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Vol. 81/No. 10      March 13, 2017

(front page)

SWP exemption fight defends political rights of working class

A draft opinion by the Federal Elections Commission denying the Socialist Workers Party exemption from disclosing the names of its campaign contributors “has lost sight of the governing First Amendment principle: that ‘[t]he Constitution protects against the compelled disclosure of political associations and beliefs,’” the SWP’s attorneys wrote Feb. 16. That’s what the Supreme Court said in 1974, when the SWP first won exemption from the disclosure laws. The proposed decision “rests upon an unprecedented, dangerous standard.”

If approved, the order would end the SWP’s exemption from reporting the names of contributors who give more than $200 to the party’s election campaigns, as well as the names of the campaign’s vendors.

The FEC was scheduled to consider the draft, signed by commission chair Steven Walther, at its Feb. 23 meeting, but they put the meeting off. The commission is riddled with dissension.

Commissioner Ann Ravel, a Democrat, issued a blistering criticism of the agency entitled Dysfunction and Deadlock and sent her letter of resignation to President Donald Trump Feb. 19.

The meeting on the SWP exemption is tentatively scheduled for March 13.

“Winning this exemption, and maintaining it for more than 40 years, has been an important victory in defending workers’ right to engage in political activity independent of the bosses and their parties,” John Studer, the Socialist Workers Party’s national campaign director, told the Militant Feb. 18. “All workers have a stake in the fight to defend the exemption.”

At the same time, “The SWP never has and never will let the government determine what we do politically. Socialist Workers Party candidates are running for office across the country and will continue to do so, within the law and in a way that maximizes protection of our contributors,” Studer said, regardless what the FEC decides.

SWP challenges false standards

One of the claims in the draft is that the SWP “may be encouraged by major-party interests in order to divert votes from other major-party contenders.”

“There is not a scintilla of evidence of any vote diversion, nor has there ever been in the more than 75 years of the SWP’s participation in elections,” SWP attorneys Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank, from the prominent firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman, answer. “In fact, such diversion is entirely contrary to the reason the SWP runs election campaigns, which is to advocate its own, entirely distinct and independent political positions.”

The FEC’s draft asserts “the public interest in disclosure of SWP’s financing is significantly greater” than in the past because the SWP “received more than 12,000 votes, which ranked 11th out of the 31 presidential candidates.”

The party has received similar or higher vote totals in past election cycles, the SWP says, “in which the Supreme Court and the Commission found, without qualification, that the SWP was a minor party that warranted exemption.”

Similarly, the draft claims that the $82,000 raised by the Socialist Workers Party campaign in 2016 — compared to the billions spent by the capitalist candidates — is a reason to require disclosure of contributors’ names. This “blinks at reality,” said Krinsky and Frank, and the opinion “should be rejected on this basis alone.”

Another incredible assertion in the draft is that the SWP’s exemption should end because Sen. Bernie Sanders is known as a socialist, has “a party identification materially similar to” that of the SWP, and got a lot of votes in the Democratic primary.

The Socialist Workers Party’s views are “obviously distinct,” Krinsky and Frank write. “They include: The SWP’s openly calling for the establishment of a workers and farmers government that will ‘overturn the dictatorship of capital,’ abolish capitalism in the United States and join in the worldwide struggle for socialism; and the SWP’s presentation of Cuba’s socialist revolution as an example for working people in the U.S. and across the earth to emulate and defend; and the call on working people to break definitively with both the Democratic and Republican parties.”

The arguments advanced in the FEC’s draft opinion would shift the standards in such a way to make it virtually impossible for any workers party to win exemption from the rulers’ disclosure laws. At the same time it dismisses evidence presented by the party of continuing attacks and threats against party members and supporters by rightists, bosses, cops and government agencies, while giving lip service to “the historical pattern of previous actions against the SWP.”

This pattern includes the decadeslong campaign against the SWP by the FBI and other spy agencies — part of “Cointelpro” operations also directed against fighters for Black rights and others — which was exposed in a landmark 15-year legal battle against the government won by the SWP in 1986.

That record “should alone be sufficient to establish that there is a ‘reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure of a party’s contributors’ names will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties,’” the SWP’s attorneys wrote, citing previous court rulings. They also point to “the well-known, documented, post-9/11 efforts of the U.S. government to monitor domestic protest organizations as well as political advocacy and religious groups, such as labor unions, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Muslim community — all communities that the SWP actively engages and defends.” The FEC draft contends this is irrelevant.

“In today’s growing capitalist crisis, the U.S. rulers increasingly fear working people and are stepping up their spying and disruption operations targeting political and union activity,” Studer said.

“And they’re getting help from liberals and neo-conservatives alike, who praise the courage and veracity of the FBI and CIA for leaks that go after Donald Trump,” Studer said. “They are trying to rehabilitate the government’s spies, pushing aside their record of attacks and disruption against the unions, the SWP and political rights.

“Whatever the outcome of this battle, we’ll keep campaigning, offering the one working-class voice in the elections,” he said.
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Back SWP fight vs. gov’t interference
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