Carolyn Marbry: ‘Floor FREE! But we’re not through yet’

by Carolyn Marbry
http://www.libertyforall.net/?p=3914

Many of us wrote resolutions and campaigned very hard to bring the required floor fee issue to the attention of the states and their delegates and to get people to speak out against it. Many of us argued passionately against the convention floor fee online and in person. A few of us wrote resolutions and presented them to our state conventions and executive committees in an effort to let the states make their opinions known on the subject. Ultimately, that effort was rewarded. In Austin on Sunday morning, after considering the careful arguments on both sides of the floor fee issue, the LNC voted overwhelmingly NOT to require a floor fee of delegates to be on the convention floor and vote on party business.

This was a huge victory for the state parties, who retain the exclusive right to choose their delegates without those delegates having to pay what amounts to a poll tax. It was a huge victory for the delegates themselves, who will now have the responsibility of deciding for once and all whether or not to allow National to charge floor fees for voting at conventions in the future. It was a huge victory for Libertarianism because it put responsibility for this question in the hands of those directly affected by it: The delegates themselves. So I offer my thanks to the members of the LNC who voted to strike the floor fee and leave it to the delegates to decide, whether that vote came from their own consciences or at the behest of their regions.

Meanwhile, the by-laws committee approved an amendment to the by-laws to be presented to the delegates to DISALLOW floor fees completely, a decision that led one LNC representative to call the committee “irrational.” The by-laws committee at the same time did not approve the amendment that would have allowed floor fees. This is also a victory for those who want to maximize participation.

Even so, in spite of these victories, we can’t sit back and breathe a sigh of relief, not until this issue is resolved for once and all in the by-laws. Here’s why. The central argument from those who want floor fees boils down to TANSTAAFL — There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, taken from Robert Heinlein’s masterpiece, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. They argue that conventions cost money and those costs must be paid by someone. They further argue that the by-laws don’t explicitly prohibit National from charging a “registration fee,” so they are allowed to do so under Roberts Rules of Order, which refers to a registration fee that is “normally” paid for meetings.

Registration fees for meetings are acceptable to most Libertarians. No one has ever disputed that. Floor fees and poll taxes, however, are not, and that’s really what this comes down to. As long as a registration fee is not required of a delegate in order for him or her to perform the duties for which s/he was elected by the states, it’s not a problem. A registration fee to pay for badges with ribbons and binders, for example, would not be odious to anyone, and anyone who did not want to pay for such things would not have to and could still vote. But this floor fee WOULD HAVE BEEN a problem as implemented because it would have locked delegates out of voting if they did not pay.

Another problem with a floor fee is that it acts just like a tax. Not only is it virtually impossible to get rid of once in place because the organization that collects it comes to depend on it, but it has a tendency to go up. Maybe $100 is not that much and won’t exclude that many people from attending. But what about $1000, or $10,000? Once the floor fee is in place, it’s no longer a matter of “whether or not” but of “how much,” and it can become a tool for great harm within the party.

The pro-fee folks didn’t ask the states if the states thought it was okay to add this extra requirement onto their delegates after 39 years’ precedent of not having such a requirement. Several states passed resolutions making their positions clear on this point: NO. The pro-fee folks didn’t ask the delegates, either. Actually, strictly speaking, they have asked in the past, and the answer in every instance was no. I imagine it will be the same this time around.

Instead, curiously, they asked their parliamentarian. They even asked for a ruling from the current “Robert,” of Roberts Rules of Order. The parliamentarian supported their letter-of-the-law interpretation, as did “the Robert.” Wow, that sounds really authoritative. I imagine to a statist, that would be game, set and match. I see two problems with this. One, for all the leading questions they DID ask, they failed to ask the underlying question, the REAL question, which is: Is it the intention of our by-laws and RONR that the states’ appointed delegates can be excluded from voting on National party business if said delegates do not pay a registration fee? Why in the world would we want to exclude any delegates from voting? Again, this is how a floor fee can cause great harm to the party.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the parliamentarians tell us RONR says on this since this is really a by-laws issue, and the by-laws give the power to the states to choose delegates. What does matter is that the answer in our by-laws right now is apparently not clear enough to keep this from coming up again and again. As long as any ambiguity remains in the by-laws, this question will keep popping up, and we’ll keep having to play Whack-a-Mole with it. We need to act decisively and put this one to bed for once and all.

