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Vol. 81/No. 12      March 27, 2017

(feature article)

Fight over SWP disclosure exemption heats up in DC

For the second time in a month, the Federal Election Commission postponed its March 2 hearing on the Socialist Workers Party’s request to extend its exemption from disclosing names of contributors to its election campaigns. The delay was accompanied by the release of two new draft “advisory opinions.” One attempts to clean up the commission’s first draft, while asserting more forcefully the determination to deny the party’s request for extension. The second new draft “C” concurs with the party’s request and proposes to extend its exemption through the end of the presidential election in 2020. The commission vote is now set for March 23.

Since 1974, the Socialist Workers Party has won and maintained the right to receive campaign contributions without disclosing contributors’ names. This is an important gain for the working class, defending workers’ right to engage in political activity independent of the bosses and their parties, while curbing the threat of government harassment.

The FEC’s initial draft called for ending the exemption. In a sharp criticism Feb. 16, the party’s lawyers — Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank — explained that in doing so the commission would “rest upon an unprecedented, dangerous standard” that would make it impossible for anyone to ever win exemption.

“Regardless of whatever the commission decides,” John Studer, national SWP campaign director, told a March 10 Militant Labor Forum in New York, “we won’t change what we do politically, including running candidates, and doing so within the law in a way that maximizes protection for our contributors and supporters.”

The latest draft recounts the “long history of threats, harassment and reprisals against the SWP and its supporters by government agencies and private parties.” In fact, in the course of a 15-year-long lawsuit the party won in 1986 against the FBI and other spy agencies, it was disclosed that the FBI had gathered over 8 million documents on the SWP, wiretapped its supporters and carried out at least 204 burglaries at party offices.

The party has shown that over the last several years the government has spied on “other domestic activist groups whose areas of advocacy overlap substantially with the SWP’s,” draft “C” states. Also the party has introduced evidence documenting its members and supporters continue to face harassment and threats from government agencies and rightist thugs.

The draft calls for extending the party’s exemption, concluding there is a “reasonable probability” that SWP supporters could “face threats, harassment or reprisals” if their names were disclosed.

“Another strong reason for the SWP’s exemption is the sharp polarization taking place in politics in the U.S. today, and related attacks on democratic and political rights,” Studer told those at the forum.

“The Donald Trump administration’s moves to set religious and political tests for the right to political asylum, increased public attention to the operations of U.S. intelligence agencies, assaults against freedom of speech and debate at campuses from Middlebury to Berkeley,” he said, “all of these can make people concerned that public association with the SWP can lead to harassment.”

“Since its founding, the party — and its communist forebears dating back to the Russian Revolution — has been a target of the bosses, their political and immigration police, and rightist thugs,” Studer said. “That’s because from its founding the SWP has been blood and bones of the class struggle in the U.S. That’s what explains why we’re the ones who are leading this fight.”

“Alyson Kennedy, the SWP’s 2016 presidential candidate, will join me and our lawyers at the March 23 hearing,” Studer said. “We don’t know what the outcome will be, but we know we have their attention.”  
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