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GPUSA and the FEC
by Betty K. Wood, former Clearinghouse Coordinator,
There have been many assertions about the filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the Greens/Green Party USA. Much of it is untrue. As the person who raised the subject in 1996 and who actually created the Request for Advisory Opinion (RAO), I want to set the record straight.
I had spent considerable effort during my time with the Greens in reading past Bulletins, including minutes of all previous Congress and GNC meetings, serving on the Budget and Finance Committee, on the Greens National Committee, and on the Coordinating Committee. When I became Clearinghouse Coordinator I was specifically given great latitude in making the day to day decisions of the Clearinghouse. The decisions to be made fell well within the framework of previously established guidelines.
Until the beginning of 1996 the money received by the Clearinghouse of G/GPUSA was dues and contributions intended to support the Clearinghouse and general organizing. During the first three months of 1996 the Clearinghouse received funds that were clearly marked for electoral work. This was new territory. How was the money to be spent? If $1000 was raised or spent on a federal candidate, then we would have to report it to the FEC. Since there are several categories for reporting to the FEC, which one should we use? Who would do the reports? And so on. I took my questions to the Green National Committee (GNC) of the G/GPUSA which met the weekend after the California Primary.
The GNC gave my concerns serious consideration and deliberation with lots of debate on what should be done. The concern was that we handle the money coming in and the reports that might be required in a legal manner. They ultimately instructed me to follow the objectives laid out by the Congress when it adopted the name of Greens/Green Party USA: file with the FEC as a political party. Note that this was in March of 1996, before the Draft Nader Clearinghouse, before the Association of State Green Parties (ASGP), even before Ralph Nader had agreed to anything other than running in the California primary. There was absolutely no discussion about receiving public funds. More about the public funding later.
The workload in the Clearinghouse exploded but, as additional funds earmarked for electoral activity came in, I prepared a 2-3 page draft of a RAO for the FEC and had it reviewed by Mark Dunlea. Mark indicated that since it was being reviewed by lawyers and lawyers like lots of words, you have to tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them, and then summarize; don't leave anything out; give specifics. I reworked the draft as he suggested, ending up with a great increase in size, including the specifics of the history of the organization from the first Committees of Correspondence meetings in the 1980s through the name changes to the Green Committees of Correspondence, and, at the Elkins Congress, to the Greens/Green Party USA as reflected in our publications, the Green Bulletin and Green Politics. Our bylaws were included as an attachment. A key element was the fact that we have, and have had for a number of years, a national office and staff.
When it came time to list the people who have run for office as Green Party candidates, I went to G/GPUSA publications: Green Bulletin and Green Politics. These were the only sources. The 1996 list was gleaned from several internet/email sources and individual contacts in addition to what had been published in our periodicals. The list was in flux because not everyone who intended to run was successful in getting on the ballot. It didn't matter. After the RAO was submitted, the FEC indicated that the only candidates who were important to the RAO were the federal candidates. I had originally listed everyone who was attempting to get on the ballot. In listing Green candidates I could have chosen to list only those whom I knew to be GPUSA-friendly. But can you imagine the hue and cry of arrogance and exclusivity for the Green Party to be based on the candidacy of only a few "select" candidates? And who was I to judge? Remember: There was no ASGP, the first meeting to include anyone outside of Green Politics Network (which wasn't open to Greens in general) wasn't until November 1996, and Linda Martin of the Draft Nader Clearinghouse stated unequivocally that it was not the intent of the Draft Nader Clearinghouse to file for party status.
At this point, with a much more manageable list of names, I made a good-faith effort to contact all Congressional candidates for their permission. I wasn't fully successful. The names that were finally submitted were those who were running on a Green Party line and were GPUSA members or members of an affiliated state party or someone who gave permission for his/her name to be used.
...G/GPUSA had political party status and could file again for national political party committee status at a later time.
Hank Chapot wrote a multi-point objection to the filing which I answered point by point. His assertions were either false or of no consequence relative to the RAO. For example, Chapot asserted that his 1994 state assembly race should not have been listed, in spite of the fact that he was an individual member of GPUSA at the time (copy of his membership check on file at the Clearinghouse). And that Linda Martin's 1992 congressional race should not be listed, in spite of the fact that the Hawai'I Green Party was affiliated with GPUSA at the time (its disaffiliation letter of fourth quarter 1993 is on file in the Clearinghouse). And that Ralph Nader was not the GPUSA candidate. This is just plain wrong. GPUSA did nominate Nader at the only delegated national Green Party meetings in 1996. This nomination was done only after GPUSA locals and state parties decided that Nader would be a good candidate and had worked to put Nader on the ballot in their respective states, or were working on it. Most outrageous was his assertion that the Clearinghouse didn't exist! One point that was valid was that not all Greens were members of GPUSA but the RAO never asserted otherwise.