That’s why I say we’re not through yet. We need to reward those LNC members who voted to give this decision back to the delegates. We need to go to St. Louis, one and all, ideally with full delegations from every state. We need to support the convention in good faith and support our party in good faith. But mostly we need to represent our states and vote to protect their interests in the party. We need to shut the idea of floor fees down permanently.

As interesting as the questions of profit or loss at the last convention, of freeloading on the part of either the delegates or the LNC, or of where the budget went or should have gone to pay for the convention are, this really comes down to one thing: Is it right to turn away the states’ chosen delegates from voting at national if they don’t pay a “registration fee?” My sense of it is that it is not. And I’m going to St. Louis.

Carolyn Marbry is a candidate for LNC Vice Chair and a delegate from California.

21 thoughts on “Carolyn Marbry: ‘Floor FREE! But we’re not through yet’

  1. Starchild

    Thanks for posting this, Carolyn! You make some good points, especially your identification of a key legal question that supporters of a floor fee or poll tax omitted when they sought their parliamentary opinions — “Is it the intention of our by-laws and RONR that the states’ appointed delegates can be excluded from voting on National party business if said delegates do not pay a registration fee?”

    Even more fundamental is this reality: The Libertarian Party is *not* doing LP delegates a favor by providing a place for them to meet! To the contrary, the *delegates* are doing the *party* a favor by traveling to national conventions at their own expense and volunteering their time to help the party conduct its business as provided in the Bylaws.

    Charging delegates a floor fee to offset the costs of the convention hall where they meet to do the party’s business is like charging party employees and interns a fee to offset the costs of renting the office space where they work — and I trust everyone recognizes how perverse *that* would be.

    We should also remember that the cost of party conventions is not a fixed expense, but rather is highly dependent on where those conventions are held. Meeting space in hotels is more expensive than other alternatives that have not been explored, such as holding festival-style convention gatherings outdoors during the warm months, meeting on university campuses, renting lower-cost day-use facilities (people could stay in off-site lodging nearby), etc.

    The practice of arbitrarily holding meetings in posh venues, and then forcing all attendees to pay for those costs regardless of their personal preferences or ability to pay, is unfair and elitist. There is no reason why the Libertarian Party should be subsidizing the personal tastes of those members who prefer to gather in more luxurious surroundings when such surroundings are not necessary to the business at hand, which they are not.

    Those who insist that LP conventions must be held in hotels should pay the extra costs associated with their preferences, not force them onto others who would rather forgo such niceties (and perhaps have more discretionary dollars left to put toward advancing liberty as a result!).

    Defeating the floor fee in St. Louis has been a tremendous positive step, and I join you in thanking those LNC members who voted to uphold the rights of state affiliates and reject the attempt to force delegates to subsidize the luxury tastes of those who demand hotel conventions:

    • Mary Ruwart
    • Lee Wrights
    • Rachel Hawkridge
    • Tony Ryan
    • Julie Fox
    • Pat Dixon
    • Jim Lark
    • Mike Jingozian
    • Stewart Flood
    • Dan Karlan

    But if the Libertarian National Committee does as some who have spoken out against floor fees have suggested and budgets money to fully cover convention expenses, the elitist subsidy issue will not automatically go away.

    Unless the LNC addresses the issue of *where* conventions are held, the result of such a change will simply be to force the party membership as a whole, rather than simply those members who attend conventions, to subsidize the preferences of Libertarians to whom a high level of comfort and/or an upscale image are priorities.

