Ronald Hardy: A Green Party national membership proposal

Posted at Green Party Watch

Summary:

The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) is in a tough position financially. It is in debt, and struggling to meet its monthly expenses. Below I present a case for implementing a National Membership program for GPUS, attempting to make a case that a National Membership plan for GPUS could rescue it from its financial problems, help in state party and local chapter growth, and bring new voters into the Green Party. By tying Delegate Apportionment to National Membership GPUS could regain its financial footing and grow as a political force in America. Doing nothing will result in no significant change to GPUS Financial Policy and budgeting and lead the party further down the path to indebtedness and financial ruin.

Prelude: A Financial Crisis

The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) is in trouble financially. It still owes money for the 2008 Presidential Nominating convention, and is going deeper into debt with each month that donations don’t add up to monthly expenses for “keeping the lights on”.

GPUS is donor driven, that is the source of its income. There is no membership dues, no corporate donations, no federal or state assistence, nothing. Fund raising and donations is it.

GPUS is technically an association of state Green Parties, thus all membership with the Green Party is at the state level, assuming there is an accredited state party in a given state. No one knows how many “members” the Green Party has due to the differences state by state in membership dues, and what you count as a “green” (dues-paying member, registered Green, green voter, etc.). Some state Green Parties give monthly to GPUS, some don’t.

Setting: There is NO membership with the Green Party of the United States.

Late last week, Independent Political Report posted a “membership table” for the Libertarian Party. It indicated that as of October 2008 there were around 17,000 dues paying members of the Libertarian Party, including annual memberships and lifetime memberships. Annual dues are supposedly $25 per year per individual. Lifetime membership at one point was a one time donation of $1,000. Doing simple math, that amounts to approximately $400,000 annual income based on annual membership dues.

Furthermore, the membership table broke down membership by state, and indicated that the active dues paying membership numbers were what were used by the Libertarian Party to determine delegate allocation for the Libertarian Party – not a Frankenstein system of weights and measures comparing registered voters in some states, elected Greens in other states, votes cast for the Green Party candidate for President in certain states and votes cast for Ralph Nader in 2004 in others.

Problem: The Green Party of the United States is broke and in debt.

Possible Solution: Enacting a dues paying membership system with GPUS.

De-Centralization: Since GPUS is in essence an Association of State Green Parties, “authority” in the GPUS is technically in the hands of state parties, which vary greatly in terms of maturity, numbers, activism, etc. A “national membership” could divert energy and money away from state parties to GPUS. It would also threaten the “sovreignty” of state parties to manage their own membership numbers, and challenge the key value of de-centralization.

Response: There is already in place a “state sharing” function within GPUS that initiates financial sharing of donations between GPUS and state parties. This “state sharing” could be formalized through a National Membership Plan, whereby half of all membership dues with GPUS would be shared with the accredited state chapter of the Green Party. Furthermore, State Green Parties would not be bound to accept GPUS “Members” unless they were willing to also accept half of those membership dues. Delegates to the GPUS National Committee would still be appointed/elected by state Green Parties. All rights and responsibilities that state Green Parties enjoy now would continue.

Economic Justice: One concern about a dues paying membership system is that it bases membership and participation in party decision making on “ability to pay”. Isn’t this just putting into place a “pay to play” structure that locks out the poor or financially strapped portions of America?

Response: Many state Green Parties already have a “low income”, “fixed income” or “student” membership rate that is lower than the standard membership rate. In Wisconsin, we have $25 annual memberhip dues, or $40 for a couple, or $10 for low income or students. Is $10 per year asking too much for membership? My local chapter once passed the hat to collect the $10 for membership dues for a cash strapped student, we felt it was important since he was an elected Green to our County Board! Local chapters and State chapters of the Green Party should be given latitude in “covering” the membership dues of low-income members. It amounts to 3 cents per day to be considered a member of the Green Party – is that too much to ask?

“One Green = One Vote”: much has been made about where our Greens are and who is considered a Green. Is voter registration sufficient? Is voting Green more accurate? Would delegate apportionment among the National Committee or the Presidential Nominating Convention be based on National membership, and wouldn’t that be denying the “One Green One Vote” manifesto?

Response: First, neither the National Committee nor the Presidential Nominating Delegates have to be based on National Membership, although if they were it would give some “teeth” to a National Membership plan and hopefully lead to a robust participation in National Membership. Basing proportional representation with GPUS on a National Membership with GPUS would be one of the purist forms of putting “One Green One Vote” into action. If 25% of the National Membership was from one state, that state would have 25% of the Presidential Delegates, and 25% of the National Committee Delegates. There would be no contention – “dues paying membership” would be the only determinant for delegate apportionment – no matter how state laws vary in terms of ballot access, party status, voter registration, etc.


Financial Situation:
finally, the most important short term issue at hand is an increasing debt load by GPUS and a shortage in income that has no end in sight. A National Membership Structure for GPUS has the potential to releave that debt and provide GPUS with the month to month income to “keep the lights on”. If 10,000 Greens across the nation became annual dues paying members of GPUS it would generate $250,000 in income, half of which ($125,000) would be distributed to the various state parties, with the other half paying the bills and paying off the debt. If twice that became members, double the numbers and do the math.

Response: Establishing a National Membership program would provide GPUS with a national membership and donor list that it can use for fund raising, outreach, leadership development and candidate recruitment. Working with state parties GPUS could be in a better position to support state and local campaigns based on a national membership list. GPUS would be able to pay existing staff and monthly expenses and maybe even have enough money left over to work on issus such as ballot access and media outreach. GPUS could pay off its debts and be in a better position to support issues and support candidates that could make a big difference. Members could even have the option of a portion of their membership dues going to one of the several caucuses or committees affiliated with GPUS with simple check boxes. GPUS could even help struggling state parties by helping to connect “National Members” from struggling states to help kick start new state chapters. The possibilities are endless.

