Thursday, December 27, 2012

Selling Your Old Car: Be Real!

I am frequently offered old AMC & Rambler automobiles, often in response to some ads I have suggesting I may be an interested buyer.

I cannot count how many times I have been offered a car "that just needs a tuneup and some new carpet", with the seller assuring me it will then be something I can then turn around and flip for a "big profit".

Trouble is, no one is paying "big bucks" for AMC's of any sort.  Yes, of course, there are a few outliers, like Rebel Machines and SC/Ramblers -- but these have almost nothing to do with the value of the bread-and-butter AMC's.

Everyone likes to think they have a gold mine sitting under the tarp.  But that's truly a rare thing.

EBay, with their "completed listings", provides the best summary of prices that people are actually willing to pay.

Every car usually has three price levels:

1)  Highest: What the owner thinks it's worth -- usually several multiples of item 3, below.

2)  Medium: What NADA, Old Cars Price Guide, etc suggest it might be worth, usually based on sometimes very old live auction prices, sold at high-dollar fast-money venues like Barrett-Jackson, which only sell high-dollar restorations or perfect originals

3)  What it is actually worth (ie what it will really sell for right now)

One example is a 1971 Ambassador 4 door sedan that was on eBay six times.  It started out its first auction at $3500.

It looked okay, and the seller claimed it ran well.  On the first auction, I went to go look at it as it was only two hours away from me.  It was a solid, but obviously-worn, family sedan.  Everything was functional, but it was just a well-used car.  I offered $700 for it.


He laughed at me.


Six months and five more relistings -- each with a lowered reserve -- later, the car finally sold when the auction met his reserve of $600.  It sold for $660.  This was consistent with all of the highest bids in each auction listing, too -- the highest bid in any of the listings was mine, in the first listing ($700).


In 2008, a car dealer in Minnesota picked up a 1969 Ambassador 2 dr hardtop, with 343 4v and all the toys.  I discussed the car with him, but he wouldn't budge from his reserve of $15,000.  I offered him $11,200.

It didn't sell.

He relisted the car eight times as I recall, and eventually did sell it, four months later -- for $11,200.
 
In January 2010, a local fellow offered me a 1976 Gremlin 3-speed for $6500.  He gave the old song and dance about it just needing "a couple of things" and then it would be worth "five figures".  I went to look, but walked away so angry that "I should sue you for wasting my time and gas" slipped from my lips before I knew it.

As I was about to get in my car, he had this shocked look on his face and asked me what I thought it was worth. I told him "about a tenth of your asking price", and slammed my door and left.

I kept seeing ads for the car in the local trading paper, every so often, the price dropped by $1,000 or so.  A couple of months ago, a friend of mine called me and told me he bought the car -- for $500.

I don't understand the la-la-land fantasies that some have about their car's worth.

If you actually want to sell your car, then set a price that's realistic.  Don't fantasize -- study.  Look at the completed listings on eBay (and make note of the fact that *most* ebay listings for older cars are no-sales).  Look in Old Cars Price Guide.  Better yet, ask one or more of the AMC clubs for an opinion.

AMC Rambler Club

American Motors Owners Association

Then come to me, and tell me your realistic price for your vehicle -- and I will consider it.

Best wishes to you!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Libertarians: Stop Relying on Email!

Just because you assemble your life around your email inbox doesn't mean everyone else does.

In fact, these days email has become almost ineffective as a marketing method.  It was at one time a fair way to reach your prospects -- until everyone caught on, making it increasingly difficult to break through the noise.  Now, the trash bin and the spam filter are very likely to be the final resting places of your email messages to your members.

We Libertarians tend to rely too much on email.  Way too much.  Especially our leadership.

One of the (many) things I have repeatedly tried to convince Libertarians of is that email is a woefully bad way to get real warm-body participation. They’re great for reminders, or for an occasional nudge, but they are NOT a recruiting mechanism. They *can* be used for recruiting and fundraising, but the fact is that real letters — not to mention ringing a doorbell and shaking a hand — work at a MUCH higher rate.

Establish a project for which you need X dollars. Pick out a list of 100 LP members in your area.  Send:

  • 34 of them email fundraising messages
  • 33 of them hard-copy letters mailed via USPS
  • And go visit the last 33.

I would be happy to wager that the donation *rate* (the largest number of donors) will come from the last group.  I'll also wager that the hard-copy letters will be the next most productive.  The email method, however, will be dead last in terms of how many people respond.

The only advantage email has is it is cheap.

But remember -- you get what you pay for. Yes, email is cheap.  But because we all know it's cheap, many people will get the subtle hint that we don’t really care about them if $0 is all we’re willing to invest.

Far too many libertarian “leaders” rely almost exclusively on email for communicating with their fellow members. If we’re serious about building the movement, or the party, we have to actually knock on doors and meet our fellows, or call, or write them a professional-looking letter and include a couple of quizzes and your business card.

Just because you see some email addresses on the database that the national LP sends your state, before you make a habit of using them for all your LP needs, remember two things:

1)  The LP does not have current email addresses for 100% of our members (not everyone chooses to provide one).  In my home state of Virginia, typically there are about 60% of members (never mind former members and inquiries!) who both have an email listed and for whom that address is actually current.

2)  It's a proven fact of life for nonprofits: Web-based and email *never* generates anywhere near the results as paper mail, regardless of whether one is speaking of fundraising, volunteer recruitment, activity notices, and the like.

It's well and good to communicate with those of us like myself who "live on email", but 95% of people do not, even if they have email and use it regularly.

Again -- with email, 1) it's too easy to delete it and forget about it; and 2) there's so much email flooding inboxes these days that it's easy to get lost in the noise.

Back in the 1999-2001 & 2003-2007 years when I was editing the Virginia LP newsletter, I made a substantial effort to suppress paper newsletters from going to those who had asked to receive them by email.  We tried it two ways: 1) Sending the pdf via email directly; and 2) sending just a link to the pdf via email so they could download it at their leisure.

It was fairly clear that the paper edition was actually getting read, because in conversation at LPVA conventions, issues that had been discussed in the newsletter were often the topic of discussion in-person at those conventions, too.

It was also fairly clear the web/email versions were not being read.  I realize email "read" receipts are not universally returned, but most are, and they are indicative of "open" rates.  Again to test which version was getting read, I placed email receipts on the emails with the links as well as the ones with the pdf attachment.  The response rate to these emails was dismal.

