Bernie Sanders launches his California team fueled by small-donor cash

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks Thursday in Las Vegas.
(John Locher / Associated Press)

As the Democratic presidential candidates descend on California this weekend for the state party convention, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is pivoting off his fundraising success in the state to flex some organizational muscle.

The Sanders campaign is uniquely positioned to compete in California because of the cash it has accumulated through small-dollar donors. It also built an immense grassroots network in the state during his 2016 run, and has kept it mobilized and politically engaged since then. About 400,000 Californians have donated to the campaign, volunteered for it, or hosted an organizing event so far.

Sanders’ aides have been arguing for months that they are better equipped than their rivals to confront the state’s costly media markets, balkanized politics and vast geography.

Early Friday morning, the campaign revealed its first big hires in the state, a team of eight operatives who will be charged with creating regional campaign infrastructure in California and allowed to function with a large degree of autonomy.


“We are building a talented and diverse team in the Golden State that understands people power is the key to our success here,” said Faiz Shakir, the campaign manager.

There are some notable names on the staff roster. The Sanders operation in the Bay Area will be run by Jane Kim, the civil rights and economic justice activist who served two terms on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and mounted an unsuccessful mayoral bid. Kim, the daughter of South Korean immigrants, was also president of the school board.

The California political director will be Susie Shannon, an anti-poverty activist who was a driving force behind sweeping changes to the way California confronts homelessness. A 2016 law she championed behind the scenes pushes the state to move homeless Californians struggling with drug addiction into permanent housing as part of their path to recovery. Shannon was the first Sanders delegate from California on the Democratic National Committee, where she has shaken things up with her push to move the DNC in a more progressive direction.

Shelli Jackson, a campaign operative on several legislative races and an advisor to the Legislature, will be the lead statewide staffer. Regional efforts will be headed by other veteran campaign hands, including Daniel Andalon in the Los Angeles region and Robert Dempsey in the San Diego area. The Inland Empire and Orange County operation will be led by Samuel Sukaton. Melissa Byrne, who was Sanders’ digital director in New Hampshire in 2016, will be the California grassroots director. The campaign has also hired Sand Brim, who was a speechwriter for the state and national nurses union, to be its California policy advisor.