29 01 2022

Long past when we all thought the sniping about the 2016 election was over, our “bipartisan” Federal Election Commission retroactively reversed its decision to allow Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign organization to use federal matching funds, originally slated for her primary election campaign, to pay for the expensive, often convoluted process of ballot access in individual states. The FEC gave the Jill Stein 2016 campaign organization, which had all but ceased to exist, a month to repay the $175,000 the FEC’s audit determined had been spent on ballot access. Dr. Stein, with the help of The Center for Competitive Democracy, is contesting the claim.

There are two bizarre twists to the story right off the bat. The first is that, since the Jill Stein 2016 campaign organization does not have any money, the FEC is holding Stein personally responsible for the repayment, and $175,000 of her retirement savings has been put in an escrow account while the question is litigated. That’s a chunk.

The second twist is that, since the FEC has ruled against Stein’s campaign, not against her personally, she can only contribute the federally mandated maximum individual contribution of $2900 to her own defense. OK, she’s the one being held responsible for returning 175 grand to the government–but she can only spend less than $3K of her own money to contest the fine. Who wrote these regulations–Franz Kafka?

Mr. Franz Kafka has recently been appointed chief legal counsel for the Federal Election Commission.

Dr. Stein and the Center for Competitive Democracy are fighting this fine on the grounds that, coming five years after the fact, it is untimely, that it is unconstitutional, and that it is an “arbitrary, capricious” abuse of the FEC’s discretionary power.

Those are the basic facts of the case. If you want to contribute to Dr. Stein’s legal expenses, go to Jill Stein dot net and you’ll find the page.

The most obvious issue here is the one Stein and the CCD are focusing on–that demanding repayment five years after the alleged violation sends a chilling message out to anybody who might choose to stand up to the powers that be by running for an office for which federal matching funds are available, such as the Presidency, and indeed it does. In this post, I’m going to spend some time looking at the deeper issues this case brings up.

First of all, there’s the fact that the Federal Election Commission is legally defined as a “bipartisan” agency, which is supposed to have three Republicans and three Democrats serving on it. (Currently, one of its members labels themselves “independent,” but a review of their biography makes it clear that their “independence” falls well within the narrow confines of the Democrat-Republican wedge of  the political spectrum.) Umm….shouldn’t the body that regulates our elections be non-partisan? I’m not holding my breath for that to happen. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are known for letting go of their control of the political process. As I write this, Republicans are passing a blizzard of state laws intended to keep Democrats from voting, while the Democrats are waging a campaign to disqualify Republican office holders who have protested what they claim is the “stealing” of the 2020 election. If the Republicans had used the same tactic against Democrats who claimed, equally falsely, that Trump’s election in 2016 was illegitimate because of “Russian interference,” the Democratic Party would be completely purged from the halls of power. If only the Democrats and Republicans could completely eliminate each other!

But, I digress…..we were talking about how those two parties have completely taken over the agency that was supposed to regulate their behavior. That’s called “regulatory capture.”  Having a”Federal Election Commission” whose membership is limited to Democrats and Republicans is the epitome of “regulatory capture,” and those two parties’ takeover of our political process doesn’t end with the FEC. Our country’s entire electoral system has been captured by these two parties, and they have used their control to rig that system to guarantee that they will never have any serious competition, especially competition from outside the neoliberal oligarchy that controls both parties. I’ll have more to say about that later.

So, because it is a tool of the neoliberal oligarchy that runs the US, the FEC routinely ignores egregious corruption by the parties that run it, involving millions of dollars, while attacking the Stein campaign, saddling a private citizen with a huge bill for having the nerve to participate in politics. The Biblical phrase “straining out gnats while swallowing camels” comes to mind.

Indeed, given Hillary Clinton’s unhinged 2020 rant claiming that “Jill Stein and Tulsi Gabbard are Russian assets,” it’s clear that the Democratic Party has not forgotten, or forgiven the blame they heaped Dr. Stein and The Green Party after Clinton’s upset loss to Donald Trump in 2016, in spite of the fact that, in that election, millions more people simply didn’t vote than voted for Stein. So, revenge seems to be a motive in this FEC ruling. Hopefully, Dr. Stein will draw an impartial member of the judiciary (there are some!) when her case is heard. But that’s not going to reform the FEC, or any of the other blockages in our political system created by the “regulatory capture” of our electoral apparatus by our two largest political parties.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, this music break is dedicated to her. The song was written about Margaret Thatcher. but, since Ms. Clinton considered her a “role model,” I’m sure she’ll appreciate the sentiment.

