Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Getting the Green for CA Greens

No one doubts that running in elections demand a lot of money. Greens don't have much. In fact, it seems to me that many Greens have moved from viewing "the love of money" as the root of all evil, to just "money".

The realist is that money has always driven politics. Will Rogers (1879-1935) had fun with this, as the following quotes are attributed to him.
  • A fool and his money are soon elected.
  • Politics has become so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to be defeated
Just remember that this was before the days of television and robo-calls. As regards the last quote, in the election that I am most familiar with, Jerry McNerney spent approx. $14 per vote to defeat Richard Pombo Pombo, on the other hand, spent just over $36 to lose. What is not included in this number if the amount of money that the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters and the Humane Society dumped into the race in opposition to Pombo. That was easily over $10 for every vote for McNerney.

What do we need to think about as Greens? How serious are we about winning elections and how much money do we need to put in the bank to pull it off? If winning your election is going to take 80,000 votes, then you clearly need to think of raising $1 million to make it happen or have a very aggressive, very effective alternative strategy and friends with deep pockets.

The next thing to think about is where does the money come from. The Green Party has a formal position of not accepting money from corporations. That is reasonable. Other than that, I believe that we are governed by election law and individual conscience. Let me take the example of the Green Institute that was mentioned by a Humboldt County resident in previous comments.

Even in the non-profits that are beginning to show up around the Green Party, money is important to get started and keep it running. As a party we do not
  • have a full time press secretary;
  • have even a secreatary who can answer the phone, set up meetings, prepare agendas, etc.
  • have any on going data analysis of where our votes are coming from or where / why we are losing registration.
Maybe, this party would do better if we learned how to deal with money and its ethical use.

When we look at the Green Institute and those who were characterized as "Cobb Cronies", we find the following people on the board of directors: Gloria Mattera, Malik Rahim, Anita Rios, Audrey Thayer. Every one of these, have made significant contributions to the Green Party in their communities and to their communities themselves through grassroots activism. And yes, David Cobb is on the Board also. There is also a Board of Advisors that is possibly even more well known, including Medea Benjamin, Sam Smith and John Rensenbrink. So, this is the list of people who are called shills for the Demcrats.

I still don't buy all of the arguements. While I was not happy with the Republican effort to support Greens as an election strategy in Pennsylvania (and last election in Monterey County, CA), I don't find that the fact Dean Meyerson accepted money from people who were registered Democrats when starting the Green Institute was unethical. I have looked at the publications and collective work that Meyerson's group has published as part of the Green Institute's efforts, and there is nothing that I find which is so antithetical to Green Values as to be destructive. In fact, some of the members of the Advisory Board were notable for advising Cobb NOT to run on a safe states strategy.

If we want to continue to run this party on a purely volunteer basis, then we are also saying that we want a bunch of rich people running the party, because those are the only ones who have enough money to provide the full time effort required to do something right. If we are satisfied with half measures and sloppy work, poor communications, etc. then we have to accept the consequences.

And do not expect the public to bail us out with public financing of campaigns. Post election polling done by the Public Policy Institue of California indicated that this is an idea that does not have very good reception with the voters of California. This was discussed by Frank Russo in the California Progress Report.

So, if we want to start winning elections, we need to figure out how to raise money, ethically, and then come up with a way to measure the effectiveness of our expenditures. Sometimes allowing everyone to get "their share" does not make good sense.


Anonymous said...

"And do not expect the public to bail us out with public financing of campaigns. Post election polling done by the Public Policy Institue of California indicated that this is an idea that does not have very good reception with the voters of California."

This was very disappointing to me. How in the heck could this measure pass, statewide, in Arizona yet get trounced here in Cali? Was the opposition to Clean Money just not very well organized and funded when it passed in Arizona? What did the Clean Money promoters do there that we didn't do here?

Nonetheless, assuming voter attitudes on this reform don't change (and, you know, they might), it will be up to us Greens to figure out where else we'll get the money that it takes to run an organized operation and win elections. I don't think it's the SINGLE most important hurdle still in front of us (IMO, broadening our grassroots base is a bigger key to ultimate success), but it's plenty important.

Patrick Meighan
Venice, CA

Craig Dunkerley said...

The good news is that the PPIC poll numbers on Prop 89, the California public financing initiative, are rather misleading because the question asked of respondents mentioned only the cost of such a program, but not the benefits. A poll which did mention the significant benefits of public financing conducted by Public Campaign showed respondents favoring the idea by 74%. As is often the case, the key to success here is education. The public understands the problem (too much private money is having way too much influence on our political system); they just haven't connected the dots to realize the solution represented by public financing. Support of Greens is crucial to the educational effort we need to succeed. Progressives unite!

Wes said...

I see a lot of problems. One of them is that all party's get dirtied by the public distrust of any one of them. Given the current polarizing tendencies in CA politics where the candidates have to play to the extremese of their party to get a nomination, there is less and less chance that voters will be able to trust any of them enough to be willing to pay for their campaigns.

Another problem is that it seems to me that the goal of the GPCA financial / budgeting process is to be able to spread the little money we have in an equitable manner, not to gear the budget to be in the position to provide the most revenue.

What it comes down to is that we have to do a better job justifying our existence to the point where those with some money will contribute and voters will vote.

Lisa said...

Good points, Wes. I think this is something Green Party members need to think hard about.
We have a long way to go in dealing maturely with money.

Amounts that have caused huge rifts so far in our party are just peanuts to the Ds and Rs. I shudder to think what will happen when we start raising serious money. Look what happened to the Reform Party and the federal funding they received.

Often people think we are "funded" somehow though and they are shocked when they attend a local meeting and ask where the funding is and people look around at the 15-20 of us and say, "this is it." Because of Nader and the so called spoiler issue , there is often a perception that we are much bigger than our numbers.

Anonymous said...

"Advising" Cobb on his campaign? How about "advising" him about his illegal campaign practices, advising him against thug tactics and vote-stacking, advising him that he never was the legitimate candidate at all, advising him against the worst decline in support in the modern history of third parties along with the collapse of Reform?