- Democratic Party consultant and campaign manager
- Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government
See also: Democratic Party
Born in New Orleans on December 15, 1959, Donna Brazile earned a bachelor's degree in industrial psychology from Louisiana State University in 1981. She subsequently worked for a number of advocacy and lobbyist groups in Washington, DC, including the National Student Education Fund and the Community for Creative Non-Violence. Brazile first drew widespread public notice in 1981 as the national student coordinator for the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee, which petitioned to make the late civil-rights leader's birthday a national holiday. In 1983 she helped Coretta Scott King organize a 20th anniversary commemoration of the historic 1963 March on Washington.
Brazile played a prominent role in the management of every Democratic presidential campaign from 1976-2000. These included the White House bids of Jimmy Carter (1976 & 1980 volunteer); Jesse Jackson (1984 Southern field director and deputy campaign manager); Walter Mondale (1984 campaign worker); Richard Gephardt (1988 field director); Michael Dukakis (1988 field director); Bill Clinton (1992 senior advisor on black turnout, & 1996 Washington DC campaign director); and Al Gore (2000 campaign manager). Also during the '90s, Brazile served as a consultant to the Democratic National Committee (1990-99), and as press secretary/chief-of-staff to Washington, DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (1991-99).
Brazile's outspokenness has often made her a lightning rod for controversy. In 1988, for instance, the Dukakis campaign fired her for making unfounded accusations that George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign discriminated against minorities, and for spreading unsubstantiated rumors that Bush was having an extramarital affair. Less than three weeks before the election, Brazile urged Bush to “fess up” because “the American people have every right to know if Barbara Bush [his wife] will share that bed with him in the White House.”
During her tenure with Gore’s campaign, Brazile charged that Republicans had no real respect for African Americans; that instead of doing something to substantively help the black community, they were content to merely exploit a handful of select black conservatives whose token presence was designed to conceal the party's underlying bigotry: “The Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy.... They’d rather take pictures with black children than feed them.” In November 1999, The Washington Post quoted Brazile saying that "a black female in America is the most invisible object in the world," and that she would not allow the "white boys" to win. "[I]t's an attitude," she added. "A white-boy attitude is 'I must exclude, denigrate and leave behind.'"
After the 2000 presidential election controversy in Florida, Brazile was appointed chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute. She alleged that Republicans routinely sought to keep minorities away from the polls through the use of voter-suppression and intimidation tactics, a charge she has reiterated many times since then.
When the community organization ACORN was mired in a massive voter-registration-fraud scandal in 2008, Brazile downplayed it as “no more than a few canvassers trying to meet their quota and make easy money by cheating the system.” By contrast, Brazile views Republican efforts to pass Voter ID laws as the schemes of “extremist governors or legislatures” who “are willing to violate people's civil rights in order to win elections.”
In a September 2011 appearance on CNN, Brazile denounced conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck for having recently criticized Congressional Black Caucus member Andre Carson's vulgar derisions of the Tea Party movement. “[F]or Glenn Beck to somehow or another tell people of color or any Americans about racism, about blackness, about our founding fathers,” said Brazile, “I’m sorry, walk a day, walk a mile, but don’t tell me anything when Glenn Beck also insulted the president ... of the United States.” (The latter was a reference to Beck's 2009 claim that Barack Obama harbored “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”)
A steadfast belief in the ubiquity of white racism has continued to inform Brazile's view of Obama's critics ever since. In 2013, for instance, Brazile said that “two 'scandals'—the IRS tax-exempt inquiries and the Department of Justice's tapping of reporters' phones—have become lynch parties.” “And the congressional investigation of Benghazi may become a scandal in itself,” she added, calling for “an end to partisan sideshows or media witch hunts.”
In a June 2014 appearance on CNN, Brazile took issue with Republicans who had criticized President Obama's recent decision to trade five captive Islamic terrorist leaders in exchange for former American soldier Robert Bergdahl, who five years earlier, while professing contempt for his own “disgusting” homeland, had deserted the Army and ended up in the custody of the Taliban. “That’s all they do,” said Brazile. “... all they do is focus their vitriol, their rage, against this president. If the president this morning had scrambled eggs and bacon, they’d say that’s an unhealthy breakfast. If the president had cereal and fruit, they’d say that’s an unhealthy breakfast.”
In July 2014, Brazile claimed that many Americans reflexively “want to destroy [Obama's] presidency” because of their intransigent “vitriol”—rooted in “that old-school way of thinking about race and opportunity” that was so prevalent in “the past of this country.”
In September 2014, Brazile tweeted: "We need a new constitution." The tweet linked to a Salon article by historian Andrew Burstein, titled: "Here’s How We Save American Democracy from Charlatans, Loudmouths and the 1 Percent." In that piece, Burstein, rejecting the beliefs of "those who have been conditioned to fear 'big government'":
- advocates the funding of national political campaigns "exclusively" with tax dollars;
- proposes that "equality of education" can be achieved by pouring massive sums of money into public schools located in "underprivileged areas";
- suggests that more money be spent on bringing additional "counselors and school psychologists to our school systems";
- calls for the use of government intervention and resources to "mak[e] college affordable";
- advises lawmakers to "institute a two-year national service commitment, allowing students to obtain college admission at the end of high school—deferred acceptance";
- urges the government to "tax those who will never hurt, who will never feel the loss of a few percentage points in their accrued wealth";
- calls for the imposition of "huge fines" on "industries actively engaged in destroying the planet" from an environmental standpoint;
- says that "instead of rewarding oil and coal interests with government subsidies," government should "accord them the same treatment [it] has given to Big Tobacco for a whole generation, which has dramatically reduced the percentage of Americans who smoke"; and
- advocates the adoption of former President Franklin Roosevelt's suggestions for modernizing the Bill of Rights. Specifically, as Burstein notes, Roosevelt sought to guarantee everyone “the right to a useful and remunerative job”; “the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation”; “the right of every family to a decent home”; “the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health”; “the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment”; and “the right to a good education.”
