Chuck Moulton, the new chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, today released an Open Letter to the National Committee regarding floor fees.
Libertarian National Committee,
I strongly object to a mandatory floor fee for delegates and urge the full LNC to overturn the convention oversight committee’s imposition of such a fee.
A floor fee is not explicitly authorized by the bylaws and is implicitly prohibited by lack of authorization. I will dedicate my full efforts to fighting any attempt by the LNC to circumvent the bylaws, including a judicial committee challenge and/or a credentials fight on the floor of the convention if necessary — even though I hate wasting valuable time on matters such as this.
I say this not as a so-called “povertarian” (in fact I purchased a gold package for both the 2012 and 2010 conventions) or as a contrarian, but rather as a longtime libertarian activist, current Virginia state chair, former LNC vice-chair, current bylaws committee member, professional registered parliamentarian, and an attorney. Voting rights in an organization are fundamental; I vigorously oppose depriving people of their right to vote on party business.
I’ll address the arguments in several broad sections, drawing on my past writings successfully opposing the mandatory floor fee in 2007 and 2010 and on points I’ve seen from others with whom I agree.
I find the interpretation authorizing a mandatory floor fee a stretch of the letter of the bylaws and a clear violation of their spirit. A more appropriate way to transition to a mandatory floor fee system would be to introduce a bylaws change unambiguously authorizing or requiring a floor fee from things like mezzanine floor manufacturers or a registration fee for each delegate covering the cost of renting the room, etc., rather than departing from 40 years of LP history in which there was no mandatory floor fee.
According to the LP bylaws the affiliate parties have the exclusive privilege of selecting delegates and the autonomy of the affiliate parties (including the selection of its delegates) shall not be abridged by the LNC except as provided by the bylaws. Delegates are accredited members of the state or national party who have registered at the convention. I see no language that empowers the LNC to require a fee for that registration. Doing so would abridge the autonomy of the affiliates in delegate selection and I seek clear unambiguous language when that is done.
The right to vote is rendered meaningless if the LNC is allowed to set some arbitrary fee or other barrier to floor access. Under the logic of those who assert a floor fee is authorized, what prevents the LNC from setting the floor fee at $10,000?
Relevant Bylaws: http://www.lp.org/files/bylaws-2010-1207.pdf
ARTICLE 6: AFFILIATE PARTIES
3. There shall be no more than one state-level affiliate party in any one state. Each state level affiliate party shall, in accordance with its own Bylaws and these Bylaws, determine who shall be its delegates to all Regular Conventions. …
5. The autonomy of the affiliate and sub-affiliate parties shall not be abridged by the National Committee or any other committee of the Party, except as provided by these Bylaws.
ARTICLE 11: CONVENTIONS
a. Delegates shall be required to be members of either the Party or an affiliate party. At all Regular Conventions delegates shall be those so accredited who have registered at the Convention. At all Non-Regular Conventions, any person who wishes to attend may do so.
b. Any federal or state law to the contrary notwithstanding, delegates to a Regular Convention shall be selected by a method adopted by each affiliate party; provided however, that only members of the Party as defined in these Bylaws, or members of the affiliate party as defined in the constitution or bylaws of such affiliate party, shall be eligible to vote for the selection of delegates to a Regular Convention.
Although the logic in favor of a mandatory floor fee in 2007 and 2010 centered around language in the convention rules about being “present on the floor” that has since been removed (“In order to vote on a given matter, a delegate must be present on the floor at the time the vote is taken.” was in convention rule 2 until 2010), some parliamentarians reaching for a justification to disenfranchise members have settled on language in RONR about registration procedures.
RONR (10th ed.), p. 593, l. 13, 18-21:
Registration — which normally includes these steps:
c) Recording of the member as officially registered, upon his paying the registration fee (which is sometimes sent in advance) and signing the list of registrations; and
Just because registration “normally includes” paying a fee doesn’t mean a fee is thereby authorized.
Normal procedure is often a function of what the majority of organizations have in their bylaws and do by custom. There are many things that are normally done which are contradicted by bylaws in general and the LP bylaws specifically. The bylaws take precedence. For example, the national association of parliamentarians charges a fee to attend their convention. That fee, and the right to charge it, is defined in their bylaws.
I don’t believe our bylaws explicitly allow a fee or explicitly forbid it; however, the bylaws do implicitly forbid a fee by listing qualifications and not listing payment of fee as one of those qualifications.
This is clearly a gray area because it is not made explicit. In interpreting, the implicit arguments have to be weighed against one another. In this case I would look at principles of interpretation and custom.
Custom is straightforward. We have never charged a mandatory registration fee or a floor fee for business sessions in the Libertarian Party’s 40 year history. This leads me to the conclusion that for the purposes of our organization, registration does not “normally include” a fee.
A principle of interpretation is on point. “If the bylaws authorize certain things specifically, other things of the same class are thereby prohibited.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 571, l. 24-25. In this case the bylaws list qualifications for being a delegate. Imposing other qualifications that are not listed in the bylaws is therefore prohibited. Robert’s is even more specific on the subject of fees: “Members cannot be assessed any additional payment aside from their dues unless it is provided for in the bylaws.” RONR (10th ed.), p. 555, l. 2-4.