    If we go down this path while voting membership in the party is dependent — or is perceived as being dependent — on the payment of dues, and dues are raised (or kept at the same level rather than lowered) in order to cover unnecessary expenses such as hotel convention costs, we will still face an economic fairness issue with some members who can ill afford to do so being expected to pick up the tab for those accustomed to ringing up larger bills.

  2. Robert Capozzi

    sc: Even more fundamental is this reality: The Libertarian Party is *not* doing LP delegates a favor by providing a place for them to meet! To the contrary, the *delegates* are doing the *party* a favor by traveling ….

    me: I’d suggest this analysis is not a healthy mindset. In a collective like the LP, no one is doing anyone a “favor.” Instead, like-minded people are coming together to advance a cause. Each of us are able to contribute in different ways and with different intensities, based on our personal circumstances.

    Party management does its best to manage the ways and means. Sometimes we have opinions that it could be done better. I suggested early on, for ex., that floor fees were uncool, given that some had already been selected to be delegates and were not given ample time to factor a floor fee into their personal decision.

    Saying that some subsidize others misses the whole point. Some give more than others because they can and they think it’s the right thing to do. Some party functions require a fee, e.g., membership itself, attendance to fundraisers, etc.

    The LP is NOT a business. It’s a CA– USE.

    All IMO, of course.

  3. Gary Chartier

    Starchild: I think this is dead-on. It seems to me as if it would often be easy to combine the provision of no-frills facilities that could be funded out of dues with other non-business options designed to satisfy those with more luxurious tastes.

  4. Michael Seebeck, been there, done that

    Gary @3: Of course, because that’s how it *should* be done. The fundamental problem is that there has been a developed mentality that the term “convention” means business session PLUS the extra stuff, when in fact the convention *is* the business session alone and the rest is still what it is–extra stuff.

    The cost-setting for this is actually simpler than the floor-fee proponents realize.

    Starchild @1: If you want to put together a bid to hold a tent-revival, outdoor state convention, then by all means, nobody is stopping you, and LPCA is taking bids right now. IOW, show it can be done and done right along the lines you’re claiming. Having done my share of catering and event organizing from 5 to 5000 both indoors and out, including one in a snowstorm, I can assure you it’s not as easy as you think it is, nor cheap.

  5. Starchild

    Michael,

    Get me a resolution from the Libertarian Party of California Executive Committee expressing interest in an outdoor state convention, and I’ll consider it worth my time to do as you suggest.

    In the lack of such an expression of interest, I have no particular desire to spend a bunch of effort on something that’s likely to be dismissed out of hand.

    Alternately, if you are personally open to investigating outdoor and other low-cost convention possibilities, I would be willing to join you on an LPC committee organized for this purpose.

  6. Starchild

    Robert @2 — You make some good points. I think you’re right that seeing LP conventions as “like-minded people coming together to advance a cause” is healthier (and more accurate) than seeing them as “the delegates doing the party a favor” or vice-versa.

    And I *strongly* agree with you that the Libertarian Party is a *cause*, not a *business*! I wish I could get LP members to stop referring to national and state committees as “Boards of Directors.” Calling them “Executive Committees” sounds corporate enough already. I’d prefer a term like “Council”.

    So long as floor fee proponents are making insulting arguments about “subsidized” delegates, “freeloaders” and so on, however, I think it is in the best interest of the party that I throw that kind of language back at them by pointing out the facts about where the convention costs are coming from and at whose behest.

    And frankly, I’m still not entirely convinced that you “get it”. Floor fees were not simply “uncool” merely because some delegates “were not given ample time to factor a floor fee into their personal decision” to attend the convention! As Carolyn and I, and others, have pointed out at length, a floor fee or poll tax violates the spirit if not the letter of the party’s Bylaws, and is unfair for a whole host of reasons.

    Yes, it’s good and reasonable for the party to charge fees to attend certain events. But simply being a delegate should *never* incur a fee. Nor should volunteering in the national office.