Anecdotally, the state chair in the y2k period received his newsletter via email -- and more than once asked me to print something I'd already printed recently, and I had to point him towards the newsletter link with the issue that had already covered the subject.

At one point I got pretty frustrated with this, as his frequent requests were the primary reason I'd gone to the trouble of making the newsletter available online in the first place.


Don't get me wrong.  Let me reiterate that email does have a role to play with communicating with our base.  But if you are in any way engaged in organizing LP activity, be real and don't use it as your first-choice method of speaking to your colleagues.  Pick up the phone, go visit, or send a real letter.  Just remember -- face to face with one person, making a friend is worth 10,000 spambox bound emails.

If you are a candidate, then door knocking is the TOP way to engage voters and volunteers.  That’s why unions invest millions in their canvassing programs and why the RNC makes it the focus of their 72 Hour Plan.

Direct mail and live phone calling (NOT robocalls) should also be emphasized.

Candidates should not spend a dime on anything until door-to-door program is fully staffed and funded. Then most of the rest gets spent on direct mail to back it up.

The Democrats and Republicans don't rely on email, and neither should we.


Further Reading

Is Direct Mail Fundraising Really Headed for the Exit? by Chuck Pruitt

Helping New Inquiries Become Members and Supporters by Marc Montoni

Is Online Fundraising Cheaper Than Direct Mail? from Mal Warwick Associates


Friday, November 16, 2012

$1000 Challenge / 2012

Revised for 2012...

So, you're a Libertarian Candidate, and you want a big donation from me. Sure! I have $1,000 burning a hole in my pocket. You can claim it -- all of it.

But it isn't "free". You'll need to have some ducks in a row. Here are my requirements:

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1) You must have a written campaign platform with no substantial deviations from the LP platform or with Libertarian principles. If you're in favor of any new tax, or some form of gun control, or interfering with people trying to move from one place to another, or interfering with the right of association, or more government enforcement related to this or that victimless 'crime', well, I can donate to a bunch of Democrats and Republicans if those things interested me. Libertarianism is about *abolitionism*.

2) You should have a reasonably detailed campaign plan. I will want a copy. While each campaign should have some flexibility in the specifics discussed in its submission, I would expect to see the following information:

(a) A statement specifying the personal financial commitment you will make to your campaign.

(b) A description of the manpower resources committed to the campaign. In particular, the description should included a list of key campaign personnel, along with brief descriptions of their previous campaign experience.

- (i) I am not disposed to provide resources to any campaign that does not have both a campaign manager and a treasurer who knows something about campaign finance reporting requirements.

- (ii) The candidate should serve neither as his own campaign manager nor as his own treasurer, except in unusual circumstances.

(c) A biography of the candidate.

(d) Assessment of whether there is a reasonable chance the candidate will not be able to complete the campaign. (For example, if the candidate has been informed of a possible change in job status, such as being transferred to a different state, this should be disclosed.)

(e) A description of anticipated fundraising sources and activities, along with information about pledges from prospective donors. (As in Item 3 above, information about prospective donors will be treated with discretion. To the extent that such information is included in LPVa or local party files, it may be appropriate to redact names from such reports.)

(f) A description of campaign strategy (e.g., what issues will the campaign emphasize) and a proposed timeline for campaign activities. This description should include information such as anticipated number of votes needed to win, as well as a basic analysis of the voting patterns of the district. (For example, assuming previous data exist, what percentage of voters in the district vote Democrat, vote Republican, vote Libertarian, etc.)

(e) A description of campaign goals and performance metrics. (For example, if the candidate considers winning the election to be unlikely, what are the alternative goals of the campaign? Obtaining at least X number of votes? Causing the incumbent to be defeated? Winning the candidate's home precinct?) Personally, my preference is that all candidates use their races as an opportunity to finding and recruiting the libertarians who are already out there into becoming members, supporters, and -- candidates for next year.

Be realistic. Candidates who overblow their case and generally have absolutely unrealistic expectations aren't going to get *my* money. So many times, I've listened to LP candidates who swear that theirs is a winnable campaign. The fact that they are out-funded and out-volunteered by a factor of 5, 50, or 500 to 1 doesn't seem to faze them. If you think you're going to win, you better have some solid polling results that agree with you.

3) You must have at least the basics assembled of a campaign: a) a website that gives some sort of candidate/campaign overview as well as several high-resolution, media-quality photographs ready for download by media outlets; 2) a basic campaign flyer and yard sign, both with complementary designs to project a consistent image; and items associated with the campaign plan (for instance, if you have a treasurer, you should already have a bank account in the name of the campaign.

4) You must have reasonable credit history. Repeated personal bankruptcies, well... if you can't stay within budget, you should be a Republican or Democrat.

5) You must have a clean criminal history. I may make an exception for victimless crime convictions, but expect full disclosure.

6) You must have a reasonably clean driving record. If you've had three DUI's and been at-fault in more than one or two accidents, well, cowboy, it's time to get yourself a bicycle.

7) You must have a clean civil history. If you have made your fortune like John Edwards did, by filing lawsuits against innocents, well, you're not my candidate. Conversely, if you've been sued six or seven times, sounds to me like you need to find a safer line of work.

8) There must be a disclosure statement, concerning any potentially embarrassing or controversial aspects of the your background. This statement should include all information in items 4, 5, 6, and 7 above; and you must make it available for review by the members who attend your district nominating meeting, as well as the city or county committee and the State Central Committee, PRIOR TO any approval by any of these committees. The state and local party committees will treat these disclosures with discretion; such statements should not be available for public scrutiny.

9) You must have already been certified as "on the ballot".

10) You must have been formally endorsed/nominated as the official LP candidate during a meeting of the members WHO RESIDE WITHIN YOUR ELECTION DISTRICT; *and* you must also be formally approved by the county or city Libertarian committee in which you live. No exceptions. This is how the major-party candidates are nominated, and we can do the same thing.

10) All of the required financial reports must be up-to-date. I'll want copies.

11) "Open Secrets" -- Campaign finance reports should be accessible online on your campaign website; or if it can be linked to VaPAP or the SBOE website, that's fine as long as there is a prominent, non-hidden menu link to that page on your site.

12) You must openly identify yourself as a Libertarian candidate in all campaign appearances, on your literature, on your website, in your media releases, and the like. I will not donate to anyone who has a history of being involved in the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Democratic Freedom Caucus, or who accepts the endorsement of any other political party. Call it being a partisan hack all you want, but I do not intend to give anyone money for sending a mixed message about the abolitionist basis of the libertarian philosophy and the political party that represents it.