Conclusions

There is a lot of history behind the lack of National Memberhip for GPUS that involves de-centralization, grassroots democracy, and more. These concerns are real and need to be acknowledged. However, given the extreme financial dire straights that the National Green Party of the US is in right now, I believe that we are at a critical juncture where things have to change or the Green Party will dissipate nationally as a political force. The simple step of Membership with GPUS has the potential to rescue GPUS from the financial mess it is in and provide it with the necessary funding to both “keep the lights on” and fund the issues we all desire: ballot access, outreach, candidate recruitment, and issue oriented activities. It has the potential to help grow state and local chapters, not take from them, and bring Greens together for collective action.

I would very much like to hear your opinion on this subject, whether you are a (dues paying, registered, voting) Green or not.

8 thoughts on “Ronald Hardy: A Green Party national membership proposal

  1. Steven R Linnabary

    As a (life) LP member, I am offended at the idea that it requires $$ to join a political party.

    Further, it always creates confusion in the media when we use “dues paying members” figures when the dems and reps use “registered” members. It always makes us look tiny and the dems and reps look huge.

    Of course, in Ohio, we cannot “register” into any party other than dem or rep. I always tell the media that in Ohio we only only register things known to be dangerous such as pedophiles, rapists, dems and reps! It does get a chuckle!

    I would urge against using the term “dues paying member” and simply use the term “contributing member”. It is more than just semantics. I lot of people are put off by organizations that require dues. Especially if those people haven’t the spare cash.

    Pacem en Terris
    Steve

  2. Deran

    Well, the national GP has always been a fairly inefficient and fairly incompetent organization. On the other hand there are several state GPs that are dynamic and well established. Perhaps the national GP, at least in its current form, would be beswt allowed to die off. Like the first US GP.

    I do think this situation puts to rest the old ASGPs/GPN (Green Politics network) notion that they had a better idea than the old GPUSA.

    Let the strong state parties survive, and they can build a new GP, or participate in creation of a new broader Left party?

  3. paulie cannoli Post author

    Steve and other LP folks unhappy with the LP dues (BTW I am a LP life member as well) :

    Check out the comments at GPW – Greens have been largely positive about the proposal.

    For example, les evenchick says

    The way you prevent an authoritarian organization is to have clear and fair recall rules and open communication rights among all members.

    A membership organization as Ron proposes can be more grassroots democratic than the current GPUS structure.

    I support the general direction of ron’s proposal and i expect my state party would as well.

    How about Ron putting a resoltion before his state party which can then be introduced to the GPUS National Committee.

    I am a delegate to the NC from Louisiana – and the national Malik effort was initiated by me from the grassroots.

    Coincidentally, we are talking about open communication rights among all members in another (LP) thread at IPR:

    https://independentpoliticalreport.com/2008/12/libertarian-party-transparency-caucus-forming/

  4. G.E.

    The Communists who have taken over the Greens remind me of the pigs on Animal Farm. You know they’re going to cross out that pesky “decentralism” key value soon enough.

    Gee, too bad the “winnable” race in LA didn’t come through.

  5. Sivarticus

    The Greens only seem to be operating at this point because there’s nowhere else–except fringe socialist parties–for third party leftists to go. It’s really too bad for them that Nader doesn’t try to piece something better together. At this point, it looks like the left side of third party politics is about to sink into the irrelevancy and obscurity it was in before the strong showings of Nader and the Greens in 1996-2000.

  6. scooterbird

    As a Green, I have mixed feelings about the proposal. I proposed something very much like this back when I was in the leadership, but the reason then was to highlight the nonsense behind the “One Green-One Vote” proposals that were circulating. Plainly, every state Green Party defines membership differently, so there wasn’t any “one Green” to have a perfectly equivalent vote across the board. Still isn’t, in fact. Anyway, it was rejected out of hand when I suggested it – mainly because the idea of “OGOV” was to insure that all the Nader Greens in California simply voted him in without anyone else having a say, as California was one of the few state Green Parties with a statewide primary…and the virulent rejection pretty much proved that point.

    At this point, I don’t know. I agree that the Party clearly need another direction – one that would hopefully avoid the endless, needless subdivision-unto-uselessness of the various socialist parties. Unity around a core set of values while tolerating variations on the theme in execution should be the hallmark of the GP, and I would hope that continues.

    Whatever else, the GP needs money (duh), and this seems like a possible way to collect it, but I would be hesitant to push it now without a clearer political purpose in mind.

    I don’t know whether it is possible or not to fund the GP minimally without this measure going through, but it should perhaps be considered while some political determinations are made.

  7. songster7

    My concern about “political clubs” continues to be the same, be it LP or GP or BTP …

    1. Political parties function financially on donors, contributors and pledgers; social clubs run on dues.

    2. SMART political parties add provisions for fundraising based on specific projects and goals, with measurable results and full accountability for how the money is spent. (There’s only one instance of this to my knowledge, and that effort was successfully sabotaged before it could prove itself.)

    3. Any organization that relies on some generic “dues” concept to support its funding, must of necessity spend more of its energy on “member pleasing” (and service thereto) than on its intended goals. Steiger’s Law accelerates in its fury, with the resulting edge of bankruptcy (cf. LP ca. 2002?).

    let me know if you are still not convinced; I’ve examined this issue from a lot of angles over the last decade or so …

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