A floor fee could be perceived as a poll tax (i.e., a tax required to vote for a candidate running for public office). Poll taxes have a long and sordid history in our country. I do not think it reflects well on the Libertarian Party to depart from our somewhat egalitarian system to a monetocracy that purposely or accidentally excludes LP members from participating in decision making based on income level by attaching a fee to the right to vote. Even the PERCEPTION of imposing a poll tax from above (as distinguished from the reality) could be very negative for the LP’s image.
The Democrats and Republicans do not require a floor fee. They get by without such a fee because they actually know how to raise external cash, which is completely legal for a convention host committee under BCRA.
Tax on Voting
A poll tax, on the sense of a discriminatory tax which was a pre-condition of the exercise of the right to vote, emerged in some US states between the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. After the right to vote was extended to all races by the enactment of the 15th Amendment, many Southern states enacted poll tax laws which often included a grandfather clause that allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. These laws achieved the desired effect of disenfranchising African and Native Americans, as well as poor whites who immigrated after the year specified.
The United States government did not levy any poll taxes that blocked access to voting rights. Partly this is because the national government earned its revenues from income tax and excise taxes rather than from capitation, which required apportionment among the states. Also, this is because the national government didn’t conduct elections for its offices, instead delegating conduct of elections to the states.
The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of this tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition in voting in Federal elections. The 1966 Supreme Court case Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections extended this explicit enactment as a matter of judicial interpretation of a more general provision, ruling that the imposition of a poll tax in state elections violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. This is one of several rulings that rely on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment rather than the more direct provision of the 15th.
There is confusion about the direction of subsidization. Here language is important, as some libertarians talk about people “paying their fair share” or quote the Milton Friedman gem “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”. But what is “fair”? And is giving elected delegates a say in party business really a “free lunch”?
The fact is conventions could be put on much cheaper at less fancy venues. Some of us (myself included) like nicer hotels. Those delegates who would prefer to be frugal with their money (perhaps so they have more money left to run as LP candidates and support libertarian causes) should not have to subsidize our preference for fancy hotels.
More importantly, those that claim delegates who pay no registration fee are being subsidized miss that those delegates are providing a valuable service to the rest of the LP members who do not attend the convention by doing party business (electing LNC members, picking our presidential ticket, passing resolutions, and amending our party documents). Since those of us who do attend the convention have to lay out $500 to $1,500 to get to it, it is convention attendees — free or not — who are subsidizing $25 members who do not attend. I see the convention as a core function of the party. In my opinion a portion of dues ought to subsidize the business session portion of the convention.
The smaller our fee, the more people will attend the convention (basic supply and demand). We should be using our convention to energize activists, candidates, and party leaders. I know I’ve left all the national conventions I’ve attended very energized. Subsidizing some of the convention cost is a small price to pay for increased libertarian activism extended to a greater number of people.
Here are several reasonable alternatives for funding the business session without a mandatory floor fee:
- Classifying conventions as a core expenditure and using a portion of membership fees
- Getting major donors or corporations to sponsor with large contributions
- Covering the convention hall with other delegate packages (i.e., the “subsidizing” slur)
- Covering the convention hall with hotel room commitments and meal commitments
I’ve heard arguments that this convention will lose money without a floor fee. Well, tough. There’s a saying:
Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
The LNC signed a bad contract. Signing a bad contract doesn’t entitle the LNC to then circumvent the bylaws to bail itself out.
It wouldn’t even work anyway. The floor fee may look like good accounting, but it’s terrible economics. The accounting only looks good because it assumes changes in price do not affect behavior. I’ve got news for you: changes in price do affect behavior. Raising the cost of attendance will lead to less attendance. The LNC and convention organizing committee should be doing everything it can to encourage more attendance — especially since they need to fill a room block in order to avoid hotel charges for not meeting the room commitment. If a delegate pays no floor fee but gets a room in the hotel, that may save the LNC penalty money in the long run.
Delegates who do not pay a floor fee may also decide a luncheon speaker looks particularly interesting and buy a meal event last minute. Or they may be so energized by the convention that they petition as a volunteer for our presidential ticket, saving the LNC money that would have been spent on ballot access for paid petitioners. Or they may be motivated to run for office as a Libertarian. Turning away delegates with a mandatory business session fee could be shortsighted with respect to future LP growth.
For the reasons above, I strongly oppose imposition of a mandatory floor fee for delegates.
We survived 40 years without a floor fee and I suspect we can weather one more convention while we wait for the delegates to take action on a bylaws change making their preferences explicit.
Chair, Libertarian Party of Virginia
The above Moulton letter was sent to the members of the Libertarian National Committee on Fri, 02 Mar 2012 21:13:31 -0500; and the recipient list included:
William Redpath Randy Eshelman Kevin Knedler Wayne Allyn Root Mary Ruwart Rebecca Sink-Burris Doug Craig Stewart Flood Daniel Wiener Scott Lieberman Guy McLendon Brad Ploeger Vicki Kirkland David Blau Andy Wolf Sam Goldstein Norman Olsen Brett Pojunis James Lark Marakay Rogers Daniel Karlan Audrey Capozzi — end —
Wayne Allyn Root
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