Saturday, June 09, 2007

A modest suggestion for LP reform

First off, credit where credit is due: I'm pretty sure that the originator, in rough form, of the idea I'm about to propose is none other than George Phillies, currently a candidate for the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nomination. George, correct me in comments if I'm wrong on that ... and if you have an archived version of your own proposal on the web anywhere, please link it.

I'll phrase the proposal first as two amendments to the bylaws of the Libertarian Party, then explain it.

I move that the words "Vice-President" and "Vice-Presidential," along with any preceding conjunctions ("or," "and," etc.) be stricken from the bylaws of the Libertarian Party.

... and ...

I move that Article 12 of the bylaws of the Libertarian Party be amended with the addition of a new section ("Section 6") to read as follows: "Each affiliate party shall nominate a Vice-Presidential candidate to appear on the ballot of its state, district or territory with that of the Party's nationally nominated Presidential candidate."

I shall now argue in support of both motions.

- In an election campaign -- as opposed to in office -- the function of the vice-presidential candidate is generally to stump for the presidential candidate, not to create a personal reputation for his or her own credentials. 50+ vice-presidential candidates can do 50+ as times much stumping of that sort. Remember Howard Dean's "50-state campaign" proposal for the Democrats? This is a way for the LP to do the same thing on the cheap (hold that thought -- we'll be coming back to it).

- The single exception to the above is the series of debates held by vice-presidential candidates leading up to the general election ... a series of debates to which the Libertarian Party's vice-presidential candidate has never been invited, and to which he is unlikely to be invited in the near future. And if an invitation is forthcoming? No problem -- either send the vice-presidential candidate who appears on the ballot in the state where the debate is to be held, or have the presidential candidate choose one running mate to represent the party in all of those debates.

- The Libertarian Party can claim no elected governors, US Representatives or US Senators -- the kind of public officials who have the national reputation and name recognition to campaign effectively as vice-presidential candidates on a national level. The LP does, however, have at its disposal a corps of local elected and appointed officials who at least have some reputation and name recognition in their home states. These individuals would make ideal "one state vice-presidential candidates." They could continue to serve in local office and campaign for the presidential ticket in their own states, without having to travel great distances and with the leverage of what reputation and name recognition they do have at their full disposal and at the disposal of the presidential candidate.

- I referred to campaign finance issues above. Not only would having 50+ vice-presidential candidates allow for a "50-state campaign" on the cheap, it would also contribute to better financing of the presidential campaign. Here's why:

Until the presidential nomination is conferred, all campaigns operate independently and are allowed to raise money to the full limits allowed under campaign finance law. For example, in the 2008 cycle, a presidential or vice-presidential candidate (the FEC treats them as the same animal) can receive a maximium contribution, from any one individual, of $2,300 prior to the nomination. The presidential candidate can receive an additional $2,300 after the nomination.

On the day after the nominations are conferred, the vice-presidential campaign(s) legally merge with the presidential campaign. The vice-presidential candidate(s) treasury goes into the presidential candidate's treasury, and they are one campaign.

I see no difference in principle between mergers, in this fashion, of two campaigns and 50-odd campaigns. There is, however, a possibility of great quantitative advantage.

Suppose I had, and wanted to contribute, $100,000 or so to the LP's presidential campaign. I couldn't do it. I could contribute $2,300 to the presidential candidate before the nomination, and another $2,300 after. I could also have contributed $2,300 to the vice-presidential candidate before the primary. Total potential contribution to people who actually end up running in the general election: $6,900.

But what if I could contribute $2,300 each to vice-presidential candidates in 50 states and the District of Columbia, plus a total of $4,600 to the presidential candidate? Assuming that those vice-presidential candidates would not be spending much of their money before the nomination, this would ultimately constitute a perfectly legal contribution of up to $121,900 to the LP's presidential campaign(s).

[N.B. I'm leaving out US territories like Puerto Rico and Guam, who receive no electoral votes ... but I'm pretty sure that similar campaign and contribution scenarios would apply there as well.]

If there were even ten individuals in the United States who cared to do something like that, the LP's general election campaign for the presidency would get a boost of more than a million bucks ... most of it in the bank immediately upon nomination instead of having to be raised in the few hectic months between the nomination and election. And that million dollars would be augmented by the fact that the LP's presidential slate would have 50+ candidates, rather than two, simultaneously campaigning all over the country (cheaply! -- the vice-presidential candidate from Minnesota wouldn't have to be flying to Los Angeles to make a speech ... because the VP candidate from California could drive up from San Diego to do so).

This is obviously not the kind of proposal that a strong national party, in true contention for the presidency, would seriously consider. The LP, however, is not such a party -- and this is a tactic which it might use to enhance its ability to eventually become such a party.

The system in which we work has put in place many structural barriers to our success. We owe it to ourselves to acknowledge those barriers and find creative ways over, under or around them, rather than simply continuing to bruise ourselves by running up against them in the same way, election after election.

It's too late for this tactic to be implemented in the 2008 election cycle. I urge the delegates to next year's national convention in Denver to consider amending the bylaws so that it is available to us for 2012.

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