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ballot access

Libertarians and Greens sue over the petition process for ballot access

We’ll see about this.

Mark Miller

Ahead of the 2020 election cycle, a group of Texans, along with a number of nonmajor political parties, have sued the secretary of state’s office, alleging that Texas election law discriminates against third-party and independent candidates vying for a spot on the general election ballot.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Austin, plaintiffs argued that current state law would give nonmajor political parties in 2020 just 75 days to obtain over 80,000 valid signatures to gain ballot access — and that the cost of doing so could cost more than $600,000.

Currently, third parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party can secure a spot on the general election ballot by either having at least one candidate who wins more than 5% of the vote in a statewide race during the previous election cycle, or by collecting a certain number of required signatures. That 5% threshold will soon be lowered to 2% of the vote in one of the past five general elections once a measure that passed the Texas Legislature this year takes effect Sept. 1.

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party, meanwhile, are allowed access to the general election ballot as long as they file the required paperwork and gather a certain number of signatures, which depends on which office they’re seeking.

For both third-party and independent candidates, signatures must come from registered voters who did not vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries or participate in another party’s convention that year.

“Collecting signatures by hand is inherently time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive,” Mark Miller, a plaintiff in the case and a two-time Libertarian candidate for Texas Railroad Commission, said in a news release. “And collecting 80,000-plus valid signatures in the limited time allowed under Texas law is all but impossible without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire paid petition circulators.”

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs suggested that Texas could modernize its signature petition procedure to help alleviate the burden they say has been placed on them. Plaintiffs pointed to Arizona, which they said has a secretary of state who recently implemented an online platform to allow voters to sign nomination petitions electronically — instead of in person and on paper.

Let me start by saying that if the minor parties win the right to collect electronic petition signatures so their candidates can get on the ballot in a state where electronic voter registration is illegal, that will be infuriating. The latter is by far the bigger affront to democracy.

Before I get to the main part of my analysis, let me add some more details about this from the Statesman.

State law offers three paths for candidates to land on the general election ballot:

Political parties that received at least 20 percent of the vote in the previous election for governor nominate their candidates for state and county office and the U.S. Congress via primary elections, with the winners advancing to the general election. “Since at least 1900, only the Democratic Party and Republican Party have qualified,” the lawsuit said.

Major-party candidates pay filing fees ranging from $75 to $5,000 or by submitting petitions with 5,000 signatures for statewide office. The law does not set a time limit on when they can begin collecting those signatures, the lawsuit said. Minor parties must nominate general-election candidates at a convention where participants equal at least 1% of the number of Texans who voted for governor in the prior election, or 83,717 participants in 2020. No minor party has met the 1% requirement in at least 50 years, the lawsuit said, but Texas law allows candidates to collect voter signatures within a 75-day window to make up the difference.

The tight deadline and limits on who may sign the petitions – registered voters cannot sign if they voted in a recent primary, attended another party’s convention or signed another party’s nominating petition for the same election – put minor-party candidates at a significant disadvantage, the lawsuit said.

Independent candidates are allowed on the general election ballot if they collect petition signatures equal to 1% of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election. Petitions cannot be circulated until after the major parties hold a primary or primary runoff election, meaning candidates could have 114 days, or as little as 30 days, to collect signatures, the lawsuit said. “This uncertainty alone imposes a significant burden that chills potential candidacies,” the lawsuit said.

Having to collect about 80,000 valid signatures by hand can cost $600,000, largely to hire people to circulate petitions, the lawsuit said. The result is an election scheme that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for candidates who are not wealthy to participate in the political arena, said Oliver Hall, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Competitive Democracy, which worked on the lawsuit without charge along with the Shearman & Sterling law firm, which has an office in Austin. “We think the federal courts will recognize that Supreme Court precedent prohibits Texas from limiting participation in its electoral process to those with financial means,” Hall said.

