The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) is in a tough position financially. It is in debt, and struggling to meet its monthly expenses. Below I present a case for implementing a National Membership program for GPUS, attempting to make a case that a National Membership plan for GPUS could rescue it from its financial problems, help in state party and local chapter growth, and bring new voters into the Green Party. By tying Delegate Apportionment to National Membership GPUS could regain its financial footing and grow as a political force in America. Doing nothing will result in no significant change to GPUS Financial Policy and budgeting and lead the party further down the path to indebtedness and financial ruin.
Prelude: A Financial Crisis
The Green Party of the United States (GPUS) is in trouble financially. It still owes money for the 2008 Presidential Nominating convention, and is going deeper into debt with each month that donations don’t add up to monthly expenses for “keeping the lights on”.
GPUS is donor driven, that is the source of its income. There is no membership dues, no corporate donations, no federal or state assistence, nothing. Fund raising and donations is it.
GPUS is technically an association of state Green Parties, thus all membership with the Green Party is at the state level, assuming there is an accredited state party in a given state. No one knows how many “members” the Green Party has due to the differences state by state in membership dues, and what you count as a “green” (dues-paying member, registered Green, green voter, etc.). Some state Green Parties give monthly to GPUS, some don’t.
Setting: There is NO membership with the Green Party of the United States.
Late last week, Independent Political Report posted a “membership table” for the Libertarian Party. It indicated that as of October 2008 there were around 17,000 dues paying members of the Libertarian Party, including annual memberships and lifetime memberships. Annual dues are supposedly $25 per year per individual. Lifetime membership at one point was a one time donation of $1,000. Doing simple math, that amounts to approximately $400,000 annual income based on annual membership dues.
Furthermore, the membership table broke down membership by state, and indicated that the active dues paying membership numbers were what were used by the Libertarian Party to determine delegate allocation for the Libertarian Party – not a Frankenstein system of weights and measures comparing registered voters in some states, elected Greens in other states, votes cast for the Green Party candidate for President in certain states and votes cast for Ralph Nader in 2004 in others.
Problem: The Green Party of the United States is broke and in debt.
Possible Solution: Enacting a dues paying membership system with GPUS.
De-Centralization: Since GPUS is in essence an Association of State Green Parties, “authority” in the GPUS is technically in the hands of state parties, which vary greatly in terms of maturity, numbers, activism, etc. A “national membership” could divert energy and money away from state parties to GPUS. It would also threaten the “sovreignty” of state parties to manage their own membership numbers, and challenge the key value of de-centralization.
Response: There is already in place a “state sharing” function within GPUS that initiates financial sharing of donations between GPUS and state parties. This “state sharing” could be formalized through a National Membership Plan, whereby half of all membership dues with GPUS would be shared with the accredited state chapter of the Green Party. Furthermore, State Green Parties would not be bound to accept GPUS “Members” unless they were willing to also accept half of those membership dues. Delegates to the GPUS National Committee would still be appointed/elected by state Green Parties. All rights and responsibilities that state Green Parties enjoy now would continue.
Economic Justice: One concern about a dues paying membership system is that it bases membership and participation in party decision making on “ability to pay”. Isn’t this just putting into place a “pay to play” structure that locks out the poor or financially strapped portions of America?
Response: Many state Green Parties already have a “low income”, “fixed income” or “student” membership rate that is lower than the standard membership rate. In Wisconsin, we have $25 annual memberhip dues, or $40 for a couple, or $10 for low income or students. Is $10 per year asking too much for membership? My local chapter once passed the hat to collect the $10 for membership dues for a cash strapped student, we felt it was important since he was an elected Green to our County Board! Local chapters and State chapters of the Green Party should be given latitude in “covering” the membership dues of low-income members. It amounts to 3 cents per day to be considered a member of the Green Party – is that too much to ask?
“One Green = One Vote”: much has been made about where our Greens are and who is considered a Green. Is voter registration sufficient? Is voting Green more accurate? Would delegate apportionment among the National Committee or the Presidential Nominating Convention be based on National membership, and wouldn’t that be denying the “One Green One Vote” manifesto?
Response: First, neither the National Committee nor the Presidential Nominating Delegates have to be based on National Membership, although if they were it would give some “teeth” to a National Membership plan and hopefully lead to a robust participation in National Membership. Basing proportional representation with GPUS on a National Membership with GPUS would be one of the purist forms of putting “One Green One Vote” into action. If 25% of the National Membership was from one state, that state would have 25% of the Presidential Delegates, and 25% of the National Committee Delegates. There would be no contention – “dues paying membership” would be the only determinant for delegate apportionment – no matter how state laws vary in terms of ballot access, party status, voter registration, etc.
Financial Situation: finally, the most important short term issue at hand is an increasing debt load by GPUS and a shortage in income that has no end in sight. A National Membership Structure for GPUS has the potential to releave that debt and provide GPUS with the month to month income to “keep the lights on”. If 10,000 Greens across the nation became annual dues paying members of GPUS it would generate $250,000 in income, half of which ($125,000) would be distributed to the various state parties, with the other half paying the bills and paying off the debt. If twice that became members, double the numbers and do the math.
Response: Establishing a National Membership program would provide GPUS with a national membership and donor list that it can use for fund raising, outreach, leadership development and candidate recruitment. Working with state parties GPUS could be in a better position to support state and local campaigns based on a national membership list. GPUS would be able to pay existing staff and monthly expenses and maybe even have enough money left over to work on issus such as ballot access and media outreach. GPUS could pay off its debts and be in a better position to support issues and support candidates that could make a big difference. Members could even have the option of a portion of their membership dues going to one of the several caucuses or committees affiliated with GPUS with simple check boxes. GPUS could even help struggling state parties by helping to connect “National Members” from struggling states to help kick start new state chapters. The possibilities are endless.
There is a lot of history behind the lack of National Memberhip for GPUS that involves de-centralization, grassroots democracy, and more. These concerns are real and need to be acknowledged. However, given the extreme financial dire straights that the National Green Party of the US is in right now, I believe that we are at a critical juncture where things have to change or the Green Party will dissipate nationally as a political force. The simple step of Membership with GPUS has the potential to rescue GPUS from the financial mess it is in and provide it with the necessary funding to both “keep the lights on” and fund the issues we all desire: ballot access, outreach, candidate recruitment, and issue oriented activities. It has the potential to help grow state and local chapters, not take from them, and bring Greens together for collective action.
I would very much like to hear your opinion on this subject, whether you are a (dues paying, registered, voting) Green or not.