Thursday, December 29, 2005

Greens Still Out in the Cold

The Connecticut Green Party has voted to sue over provisions in the new campaign finance reform bill which set what they, in a Thursday press release, call “discriminatory signature petition drive requirements” for third parties to qualify for public financing. Who can blame them? What once seemed like a godsend for the Greens and other third parties is turning into a nightmare.

Here’s the mountain the Greens are staring up: To place a publicly-financed candidate for governor on the ballot in 2010, Greens would have to collect 200,000 signatures above and beyond the initial requirement. There’s an old fairy tale about a young hero who is commanded to pick up the spilled contents of a big sack of grain before the sun rises, or suffer the ax. He is lucky enough to be helped by an army of ants, whose hill he was nice enough not to ride his horse over earlier in the story. The Greens here are like the poor sot with the field full of spilled grain, but without the assistance of grateful insects. Their task actually is impossible.

They feel betrayed, and for good reason. The Greens were way out in front of campaign finance reform, advocating public financing of elections and other reforms long before the Rowland scandal forced the rest of us to take a long look at how campaigns are funded. In 2002 I worked on the campaign of a Green state rep. candidate whose signature idea was campaign finance reform. I stood out in the cold November night, calling to passing voters, “Vote Green! Campaign finance reform!” Then, no one was interested. That was the night John Rowland was re-elected.

Now, when public financing has finally become a reality, the Greens want what they consider to be their fair share. They stood out in the cold for years, years, waiting for the rest of us to wise up. This is how we reward them for their foresight?

Public money would save them. This is a party that rarely raises more than a few thousand dollars per year. They won’t take corporate or PAC money, relying on individual donors. Unlike Governor Rell, who has similarly crippled her fundraising, they aren’t successful. Even party members rarely contribute.

Public money would vindicate them. They imagine a Green candidate on the same stage as two major party candidates, explaining patiently and passionately the core beliefs of the party. They see television commercials, radio advertisements, lawn signs. They can almost touch the power they secretly desire. Finally, they think, people would listen, and everyone else would realize how wrong they’d been all along.

Except they wouldn’t. Change wouldn’t come, after all, and the Greens would still be left out in the cold. The fantasy, for such it is, ends at 10%. In a perfect election year, with weak major party candidates, the Greens could expect at most that lonely tenth of the vote. Even 10% is stretching it. The only difference would be that the state had just spent a ton of money financing a candidate who never had a chance.

The Greens are considering running activist Cliff Thornton for governor next year. He won’t be elected. He knows this. So why run? According to a Green Party press release, Thornton says he wants to push issues other candidates won’t talk about, like reforming drug laws. Should taxpayers spend a million dollars on issue ads for a candidate who will poll, at most, 5%?

The new law says that if he can convince 200,000 more people to sign their names to a petition, then we should. Greens say that’s impossible. What’s left unsaid is that no way are there that many people who care enough about the Greens to sign. There aren’t 200,000 people in Connecticut who want to spend taxpayer money financing a tilt at a windmill. That’s why the threshold was put in there in the first place—not to silence third parties, but to save the state from an expensive plague of them. Right?

What are we funding, here? Democracy? Choice? Debate? A massive anti-corruption measure? The answer matters. Public financing wasn’t designed to boost or even include third parties, but to save the two major parties from some of their own worst instincts. That’s it. Any other notions are secondary.

Next year, maybe the Greens will get closer to that seat at the table. Maybe the third party threshold will drop a little, although it won’t—and probably shouldn’t—disappear completely. A system that would grant them increasing amounts of money for reaching successive, more easily gained thresholds might be a workable compromise. 100,000 signatures gets you half what the major candidates do, for example. 50,000 gets you a quarter. It could work. We could move beyond just corralling corruption into funding democratic discourse. We may find that third parties have a lot to contribute to the discussion, once we can finally hear them.

For now, though, they’re still out in the cold, shouting prophecies at the wind.

8 comments:

ctkeith said...

You silly silly boy,

Anyone who's a green has a home in the Dem party and if they're smart they'll come in.There's money for PRIMARY elections in this bill too and thats where the change can occur.

The Greens will win the lawsuit(or more likely the legislature will ammend it to something more palatable) but they'll still be like little kids standing outside throwing rocks at the windows while the action is inside.

Come on in the waters warm enough and if you play your cards right the baracuda and sharks can be avoided.

Genghis Conn said...

You don't understand them, Keith. Most see no difference between Republicans and Democrats, but view them both as part of the same corrupt corporatist system. You are, in fact, correct about the primary money, but they won't see it that way. A more stubborn group you will never meet.

Anonymous said...

The Greens could do real damage if they joined the Democratic Party, but branded themselves as "Green Dems", and held their own caucuses a la the "Blue Dog" Dems.