In January 2016, Brazile tweeted enthusiastically: “Under President Obama, the economy has experienced a record 70 straight months of private-sector job growth. Over 14 million jobs!” Exactly one month later, she sent a private email to Hillary Clinton presidential campaign chairman John Podesta in which she candidly expressed concern about how poorly the U.S. conomy was doing: “I think people are more in despair about how things are — yes new jobs but they are low wage jobs. HOUSING is a huge issue. Most people pay half of what they make to rent.” The contents of Brazile's email were made public by WikiLeaks in October 2016.
In July 2016, Brazile was named as an interim replacement for then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who resigned from that post because of a scandal involving leaked emails which proved that Schultz and other party officials had conspired to sabotage the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders, who was battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
On October 11, 2016, WikiLeaks released a hacked DNC email that Brazile had sent to John Podesta (Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign chairman) and Jennifer Palmieri (the Clinton campaign's director of communications), at a time when she (Brazile) was serving as a frequent political commentator for CNN. The email was dated March 12, 2016 -- the day before a Democratic primary debate hosted by CNN -- and the Subject heading read: "From time to time, I get the [debate] questions in advance." In the body of the email, Brazile wrote: "Here's one that worries me about HRC" (Hillary Rodham Clinton), and then proceeded to spell out a question that Clinton would be asked about the death penalty. The next day at the debate, CNN's Roland Martin asked Clinton that question, virtually word for word. In a subsequent correspondence that was part of the same email chain, Brazile told Palmieri: "I'll send some more" (debate questions).
When Brazile in October 2016 was asked about the debate question referenced above, and about the email released by Wikileaks, she replied: "I never had access to questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did." CNN media reporter Brian Stelter subsequently contacted Roland Martin, and the latter admitted that he had in fact shared some debate questions, in advance of the debate, with his staffers as well as others at CNN. "When asked in a followup question if he would explicitly rule out any sharing of questions with Brazile, Martin did not respond," Stelter reported.
Brazile also claimed that the email likely had been "doctored by Russian sources," but Domain Keys Identified Mail, or DKIM -- an email security system that can be used to independently authenticate the contents and sender of an email that uses it -- confirmed that Brazile had in fact sent the aforementioned email message to Podesta.
On October 31, 2016, another email dump by Wikileaks showed yet another debate question that Brazile had leaked to Podesta and Palmieri. In an email dated March 6, 2016 (the day before a Democratic primary debate), Brazile wrote on the Subject line: "One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash." In the body of the email, Brazile said: "Her [the woman's] family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint...." At the debate the following day, a woman asked this question: "After my family, the city of Flint and the children in D.C. were poisoned by lead, will you make a personal promise to me right now that, as president, in your first 100 days in office, you will make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States, and notification made to the — the citizens that have said service lines?"
On October 31, 2016 -- just hours after the latest revelations about Brazile had been made public -- CNN announced that because it was “completely uncomfortable” with what Brazile had done, the network had accepted her resignation as a contributor seventeen days earlier, on October 14. During a November 1, 2016 editorial meeting, CNN president Jeff Zucker described Brazile’s interactions with the Clinton campaign as “unethical” and “disgusting.”
In March 2017, Brazile acknowledged that she had in fact leaked debate questions to Democrats via email: “My job was to make all our Democratic candidates look good, and I worked closely with both campaigns to make that happen. But sending those emails was a mistake I will forever regret.”
In November 2017, Brazile authored a piece in Politico revealing that during the 2016 presidential campaign season, Hillary Clinton had essentially controlled all DNC funds. Wrote Brazile:
“Right around the time of the convention, the leaked emails revealed Hillary’s campaign was grabbing money from the state parties for its own purposes, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races. A Politico story published on May 2, 2016, described the big fund-raising vehicle she had launched through the states the summer before, quoting a vow she had made to rebuild 'the party from the ground up … when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.'
“Yet the states kept less than half of 1 percent of the $82 million they had amassed from the extravagant fund-raisers Hillary’s campaign was holding … When the Politico story described this arrangement as 'essentially … money laundering' for the Clinton campaign, Hillary’s people were outraged at being accused of doing something shady. Bernie’s people were angry for their own reasons, saying this was part of a calculated strategy to throw the nomination to Hillary....
“When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America. The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and [Clinton campaign manager] Robby Mook with a copy to [the Clinton campaign's general counsel] Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings....
“The funding arrangement with HFA [Hillary For America] and the victory fund agreement was not illegal, but it sure looked unethical. If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead. This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity.”
Brazile is the founder and managing director of Brazile & Associates, a firm that assists corporate clients with “diversity training, earned media strategies, crisis management, and message development.” She also serves as vice chair of voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee, and a contributing writer for United Media and Ms. magazine.
At various times in her professional career, Brazile has been a lecturer at the University of Maryland, a fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, and an adjunct professor of Women and Gender Studies at Georgetown University. She has been a columnist for Roll Call and a contributor to NPR's Political Corner and ABC News. And in 2004 she published the memoir, Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics.
Oprah Winfrey's magazine named Brazile to its first “O Power List”; Washingtonian ranked her as one of America's “100 Most Powerful Women”; and Essence placed her among the “Top 50 Women in America.” The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, for its part, once presented Brazile with its highest award for political achievement.
For additional information on Donna Brazile, click here.
 Brazile was Jackson's deputy campaign manager in 1984, and also the director of Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.