Apr 30 2012

George Phillies: What Should The Libertarian Party Do? part one

Source: Independent Political Report

George Phillies wrote this article for the April edition of Liberty for America. It is quite long; hence, only the first half is here. The second will be posted over the weekend. He is running for Treasurer for the Libertarian National Party. The new officers will be chosen at the convention in Las Vegas, May 2 to 6.

As a candidate for our Party’s National Committee, as Treasurer, I think it important to speak to where our party is and where it is going. Two years ago, I ran for National Chair as part of the New Path slate. We offered a clear set of proposals. Unfortunately, the delegates had other opinions, and the results are now apparent.

The Impending Crisis
Two years ago, ‘we face an existential crisis’ was James Oaksun’s prophetic warning. How right he was! Party membership and income are still falling. Membership? Some of us remember the start of 2004, when we had 19410 members. By the start of 2009, that was down to 15178 members. At the starts of the next three years, what had happened? In 2010, we were down to 14412 members. By the beginning of 2011, we were down to13872 members, while in the beginning of 2012, we were down to 13,492 members.

There are challenges. Mr. Root’s statements on Presidential choices and the Republican Party have become a controversial. There are a series of proposed amendments to Party Bylaws that will have profound negative consequences for our party and should be rejected. The National Chair’s condemnation of a majority of the members of the LNC — the Gang of Ten — appears to merit propagation. The Credentials Committee has apparently decided to stir up new difficulties on the Oregon matter by indicating that it will decide whether to accept the Oregon delegation or the Reeves faction delegation. The Libertarian Parties of Tennessee and Florida separately condemned the floor fee. Mary Ruwart asks of the floor fee: If $94, why not $9400? The 2016 convention location is again up in the air. Olsen urged all conventions be on Memorial Day. The LNC met in Orlando and set a new record for Executive Sessions. There were issues with the LNC payment for Project Saratoga, and the LNC had to vote to tell staff how to fill out the check. Johnson fundraising continues to crash, and his campaign debt is now at $180,000. We offer a draft resolution to the LNC: A motion to suspend Wayne Root from the LNC, for cause.
Comparing matching points in the election cycle, our total in-come for 2007 was $1,454,411. Four years later, in 2011 Party income was down to $1,428,232. That’s right. Despite four years of inflation, not to mention for 2011 a substantial building fund drive that raised into six digits, party income has fallen. We can still have a future, but we must change course now, or the good ship Liberty will surely ram one iceberg too many and founder.

What Needs Changing?
The National Committee is fixated on formal Bylaws and we need a National Committee whose members are prepared to invest their time in forwarding the party’s activities. Two decades ago, the LNC had a stack of working committees that were doing real politics. We now see a Bylaws proposal for a Style Committee. We need a National Committee that talks about things under their control ‘more radio ads’, ‘better brochures’, ‘active candidate recruitment by us’, and less time setting grandiose goals ‘20,000 members’ with no strategy for getting from here to there. We need a National Committee that focusses on what is good for the party rather than recherche interpretations of parliamentary activity. All two often, I see defenses of some act based on ‘I have the opinion of two certified parliamentarians…’ rather than any consideration of the material effects of the act.
All this must change, or our party will continue to decline.
By the way, we have gone to a model in which the core central work is accomplished by dedicated paid staff rather than volun-teers. Using paid staff is not a bad model, but it does mean we have high fixed costs. At some point, if membership and in-come shrink enough, the costs become unsustainable and operations crash.

What Do I Propose Changing?
First, I advocate a series of short-term steps to free resources for actions on which we can then capitalize. Simultaneously, we should be laying the foundation for efforts that will not pay off in the short term.. We also need major changes in attitude, a national committee of doers rather than talkers. Where do we begin? Our party has Mission Critical Activities. Do them or we die. Then we have Important Activities, things we really really should be doing. Finally we have Worthwhile Activities that would be meritorious to perform if the resources were there.

What are the mission critical activities?
Run the National Convention. That’s the only explicit task the Bylaws assign to the LNC. The business meeting does the business of the entire membership, and the costs of the National Convention business meeting should be paid by the entire membership. Surrounding it, the Libertarian National Convention and Exposition should provide a maximum opportunity for out-reach, training, and support.
Do Real Politics. Actions count. Words do not. Roberts’ rules sophistry and Bylaws prettification are not action. There are lots of different ways to do real politics. We must be doing at least some of them.
Raise Money. You raise money effectively by telling people you are going to spend their money on doing politics, you spend the money the way you promised, and you remind them that you keep your promises.
Recruit and Retain Members. No members, no party. Member-ship retention is a key diagnostic. Here in Massachusetts the changes I helped bring in have pushed membership retention up to 80% each year. Our national party should do as well.
Back Office. The back office is a mission critical activity. We have nuts and bolts activities that we absolutely must do right.

What are the important activities?

Create 50 active state parties, not to mention affiliates in D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and wherever else the American flag flies over American citizens.

Fifty State Presidential Ballot Access. Funding activities so that they succeed is a good idea. Underfunding efforts, so that they fail, is a bad idea.
Candidate Recruitment and Support. There are a half-million elective offices, and we need a candidate for each one — minus the offices we close down along the way.
Volunteer Mobilization. The LNC should persuade party supporters to do work for the party, and help them with support materials and training to be more effective.
Public Outreach. The LNC should invest heavily in advertising, press releases, earning media, lobbying, and everything else that puts our party’s name before the public in a positive way.
Support Materials. Producing good support materials is an important positive step. Downloadables that local groups can use are particularly important.
Voter Base Development. We earn a voter base if we do the right political acts.
Grass Roots Organizing. By definition, the LNC cannot be the grass roots. We can supply organizers with tools to make their grass roots work effective. How? For starters, read Saul Alinksky’s final book.

Worthwhile activities?
Cooperation. Cooperating with other libertarian groups is an important activity. We should be cooperating and supporting activities of other groups that take our positions, recognizing that we are constrained by tax laws and election codes.
Washington Lobbying. Lobbying is one of the few rational reasons for having some office in Washington, namely it lets us reach people in other parties to express our views. Under modern highly-polarized politics, Washington lobbying will be less effective than it was ten years ago.
More Libertarian PACs. Wes Benedict’s new Texas PAC is a prime example of what the libertarian political movement needs. There need to be many mroe PACs. By definition the LNC cannot create independent PACs, but it can tell people how to perform
Pro-Liberty Affinity Groups. Every other party is surrounded by a cloud of special-interest groups, most nominally targeting a core issue, but most also strongly tied to a particular political party. Ask yourself how often the NRA or NARAL supports a Democrat or a Republican, respectively.

Changes in attitude? Two years ago, the LNC was deeply divided into two factions. Some of the names have changed, but the factions are still there….to be continued..

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