13) You must *demonstrate* a thorough understanding of the necessity of recruiting new members into the LP; which means:

- submit all campaign contacts to the LP for followup on a timely basis -- preferably daily

- providing PROMINENT and EASY access to visitors to the campaign website to ask for more information about the LP

14)  My offer is available to two types of campaigns: a) winnable races; or 2) recruitment campaigns.

If you think you have a realistic shot at winning, and want my $1,000, then provide some evidence that you have already raised serious money on your own. I've been in the LP since 1980, and for all of that 30 years, I've been sent hundreds of letters from Libertarian candidates who claimed they were in a race they could win, providing various reasons why the LP or LP members should give them thousands of dollars.  Most of those candidates, however, hadn't even bothered raising a few hundred from friends and family.  The results were typically poor.

"Serious money" means enough to have a real shot at winning the election. The LP candidate seeking election should work towards funding superiority. He should raise and spend as much or more than the COLLECTIVE opposition. Yes, that means if you're in a 3-way race, your fundraising must exceed the funds available to BOTH of your opponents. We're the only guys advocating freedom -- the other guys are BOTH advertising socialism. Unless you have enough dosh that you can drown *them* out, you're not going to win. Fundraising should be at the heart of any serious campaign. If you don't raise money, you can't advertise. If you don't advertise, you aren't going to get elected.

And if you can't generate monetary support, you won't be able to recruit the volunteers you will need, either.

If you can't raise enough to give the majors a serious run for their money, then you're running for the wrong office. Try running for County Board of Supervisors, or Town Council, instead.

It's fairly easy to raise at least a few thousand dollars just from friends and business associates. See:

http://lpva.com/Archives/Tips/s99/fr-quick.html

Additional campaign and party-building tips are available:

http://lpva.com/Archives/Tips/s99/

Let's put it this way:  If the office you're running for typically costs the winning candidate $100,000 and requires the help of several dozen volunteers, and you can't or won't raise more than that and field a larger team of volunteers, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO WIN.
However, if you want to stay in the race you're in, and you are not going to win, there is still a way to make it a productive campaign: use your campaign towards signing up more LP members to build the cadre for next year.

I am NOT opposed to "educational" campaigns.

All LP candidates should remember one thing: IT AIN'T ABOUT YOU.

It's about building a libertarian society, where you are left free to live your own life without meddling by government.

Again, unless you have a real shot at winning, your campaign should have as its main aim recruiting new libertarians so your support base is larger in the next election (and so we have a larger pool of members from which we can nominate a larger number of candidates).

If you're running in a race you don't have the resources to win, I may well still donate, and donate substantially, if you show me that you're good at getting new libertarians recruited into the Party.  (And you won't be able to do that if you propose mild, "tinkering around the edges" reforms like "reducing" taxes instead of abolishing them.)

Yes, even if you know you won't win your race Mayor of ___________, if instead you can sign up 50 new Libertarians, I'll donate $1,000 to your campaign -- absolutely!

15) You must have demonstrated some ability to find volunteers for your campaign. This is almost as important as fundraising. The majors send their volunteers out to knock on doors for them, to manage their campaigns' "back office", and so on.

16) You must provide in a timely manner a reasonably detailed post-election report to all of your donors, to the LPVA State Central Committee, and to your local endorsing committee.

17) Not a formal requirement for my $1,000, but I'd appreciate provide copies of campaign material (e.g., signs, posters, flyers, bumperstickers, fundraising letters, etc.) and news coverage (e.g., newspaper clippings, video and audiotapes of media interviews) for LPVa archival purposes.

18) If you accept money from me, but you decide to withdraw from your race for any reason other than a medical condition or involuntary transfer by your employer, you shall agree to refund my donation(s) first, before any loans are paid and before any other donors are reimbursed. In the event you have no campaign funds left, you must agree to reimburse me and other donors using your own personal funds.

19)  All monies left after campaign obligations have been settled shall be donated to LPVA.

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That's my checklist. It's not short, and there are hoops to jump through. But there is $1,000 waiting at the end of the hoops. And, not a single one of my requirements is any less than a major-party candidate would be required to do for them. This is common-sense, party-building stuff.

To make your case, write me at Freedom (/at/) LPVA.com (Remove the obvious spamtrap elements).

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Here are a few resources you might find useful:

Campaign Planning Manual from the Libertarian Party of Indiana

Political Resource Library, from PoliticalResources.com

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NY: Subways Stolen!

The subject of the NY subway system is a fascinating read that shows the true greed and hypocrisy of government-run operations.

The private NY mass transit operators were driven out of business in the 20s to 40's by government edict.

The tools used were regulatory -- denials of permits for infrastructure maintenance, denial of permits for expansion to new areas, a cap on fares of 5 cents, and other tactics.

The federal government prints money -- and as it prints more and more of it to cover deficit spending, the cash becomes worth less and less. This phenomenon was happening with federal money in the 1930's, just as it is today. With their nickel fares being eroded in value by federal inflation and the refusal of the city government to permit the companies to raise fares or do just about anything else, the handwriting was on the wall.

How long could **you** run a business if you could only charge one price for your product or service?  For the 42 years since the first subway opened in 1904 the fare had remained a nickel -- by law.

It is by no means a rare occurrence for governments to slaughter the golden goose in this way. For example, Vladimir Putin stole an oil empire from the private sector using the state's monopoly on force and handed the empire over to close political cronies at fire-sale prices.

Something very similar happened in New Jersey just a few years ago (late nineties), in the insurance business: wildly unpredictable, out of line liability awards made insurance in several industries impossible to write. The state government limited premiums on the front end, and allowed outlandish awards on the other. When insurance companies began to lose their shirts, and some began closing their NJ operations, the NJ government quickly stepped in with a law prohibiting the insurers from leaving the state -- so many went bankrupt instead.

A very sanitized version of all this is on the Metropolian Transit Authority's website.  Example: "Around the time the Independent was first conceived, in 1920, there was severe overcrowding on the subways. They were victims of their own success. The word "unification" was very politically correct during this time. The idea behind unification was to have the City of New York buy out the privately owned Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) Company and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) Corporation. On April 25th, 1921, the New York Transit Commission was formed to develop a plan to resolve the overcrowding and delays on the current lines in any manner it saw fit, including "recapturing" existing lines from the privately owned rapid transit subway and elevated lines."





