 2011 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  3. John

    Well, I guess the lesson is that Arizona really isn't safe for non-Republicans, to judge from the poisonous behavior of Republicans since the shooting.

    January 11, 2011 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  4. Joe

    Right on, Bernie! You're 100% correct!

    January 11, 2011 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  5. Tracy W

    So much for toning down the rhetoric. I guess this only applies to conservatives.

    January 11, 2011 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  6. jim Doyle

    Never mind the rhetoric. How about some sensible gun control laws.

    January 11, 2011 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  7. David Scott

    He is so right. Will rip-publicans step up and do all they can?

    January 11, 2011 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  8. Dave

    What would the Republicans ever do if they couldn't play the victim? If they had to actually accept responsibility for what they do, just once?

    January 11, 2011 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  9. Rob Johnson

    Sounds like Sanders critics should have actually read the whole email and done their homework before criticizing him. If he thanks his supporters in every email he sends, is there some reason he shouldn't thank them in this one?

    If this was some special "fundraising appeal" based on the Arizona tragedy, I would be the first to condemn that. But if he happens to mention this huge newsworthy event in an email that he sends regularly to his supporters, and also takes a minute to thank those people for being his supporters in the first place, I don't see a problem here.

    People on both sides of the spectrum are trying to turn this horrific event into a political win, but they are doomed to failure because this tragic event holds no victory for anyone.

    January 11, 2011 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  10. blucorsair

    If this half wit Senator from Vermont really believes in what he is saying, then he'll have no problem securing the borders and protecting AZ. citizens from the drug war and the illegals aliens!

    January 11, 2011 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  11. Eric

    How sad. Any chance the good Senator pointed out that the shooter wasn't a Republican at all (he was registered as an Independent for years, his favorite books were left-leaning ones such as the Communist manifesto, and he was angry with his Congresswoman years before Sarah Palin ever came to national attention), so efforts by Republicans to curb their troops would have had no effect whatsoever? No, I thought not. Or did he comment that the crosshairs thing was used by the Democratic National Committee to address districts it was "targeting" llong before it was used by Palin? Not that either? No, this was just a partisan effort to draw some Republican blood by falsely painting this as something it wasn't.

    But I'll bet the good senator thinks toning down the rhetoric is a great idea - for everyone else.

    January 11, 2011 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  12. sharon

    Nothing about the fund raising letter the Tea Party sent out? Bias?

    January 12, 2011 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  13. CaliforniaBC

    Regardless of which side is spouting hateful and violent rhetoric with more frequency Arizona has been at the center of much of the exposure of this type. There really is no denying this. It is also interesting is how Arizona was the location of this attack given this attention and how Sarah Palin was the first person so many thought of as a prominent person delivering such rhetoric. This says a lot about how this state and this person are perceived by the public.

    January 12, 2011 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  14. Flipper

    Filling an e-mail with vicious lies about his political opponents, and then asking for campaign donations. How disgusting....welcome to the "new normal" of the Dem party.

    January 12, 2011 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  15. Christopher M. Willett

    So after days of complaining that the Left politicized this incident by criticizing violent rhetoric – like Sharron Angle's vague threat concerning "Second Amendment remedies" – the Right now feels justified in pouncing on Sanders for mentioning multiple issues – one of which is fundraising – in the same piece of correspondence? To accuse Sanders of trying to profit off of the victims' deaths is an obvious (and pathetic) attempt to paint him as sinister – and no better than the attempt made by some on the Left to portray Palin as somehow responsible for the shooting.

    Come on America, let's wake up. Is winning the political argument over who is more likely responsible for Saturday's massacre (or in which camp Loughner belongs) really worth tearing the nation apart even more? The Right needs to tone down the gun rhetoric and the Left needs to stop drawing lines back to Palin where none exist. Let's instead swallow some pride, give the keyboards and mouths a rest, try to see each other as human beings, and give those with whom we disagree the benefit of the doubt in these high intensity situations.

    January 12, 2011 12:32 am at 12:32 am |
  16. Robert

    Yes, the conflating of the tragedy and the fundraising effort was tacky. Overall, though, I wish that we had more socialists like Bernie. Before you flame me with your rants about socialism, look the word up, understand its historical context, and understand how you benefit from socialism in your everyday life. No pure political nor economic system can last because humanity itself is not pure. Intelligent, democratic socialism is humanity's best bet.

    January 12, 2011 12:34 am at 12:34 am |
  17. Paul Ernest Show

    Whether Sen Sanders is seeking funds or not is secondary. Following this lunatic, Jara Lee, reasoning and paranoia, leads me to the kind of rhetoric that is endemic with both the Republican party and Tea party. When they are not in power, they demonize government. This is the same anti-government attitude of the shooter. Jara Lee was a victim of the anti-government rhetoric pervading the nation the past two years. And until we see it for what it is, we are not going to see any changes in perceptions by the millions of people who have been brainwashed to think the GOP is God's ordained party. I call it extreme fanaticism.

    January 12, 2011 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  18. Red

    The far-right fringe will continue to deny they don't incite hatred with their constant bombardment of hatred. They lie.

    January 12, 2011 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  19. Robin48

    I'm curious why the righties don't condemn the Westboro church members. Lke attracts like?

    January 12, 2011 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  20. Kirsten

    And Republicans are the ones who are accused of profiting from tragedy?

    January 12, 2011 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  21. Toughlove

    He is shameless and his email is worse than embarrassing. The Dems should denounce him for this smear...but they won't. Unbelievable that this is politics as usual nowadays. How about we let the families grieve before playing politics with their dead!!!

    January 12, 2011 02:10 am at 2:10 am |
  22. A keen observer

    Senator Bernie Sanders has hit the nail on the head. The hatred currently being spread, mostly by those on the right, has to end and civility in public and political discourse must be restored if we are to survive as a country.

    January 12, 2011 02:16 am at 2:16 am |
  23. Shayne from NH

    I like Bernie. That's all I have to say about that.

    January 12, 2011 02:32 am at 2:32 am |
  24. jesse

    Is this really that big of news? Other senators and congressmen have been doing far worse morally in reguards to this tradgedy. What I find far more interesting has been the total denial that their actions and inactions over the years have been the direct cause of all of this. Yes, the speech being used on both sides insites violence even if they can make a case of plausible deniabilitie. However, their repeated actions of back room deals and mismanagement of our government have more to do with it than just the speech. Make no mistake about my comments. I don't blame Dems. or Repubs., but rather both. They both have failed morally when they keep takeing these "bribes" that they call donations from private interests and they fail their respective offices when they keep playing games on the hill instead of doing what needs to be done or is just common sense of right and wrong.

    January 12, 2011 02:39 am at 2:39 am |
  25. Gabe

    ....and the Democrats are suddenly silent.

    January 12, 2011 03:12 am at 3:12 am |
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