By Tom Gryzbowski
This will be the first of several articles that delve into the onslaught against a true democracy's ability to represent the best interests of the people. With these efforts to suppress individual and party participation, we are doomed to governance committed only to policies promoted by the self interests of a very small, unrepresentative elite power structure.
The arena of political contention has many faces; the various aspects and incidents are not what we ordinarily have in our minds, day-to-day. Yet the compounding sum of these actions can be far-reaching, unexpected, and work to devastating effect. In recent years we have seen a large number and range of blatantly anti-democratic actions brought by the Democratic Party pursuing a purge of the Green Party from democratic existence. Because the actions being taken by the Democrats are numerous and wide-spread, it is difficult to summarize them all, but let’s take a look at some of the most serious:
States Challenge Third Parties
In the supposedly "liberal" state of New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and establishment Democratic and Republican leaders have pursued an antagonistic relationship with left-leaning third parties: in 2019 they expanded the authority of the double-speak named "Public Campaign Finance Reform Commission" giving it the power to rewrite election laws affecting smaller political parties – and the commission immediately approved a slew of changes which will make it much more difficult for third parties to be active in New York. Of course, all of the commission members were appointments of the state Democratic and Republican parties. Notably, one of the leading lights appointed by Gov. Cuomo to the Commission, Jay Jacobs, is the leader of the New York State Democratic Party and also an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee!
Statewide candidates now have to get 45,000 signatures from voters to get on the ballot, up from 15,000. For an automatic ballot line, a party must receive at least 130,000 votes or 2% of the vote, whichever is higher, every two years in a gubernatorial or presidential election, up from 50,000 votes every four years in a gubernatorial election. Citizens Union, a national public interest group, called the new regulations “an extreme burden on third party and independent candidates who seek to run for office.” The New York Working Family Parties Director, Sochie Naemeka says that: “Governor Cuomo…is blocking voters from supporting minor parties and the values they stand for.”
Nor are New York Democrats alone in trying to extinguish third parties. During the last general election, last minute court actions have been brought by the Democratic Party which have effectively barred Green Party candidates up and down the ballot from voters in Texas, Pennsylvania, Montana, and Wisconsin:
The key issue across these four states is not merely the suppression of "candidates" from the ballot, but also the suppression of voters who would like to vote Green, but see no candidate on the ballot. This is also, in a more general sense, an attack on multi-party democracy itself.
Federal Voter Choice Suppression
Most recently there has been yet another, very troubling development at the federal level:
S.1/HR.1, also known as the "For the People Act," has been introduced "to get money out of politics and to protect voters". While more people may be able to vote under this Act, they will have fewer choices. The Act contains a poison pill to prevent competition from any candidates not selected by the major party bosses and their major donors. The "For the People Act" actually eliminates full general election public financing instead of strengthening it. Alarmingly, this act abolishes general election campaign block grants that parties can access by winning at least 5% of the vote in the previous presidential election. Astonishingly, only well-funded candidates will qualify for public funds – the bill quintuples the amount of money presidential campaigns are required to raise before qualifying for federal matching funds from $5,000 in each of 20 states to $25,000 per state.
Congressional candidates would also have a matching funds program for the first time under the bill. Congressional candidates would have to raise at least $50,000 in contributions of $200 or less from at least 1,000 contributors. $50,000 is too high for almost all third-party candidates, especially those attempting to represent impoverished communities. These measures, in effect, amplify the power of big private donations, including unaccountable dark money, and makes it nearly impossible for a party such as the Greens to qualify for public funding, effectively removing them from contention.
On top of all this, the bill eliminates the private funding caps for public funded candidates. This change is a major step backwards, opening the door to even larger amounts of private campaign funding for candidates who take public campaign funding – something again seemingly in conflict with the stated intentions for the bill.
Wait, there is more! The bill also vastly increases the amount of money national party committees can give to candidates from $5000 to $100 million, an astonishing increase of 1999900%. Such largess would give party bosses virtually unlimited power to flood elections with big money.
For the Green Party, which does not accept donations from profit-making corporate PAC's, public funding matters quite a lot. The addition of public money to rivers of private money matters much less to the major parties, but they are happy to take it, nevertheless. It turns out that the "For the People Act" is actually the "For the Rich Act" while also simultaneously being a "Suppress the Third-Party Act".
The "For the People Act", is merely the latest measure to empower the duopoly: Democratic state parties are pushing the Green Party off the ballot by various means. Republicans can restrict their conservative competition on the back of the Democrat’s lofty campaigns. The Federal Election Commission, the "independent" regulatory agency whose purpose is to enforce campaign finance law in federal elections, is comprised of Democratic and Republican appointees. It should be no surprise, then that the FEC is no supporter of poorly financed campaigns of third parties or independents. Taken together, the electoral process at the state and federal levels results in effective voter suppression.
A Blow to our Democracy
People must note that this situation is not simply a matter regarding the Green Party alone, but is really a blow to our democracy as a system. We see here an application of anti-democratic policies geared to limiting citizens’ ability to make their own decision about whom they can vote-for. The Democratic Party is carrying-out an attack on multi-party democracy, and even upon the effective vote. Voters, seeing no desirable candidate on the ballot, may simply not vote – lack of voter choice hurts voter turnout. And then, lack of ballot choice works directly against the power of people’s voices to influence political decision-making. In this way, political initiatives addressing the needs of the people are thwarted far upstream by the entrenched political establishment. Functional democracy requires active participation of all the people in the democratic process, yet our duopolistic political leadership is permanently enthroned, frozen in self-interest, and unwilling to allow the possibility of new paths to solution of our problems.