So the first thing to realize is that this cycle is an especially challenging one for parties or candidates who need to go the petition route to get on the ballot. That includes the Libertarians, whose best performance in 2018 was 3.42% in the Comptroller’s race. The Libertarians and to a lesser extent the Greens have benefited in the past from the Democrats not competing in all of the statewide judicial races, leaving at least one slot with a Republican running against an L and a G, with the two of them combining for 20% or so of the vote; there were two such races in 2014. In 2018 Dems had candidates in all of the judicial races, and that left the Libertarians (the Greens were not on the ballot because none of their candidates got to five percent in 2016) out in the cold. The other thing about 2018, you might recall, is that it shattered records for off-year turnout, which is why that “one percent of the Governor’s race” (*) requirement is as high as it is. Had the Ls and Gs needed petition signatures for 2016, they’d have only needed about 47,000 of them based on gubernatorial turnout from 2014. In addition, primary turnout, especially on the Dem side, is going to be through the roof, meaning that the pool of eligible petition-signers will be that much smaller. However you feel about the plight of the minor parties and would-be independents, this is a bad year to have to collect petition signatures.

The other fact to reckon with is that this isn’t the first time a federal lawsuit (which this one is, according to the Statesman) has been filed over this requirement. Back in 2004, after Ralph Nader tried and failed to get enough signatures to be on the ballot as an independent Presidential candidate, he sued and ultimately lost; his subsequent appeal was rejected. Federal judge Lee Yeakel ruled at the time that Texas’ ballot access laws did not create an unconstitutional burden. I’m not exactly sure what is different this time, other than the number of plaintiffs, but who knows. This is the main question, at least as far as I’m concerned, that will need to be addressed. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

For what it’s worth, while I have no warmth for the third parties, I’d be all right with a petition process that gave them more time, and even that allowed them to solicit any voter, not just non-primary voters. If and when we get electronic voter registration, I’d concede on the electronic petition gathering item. Beyond that, I don’t see much of a problem. We’ll see what the judge says.

(*) There were 8,343,443 votes cast in the 2018 Governor’s race, one percent of which is 83,434. I have no idea where that 83,717 figure comes from, unless it’s some kind of weird typo.

A strange way to improve ballot access

Hard not to see partisan motives in this.

Rep. Drew Springer

A bill on track to reach Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk appears designed to make it easier for Green Party candidates and harder for Libertarian candidates to get on the Texas ballot in 2020. Democrats say House Bill 2504 is a ploy by Republicans to boost their reelection bids while siphoning off votes from Democrats.

The bill from state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, would make two major changes to how candidates with non-major parties run for office in Texas. The bill would require those candidates to either pay filing fees or secure a certain number of signatures to get on a November ballot. It also changes the threshold for guaranteeing a party a place on the ballot. The former provision could lead to fewer Libertarians running in 2020. The latter would mean the Green Party would likely earn a spot on the November ballot that year.

The bill tentatively passed the Senate on Sunday on a party-line 19-12 vote. If the chamber gives it final approval, it will head to the governor’s desk.

Currently in Texas, Democrats and Republicans have to either pay a filing fee or secure a certain number of signatures to get on their party’s primary ballot. Texas filing fees for a candidate range from $75 for county surveyor to $5,000 for U.S. senator.

The Libertarian Party, meanwhile, has avoided those requirements while routinely gaining a spot on the general election ballot by meeting a different threshold: at least one of its candidates has managed to win more than 5% of the vote in a statewide race during the previous election cycle.

Springer’s bill would lower that ballot-access threshold for third parties to 2% of the vote in one of the last five general elections — a bar that the Green Party could also clear. In 2010, the Green Party candidate for comptroller drew 6% of the vote.

[…]

An earlier version of the bill only had the filing fee provision. When the bill reached the House floor earlier this month, Springer proposed an amendment that added the new ballot threshold language. The amendment passed after less than a minute of discussion, catching some House Democrats off guard amid an intense evening session of the House in which dozens of bills were heard.

Springer told The Texas Tribune that he added the floor amendment because the current threshold for parties to gain ballot access “protects the two-party system too much.” It isn’t specifically targeting the Green Party, he said.

“Republicans are not afraid to give Texans more choice,” he added.