Richard Thompson, “Mother Knows Best” 

The primary roadblock the Democrats and Republicans have erected to any competition is the process of getting a new party on the ballot, and keeping it there, exactly what the Stein campaign was doing with all the money the FEC now wants back. In most states in the US, it takes tens of thousands of signatures to get a new party on the ballot, and then it takes an impressive showing by a statewide candidate from that party to stay on the ballot. Let’s look at those issues somewhat separately. First, however, I think it’s important to note that, in many countries, all it takes to put a new party on the ballot is presenting the  country’s non-partisan electoral commission with proof that the party exists and has some members.

First, let’s define what “on the ballot” means. When a political party is “on the ballot,” the party gives the state electoral commission a list of its candidates, and they are all put on the ballot and individually identified as candidates of that party. For example: “Jim Cooper  Democrat   Martin Holsinger Green.” To do that in Tennessee, our state Green Party would have to gather approximately 35,000 valid signatures, which would involve gathering about twice that many to be sure enough of them were valid. That is not something a small political party can do by sending its members into the streets with clipboards. The party would need to hire a professional petitioning company and pay that company about $2 per signature. This math means that the Green Party of Tennessee would need to raise around $140,000 just to get on the ballot. Would you be surprised if I told that, quite honestly, that is beyond our slender means? The Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, do get to simply hand the electoral commission their list of candidates, who are thus free to spend all their fund-raising efforts on their campaigns.

And yes, we of the Green Party of Tennessee sought judicial relief from this onerous burden. We fought this issue in the courts for ten years, and, in spite of several rulings in our favor, Tennessee’s Republican Secretary of State stonewalled us, until the judge who had seen things our way retired, and the new judge (appointed by a Democrat, mind you) opined that requiring 35,000 signatures to get on the ballot was not an onerous burden on a new political party.

But wait, there’s more. There are multiple instances in which the Democrats have hired lawyers to pore over Green Party petitions looking for pretexts to disqualify signatures–and, since the election commissioners are generally  party partisans themselves, the petition checkers find a sympathetic ear, and have disqualified Green Party ballot petitions  multiple times, on flimsy grounds reminiscent of the technicalities racist election officials use to disqualify African-American and Latino voters. When that doesn’t work, the Democrats have been known to harass and threaten petition signers if they don’t withdraw their signatures. It seems to me that that should be illegal as a form of jury tampering, but it’s not.

So those are the hurdles the Democrats and Republicans have placed in the way of a new party getting on the ballot. Now let’s look at the difficulties new parties have to overcome to stay on the ballot in this country. In most states, a new party has to have a candidate for statewide or national office poll a certain percentage of the vote in order to stay on the ballot, and not have to repeat the whole expensive process of re-qualifying for the next election. But candidates for statewide office are more credible if they have demonstrated their abilities by having held lower elected positions in which they demonstrated their competence. By contrast, in many other democracies, once a new political party has registered with the election commission, all it has to do to keep its candidates on the ballot is keep showing up.

Working its way up the ladder of experience is also the logical way for a new political party to grow. One of the most frequent criticisms of The Green Party that I hear is, “aren’t you being kind of grandiose by running candidates for high office instead of doing grass roots organizing?” The people who voice this are generally surprised to learn that we have to do “start at the top” because of laws passed by the Democrats and Republicans, and yes, I tell people, it does make us look kind of silly, and that is probably the point of making us try to jump that hurdle, which seems designed to make us fail.

It’s the same tactic the US government uses when, for example, it declares an embargo against Venezuela, freezes its foreign assets, and steals its oil company, and then says “See–socialism doesn’t work.” As a side note, that is also what we are doing in Afghanistan right now. After spending twenty years expressing its great solicitude for the people, especially the women, of Afghanistan, the US is now doing everything it can to make sure those women starve  and freeze in the dark. Call it passive-aggression as a war tactic.

So, from our country’s electoral system to our foreign policy,and everywhere in between, the bullying is built in. “Third parties” in America are as welcome as “second parties” in the old Soviet Union. We are handicapped by the electoral system, and by our dominant corporate media. We have seen that repeatedly here in Tennessee, where, the year the judge forced Tennessee’s Secretary of State to give our party a ballot line, and we were running a broad slate of credible candidates for local and statewide office, no newspaper or TV station would return our phone calls, let alone do any interviewing. The Stein-FEC dust-up is no exception to this. It’s getting no mainstream media coverage. “Democracy Dies In Darkness,” The Washington Post declares, while it helps create that darkness.