[NOTE: Links in the above paragraph were added by this author.]

There is a fairly good Wikipedia article about the shady history of the government takeover of the private transit system.

The "progressive" pols of New York from the twenties to the forties did exactly the same thing -- using slightly different tricks -- to the private subway and elevated train operators.

One of the politicians, Mayor Hylan (also see this), a Democrat, involved in bankrupting the transit companies had earlier been fired from one of the subway companies. Once in a position to do so, he wrought his revenge - big time.

If the subways were crowded, then they were profitable! Thus, the city could have allowed the PRIVATE companies to build more lines. Instead, they put up the Independent (IND) lines in direct competition - right UNDER them - the 6th Avenue subway was put right under the 6th Avenue El and the Fulton Street subway in Brooklyn was put right UNDER the Fulton Street El.

Now, if there was a need for more subway lines, why not build them in other places not yet covered (for example, 5th Avenue or 10th Avenue?).  In fact, on the East Side of Manhattan, there were 3 IRT owned lines : Lexington, 3rd Av, and 2nd Av - back in 1921.  Now, under GOVERNMENT ownership to "relieve overcrowding", there is just the Lexington!  Transportation bond issues to raise money for another 2nd Av line came about in 1946, 1967, the 1970;s, etc. and were passed - but no subway line was built.  What the government was very good at was TEARING DOWN existing lines (and selling the scrap to our ally Japan who used it on Pearl Harbor).

After tearing down lines, the city then used the Maintenance budget as a slush fund.  The politicians became tools of the unions and paid ridiculous contracts.  "Chic" politicians like John Vliet Lindsay and his ilk encouraged graffiti "artistes" for a while.  As a "public accomodation", they were not allowed to remove winos, bums, beggars, etc. who slept and stunk up the subways.  After hitting rock bottom about 1980, there has been a little bit of a resurgence but more and more people take cars into Manhattan.

One of the few lines built by the City in the last 50 years was a tunnel from 63rd Street Manhattan into Queens that dead ends in Queens with no connections - not even to Queens Plaza a mile away - something like $2,000,000,000 for a tunnel to nowhere!


Mass transit was evolving naturally before government got involved.   The death of it was largely coincident with government interference.  its rebirth as a socialist government enterprise is fraught with waste and delay.  Any student of economics should study the history of mass transit in America -- especially with regard to subways -- if he wants a good picture of the corrupting hand of government.


For additional reading on the topic, here are a few links:


1.  "Subway Hijinks", by Gregory Bresiger, on Mises.org.

2.  "Subway Tax in the Rancid Apple ",  by Gregory Bresiger, on Mises.org.



Monday, August 13, 2012

Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Organization Loses One!

I was floored to read of the first crack in the stranglehold the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) has on county-state politics.  Kudos to Goochland County.  I don't know how the Board of Supervisors came to the conclusion they did, but it is a pleasing development.

For a long time, I wondered how public debate always seemed to be so well-funded in favor of fatter government and getting more financial lard slathered all over its teeming bureaucrats.  Then I served a term on the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water District, and discovered that a good portion of the money we were given to fund operations was given to an organization called the Virginia Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts (VASWCD).  Looking into it further, I discovered that VASWCD was essentially a "Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Organization", or a "TFLO".  A large portion of the annual dues the Lord Fairfax district sent to them were used to fund lobbying efforts at the local, state, and even federal level.  I also learned that even the small bureaucracy that was the Lord Fairfax SWCD wasn't just funding VASWCD, but was also funneling cash to additional TFLO-type groups such as the Shenandoah Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Council.

Being a Libertarian, I objected to the District's membership in these organizations every year, because I think it is absolutely wrong for government to lobby government.  Legislators should adjust policy according to the wishes of the citizens, rather than doing so at the behest of highly-paid lobbyists who represent the 1% elite bureaucrats and politicians who presume to know what's best for the rest of us!

Unfortunately, I was the minority on the Board, and as a result the District continues to throw cash at lobbying front groups.

What VASWCD was to the Soil & Water District, the VACO is to county governments.  There are many other similar NGO's for every type of government under the sun.  The Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Court Clerks Association, etc all have some lobbying component, and all of them are one way or another funded by taxpayers.

So VACO is the definition of a Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Organization.  The reason that it and similar organizations should be of serious concern to every taxpayer is this:  the things they lobby for are almost always beneficial to governments and bureaucrats, and almost always detrimental to taxpayers.

County bureaucrats cannot lobby the government while on taxpayer time.  But they can do the same thing by setting up a front organization, call it an NGO, throw some taxpayer cash at it, and perform an ethical skirt-and-dodge.

Political hacks and bureaucrats should not be allowed to grab cash from the government trough, and shovel it at "non-government organizations" ("NGO's") so the NGO can then hire legions of paid lobbyists to work against the wishes of the taxpayer; government should never be given any opportunity to influence itself!

There are literally thousands of NGO's similar to VACO in the United States, and they all exist for one purpose: to get more taxpayer loot (or power) shoveled into their gaping maw.

The legislature should eliminate the ability of local and state bureaucrats or government bodies to lobby any other government body.  Membership in any NGO that lobbies (directly or indirectly) for anything that would favor the individual or originating government should be absolutely forbidden.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Republicrat Governor Squashes Third Parties

Many people are aware of how difficult it is for third parties -- such as the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, or the Green Party -- to get on the ballot. 

This year, it was even more difficult because of redistricting.  Virginia law requires third parties to submit petitions signed by 10,000 registered voters -- and actually closer to 15,000 because many signatures are thrown out by the State Board of Elections.

But worse, due to the legislature wrangling so long over redistricting, and then additional delays caused by waiting for the Justice Department to approve the new districts, the smaller parties lost precious time to collect those 10,000 (15,000) signatures.

The reason the district were relevant to the petition was that Virginia requires presidential petitions to include the candidates for the candidate's slate of electors. Virginia also mandates that the petition carry the name of one candidate for elector from each U.S. House district.

No one knew what the new district boundaries would be until March 14, when the U.S. Justice Department approved the new boundaries, so the minor party presidential electors were chosen based on the old districts. The State Board of Elections had been telling candidates to use the old boundaries.

Of course, petitioning for U.S. House candidates was also threatened by the uncertainty of the law.