Pat Dixon, former state chair of the Texas Libertarian Party, testified against the bill last week at a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing. Dixon said the bill would unfairly force Libertarians to pay filing fees in addition to the cost of their nominating convention.

When Democratic and Republican candidates pay filing fees to run for an office, the money helps pay for the election. Under HB 2504, third-party candidates would pay the same filing fees, but the money would go toward state or local funds, but not funds specifically devoted to running elections.

The obvious partisan motive here is that Green candidates are widely believed to siphon votes away from Democrats, while Libertarians are believed to do the same to Republicans. I have little use for third parties, but the basic principle that ballot access should not be needlessly burdensome is one I support. That said, if the actual Libertarian Party says that this bill will hurt them rather than help them, I think it’s a little difficult to say that the bill is a principled effort to be more inclusive to third parties. I mean, the Libertarians were doing just fine getting their candidates on the ballot under the existing system. Just leave them alone and do no harm, you know?

By the way, when I say that Ls and Gs are “widely believed” to take away votes from Rs and Ds, I mean that’s the accepted wisdom but I’m not aware of any hard research that puts a formula to it. I have my own theories about third party voters, which you can agree with or argue with as you see fit. I do think there’s room for Democrats to minimize the vote share they lose to third parties in statewide races – not just Greens – and it will take one part better candidates, one part better party branding, and one part better outreach, which is another way of saying that they’ll need to have enough resources to ensure that their intended voters have sufficient information about all the candidates on their statewide ballot. It’s possible that in the long run this could lead to fewer votes for Greens statewide, as Dems will be better positioned in the coming years to compete in the downballot races as well as at the top of the ticket. For sure, this bill should be at least as much of an incentive to work harder for the Dems as it is for any other party. And you can be sure that when the votes are all counted in 2020, I’ll look to see what if any effects of this bill I can find.

No Greens

Can’t honestly say I’m sorry.

Jan Richards

When Texans head to the ballot box this November, they’ll be able to vote for Republicans, Democrats or Libertarians.

If they want to choose a candidate affiliated with another political group, they might have to write in the name of their chosen candidate. That’s because five other political parties seeking to get on the ballot — America’s Party of Texas, the Christian Party of Texas, the Green Party of Texas, None of the Above and the Texas Independent Party — didn’t secure the 47,183 valid signatures needed for ballot access this fall.

“We only got like 400 or 500 signatures out of the 50,000 that we need,” said Jan Richards, a Green Party of Texas candidate who’s running for governor.

“It’s a challenge. There’s really no other way to describe it — and they definitely don’t make it easy,” said Andy Prior, the former state chairman for America’s Party of Texas who’s also the party’s nominee for land commissioner. According to its website, America’s Party supports a pro-life and pro-liberty platform. It collected less than 250 signatures.

All five of the parties that missed out filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Secretary of State’s office in order to gain ballot access this November, spokesman Sam Taylor said. That kicked off a 75-day period that began March 13 to get the signatures needed. But the deadline passed at midnight on Wednesday, and none collected enough.

[…]

In order to get their candidates on the general election ballot without a petition, parties must have at least one candidate win more than 5 percent of the vote in a statewide race during the previous election cycle. Libertarian petroleum engineer Mark Miller barely cleared that hurdle for his party in 2016, winning 5.3 percent of the vote in the race against Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian.

The two parties other than the Democrats and Republicans that often collect enough votes in the previous election to secure ballot access for the following cycle are the Libertarians and the Greens.

But the Green Party, which runs on a liberal platform and is sometimes blamed for siphoning off votes from Democratic candidates, fell short in 2016 after Democrats fielded candidates in every statewide judicial race for the first time since 2010. The Green Party typically has relied on judicial races that lack Democratic candidates to reach the 5 percent threshold.

Yeah, darn those dirty Democrats and their dastardly tactic of running candidates in every race. The Greens were not on the ballot in 2006 and 2008 and were heading to be in the same position in 2010 when they got a bing financial boost from a Republican backer, followed by a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court. Not happening this time, I guess. Which among other things is a missed opportunity for them, as the Dems did not field a candidate in one Court of Criminal Appeals race this year. Better luck next time, y’all.

