Libertarian State Leadership Alliance

Letters on Libertarian Strategy

Tasks for the New National Committee

This is a 1999 Perspective. Some things have changed. Some still need to change.

We can't do everything in 100 hours or 100 days. An effective Party National Committee must set priorities. An effective Party National Committee needs to identify what needs to be done first. An effective National Committee needs to identify what we need to start working on now, even though it won't matter for a long time, because some things take years to get underway. I'm going to discuss several important tasks for the National Committee, things NatComm needs to get done. Some are longer-term than others. Finally, I'll discuss a lower priority issue, namely what the new National Chair and National Committee should do about the current debate about past NatComm spending.

So, what tasks does a National Committee face?

The major task of the new National Committee -- if you choose to elect the Clean Slate slate -- is to change the dominant operating paradigm of the Libertarian Party of the United States.

We are an organization that viewed membership recruitment as the prime task, and that treats members primarily as potential donors. [For evidence of this claim, see the LNC budget and its last letters to you.]

Under the Clean Slate, we shall become an organization that views electoral victory via local organization as the prime task, and that treats members as potential activists.

Paradigm shifts are challenging to accomplish, and slow to put into effect. Fortunately much of the change occurs at the local level. Fortunately, the change occurs by creating new customs and habits, not by replacing old ones. Fortunately, this change is already occurring in state after state from sea to shining sea, giving examples that the rest of us can follow.

There are also specific technical issues, including (but not limited to):

1) The back office. We maintain membership records for the national and many state parties. The national party operates a phone link 1-800-ELECT-US. That data must be recorded accurately, distributed to state parties and local groups in a timely way, and properly archived. There is no point in advertising membership or the telephone line of we drop the ball when people join or call. Fortunately, a good back office operation only needs good software, working equipment, a trained staff, and adequate monitoring. Every other membership group in the country has the same challenges; these are solved problems.

2) Expertise collection. The Libertarian Party includes in its members and supporters technical experts in almost every field, from marketing and sales to campaign management. I don't pretend to be an expert in most areas. The Libertarian Party needs a systematic way of accessing this membership expertise. If the good ship Liberty hits high seas, we should consult the legitimate sailing masters, not depend on friends of a national officer. To do that, we need to find where the real expertise is. I am not saying that we have never consulted experts. I am saying that you have never seen a systematic appeal from the National Committee: If you have expertise you're willing to share with your Party, speak up and uidentify yourself.

3) LP News. Every member receives LP News. It's improved in the past, and will improve further in the future. LP News is the one path we have that reaches every member without appearing to be another fundraising letter. LP News should be improved; its utility for motivating activism should be expanded.

4) Electronics. Whether we are discussing back office work, web pages, or membership communication, advanced technical means are fundamental to our success. The LP has reached the stage where it appear to need in-house staff to handle computer issues, train staff for web page maintenance and support, and so forth.

5) Affinity groups. Stand Up for Liberty! explains why development of affinity groups is central to our long-term strength. Our opponents have groups like NARAL and NRA that do speak up for their issue, so long as the issue is tied to the right political party. The Libertarian Party needs matching, *independent* affinity groups to perform the same services for us. Developing those groups needs a plan, membership activism, money, and staff hand-holding.

I'm not going to say much about the dispute between Messrs. Bergland, Browne, and Hornberger. Each of them has worked hard to advance the Libertarian movement as he understood it. However, one way or another, these fine libertarians are exiting the natioanl party's stage. They may well be active as foundation leader or good-will ambassador for our Party, but it appears unlikely that they will be active in our Party's governance: Mr. Bergland is not running for re-election. No matter if the nominee is Gorman or Browne or Smith or Hess, the Presidential campaign ends in November. Mr. Hornberger's Presidential campaign has ended.

I want to look to the future, not argue perpetually about the past.

An important task for the National Committee is to restore trust: trust that the national Libertarian Party and Federal candidates are sound places for Libertarians to invest their time, effort, and money.

Trust is not something you can recover by patting yourself on the back and telling the world what a fine fellow you are. Trust is something you earn by being trustworthy.

The Local Organization Strategy instantly solves part of the trust problem. To develop local and state organizations, you are going to work with fellow Libertarians from your home town and home state. These are people you know. You know who comes through in a pinch, who keeps her promises, and who talks a good line until work is involved. You can trust people to be themselves, and you know what sort of people they are. You know who you can trust for what. Under the Local Organization strategy, trust in the national organization becomes less important than it would otherwise be.

In the long term, we do need to be able to trust our national organization and national candidates to give the movement proper support. The National Committee and Natioanl caniddates must become substantially more effective in showing donors that it has spent its money well. I am not arguing that money was spent well or poorly. I am discussing what the Natioanal Party should be telling our members, its donors. If in December we raise money for petitioners, in January or February we should report clearly on how much money was raised, how many petitioners were hired, what they cost, and where they will be working. Given FEC reporting requirements, *who* we hired is known very quickly to all interested people. If in February we raise money to improve our web pages, in April or June we report where that money went, who earned it, and how our web pages were improved.

The same transparency principle applies to future candidates for Federal Office. I will not criticize current candidates for past decisions. There's no way to make a change for the better. In my opinion, recent events make clear that in 2004 we -- the Libertarian members and donors -- should not support candidates whose expenses are hidden in banks of legalistic fog. We may lose a bit of an advantage, but in 2004 candidates who raise large sums without explaining how those sums are spent will simply be too divisive to be good for the party.

Finally, the last few years have involved the National Committee in a variety of controversies: strategies, lawsuits, state affiliations. Major changes in the LNC's membership bring a breath of fresh air. After the 2000 Anaheim Convention, many people involved in these controversies will move on to other activities. We all hope they will stay active in building the Libertarian movement, but the Clean Slate we can give the national party a clean slate and a fresh start.

George Phillies

The Clean Slate Action Program Committee
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