    If as you say, no one is doing anyone a favor, then it seems to me that the correct approach is obvious: Pass a Bylaw that both prohibits the party from charging delegates to attend business sessions, and prohibits delegates from charging the party a fee for their services or otherwise receiving compensation from the party for being a delegate. Will you join me in supporting this proposal in St. Louis?

  7. Michael Seebeck, been there, done that

    Starchild, why do you, a grassroots-oriented activist, feel you need top-down authorization from the ExComm? I thought you were more interested in doing things bottom-up?

    Bids are open to anyone to make. No authorization or resolution needed.

    Now if you’re all talk and no walk on the subject, then feel free to state that it isn’t worth your time. But if you really do care about it and believe that it can be done, then step up and show us.

    Otherwise, kwityerbitchin.

  8. Thomas M. Sipos

    Starchild, “low cost” and “outdoor venue” are two separate issues.

    I’m all for the lowest cost venue possible, but not if it’s outdoors. My own personal preference, I don’t like sunlight.

    Just something to bear in mind as you seek support for cheaper venues.

  9. Robert Capozzi

    sc, I’m neutral on the how funds are raised and allocated, so I can’t support your Bylaws amendment.

    I don’t have the patience to dive down into the legalistic implications of Bylaws matters, but I wonder if a fair and reasonable approach to funding the convention is by State delegation. $100 per seat from the state LP seems reasonable. It would be up the state LP if the delegate paid for the seat. If a state doesn’t make its payment, national could simply deduct that (small) amount from the revenue-sharing scheme that I understand is in place.

    I find the rhetoric on both sides of this issue at times histrionic: “freeloader” AND “poll tax.” Both are hyperbolic and ultimately inaccurate.

    Can we all just get along?

  10. Thomas L. Knapp

    “I find the rhetoric on both sides of this issue at times histrionic: ‘freeloader’ AND ‘poll tax.’ Both are hyperbolic and ultimately inaccurate.”

    The US Supreme Court ruled (in Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia) that delegate registration fees to political conventions which nominate candidates for public office, or elect candidates to internal party office (op. cit., supra White), constitute poll taxes as defined in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    Contra the LNC counsel’s opinion, that ruling in no way confined itself to Section 5 “covered jurisdictions.”

    You don’t have to like it. It will remain a fact whether you like it or not. And if it’s “inaccurate,” then by all means take that up with the nine politicians in black dresses who made it the law of the land, not with those of us who point out that that’s what they did.

  11. Starchild

    Michael @7,

    Did I ask you for “authorization” to submit a convention bid? No. I’m perfectly aware that no such authorization is needed.

    What I asked for is a signal of interest from the California LP’s Executive Committee in possibly holding an outdoor convention, so I know I wouldn’t just be wasting my time.

    It also shouldn’t be necessary to point out to you that it is perfectly possible to (a) care about something, and (b) believe it can be done, without (c) wanting to do it yourself.

    However, I actually am willing to do it myself (with help from the willing) — if the ExCom signals its interest in potentially approving such a bid.

    If you have experience with organizing outdoor events, you can help by giving me as much information as you have about the events you helped put on, such as where they were, how much they cost, what you got for the money spent, and how many people participated.

    But the feeling I get from you so far is that you have no interest in pursuing an outdoor or otherwise low-cost convention and are simply interested in trying to shoot the idea down without appearing to be too closed-minded about it.

    If I’m wrong, let’s talk about what we can *both* do to make it happen.

  12. Starchild

    Thomas @8,

    An outdoor convention wouldn’t mean you’d have to sit directly in the sun during business meetings. I imagine we would most likely have a large tent or something of that sort.

    But you’re right that a low cost convention wouldn’t necessarily have to be outdoors at all — outdoors just seems to me like a good bet for keeping costs down while giving ourselves plenty of space for vendors and such and minimizing the rules that constrain us.

  13. Starchild

    Robert @9,

    I originally wrote @1 that “The Libertarian Party is *not* doing LP delegates a favor by providing a place for them to meet! To the contrary, the *delegates* are doing the *party* a favor by traveling to national conventions at their own expense and volunteering their time to help the party conduct its business as provided in the Bylaws.”