Note that this is just for statewide ballot access. The Greens and the Libertarians can still nominate candidates for Congress, the Lege, county offices, and so forth. If you want to know who they are and what they’re running for, well, the Texas Green Party website lists three would-have-been statewide contenders and one candidate for a school board, while the Harris County Green Party has bupkis. I don’t know what their plans are, and as you might surmise I don’t really care, but you may see a Greenie or two on your ballot in November anyway. Just not for a statewide race.

Ours aren’t the only primaries being delayed

Americans Elect has postponed theirs, but in their case litigation had nothing to do with it.

The deadline for candidate ‘support clicks’ at Americans Elect Corporation was midnight last night (May 1), according to both its official Pre-Election Convention Rules and their online summary. That deadline came, and went, ten hours ago as we write. But as yet there is not hardly a peep from Americans Elect noting this significant (and, we guess, embarrassing) event in its short but troubled life.

  • Not a press release…
  • Not a notice on the web site’s ‘Candidates’ section that further votes won’t count toward candidate qualification for the next round of voting (although we note that new votes are still being recorded)
  • Not an email to delegates
  • No posted Board decisions regarding the impact of the failed vote on the upcoming Primaries
  • No response to repeated voicemail messages from us to AECorp’s press secretary, Ileana Wachtel, requesting AECorp’s comment [EDIT]: See 11 AM update at the end of this article
  • Nothing. Zip. (…crickets…)

Over the past few days our Kremlin-watchers here at AE Transparency have been considering and raucously debating the likelihood of various scenarios regarding how AECorp would be likely to finesse an explanation…and a disaster recovery response…for its failed first-round voting effort, but we must confess that we never even dreamed of this, the corporation’s actual response: pretending the whole thing just didn’t happen.

Not since the final episode of The Sopranos have Americans been so let down by a dramatic denouement.

Click over to see the various updates to that post, and go here to see how far off they were from meeting their goals. Of the four declared AE candidates, leader Buddy Roemer had a bit more than 20% of the required vote needed to make it to the second round; the other three declared candidates were all around five percent. Ron Paul, who isn’t an AE candidate and likely won’t be regardless, was the leader overall with more than double Roemer’s vote share, but that was still less than half the needed total. Given that, it’s hard to say how much good the postponement will do them, but clearly they had no choice. All this makes me wonder how their efforts to get on the Texas ballot in November are going. As a reminder, they need 49,799 valid signatures of registered voters, and their petitions are due later this month. Anybody have any information about this? If you’ve seen a petition for this, let us know. Kos has more, and thanks to Jason Stanford for the catch.

Meet your minor parties

Will not be on the ballot

PoliTex lists some of the non-standard political parties that hope to put a Presidential candidate (and some others in a couple of cases) on the ballot this year. They range from the good old fashioned Socialists to the (possibly illegally-named) Donald Trump vehicle to the “centrist” flavor of the quadrennia Americans Elect. Get to know them all now while you still can, because our ballot access laws are such that most of them will vanish into obscurity faster than you can say “Harold Stassen”.

Look out, here comes The Donald

Make of this what you will.

Donald Trump supporters have met an official ballot deadline in Texas, paving the way for the business mogul to become a third-party candidate there, a source close to Trump tells The Blaze. Trump himself acknowledged the filing in a statement.

According to an email sent by the source to The Blaze on Sunday night, Trump supporters filed paperwork on Friday to create the “Make America Great Again Party,” giving Trump the opportunity — should he take advantage of it — to be on the primary ballot.

Texas State law requires the paperwork to be notarized and filed by Jan 2, the source told The Blaze. At least one other Trump supporter had contacted the Texas Secretary of State’s office to accept the paperwork on Monday despite it being an official holiday, the source added, but that became unnecessary once the paperwork was filed on Friday.

The same website had previously reported an effort to get The Donald on Texas’ ballot. This is a non-trivial thing, as PoliTex notes.