But the Democrats would like to make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Deep in the fine print of their much-touted “voting rights acts” are provisions that eliminate matching funds for Presidential candidates and make it much more difficult for Congressional candidates to qualify for matching funds, and much easier for the Democratic and Republican parties’ central committees to aid local candidates they favor when those candidates are faced with an insurgent primary challenge.

While the Democrats’ voting rights efforts have failed, for now, and the odds are that Congress will be turning Republican in 2022, I would not be surprised to see these democracy-limiting proposals come up in some Republican legislation in the not-too-distant future.

Our current situation brings to mind a poem, Robinson Jeffers’ “Shine, Perishing Republic“:

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,
heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops
and sighs out, and the mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit,
the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good,
be it stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from
the thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s
feet there are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever
servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—
God, when he walked on earth.

Robinson Jeffers wrote “Shine, Perishing Republic” a hundred years ago, another time when the United States was going through a pandemic and severe restrictions on civil liberties, as the country’s rising socialist and militant union movements were smashed. It’s now looking like the Roosevelt/New Deal years were simply “a bubble in the molten mass, that pops and sighs out.” Well, the “hardened mass” is soon going to melt like butter in the sun under the merciless glare of global overheating, rendering all our current thorny problems moot.

We in The Green Party have tried to prevent what is about to happen through electoral means, a path allegedly open to American citizens. We played by the rules, and discovered that the rules are not a path to inclusion, but a method of exclusion. Call it an experiment in political science, or liken it to Lot being unable to find enough righteous people to save Sodom and Gomorrah, but it’s just another piece of evidence in the mounting case that America is not the “free country” it is touted to be, and on a wrong and dangerous course that leads to no good end.

I’m not saying that we should quit speaking up about the ongoing parade of injustice or about better ways to live and govern ourselves, but I think it’s time for all of us to add techniques and practices of physical and psycho-spiritual survival to our list of skills, and to cultivate local friendships with like-minded people, if we’re not doing that already. If you are doing those things, consider finding a way to intensify.

I am so disgusted and frustrated with politics that have been seriously considering whether to quit this blog, this radio show, and The Green Party in order to devote more time to “preparing for impact”–but I think, in the interest of cultivating those local friendships with like-minded people, I’m going to keep on keeping on. As another of my favorite poets, Robert Hunter, wrote, “One way or another/This darkness got to give.”

Richard Thompson, “Can’t WIn

Garcia Band,” Gomorrah

Grateful Dead, “New Speedway Boogie

Bunny Wailer, “Armageddeon

Eliza Gilkyson, “Before the Deluge




































7 responses

29 01 2022

The actions of the FEC are horrible. But of course, so are many of the other actions of the US government. I hope Jill Stein wins her court case. But here is another strategy the Green Party might consider:

I don’t understand why the Green Party has worked so hard trying to get their party name on the ballot. Don’t bother with that. Just get the candidate’s name on the ballot. Then concentrate on giving out leaflets, emails, other advertisements that explain:

“Vote for the Green Party, for these reasons (etc.). Vote for our candidate, whose name is (insert). Our candidate’s name appears on the ballot, but s/he is listed as an ‘Independent,’ not a ‘Green,’ because the two money parties have made it prohibitively difficult to get the word ‘Green’ on the ballot. So, officially, we are asking you to vote for an independent candidate who has been =endorsed= by the Green Party. See our website for additional details.”

Is there something wrong with this strategy?

29 01 2022

Hi Martin, I shared this with Jill and a few others who are involved in her defense.

Good work.

Jack Swindlehurst 1410 Old Route 9 Windsor, MA 01270 413-684-4732 (msg) 413-329-8529 (no VM) ________________________________

7 02 2022

Thank you! I am honored.

7 02 2022

That is more or less what we have done, but our reach is limited. We also half-jokingly proposed that, given the precedent of “Low Tax” Looper (He changed his middle name to “Low Tax”–we certainly wouldn’t want to emulate the rest of his unfortunate trajectory!), perhaps anyone running for office as a Green Party candidate could change their middle name to “Green Party.” Even at the upper end of the number of candidates we have fielded in this state, it would be much cheaper and easier than a petition drive.

7 02 2022

Would that work? Or would the state simply declare that your name is too long, and abbreviate it Martin G. P. Holsinger?

17 04 2022

[…] to be levied. Ms. Clinton? Eight thou–pocket change for her. The DNC–105 thou. Ditto.  A couple of months ago, I wrote/talked about the FEC’s demand that Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate […]

2 05 2022

The only precedent I know of is that Byron Lowtax Looper got them to list that as his name on the ballot. Would they jerk the Green Party around more? Maybe.

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