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'Tis the Season of Membership Stacking for Endorsements: Stonewall Next in the Headlights

by: lindasutton

Fri Apr 25, 2008 at 00:25:36 AM PDT


Most Californians are sure that their election is over. All the media coverage is blaring babble from the most recent presidential debate in distant states as well as other inane minutia that denigrates the process.  

Yet, if you look closely, really closely, you may find evidence that there is yet another election coming up here in June. Yes, June 3rd to be exact.

This season, in spite of the state being billions of dollars in debt, and the cries of horror about budget cuts, our state legislators gave us the special treat of spending double on TWO elections!!!.

And the citizens who ARE paying attention to the obscure references to the June 3rd primary are again faced with figuring out who is worth voting for, if anyone.

With little information in the mainstream media, many turn to their local Democratic Clubs and special interest groups for guidance. Or, they look to their Democratic party. This guidance most often comes in the form of the last minute slate mailers, the topic of this conversation.  

lindasutton :: 'Tis the Season of Membership Stacking for Endorsements: Stonewall Next in the Headlights
But IS the endorsement of the club or party truly well thought out? And DOES it actually represent the opinion of the regular club membership? And how many members are actually involved in any of these clubs? Or, has the endorsement been manipulated by the last minute sign-ups that dump cash into the club the day before the membership cut-off date for eligibility to vote? Then, a busload of "new members" appears for this one event.

From my vantage point in the San Fernando Valley, I can assure you that the custom of stacking-new-members-just-in-time-for-the-endorsement-vote is alive and well in the 40th Assembly District race. The four Democratic candidates are Laurette Healey, Dan McCrory, Stewart Waldman and Bob Blumenfeld.

The season opened with the Young Democrats of the SFV and a ground war between two guys who both think they are entitled to the Assembly seat in the 40th AD (that's mid-SFV from Van Nuys out to West Hills). These "Young Dems," by the way, are heavily sprinkled with incumbent politicians' staffers. Stewart Waldman, the former staffer for the incumbent in the 40th AD, snatched this one away, having been the founder of the group. He's too old to be a member now, but says strong ties to many board members got him the endorsement.

Then came the bruiser at the Valley Grassroots for Democracy (yea, right...democracy). Not to be outdone here, the Bob Blumenfeld team, led by the incumbent's dad, thought they had this one knocked. They'd spent a lot of time gathering together new members who drove in to vote, but low and behold, there was an uproar from the regular membership when they were handed the letter Blumenfeld had sent to stack the club:

"I'm writing to see if you'd be willing to help me stack the room for some upcoming Democratic Club Endorsement meetings...

I'm compiling a list of different clubs that endorse that also have open memberships.  However, one of the larger of such clubs is the Valley Grassroots for Democracy.  And, as it works out their deadline for signing up for membership is this Tuesday.  Would you and possibly (name deleted) be willing to sign up to become members.  You would only have to come to one meeting -- the one in March where they will be voting on making an endorsement for the 40th AD.  Details are below.  Also, if you know anyone else who you might be able to recruit for this, that'd be great too.

Talk to you soon.  Take care.

    - Bob"  (openly admitted he sent this, saying that Stewart had "done it first" at Young Dems)

As it turned out, the leadership, that seemed to be totally on board with this stacking ploy, ultimately chose to cave in to the demands of core members and issued a "no endorsement" for this race.  Grassroots indeed!

Losing that one, the "Berman machine" (and it includes more than Howard, the Democratic congressman who votes with the Republicans on Iraq war issues) turned up the steam to steamroll the insiders of the Democratic party into "choosing" HIS STAFFER at the pre-endorsement caucus.

That's the official party endorsement, not to be confused by any others that use "Democratic Party" in their name (e.g., DPSFV). The party chooses one Democrat in the field of many Democrats and puts the official seal of approval on that one...which he/she then uses in their slate mailings that arrive just before election day.

To understand this convoluted process is an exercise in near futility. It seems that elected officials anywhere in the state can send in delegates to vote for a candidate.  Huh???  Running that by again, elected politicians from OUTSIDE the district can send delegates in to vote. So, in spite of it being a Democratic primary, these elected Democrats are unwilling to allow the democratic process to take place. They step in with their pre-selected favorite based on.....what???

And send in they did. The twenty-seven "chosen" joined with a measly four from the district activist pool to vote for Bob. At the caucus, the vote was one short of sending it to the convention for the endorsement. After all ballots left and went to Sacramento, wonder of wonders, Blumenfeld was now having his name put in for endorsement. This was stopped in its tracks by the concerted efforts of Waldman and Dan McCrory (another in the race) and the 468 delegates who signed their petitions to send the carefully engineered endorsement of Bob to the floor for a vote. It lost. No Democratic Party endorsement for anyone in the 40th AD. Add one strike for "nobody" and chalk one up for grassroots democracy. The plea was to allow the voters of the district to decide. What a unique idea!