Texas has distinct and complex rules for establishing a third party in Texas and for running for president in the state. (One of the rules of establishing a minor party is that the name of the party can’t be more than three words so, presumably, the founders of the “Make America Great Again Party” will have to come up with something a little more snappy.) Many key Deadlines were recently changed after the US Supreme Court issued a stay on some of the political maps Texas planned to use for next year’s elections. Third party presidential candidates planning to get their names on Texas ballots normally have to gather signatures from thousands of Texas voters. A Trump supporter told the Blaze the paperwork establishing the third party needed to be in by Jan. 2.

Just ask Ralph Nader how big a deal this can be. I have no idea how seriously to take this, but if there really is something to it we’ll know more soon enough. The Chron’s Perry Presidential blog, Juanita, Hair Balls, PoliTex, and the Daily Kos have more.

A little schadenfreude to end the year

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our only Governor.

Gov. Rick Perry was once again stumped on the stump Thursday, this time with a question about a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out Texas’ anti-sodomy law.

Perry, taking questions at the Blue Strawberry Coffee Company, was asked how his criticism of Lawrence vs. Texas jibes with his views on limited government. The questioner simply named the case without describing its details.

Although Perry cited the case in his anti-Washington book Fed Up! in criticizing the Supreme Court, he said Thursday that he didn’t know what the case is.

“I wish I could tell you I knew every Supreme Court case. I don’t … I’m not a lawyer,” Perry told the person who posed the question. “We can sit here and play ‘I gotcha’ questions on ‘What about this Supreme Court case’ or whatever, but let me tell you — you know and I know that the problem in this country is spending in Washington, D.C. It’s
not some Supreme Court case.”

Asked directly later by a journalist whether he knew what the case is, Perry said, “I don’t.” He added, “I’m not taking the bar exam.”

I can only imagine what the response might have been if the questioner had mentioned Fed Up! by name: “I wish I could tell you I knew every book, but I don’t. I’m not a reader. Hell, I probably couldn’t pass the TAKS test in English with a cheat sheet and George Will sittin’ on my lap.”

Perry may not be a lawyer, but as the story notes, he has lawyers who work for him:

Perry also suffered another setback on a different front Thursday when a federal judge in Richmond rejected his request for an emergency court order to require Virginia’s Board of Elections to place his name on the March Republican presidential primary ballot.

Lawyers for Perry, whose presidential campaign failed to submit enough valid signatures to win a spot on Virginia’s primary ballot, argued that the state’s requirements are “overly burdensome and unconstitutional.”

Yes, he complained that these requirements for participating in the political process are “overly burdensome and unconstitutional”. If he were capable of experiencing human emotion, Ralph Nader would be having a good belly laugh at that. In case anyone managed to miss the overbearing irony of Rick Perry whining about “overly burdensome and unconstitutional” requirements, here’s Ezra Klein to help you out:

Perry is an experienced politician who has hired a professional staff for the express purpose of navigating the logistical hurdle of ballot access. And he still failed to make the Virginia ballot, despite the fact that the rules were well-known and unchanged since the last election.

In Texas, however, Perry has sharply changed the rules, changed them on people who do not have a staff dedicated to helping them vote, and in fact made it harder for outside groups to send professionals into the state to help potential voters navigate the new law.

And here’s the Chron editorial board with an extra helping of salt:

Perry does not deny that he failed to meet the state statutory requirements, but that does not mean he is simply going to take it. Rather, Perry is suing in federal court to overturn this state decision. And for a 10th Amendment advocate like Perry, that’s like rain on his wedding day.

In his complaint, Perry states that Virginia’s ballot requirement places a severe burden on his freedom of speech, because it “prohibits an otherwise qualified candidate for the Office of President of the United States from circulating his own candidate petitions.”

To win this case, Perry is going to need a judge willing to overturn state law. Dare we say, Perry will need an activist judge.

They’re only activist judges when they issue rulings people like Rick Perry don’t like. Personally, I think the courts should make Perry eat a bug before accepting his writ, but I confess I don’t know if that’s proper legal procedure or not. I wish I could tell you I knew all of the legal rules, but I can’t. I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not taking the bar exam. For some schadenfreude of a slightly different flavor, see Jason Stanford.