It is not known if there were (or are) any independent or minor party candidates for U.S. Senate this year, but if there were (or are), and they started petitioning based on the old districts, they were injured also. U.S. Senate petitions, like presidential petitions, have a distribution requirement: 400 signatures per U.S. House district.

In March 2012, the Virginia General Assembly attempted to adjust petitioning requirements for the third parties and independent candidates for the time lost by making some alterations to the petitioning process, via HB 1151.  The bill said that if new U.S. House district boundaries aren't in place by the start of the even-numbered election year, petitions are valid that year whether they use the old U.S. House district boundaries or the new boundaries. The bill had an urgency clause and would have taken effect immediately upon passage.  It passed on March 2.

When Virginia Governors receive a bill from the legislature, they may sign the bill, veto the bill, or send it back to the legislature with suggested changes. When the Governor sends back a bill with suggestions, the legislature has one day to decide whether to accept the recommendation or not. If the legislature takes no action, the bill is enacted anyway; it is not vetoed.

When HB 1151 reached his desk, however, Republicrat Governor McDonnell sent the bill back to the legislature on April 9 -- at the very last minute -- and asked for changes, among them to make it effective in 2013, not immediately.  This made it utterly meaningless for third parties.

McDonnell didn't stop there -- he proposed changes so it would specifically NOT apply to any petition to place minor party or independent presidential candidates on the ballot, now or in the future.  Unfortunately, in a one-day session on April 18, the legislature agreed to the Governor's recommendation.

The changes McDonnell demanded to HB 1151 were shockingly unfair.  The Libertarian and Green Parties had already started circulating their presidential petitions based on what they were hearing from the General Assembly and the State Board of Elections.

Even though neither party had selected their presidential nominees, Virginia allows stand-in presidential and vice-presidential candidates ("substitution").  The right of substitution was established by El-Amin v Virginia State Board of Elections, a reported US District Court decision from 1989 that says the US Constitution requires Virginia to let unqualified parties, and even committees supporting an independent candidate, engage in substitution.

Under Virginia law, the window for circulating petitions is supposed to open for third parties on January 1 of a presidential election year.

So to begin with, redistricting cheated third parties out of their petitioning time from January 1 through the end of the redistricting process on March 14; then McDonnell cheated them out of additional petitioning time until April 18, when the General Assembly finalized it actions on HB 1151.

Without McDonnell's changes, HB 1151 would have compensated third parties for the nearly four months they were forced by law to sit and wait.  McDonnell's changes denied the parties the compensation they were due; and ruined any petitioning work done until that point.

Third parties have often brought new ideas into the marketplace of ideas -- oftentimes ideas that the major parties don't wish to address.  Why make it difficult for them to participate in the political process?

I was under the impression that we were all agreed that the will of the voters must be obeyed, and what you did was to throw out the will of thousands of voters who had signed their names to get the Greens and Libertarians on the ballot.

My question is why?

McDonnell's hostile action was intrinsically hurtful, and it was also hurtful for him to wait until the very last day to send in a recommendation. The action was not posted on the legislature’s web page until the afternoon of April 10.

This author spoke with Governor McDonnell twice to encourage him to sign HB 1151 as the General Assembly originally passed it; obviously to no avail.

McDonnell changed the legislation to interfere with the third parties ballot drives and to financially injure them - an act that is stupid in a third-world backwater dictatorship, but utterly insane and anti-freedom in a first-world country that prides itself on a supposed history of treating all political viewpoints as equal under the law.

As a result of McDonnell's changes, the State Board of Elections invalidated 2,000 signatures on LPVA presidential nominating petitions.  The Green Party of Virginia estimated that 1,000 of its signatures were likewise invalidated. In addition GPVA estimates that an additional 1,000 signatures obtained by another minor party, the Virginia Independent Greens, on behalf of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein were invalidated -- through no fault of their own.

The third parties in Virginia are interested in filing a suit to overturn the recently enacted statute.  In April, the Libertarian Party of Virginia authorized its participation in such a lawsuit; the party has been seeking a suitable local counsel to file it.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Monstrous Ruling in CA Case Challenging Top Two

SLAPP activities are alive and well.

In 2010, California voters approved Proposition 14, an initiative to put in place California's new top-two primary system. The measure was backed by business interests and rich benefactors, such as Charles T. Munger Jr.

In July 2010, six plaintiffs -- Mona Field, Richard Winger, Stephen A. Chessin, Jennifer Wozniak, Jeff Mackler, and Rodney Martin -- challenged two particular aspects of top-two in court, seeking to overturn the law.  To see a complete listing of motions in the case, check out the public access page here (Superior Court of California, San Francisco County).

The lawsuit had a great deal of merit.   Two specific areas were challenged:  (1) independent candidates couldn't have "independent" on the ballot for Congress and state office, and registered members of unqualified parties couldn't have their party label on the ballot; (2) at the time, write-in space remained on the ballot but no write-ins could ever be counted, even though the ballot did not warn voters that any write-ins would not be counted.

On the ballot label issue, 45 states permit "independent" on the ballot for independent candidates, and even California continues to permit "independent" on the ballot for presidential independents.  California allowed the use of that label ever since government-printed ballots started (in 1891) through 2010.  Three independent candidates for US House were on the November ballot in 2010 with "independent" next to their names.

Two state supreme courts, Massachusetts and Minnesota, had previously ruled the word "independent" for independent candidates cannot be banned.

Winger interviewed most of the independent California candidates for Congress and state legislature just before the June 2012 primary.  Almost all of them said they wish they could have "independent" on the ballot, since they were campaigning as independents.  Winger's interviews included Linda Parks in Ventura County and Chad Condit in the San Joaquin Valley, the two independent candidates who got the most publicity.

On the write-in half of the case, Plaintiffs' position was vindicated this year when AB 1413 passed, removing write-in space from November ballots for Congress and state legislature.  Winger wrote in opposition to that idea.  Winger called for leaving write-in space on the ballot and for requiring that write-ins for declared write-in candidates should be counted.  With AB 1413, at least the legislature acknowledged its agreement with the Plaintiffs that it was wrong to tempt voters to cast a write-in vote and then not count it.

No court precedent, until Field v Bowen, had ever upheld a state's refusing to print "independent" on the ballot.

In this author's view, it seems absurd to say the lawsuit was frivolous or against the public interest.  Yet the case law for civil rights plaintiffs protects civil rights plaintiffs unless the lawsuit has no merit whatsoever.

