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Letters on Political Strategy #6

These letters were originally written specifically for the Libertarian Party, but with very slight edits would be equally useful for any other third party.

Tasks for State Committees

As I have previously said, I am advancing a strategy for the Libertarian Party.

Part of the proposed strategy refers to what your community and state parties are doing. Persuading your local group and your state party to support the Local Organization Strategy is up to you and your friends. I can point the way, but implementing the Strategy in your community is in the end something you must do for yourself.

However, part of the proposed strategy refers to changes that need to be made through the National Committee, changes in emphasis, changes in approach, and changes in objectives. If you support the Local Organization strategy, your help is needed to populate the National Committee with dedicated Libertarians who will support the strategy.

Now, back to state committees:

Tasks for State Committees

In a previous letter, I discussed activities particularly appropriate for performance by national groups. In addition to this list, some activities such as incitement are appropriate for every Libertarian group, as discussed separately.

In this letter, I consider activities most appropriate for statewide Libertarian groups.

A good state organization develops resources to support local groups and candidates. A good state organization develops expertise to help local groups to develop their own people and resources. A good state committee and chair work primarily as facilitators and motivators. A good state chair asks “how can we help you?” And, indeed, why should we spend our limited libertarian dollars on a state organization that is not supporting our Party’s candidates throughout the state?

Candidates come and go. State committees usually persist. An important state activity — procedures depend on state law in each state — is fundraising and fundraising support for local candidates. In some states there are no complications. In other states, the state committee must incite its members to form multiple PACs, each able to give local candidates specific financial or other support.

All but the smallest state organizations can effectively publish two newsletters: The Activist Newsletter covers political activities, petitioning deadlines, background for key issues, and campaigning methods — information for committed party workers. The State Liberty News, priced to the bare bones, targets prospective voters, inciting them to Vote Libertarian! and take the first small steps toward activism. In Massachusetts, for many years Liberty for Massachusetts performed precisely this task, deploying an activist Newsletter for party activists and an Informational Monthly Newsmagazine for public outreach.

Our resources are limited. A key question that we should ask of any proposed state activity is “how does this investment justify its expense?” This issue shows up with every start-up firm. All too many new firms fail because they spend money on looking like a successful firm rather than spending the money on being a successful firm: They begin operations by renting space and hiring an office manager, without asking how the square footage and the non-manufacturing staff are contributing to corporate earnings.

Correspondingly, as a state organization gets larger and larger, at some point it is no longer convenient to assemble enough activists to perform some regular tasks: Collating, stamping, and mailing the state news letter becomes a major operation. Membership renewals are a large stack of mail every day. At some point, it is more efficient to use a professional mailing house. It becomes efficient to hire a clerk-typist to enter the membership renewals in the database. Eventually there are multiple full time clericals, database personnel, webmasters, or whatever, more than the state chair can monitor in his spare time, and an office manager is needed.

[Aside: You can also imagine a situation in which you have masses of members, and almost no activists, so that the few available activists cannot cope with mailing the newsletter, opening mail,… because the activist-to-member ratio is too low. This situation is an indicator that you have spent too much time recruiting subscribers and too little time inciting them to become activists. Members create burdens as well as benefits that must be balanced against each other.]

In some states, ballot access is substantially affected by the party’s major party status or lack thereof. Depending on the state, party status is fixed on a statewide basis, by Congressional District, by County,… It may be affected by voter Registration (in the 28 states with voter Registration by Party), or by vote totals in particular elections. In most cases, manipulation of the party’s major party status — as with a voter registration drive — is a burden for the state party. You may want to run a candidate for Governor. You may want to make sure that no one runs for any office above State Weigher of Cod. You may want to recruit registered Libertarian voters, if you can.

Regardless of the task, activists should remember that the party’s paramount objective is running candidates for office. The purpose of seeking (or avoiding) major party status is making it easier to get candidates on the ballot and to elect them to office, not to inflate the egos of state committee members. Keep the mission in mind, and policy decisions will become clear.