Challenge to LP “Zero Dues” to Proceed

We noted earlier that there was some resistance to the Zero Dues Initiative a while ago, and it’s now official that the challenge, initiated by the Texas Libertarian Party, will be heard by the National LP Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.

In a 4-3 vote in favor of hearing the challenge, there was some contention by those against the challenge that Texas may not be acting in accordance with their own bylaws in bringing the complaint. Texas LP requires a 5% approval from members to issue challenges, which was not proven to the Judicial Committee. The Committee voted to hear the complaint regardless, possibly hoping not to complicate the matter with more legalities than necessary.

The challenge stems from the assertion that membership dues cannot be lowered to zero, with the argument that zero is not a number. There is no technical specification within the national bylaws that dues must set at a valid number (“Dues for membership in the Party shall be set by the National Committee”).

From our perspective, should the challenge is deemed correct, the short-term fix if would be to raise dues to $1 until the national convention next year. Of course, with all the recent turmoil (Executive Director Joe Seehusen resigning in August and his replacement not yet determined), the LP is certainly in no position to have more internal strife at the expense of focusing on external politics.

Update: Do we know something JC chair David Nolan doesn’t? We swear we’re not using a crystal ball to report this news, just our network of friendly tipsters (we trust they’re accurate on this one). Yet an email asking for comment from Nolan received this response:

The Judicial Committee has not yet officially decided to accept the Texas request. We should have a definitive answer by tonight or tomorrow.

  1. The harm to the Party will be measurable and felt if they force the LNC to backtrack on their decision. I am looking forward to the Baltimore meeting in more ways than one.

  2. If I hadn’t long ago ceased to be amazed by anything that happens within the LP, I’d be amazed by the Judicial Committee’s decision to entertain a complaint which is so clearly absurd on its face.

    The bylaws give the LNC the authority to set dues. The LNC did set dues — at $0.00. There’s no reasonable way to conclude that the LNC doing what it is clearly and unambiguously empowered to do by the bylaws could, in so doing, violate the bylaws. It’s just that simple — and it’s sad to see the Judicial Committee drawn into the game of appeasing those who lost the vote and who now want the plain language of the bylaws reinterpreted.

    Thomas L. Knapp

  3. It must be remembered the LP has always had a zero dues category, sometimes called instant or certification membership. The problem was that conflicting membership strategies over the years had created chaos, and zero dues membership was not being aggressively employed to introduce people to the LP.

    My original 2000 proposal for zero national dues was based on the fact that the LNC System Analysis staff was fundraising quite well while wasting in excess of dues collected, including the spending of funds that were supposed to be set aside from Life members and that, if left alone, would today through investment yield be paying basic office costs. In addition, it was discovered that LPNEWS was paying for itself, but was a major reason cited by members for leaving the LP–its focus on almost anything but Libertarian theory and actual achievement was cited as demotivating.

    The idea was for national to simply refund all the dues collected to the states, and possibly collecting additional dues at the convention at a reduced rate. In particular, not cease dues collection altogether. In addition, national needed to set a schedule of dues for students, families at a discount, and above all save on collection by allowing pre=pays of several years. national would continue d-base, web and other services.

    Additionally, each dues level was to have set benefits. A payment of zero would involve internet and web services and the annual report; for each level there would be an associated premium. A separate supportership certification and program was also suggested.

    Finally, projects would self-fundraise to earmarked funds to end the practice of staff of taking from peter to Pay paul and not re-paying Paul. This habit had greatly angered many members and was a main reason for funding decline. Finally, this would create accurate reporting of members–people who have taken the oath–and stop confusing them with national contributors of money. Perhaps the worst example was the seizure of state LP UMP funds by the Chair after 9-11, in the process almost causing the collapse and certainly the delay of many key state projects.

    These items have been emplaced in many respects. Project funding is happening and there is a no dues commitment. However, in the reaction against the attempt to create prohibitive dues somehow UMP got thrown out. Some LNC members feel that if you can’t pay, you can’t play, that a ‘professional’ LP must focus entirely on candidates and fundraising, losing sight that many volunteers of modest income do much of the actual work of the LP, especially the educational outreach and street activism without which a candidate is without any support. Some of this seems to have also been motivated by concerns staff, much cut back, was simply unable to run UMP.

    This has angered Texas, whose leaders made clear in a meeting with me, as a member of the Committee studying no dues alternatives, that while they welcomed a mechanism of zero dues they were unenthusiastic about anything that would undermine UMP. They are not alone. Some states have by-law and other impediments, such as TN LP. Many leaders feel the LNC had committed to a program of varieties of UMP or no UMP so state LP’s had a choice based on their different needs, then reneged. Many issues such as how members will be tracked for Convention purposes are unclear.

    Some members complain that some on LNC are not always aware that many activists see their job as helping the state LP’s do their job, but what is required varies with each state. Others on LNC in my opinion simply see things based on their own state’s problems, unaware that other and possibly more successful states have no such problems. Thus people cited conflicts and rancor in their states over the “membership model” though others had no idea what this was. Sometimes it was as simple as the level of a state LP’s development. Many small states depended on UMP, but NH LP, which is highly developed, left UMP some time ago. Also, some things have become weirdly complicated due to BCRA, which blocks or at least places in a gray area some of the things originally proposed as cost saving measures, such as inserting state newsletters in the LPNEWS, and taking ads from certain sponsors.

    I will continue to work to improve the process and see all views are discussed.

    Michael Gilson-De Lemos,
    Libertarian National Committee

  4. I might add that during the discussion of whether zero dues were “really” dues I pointed out that the legal minimum of US currency was the mill, or 1/1000ths of a dollar. Set at a rate of 1 mill yearly (let alone life memberships of one mill) one could subsidize the present LP for $20. I allowed that I was prepared to write a small check for several hundred dollars that, wisely invested, would pay foreseaable dues set at that rate for the LP for eternity. This contributed to derailing this topic.


  5. The Judicial Committee ruled that the request for a hearing on the matter of zero dues did not meet the requirement that it come from 5% of the national members.