Wealthy supporters of the law (Munger, Abel Maldonado, David Takashima, the California Independent Voter Project, and Californians to Defend the Open Primary, etc) were worried the Secretary of State would not defend top-two vigorously enough, and were permitted to intervene in the case.

On September 24, 2010, Superior Court Judge Charlotte Woolard – in Field v. Bowen – upheld Proposition 14, a decision sustained by the State Court of Appeals almost a year later, on September 19, 2011.

Gautam Dutta, attorney for the plaintiffs,  decided not to appeal the case to the California Supreme Court.

On March 27, 2012, the intervenors, represented by the Nielsen Merksamer firm of San Rafael, California, moved for attorneys fees. In an astonishing, and monstrous decision on August 1, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow, a Schwarzenegger appointee, ruled in favor of the intervenors and ordered the plaintiffs to pay $243,279.50 in attorneys fees to the attorneys for Abel Maldonado and the group supporting top-two in the 2010 campaign.

Under California law, this is not supposed to happen.  Courts aren't supposed to award attorneys' fees against plaintiffs unless the lawsuit is utterly without merit.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Gautam Dutta, is young and he and his wife just had their first baby.  He is a sole practitioner and lives in Fremont and works at home.  He will ask for rehearing; but if that fails, an appeal is likely.  However, Dutta can't appeal without putting up a 10% bond.

One of the Plaintiffs, Richard Winger, had income last year of $6,000.   He has no pension, and his social security, after the medicare SMIB is deducted, is only $180 per month.  He is currently living on his savings, which are gradually being eaten up.

This judgment will cause him great harm.  What little money Winger has will go into the pockets of Charlie Munger, one of the richest men in California.  What sense does this make?

Charlie Munger is a multi-millionaire who is the chairman of the Santa Clara County Republican Central Committee.  He is a prominent activist in California ballot proposition politics, including in 2010, when he successfully sponsored Proposition 20, after having supported Proposition 11 in 2008.

Munger is one of eight children of Charles Munger, the billionaire vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.  He has a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University and is an experimental physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). The Center is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Dept. of Energy Office of Science.  In other words, as a government-crony physicist, his earnings from government have helped him fund initiatives for fatter government (perhaps he could be described as a Taxpayer-Funded Lobbyist?).  Ironically, “Die Luft der Freiheit weht” is Stanford’s unofficial motto and translates as “the wind of freedom blows.” Apparently it doesn't blow in the direction of third parties, independent candidates, or the 43% of Califonia voters in the June election who voted against Top Two.

In 2006, Munger was a member of California's Curriculum Commission, an advisory commission of the California State Board of Education; and was married to Charlotte Lowell in 1989.  Lowell, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is an attorney with the law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.

Munger's sister is Molly Munger, an attorney in Pasadena, who is leading the charge on a possible 2012 ballot initiative, the "Our Schools, Our Future" initiative, which would raise taxes to provide additional money to the state's public school districts. Ms. Munger has indicated that she is willing to fund the approximately $2 million cost of gathering the signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Further Reading:
So, I'm left wondering: The judge ordered attorney's fees on the basis that the case was frivolous.  If that's the case, then why did the intervenors even need to intervene.

If the lawsuit was so weak that the Plaintiffs must be sanctioned, obviously California's very capable Assistant Attorneys General would have defended it without the need for intervention.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why The Libertarian Party Must Return to a Unified Membership Plan (UMP)

The Unified Membership Plan was a construct that the Libertarian Party implemented in the late 1990's.  It was designed to increase the funding available to state affiliates, and to make those state affiliates partners in membership growth for the Libertarian Party as a whole.

I am proposing that the Party re-adopt UMP.  Some lessons learned from its previous iteration can be adopted to make it work better.

The premise of UMP is fairly simple: The LNC concentrated on membership growth and renewals; while the states concentrated on activity-building.

Here is the basic writeup of UMP (as well as UMP-II) terms:

http://web.archive.org/web/20050828131152/http://www.libertarianwiki.org/wiki/index.php?title=UMP

UMP-II was a modified form of UMP designed to increase the incentive for state affiliates to work harder on donor development; reducing the tendency of national being the main leg of the LP entity trying to get people to donate every year.

During California's experience with UMP (1996-2004), for example, the state party ran a record number of candidates and elected a record number of the non-partisan ones, opened up a couple of offices, hired an Executive Director and additional staffing to handle all of the added workload when you have up to 6,392 dues paying, card carrying members.

For California and many other states, UMP was a great division of labor which helped both the LNC and the state parties grow substantially.

The Libertarian Party's previous dalliance with UMP was between 1995 and 2004.  Only the LNC members who voted to abandon the Unified Membership Plan can state their personal reasons, but opponents agitating for abolition used several talking points (and continue to use them in arguing against its reintroduction).  Among them:

1) "It was too expensive."  Kinda.  It did cost the LP $12 for every $25 membership, more for the higher-level memberships.  As explained elsewhere, the solution to this problem was to raise dues enough to catch up with inflation.

2) "LPHQ can't send checks to non-FEC filing committees."  True, but there are ways to work within the law regardless, as explained elsewhere.

3) "It's welfare."  Bah.

... and other statements I'm doubtless forgetting.

Probably the biggie, however, was that the Executive Director at the time (2004) didn't understand it, didn't want to understand it, regarded state affiliates as competition rather than partners, didn't want to have to allocate staff time to mess with it, and saw the trendline he was allowing to happen (declining revenue) and preferred to keep the (declining) revenue in the office (rather than figuring out how to improve fundraising).

Interestingly, at the same time the LP was abandoning the shared-dues concept, a very similar program was adopted by the national Democratic Party, under the direction of Howard Dean.  They called it their "50-state strategy", and it was a revenue-sharing program designed to fund organizing projects among their state affiliates.  A lot of the grassroots activity among Democrats in 2007-2008 was due in no small part to field organizing work in every state, funded by the national revenue-sharing plan.

In any case, none of the reasons to abandon it were particularly valid, as there were ways to overcome each deficiency with a relatively simple change in behavior.

In any case, I believe it is time to re-examine UMP, and to re-implement it.

This article shall explore the idea and address some of the fallacies surrounding the program.

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What Would It Take To Implement SOUMP (Son of UMP)
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I'd like to preface here by acknowledging the valid argument that re-implementing UMP does not require LNC action at all.  There is absolutely nothing stopping LPHQ from reintroducing UMP as an add-on to normal dues.  All it would take is an alteration to membership forms to add a few lines to offer renewing/new members the option of adding state dues to their donation.