    You responded @2 that, “In a collective like the LP, no one is doing anyone a ‘favor.’ Instead, like-minded people are coming together to advance a cause. Each of us are able to contribute in different ways and with different intensities, based on our personal circumstances.”

    I agreed @6 with what you appeared to be suggesting — a party where different people contribute differently and LP members are neither charged nor paid to be a delegate (since no one is doing anyone else a favor) — and proposed a Bylaw change that would reflect that understanding.

    To this you responded @9, “I’m neutral on… how funds are raised and allocated, so I can’t support your Bylaws amendment.”

    Frankly, I don’t believe you have no opinion on “how funds are raised and allocated.” Do you really mean to tell me that you think any way in which the LP chooses to raise money is as good as any other, and any way in which the party chooses to spend money is as good as any other?

    Of course not, and you prove it one paragraph later by suggesting your own plan for how to fund expensive hotel conventions! (I assume that’s the kind of convention you want, since you refer to a high charge of $100 per seat which would not be necessary for a lower cost venue.)

    Unfortunately, your plan simply amounts to an unfunded mandate imposed on the state affiliates. You would put them in the position of having to do the dirty work of levying fees on individual delegates or else be on the hook themselves for convention costs incurred by the Libertarian National Committee or its contractor over which state affiliates have no oversight or control.

    In other words, a clever way to impose a floor fee or poll tax without doing so directly. Thanks, but no thanks!

  14. Robert Capozzi

    sc, I’m neutral in the sense that I don’t think that this sort of minutiae merits a Bylaws change. It’s the same sort of insane thinking that leads to an 800-page (is it really?) policy manual for how the national office is run. This sort of bureaucratic micromanagement strikes me as highly dysfunctional.

    I’m neutral on what sort of venues conventions should be held in, especially off-year ones. I DO think the Presidential ones should be held at a place that media can cover with few obstacles.

    Perhaps $100 is too high…dunno. Whatever the direct costs for running a convention would be…a hall big enough to accommodate 1500 or so, staff travel, and incidentals, off the top of my head. My suggestion has the benefit of spreading the expense to everyone in the party, not just to delegates. That makes sense to me.

    There’s also nothing “wrong” with having doing it as it’s been done in the past, per se. I don’t have a problem with viewing conventions as being IN PART fundraising opportunities, and it also makes sense to me that conventions NOT lose money.

    A political party takes funds to operate, no matter what sort of party we want.

  15. Robert Capozzi

    tk, I’m not an attorney, but I know enough about SCt rulings that that are often VERY narrow and are dependent on the SPECIFIC circumstances of the case. In this case, the opinion you cite states (early on in the ruling, btw) the following:

    “Because Virginia law provides that the nominees of the two major political parties shall automatically appear on the general election ballot,… ”

    The Voting Rights Act applied in the case of VA, given that specific circumstance. The case would probably apply to a state LP in a state where the LP had automatic ballot status.

    As I understand the practice of stare decisis, the appropriateness of considering a floor fee to be a “poll tax” would need to be litigated in the case of a national party, especially a non-major one.

    Regardless, for me the term poll tax refers to voting in a general election. The Supremes can get hypertechnical about it.

  16. Mik Robertson

    Maybe what the LP should do is have the state affiliates bid to hold the convention, sort of like we do with counties for the state convention. The national organization would only organize the business session or host the convention when all state bids were unacceptable or not forthcoming.

    Under that scenario, would it be fair that the state affiliate bear the entire cost of the convention? Unless you want to hold a convention in a public park or other open space, there is likely going to be some cost to get space, even if it is in a drive-in movie theater.

  17. Michael Seebeck

    Starchild, I have no interest in pursuing a convention, because in my SVC chair role I have plenty to do, little time to do it, plus my 13-14-hour-a day real job that takes way too much time away from my family–things you don’t seem to understand.