Which brings us to the latest travesty of this election, the last minute delivery of 80 (or 83, depending on source) applications of new members to the Stonewall Democratic Club hours before the closing of membership for voting purposes. The daddy mentioned before (dad of incumbent who is running the campaign for his son as well as the anointed replacement for son, the Berman staffer) has his operative from the club rush in his credit card to PAY for these new members he's collected to stack the endorsement meeting. Yes, at $25 a pop, that's $2000. The county chair, who's also a Stonewall member, says "there is absolutely no prohibition whatsoever about this in any bylaws."

So, voters who want to use a "trusted" club endorsement, what do you think? Is it okay for a political operative to gather up a busload of people to drive in and vote in the club meeting on endorsements and then disappear??? And for this particular race, the 40th Assembly District, this highly unethical (if legal) stacking of new members will result in an endorsement bought and paid for by a political campaign consultant if existing members to not step in and say, "Enough!"

D-Day to see the fireworks over this one is Monday, April 28. For those in the L.A. region who want to come observe the drama it's at 7:00 PM at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium, 647 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood (between Santa Monica Blvd. and Melrose Ave.)

Lest you think that this is an isolated incident, we have the latest breaking story from Randy Bayne's blog up north (http://bayneweb.com/blog/?p=1005) on an even worse example. The West Sacramento Dems had 700 (yes, seven hundred) new "members" brought to them by their local endorsement buyer. Now they cannot conduct business since they are unable to reach a quorum with the new higher membership that is in NUMBERS only. They can't even meet to try to change their bylaws!

So we are left with this. Manipulation of the clubs by politicians or their hired hacks.  Not real residents who care about the club. Not real activists who are working within the club on issues of common concern. Not real citizens concerned about the community.  Just people who are "hired" to go to a club ONE TIME solely for the purpose of delivering the club endorsement to the ethically-challenged buyer.

And the clubs who allow this are obviously complicit. New members, even if only there once, mean more money. Of course, there MUST be some within each club who disagree with this state of affairs, but certainly not enough, or this would not continue year after year.

Our so-called democracy has taken an incredible beating these last years. Many look to the Democratic party as their only hope. And many of those many will be disappointed. While it would be nice to think that one could look to someone else to do the heavy lifting involved in maintaining the democracy, the reality is that it's you who must step up to the plate and make time to participate and do in-depth research on these people we entrust with our future.

Time to start tossing all those last minute endorsement slates as the pieces of trash they are. Certainly not worth the paper they're on. And certainly nothing to base a vote on.

And for those who continue to think that they are too busy in their own little worlds, or that they can't make a difference, or that their vote doesn't count, we are left with the words of George Bernard Shaw:
Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

###

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Anti-packing measures (0.00 / 0)
It's a problem we deal with a lot in SF. At SFYD we have some pretty strict anti-packing measures. It kinda stinks b/c we have to build barriers to entry, but getting overwhelmed is worse.

I think?

We have this issue, too (0.00 / 0)
and I think the best answer is more local clubs, and more activity from a broader range of the members of the older clubs.    

There's an enormous sense of entitlement among the denizens of the established clubs, partly because the have long been the standard bearers in a hostile environment for Democrats.  

They deserve respect, but not total control, and certainly not abuse of their position.  More clubs allow for more direct democracy.  Democratic clubs in the East Coachella Valley are starting to come together, and that will provide a crucial counterbalance plus a broader perspective.



I'm union staff, but not a spokesperson for my union - all posts represent my views solely.


'Tis the Season...Membership Stacking (3.00 / 1)
At West LA Dem Club we have a 30-day membership requirement to vote in an endorsement meeting. Savvy candidates round up their troops to join w/in this window, effectively stacking the room to win our endorsement or a Club officer race. We rarely see any of these faces again.
As recently as two weeks ago, when so many were running to be national convention delegates, we had a swarm of candidates joining at the last-minute, enabling them to be listed as WLADC members in our e-letter, which goes out to 2000 members and associates (non-dues paying members.)

As an activist club, we count on our membership to do grassroots work: precinct walking, phone banking, voter reg., committee leadership, etc.  When 1/3 of the membership is non-visible except for voting purposes, our mission to elect democrats is impacted and the work falls on the same activists year in and out.

This is becoming epidemic, as Linda's letter indicates.  The clubs will need to have stricter voting requirements - a longer wait-period before being allowed to vote in any endorsement meeting.  We will be addressing this at our next E-Board meeting as a possible By-Laws change.

Cara Robin
Vice President, West LA Democratic Club
Elected Delegate, 51st Assembly District


UPDATING BY-LAWS to PREVENT ABUSE (0.00 / 0)
If those of us who are active club members want to do something about this, then we have to restrict the VOTING membership in a way that ensures people do not join SOLELY to vote in the endorsement meeting. One suggestion I heard was to set the date for 90 days before endorsement votes instead of 30. Another is that they have to attend a certain number of meetings before qualifying to vote.

Of course, other clubs, like the Valley Democrats United, have a policy of NOT endorsing in the primary races. And, this makes sense too. Allow all the Democratic candidates to be heard in a forum that encourages honest debate of the issues.

What I am most happy about is that we are starting to have this discussion.

If we are ever to have ETHICS put back into the public SERVANTS that we hire each election, then we need to REQUIRE that they have them when they are running for office.
###


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