I am about to make myself a likely target of outrage again, but recent events make it necessary I speak my piece. I’ve had more than one engagement with Green Party enthusiasts, most of whom don’t seem to have studied the history of previous third-party efforts to see what went wrong and benefit from that knowledge.
As the House of Representatives prepared to pass HR.1 of 2021, the For the People voting reform act, the Green Party launched an indignant campaign on social media declaring “the Democrats” were once again setting up roadblocks to any successful challenge to the duopolistic status quo by a third party.
The language in question:
SEC. 5202. ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR MATCHING PAYMENTS.
(a) AMOUNT OF AGGREGATE CONTRIBUTIONS PER STATE; DISREGARDING OF AMOUNTS CONTRIBUTED IN EXCESS OF $200.—Section 9033(b)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended—
(1) by striking ‘‘$5,000’’ and inserting ‘‘$25,000’’; and
(2) by striking ‘‘20 States’’ and inserting the following: ‘‘20 States (disregarding any amount of contributions from any such resident to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such resident for the election exceeds $200)’’.
For those unfamiliar with the language of campaign finance, under the existing law a candidate running for President of the United States was required to have accumulated funds in the amount of $5,000 collected from at least 20 states to qualify for matching funds from the US government. That amount has been increased to $25,000, which to most people would seem reasonable for someone aiming to cop the top office in the national government.
There is no question the legacy parties have made it extremely difficult for third-party challengers to get on ballots. Most states have sets of rules for third parties that are so clearly designed to make it impossible for them to get a foothold they should have been challenged all the way to the Supreme Court decades ago. Or, alternatively, the parties seeking that foothold would find ways to win seats in state legislatures to the point they could initiate changes. That’s a discussion for another time.
The discussion this time is about the Green Party trying to rouse the masses by telling them to demand their representatives in Congress refuse to pass the entire reform bill unless and until the provision above and one other that states “IN GENERAL.—Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the eligible candidates of a party in a Presidential election shall be entitled to equal payment under section 9006 in an amount equal to 600 percent of the amount of each matchable contribution received by such candidate or by the candidate’s authorized committees (disregarding any amount of contributions from any person to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such person for the election exceeds $200), except that total amount to which a candidate is entitled under this paragraph shall not exceed $250,000,000’’ are removed.
“Progressives should be demanding full public funding based on equal grants for all qualified candidates and a constitutional amendment to end the US Supreme Court imposed doctrines that limit public regulation of campaign funding in public elections,” 2020 Green Party Howie Hawkins says in a position paper posted on the party’s website. “The qualifying thresholds to access this presidential primary matching funds are increased five times, putting the program beyond the reach of third-party candidates.”
I leave it to my reader to decide whether $25,000 is such a huge amount of money as to be “beyond the reach” of a truly viable third party running someone for President of the United States. Why not be complaining that these major reforms aren’t scheduled to go into effect until 2028? Or, put another way, until the current Democrat Party’s occupation of the Oval Office, provided one or the other of the top two holding office wins in 2024, the opportunity arises for the other legacy party to take over again.
That is, the Democrats get to run another Presidential campaign and at least three Congressional ones without having to abide by the changes called for in the bill.
Hawkins admits the bill contains desperately needed reforms, but the Green Party’s hobbyhorse (cf. Sterne, Lawrence, The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) about matching funds is in full gallop. Never mind closing the loopholes to keep foreigners from donating, to require paper ballots, to improve voter access, and curb the influence of dark money. It’s more important that anyone who decides to start a new political party immediately have access to the same level of support as established parties that have developed, for good or ill, a sufficient voter base to be able to raise the levels of financing modern political campaigns require.
Which, it must be noted, the Green Party has failed to do despite its 20-year history of running people for President every four years then essentially disappearing into the woodwork until the next time come around. It seems their core belief is that anyone with the least intelligence in the working class will simple fall in love with their eco-socialist platform and come running to sign on. I call it Field of Dreams politics—a group of committed and well-meaning activists who think all they need do is set up their new political option and “they will come”.
The most successful third party in US history, the People’s Party, emerged from the Farmer’s Alliance movement in the latter half of the 19th century. The Alliance had, at its height, 40,000 traveling lecturers and educators, 1,000 newspapers and magazines, and even its own press organization—The National Reform Press Association. Local Alliance chapters had libraries, and held study groups. Even so, the People’s Party failed—because it allowed its organization to be dominated by men more interested in getting elected than in advancing the goals of its platform, and because it refused to acknowledge just how deeply rooted party loyalty is in the majority of people who embrace a party.
Nevertheless, the Populists were making major inroads into the duopoly’s control despite the huge levels of funding coming from the same kind of corporate oligarchs and bankers candidates face today being used against them. They did it with the support of people some of whom were burning their own crops to keep themselves warm because they couldn’t sell them for enough to live on. There were no matching funds. There were simply millions of people mad as hell who understood who their real opponents were and worked their hearts and souls out to fight them.
From where I watch, there seems to be a whole lot of people so focused on their pet issue they’re incapable of understanding that compromise and politics is the way things work. They’re so conditioned to thinking that if something isn’t working the way you want it to, the solution is to throw it out and get something new instead of looking at how the one you have might be repaired. They claim they embrace solidarity, and then are ready to toss the benefit of the mass of the people aside unless their own special to-do list gets fulfilled. They call for “general strike” and, when asked if their strike fund is ready, airily state they don’t need one because sometimes you just have to suffer for the cause.
The US governments—federal, state, and local—have been run by two, and only two, major parties for most of the country’s history. Students of that history know all too well how, thirty years ago, the two parties essentially became Siamese twins joined at the hip of neoliberal economics. Anyone who thinks they can just declare they’re launching a new party and succeed in combatting that wall of established privilege is delusional. If there’s going to be a new, third party, it has to be built from the grassroots up, blade by blade and brick by brick. That doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work. And yes, reality does suck.