We already do this in Virginia:

        http://Membership.LPVA.com

However, it would probably be best to do this via the bylaws, so those who think UMP is "welfare" can no longer engage in shenanigans to defeat/hamstring it.

Admittedly, it may be tough to get a proposal through the Bylaws Committee.  Past Bylaws Committees have made into an art form 1) engaging in shenanigans designed to help or hamper various factions; and 2) stuffing the Bylaws Session agenda so full of lard that truly necessary motions would be impossible to get to the floor.

FWIW, I think it would require two separate motions.  First, to bring the $25 dues up to inflation-adjusted reality $40 at least; but better to $45 or $50); and then a separate one regarding UMP.

Once again, getting a dues increase and UMP on the convention floor for a vote is within the LNC's power.  However, with college graduates on the LNC calling UMP welfare, I suspect there will be no action on this.

It is appropriate here to address some of the criticisms of UMP:

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"Welfare"
------------------------------------------------------

Opponents have often claimed the UMP was "welfare" to state affiliates.  It would be best to eschew this sort of trash-talk; for when you claim UMP is welfare, you are inferring that the state party activists who benefit from it, and supporters of the UMP itself, are welfareites.  This is insulting and demeaning -- and unnecessary.

I suspect the opponents of UMP would not care for the inference that they are thieves for hoarding financial resources at the national level that actually belong to the entire party, or that they would care to be labeled "insane" or "ignorant" for denying the many good things that UMP wrought during its brief existence.

Perhaps the individuals claiming UMP was "welfare" are arguing from ignorance.  I don't know.  But Virginia and many other states spent considerable sums of money recruiting UMP members.  I know that membership-raisers in Virginia were costing the Virginia LP a couple of thousand dollars, at their peak.  I know at one point California sent its entire membership recruiting budget (~$5,000??) to the LNC for purposes of soliciting support from new and renewal donors.

Although LPHQ itself has the records to prove this, I can also actually personally vouch for this.  I occasionally helped out at LPHQ in DC during 1997-2003.  I distinctly remember processing *huge* batches of memberships the California LP and others had sent us.  Often the envelopes I processed had a hundred or more at a time.

Unlike those who keep repeating the mantra that UMP was "welfare", a lot of state parties helped with signing up members in rather large numbers.  California, Michigan, Virginia, Washington, Oregon, and a dozen or so other states sent in batches of renewals and new members, monthly or better.  California sent them weekly or better for a time.

I know.  I was THERE, in the office, opening the envelopes, and processing them.

UMP wasn't welfare -- it was *partnering*.

To the extent that some state parties didn't really do anything in return for getting thousands of dollars every year from national, perhaps "welfare" was an appropriate term.  One or two of the states that failed to get ballot access in 2004 come to mind.

However, it certainly wasn't welfare for most of the state parties.  Virginia, which had for all of its existence prior to UMP required national help on its ballot drive, while under UMP, had been able to pay its own petitioners when needed and has completed all statewide drives since 1998, without any extra help from national.  Other states similarly pulled themselves into better performance with UMP funds.

In sum, UMP was not welfare, and those who think it was need to head back to the books.

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UMP Still Exists
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Second, a limited form of UMP still exists in many states, in that the state parties routinely collect dues for the national party, and forward them along to LPHQ.  All the formal "UMP" is was this same model, acting in reverse.

[Interestingly, when the Virginia LP (or the many other states that do it) send packages of memberships to national, no college graduates from Indiana or anywhere else call it "welfare".]

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"We Can't Do It Any More Because of BCRA"
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Opponents claim McCain-Feingold prevents flow between state & national.  It's just that the state LP has to set up a 'federal' bank account and become a federal-filing committee.  **One** of the primary reasons given to eliminate UMP was because the LNC had been sending checks to non-filing state committees, and the practice had to stop due to McCain-Feingold.  In the states that didn't become filing federal committees, it was usually due to an inability to find a volunteer to keep the books required.

In a small affiliate, this can be a deal-killer.

However, there is a way to get to the same ends via different means. 

Instead of ending UMP, a better solution would have been for the LNC to establish a "field coordination" committee, dump the UMP money of the non-filing states into it, and use that committee to do party-building projects in the nonfiling states.

Or perhaps set upa  regional affiliate.  Aggregate the money state parties were due and have one filing regional entity that will handle the reports for each state party that is a member of the regional entity.  The cost of paying the contractor who does the reports could be paid from each state's portion of shared revenue.

Libertarian Party members really need to get out of the thinking-small business.  The D's and R's spend millions of dollars on consultants who have figured out ways to work within existing laws and still get done what they need to get done.  We can do the same or similar things.

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"It Was a Bad Deal For National"
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Opponents of UMP cite the fact that giving state affiliates $12 of every $25 membership meant the national LP was regularly "sucking wind" on the program.

Once again, this is extremely misleading.

If one cites only the $25 membership revenue, sure, the LNC only netting $13 wasn't all that hot an idea.  However, in the peak years of UMP -- 1996 through 2002 -- the average contribution per member was about $76.  Giving the state parties $12 of that doesn't sound so insurmountable.

What did hurt national with regard to UMP was the fact that the LNC ignored for two decades its duty to adjust dues for inflation.  The $25 dues set in 1990 is about $43 in 2012.  Once the LNC did finally get around to doing something about the dues rate, it first increased dues to $50, then lowered them to $0, then after this bit of insanity went public, complete with demands for "executive session, secret votes", the convention decided to steady the ship and take the decision out of the hands of the LNC entirely.

Now, we're stuck.

But not really.  The LNC does still have the ability to present the need for increasing dues to the national convention.  A series of articles, presenting a balance of opinions on the matter, in LPNews in advance of the convention, will probably have the desired effect of making delegates think on the matter.

That can only be a good thing.

Alternatively...

National could simply use the question as a fundraising excuse (which is what every crisis should be used as).  Send a survey to the membership in letter form, asking what they thought the dues should be, make the case in the letter as to why they needed to increase (complete with a scanned graphic of the postal rates we were paying USPS from the Domestic Mail Manual of 1991 vs 2006), and *ask* the members to decide - oh, and to vote their preference with a donation for their chosen dues rate.  Then make a recommendation to the convention in the direction the respondents suggest.

