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What about an Occupy Party?
Campaign finance reform poses some serious hurdles for third party candidates.
The Occupy Movement stands for basic changes in the way power and rewards are being distributed. So far, it has relied upon pushing existing decision makers into making those changes. If ever it shifts to electing decision makers, it will confront the McCain-Feingold Bi-Partisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCFRA) that applies to any group raising and distributing more than $1000 per year, a paltry sum given the escalation of media-driven political campaigns.
Super-PACS and super-contributors have the resources to conform to or evade FEC regulation, but small operators seeking to field candidates or influence elections are still saddled with steep technical and administrative requirements that paralyze community level operations. Any entry by the Occupy Movement into choosing decision makers will face the same hurdle.
When the BCFRA was launched, it was touted as a remedy for the corruption produced by corporate “soft” money pouring into party campaign war chests. Among other things, it legislated separation of campaign, party, and independent political action committees, as a quick visit to www.FEC.gov can confirm.
A grassroots group raising and spending more than $1000 has to abide by the same regulations as those raising millions. To ensure compliance with regulations, the act went beyond fines and penalties on organizations to make treasurers individually and personally liable for compliance. Their reports now have to be electronic, using sophisticated software.
While all of this is manageable for large-scale PACs, it goes beyond the technical and financial capabilities of small community committees. Treasurers have to have access to costly technical and legal advice provided by professional accounting and consulting firms at prices set by services rendered to major party and campaign committees. Until last year, small Democratic committees in this area were turning to Durkee and Associates. Their charges were low, but the firm has gone under in a major scandal involving fraud and loss of funds.
Small committee treasurers are becoming an endangered species, and the overhead of professional assistance is rising sharply. Worse still, the public was mistakenly indoctrinated into thinking that McCain-Feingold “reform” encouraged robust local partisan political activism. On the contrary, its impact has been to herd activist volunteers into incumbent and candidate committee control, which means, indirectly, control by consultants whose focus is on character assassination and ever more costly attack ads, not the issues of governance that motivate the Occupy Movement.
So if and when the Occupy Movement transits to partisan political activity, inside or outside the existing party structure, it faces a major hurdle that needs to be lowered or to be removed. That hurdle is the $1000 threshold of the McCain-Feingold BCFRA. Just raising that threshold to an inflation-adjusted $10,000 or $20,000, would facilitate Progressives within the Democratic party as well as easing any transition of the 99%Spring to partisan activity. Raising the threshold too much would open more opportunities for manipulation of smaller committees by big money, but big money has already gained so much freedom that this would be superfluous.
Therefore, to achieve our goals, we need to Occupy McCain-Feingold. It, too, is part of the 1%.
See Third Party Salience in California 2012 Top Two Vote Getter Politics, also by Al Dirrim (March 2012).