    If you’re seeking help in putting such a bid together, then I can only assume you have no real idea of what’s involved. If you did, you wouldn’t be asking for my help. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before, because it has–countless times. If you’re really that devoted to it, you can figure out the legwork and info yourself. It’s not that difficult IF you talk to the right people, and there are plenty of them in your neck of the woods.

    Frankly, people are looking at convention bids outside the XC, and within it as well–just not me. Why? Division of labor.

    I’m off to work. IYWID,DIY.

  18. Robert Capozzi

    mr, hmm, for off years, that sounds like a pretty good idea.

    Or maybe we could hold it at This is Burning Man. 😉

  19. Robert Capozzi

    Or, perhaps we can learn from the BTP experiment and do most of our administrative business on the ‘net.

    I don’t mean to say that BTP has been a roaring success, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t designed some their party apparatus in a more serviceable manner, given esp. that they were wrought in a post-Net era. Keep in mind, the early LP did a lot of business by USPS and phone! Landline phones, at that! Plus, tk’s a clever dude!

  20. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob,

    It might just be fatherly pride but yes, I do think that some of the things BTP has done might be worthwhile for the LP to explore. As a matter of fact, one of my goals with BTP was to test some of those ideas so that the LP wouldn’t have to (and because I didn’t think it would do so in any case).

    So far as I know, we’re the first party (and so far only) political party to hold a full national convention online — program, bylaws, internal elections, public office nominations, etc.

    Our process for doing so was not and is not perfect — but it seems to work, and it was designed by a guy with minimal site design skills (me) using out-of-the-box freeware (Drupal).

    The LP would have a higher bar to get over — it has more members to serve and more authentication issues (e.g. are dues current, etc.) — but the LP also has a lot of activists who know how to do this kind of stuff.

    Should the LP hold its conventions online? That’s a different question. At the very least, it might be useful to some kind of online member polling system to serve an advisory function.

  21. D. Frank Robinson

    “…it might be useful to some kind of online member polling system to serve an advisory function.” I’m definitely positive on that.

    Returning to the funding issue: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bid4liberty/

    or bid4liberty on FaceBook.

    The Gordian Knot seems to be: who pays for who votes and how. Sticky.

    The LP was established with state parties as the constituent units. It was contemplated (I was there) that there would be a dual membership for individuals with separate fees to support each level of the organization. In hindsight, that may not have been the best structure but it was based on the practices of other organizations.

    Over time, in part due to the effect of state ballot access laws on state party membership, there has arisen a great disparity among the states in financial viability. I do not have empirical data at hand to support my thesis, but it my intuition is that the money is where the ballot status is.

    If my thesis is supportable by empirical data, then one can question the original premise of state party equality as a basis for financing and representation in a national convention as practical this current political context.

    Therefore, the LP should adapt its practices within the logic of its principles. It does little to advance a solution to argue that the LP is not a business, but rather a ‘fraternal order’ of a sort. Both a commercial and a fraternal enterprise are subject to market behavior.

    Let us admit openly that the LP would almost certainly never hold a national convention in a state where it has no ballot access and no prospect of getting ballot access.

    Let us also openly admit that fees to fund a convention are not the principal deterrent to member participation. It is travel, lodging, food, etc costs. The LP or its LNC has no direct control over those ‘exognous’ costs. The only control is over choice of specific venue.

    Let us consider that funding should precede and strongly influence the choice of venue or site. In other words, first you raise the money for a convention, THEN you build it with the funds on hand WHERE they will come. How to do that?

    I’m open to discussion, but we could begin by considering the delegate seating auction plan I proposed. An auction several months in advance of when convention planning need begin would establish how much is available for a venue to conduct business sessions.

    How such an auction could be structured to accommodate the trade offs between party political realities and maximum revenues would have to be determined by negotiation and refined by experience if executed.

    The existing state of affairs is a needless source of distraction, dissension and demoralization. That’s some ugly 3-D.

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