If members are treated as adults, they will jump on board when it's needed.

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"Some People Don't Want Anything To Do With National (state, etc)"
------------------------------------------------------

Someone said to me a couple of years ago:


"I know a lot of state LP members consider the national party to be
superfluous and don't feel the need to pay dues/belong to both.  I
don't have any stats on it, but I imagine there are also national
members (like me) who want little or nothing to do with their state
parties for various reasons.  There needs to be a reason why someone
should belong to both, especially if it involves doubling the dues to
do so, or you will have a lot of folks opting to belong to neither."


I've heard variations on this repeated so much that if I had a nickel for each time, I would probably have enough to buy a new car by now.

In my direct experience with selling memberships, it is more likely to be an annoyance for a member to be approached first by national, then by the state LP, then by a local LP, for membership dues.  **ALL THREE** levels of the LP should be offering one catch-all dues rate.  $50 is fine; $75 would be even better.

It all depends on how you approach the issue; or, perhaps, how you "present the sale".

I've been selling memberships in the LP now in a serious way since about 1995.  In 1998 I started counting, and to this day I have about 800 memberships collected as a result of some action of mine (as membership chairman for LPVA, putting membership forms in front of people at Richmond LP meetings, going around the crowd with membership forms at the 2000 Browne election-night party and asking people, etc).  I've used many variations of membership forms, and none of them have a notably different "sale" rate.  The one I use now is a "unified membership" form:

        http://Membership.LPVA.com

In using that form, *almost all* people who sign up select the $50 national & state rate.  Notice on the form that we have an option to make a local donation also.

As mentioned earlier, one way national could offer a "unified membership" plan without any major heartaches is to simply add a "state and local dues option" to membership forms, and make that the most prominent choice (like I do on the LPVA form).  Most state LP's charge $25 or less.  National could simply do what I've done with the Virginia form, and forward the state dues to the states.  Yes, the recipients would have to be FEC filers, but see above.

If this sort of thing is set up, it would be best if national offered this to all state parties as long as the state parties promised to handle the distribution of the local portion themselves (in Virginia we did this quarterly).


References:

http://web.archive.org/web/20050828131152/http://www.libertarianwiki.org/wiki/index.php?title=UMP

http://doa.alaska.gov/apoc/Advisory/a09803.html

Sunday, April 01, 2012

How to Report Libertarian Party Membership Numbers

There is a lot of disinformation about the Libertarian Party's membership categories floating around the Net.

One of the weirdest periods in LP history was the time in 2006 when a proposal was introduced to place annual dues at "zero".

The truth is the LP has --always-- had a "free" membership category. Since its inception. In 1972.

The "adoption" of "zero dues" in 2006 didn't implement zero dues because it was already in force. "Zero Dues 2006" was a harebrained idea that only changed the formula for delegate apportionment to LP national conventions. In other words, it was all about re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic's butt.

I have some institutional knowledge of the "free" membership category.

I was an employee at LPHQ (1989-1993) when we were still offering "Instant Member" cards in bundles of 100 via the LP literature sales catalog. It was a simple postcard with a tear-off part that you kept, which was a wallet-card sized thing. It said what any membership card would say, had a place for you to sign it, and the back side had the statement of principles.

The part you didn't keep was a standard business-reply post card. The membership statement was there with a place for you to sign it, and of course it had space to enter name, address, and other contact info. Being business reply, it was even free for the signer to mail.

After several years of pushing the "free" memberships, however, the LNC at the time took a look at the effectiveness of marketing the "instant member" category -- and determined that normal prospect lists (ie names gathered at gun shows and college fairs and the like) had a better "conversion" rate than the "Instant" names. As a result, the LNC decided to stop marketing the category.

You could still join as a free member, but other than filing the signature in a portable file box with the signatures of others and noting on the national LP database that the person had signed, free members were not pursued further. As stated, their response rate was extremely low. And LPHQ no longer marketed it as an option.

[As an aside, in 2006, LPHQ staff revealed that their experience was the same in the first months of 2006 under the so-called "zero dues" regime -- free members generally don't ever wind up donating to the Party. I suspect few free members (if any) volunteer, either.]

Throughout the nineties, there were still a few people who took advantage of the ability to recruit free members. I did so (normally only with people I suspected I *personally* would eventually convert into donors). The last "signature only" (ie free) member I recruited and submitted to LPHQ was 2006; in January. By February, I had collected a donation from him.

I have a copy of one of the last national membership reports that now-departed LPHQ staff distributed in April of 2004. These reports counted all the people who had ever signed the LP membership pledge as of the report date.

On the archived report mentioned above, there were 19,276 people who had signed & paid; 69,831 who had signed and paid at one time but who had "lapsed", and 26,294 FREE members. These 26k free members were "lost" by LPHQ:

When Geoff Neale put LPHQ on the new Raiser's Edge database as of 09/14/2004, he failed to retain the signature status of the Non-Contributing members (the 26,294 number). LPHQ still has the names on the database, just no signature flag. I have suggested to current LPHQ staff several times that they fire up the old database and recapture those signature flags, if only to improve accuracy, but they have not done it so far.

In any case, if you take the number Shane Cory reported in 2007 as having signed (105,000) and add the missing 26,294, at that time (2007) there were actually over 131,000 people who have signed the LP's pledge. Every one of them save for the very few who have renounced their pledge, is a "member" -- just not necessarily a "Sustaining" member. Since that report in 2007, doubtless several thousand more have signed the pledge, so I suspect the number of signed members is close to 150,000 now.

The LP uses dues-paying members internally, as it should. The Democrats and Republiboobs don't EVER reveal how many donors they have!

Externally, as with media releases and the like, HQ should report either everyone who ever signed the pledge (the 150,000), OR registered Libertarians. I've actually been trying to get all Libertarians to do this for a long time. It is entirely accurate to state that "150,000 Americans have signed the Libertarian Party's membership pledge", and it sounds a hell of a lot better than "12,000...".

In fact when I was doing a lot of radio interviews, when asked how many LP members there were, my answer was always "there are over a quarter-million registered Libertarians in the dozen-odd states where it is legal to register Libertarian." This got it into the discussion that there were many more Libertarians than could fit into a phone booth -- and at the same time slip into the conversation that registration is discriminatory in many states. It was bait which most of my interviewers managed to catch and bite, giving me an opportunity to discuss our Soviet ballot access laws.

But when talking to my fellow members, I always use the number of "current" donors.