The last thing the Democratic Party wants is a bunch of educated liberals, asking questions and insisting upon basic accountability.

stomv said...

I have tremendous respect for the Greens. I wish they'd work harder at local elections and pick their battles in ways that don't directly compete with Dems as often, both for their own sake and for the Dems, but that's another rant.

I wonder if they could sig-swap with libertarians. I mean, at the simplest level, if the libertarians and the greens each had 100,000 non-overlapping signatures, then (with consent!) they could sig-swap and both get 200,000 -- and both be on the ballot.

I'm envisioning something like this:
Gary Green and Larry Libertarian go out getting signatures. They find people who are willing to "buddy up" with the other party. If Gary finds 600 Greens who will, and Larry finds 450 Libertarians who will, then both the Greens and the Libertarians just got 450 more signatures each. If there's a third "third" party, they could all do even better.


As for me, I'd sign them both. The way I see it, the Libertarians would steal votes from the GOP and the Greens would force the Dems to behave better.

MikeCT said...

I don't think progressives necessarily have a natural home in the Democratic party, though I would hope that campaign finance reform would begin the process of increasing the accountability of candidates to a base of voters and activists rather than to monied interests. As others have said, third parties raise issues that the others won't raise. They also keep Dems on their toes. Without them, Dem candidates can tell their progressive base, "I don't care what you say - where else are you going to go?" and progressives have no answer.

My problem with the Greens is that they seem to want to run anyone for any office of any kind, which has the effect of marginalizing them. The Working Families Party seems more interested in cross-endorsements than in running their own candidates, making them more of a unique PAC than a political party. Both have had some success with municipal elections, which is the best place to build a party, anyway.

Genghis, part of the reason third parties can't win is the uneven funding playing field. To argue that the playing field should stay uneven because they can't win (and voters don't to pay for candidates who can't win) is circular. With so many elected officials going without any meaningful opposition and never defending their views, our last worry should be having too many candidates and too much debate. A modest signature gathering campaign, combined with the collection of small donations, is sufficient to discourage candidates who aren't serious. (I'd like to know what the ME and AZ requirements are.) The idea that that campaign finance reform should exist "to save the two major parties from some of their own worst instincts" is blatantly unconstitutional and indefensible. Neither the CT nor federal constitutions say anything about Democrats or Republicans. This is about voters owning the democratic process, not about enthroning one or another party in perpetuity.

Genghis Conn said...

Mike,

The Greens can't win statewide because their base is very, very small, and all the money in the world won't expand it all that much. I believe that we'll have to compromise in order to both fund democratic discourse and keep twenty "vanity" candidates from getting public funding.

What is the number of signatures required to place one's name on the gubernatorial ballot? 7,500? That really isn't so hard.

You're right that campaign finance reform as just a way to save the two major parties from themselves is indefensible. But that's why they created it, why it passed, and why it includes a very high wall to keep third parties out. I have to imagine that either court challenger or (less likely) legislative action will remedy at least some of this.

MVD said...

The Greens are well intentioned but WRONG WRONG WRONG. They should move into the Democratic party and help re-vitalize it. Otherwise their actions are totally counterproductive. (i.e. help get Republicans elected)

Daniel Sumrall said...

I dont understand the mentality that wants to restrict representation to an either/or choice.

Greens are a small party usually made up of very passionate individuals who, to be honest, have a difficult time focusing their political energy. But I hardly see that as a valid reason to sink the whole idea of the party.

Let's be straight for a moment--most of the Republicans in control these days are fundamentalist Christians with a 'faith-based' agenda, they are not the small govt, personal reponsibility Republicans of old.

The reason John McCain is a 'renegage' is because he is exactly what a Republican should be and not the hatebreeding, bigoted Christianite Republican preverting the faith of millions for personal gain. So just in the Republican party there are at least two parties.

The Democrats boil down to those with the DLC (Democratic Leadership Council) and those with the PDA (Progressive Democrats of America). Put Clintons, Gore, Lieberman, Kerry, Reid, Daschle and the like in the DLC category. Put Kucinich, Sharpton, Mosley-Braun in the PDA. Neither of these division representative of the whole party, so the Democratic party is also at least two parties.

Bipartisanship is another word for totalitarianism.

I would like to see Libertarians, Greens, Dems, Republicans, Working Families, Reform party member, and whatever else to be able to stand as an equal option for representation of the populace.

One of the reasons people dont vote is because they see not real options. One of the reasons there's lobbyist corruption of our elected officials is because there isn't enough choice. One of the reasons why our civil liberties are infringed is because their isnt a true opposition.

In my opinion, the Green Party is a party of individual who passionately want to serve the public and refuse to give in to the temptations that have plagued and will continue to plague all Democrats and Republicans. There's nothing in the Constitution that insists on a two-party duopoly.