In all relevant areas the FEC accepted the RAO, as amended, as acceptable. Their decision was that G/GPUSA qualified as a political party committee obligated to file financial reports in any year it raised or spent over $1000 on behalf of federal candidates. It did not qualify for national committee of a political party because Ralph Nader was not considered a candidate since he chose to neither raise nor spend more than $5000 (the threshold requiring candidates to file) and because we didn't have enough federal candidates in enough states to show a strong enough national presence. The Taxpayers Party was denied recognition when it had 9 federal candidates in 3 states. It received recognition when it had 14 candidates in 6 states and ran a presidential candidate recognized by the FEC. GPUSA had 8 candidates in 5 states. An argument that the number of Congressional candidates and the number of states was arbitrary could have been the basis of an appeal, but Nader's unwillingness to file with the FEC made the success of an appeal unlikely. In any case, G/GPUSA had political party status and could file again for national political party committee status at a later time.
Now, about the money. Much has been made of the millions of dollars that Nader would be bringing to the Green Party when he received 5% of the vote. Maybe we were naive, but federal funds was simply not on our radar screen at the time the decision to file was made. At the time of the GNC discussion, we were just trying to comply with campaign finance reporting requirements should we raise or spend $1000 or more on a federal electoral campaign. Funds from 5% of the vote were never mentioned and I don't believe that anyone at the GNC meeting was aware of that possibility. I seemed to be the most knowledgeable person on the topic at the meeting, I didn't claim to be an expert and, frankly, I wasn't aware of this at the time. Consider, too, that Nader was only committed to a California primary. That's a loooong way from 5% of the vote.
As things unfolded, the millions of dollars that could be made available became an issue. Greg Jan of the west coast Draft Nader Clearinghouse tried to negotiate with me in August '96 on how the funds would be split between GPUSA and the Draft Nader Clearinghouses. The fact is I wasn't authorized to negotiate this issue and, furthermore, I truly didn't believe there would be millions of dollars coming to the Greens.
First of all, the millions of dollars to be made available to the party were for the party's convention in four years. (The Reform Party received just under $2.5 million for their 2000 convention.) Can you just imagine the live-simply-so-that-others-can-simply-live Greens spending millions of dollars on a convention?
Second, the federal campaign funds are given to the presidential candidate, not the party. Of course, some party members might be hired by the candidate, but it is the candidate who controls the money, not the party.
Third, the only other federal money is primary matching funds that, again, go to the presidential candidate, not the party. This money is available to those presidential primary candidates who raise at least $5,000 in 20 states from contributions of $250 or less. It doesn't matter whether the party of the candidate has national committee status with the FEC or not.
But the most important issue centered on whether or not Nader would get 5% of the vote. While those who pushed for the presidential campaign were convinced that Nader would easily get 5% of the vote (Mike Feinstein repeatedly stated, both privately and on television, that Nader would win!), Mark Dunlea provided some insight and common sense based on history and better political analysis here. Mark pointed out that Barry Commoner, an environmental scientist, social activist, and author of many environmental books, at least one on the New York Times best seller list, ran on the Citizens' Party ticket. He actively campaigned, received major media coverage, and received only 0.27% of the vote. Nader is well-known as a consumer advocate and is an author and co-author of a number of books, at least one of which was on the best seller lists. Unlike Commoner, he didn't actively campaign and he didn't receive major media coverage. It was a small miracle that he received nearly 1%!
...federal funds were simply not on our radar screen at the time...
Our concern in 1996 was in making sure that G/GPUSA was in compliance with the law…
Our concern in 1996 was in making sure that G/GPUSA was in compliance with the law and consistent with its "mission" in the way it handled its money. Today the importance of FEC recognition as a national political party committee is in the amount of funds that can be donated to the party from individuals: $5000 for a political party and $20,000 for a national committee of a political party, although this may change with the so-called campaign finance reform now being discussed by Congress.
It also seems to be important to some Greens to have the federal government give its blessing on who is to be the voice of the Greens in this country and abroad. Is the money really that important? Do we really need the government's approval on who is the voice of the Greens?
It seems to me that what matters more is for the grassroots Greens to feel that the Party is theirs.