Dems drop effort to remove Greens from the ballot

After the initial Supreme Court ruling, it was probably a long shot.

The Texas Democratic Party today cleared the way for Green Party candidates to remain on the ballot this year by dropping its state Supreme Court challenge to the legality of the Green’s ballot access petition drive.

However, the Democrats indicated the party will continue its lawsuit at a lower court level in an effort to obtain civil penalties in the case.

“Although the motion we filed today means it is almost certain that Green Party candidates will remain on the ballot in 2010, the facts demonstrate that the participants in this petition gathering scam acted improperly and we continue to seek penalties allowed by law,” said Democratic Chairman Boyd Richie.

Finding where the money trail leads is the main thing. Someone paid for that petition drive, and we have a right to know who it was. However that ends, I’m amazed at how many Republicans had a hand in trying to get the Greens on the ballot. You think maybe they’re a little worried? Postcards and BOR have more.

Supremes give Greens a reprieve

They’re on the ballot for now.

The Texas Supreme Court today stayed a district judge’s order blocking the Green Party of Texas from certifying its candidates for the general election ballot.

The order allows the Green Party to legally establish a list of candidates for the general election. But the court also set a series of deadlines for lawyers for the Texas Democratic Party and the Green Party to argue whether a ballot petition drive illegally used corporate money. The Supreme Court still could knock the party off the ballot.

Democratic Party lawyer Chad Dunn said he does not believe the fight is over.

“The effect of the order is to give the Supreme Court time before they open up an enormous loophole for potential election fraud,” Dunn said.

Green Party lawyer David Rogers said, “We get to put our candidates on the ballot today. We don’t know if we get to keep them there.”

Coverage of the Tuesday court session is here. At the risk of giving the all-Republican Supreme Court too much credit, I think it’s reasonable for them to ask for further arguments. If it weren’t for the deadline, that’s what they would have done anyway. I think the evidence we’ve seen is pretty damning, enough to get the Texas League of Conservation Voters to publicly call out the Greens for taking aid from the GOP, but I’d rather the Supremes get it right slow than wrong fast. I just hope they do eventually get it right. BOR, the Trib, PDiddie, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Green Party appeals to Supreme Court

As expected.

Even if allegations about an illegal petition drive are true, knocking Green Party candidates off the November general election ballot before they can be proven imposes “a death penalty,” lawyers for the party argued Monday in a written appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The party has until Friday to certify its candidates for the fall election, but a judge last Friday ordered it not to proceed because of an “unauthorized illegal contribution” by a corporation with Republican links.

“This case matters because voters should have an alternative to entrenched career politicians. Despite the signatures of over 90,000 Texans, entrenched career politicians and their lawyers want to deny voters the right to choose in November,” said David Rogers, one of the Green Party lawyers.

Rogers, like everybody else working on behalf of the Green Party in this effort, is a professional Republican. Just as a reminder, the issue on which District Judge John Dietz based his ruling barring them from certifying their signatures was that anonymously-donated money used to pay for the third-party-run petition drive was illegal corporate cash. I understand the appeal to idealism here, but how do you address that underlying reality?

Testimony last week revealed that Mike Toomey, a close Perry friend and his former chief of staff, paid $12,000 to recent University of Texas graduate Garrett Mize to organize a petition drive to collect the 43,991 petition signatures necessary to get the Greens on the November ballot.

Mize testified he was approached by a family friend who worked for Eric Bearse, a former senior aide to Perry, and that he was told not to inform the Green Party of the financial backing. When that petition drive failed to get enough signatures, the out-of-state corporation Take Initiative America came in and completed the work. That group also has Republican connections.

Clearly, you address it by not talking about it and hoping that no one notices. Didn’t quite work out, I’m afraid.

One more point, from the DMN story:

Rogers dismissed the Democrats’ consipiracy theory to pull left-leaning voters away from White.

“If the Republican Party insiders are doing stuff like that, we wouldn’t know about it,” Rogers said. “If the Republicans are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, is it wrong or is it right?”

I’m not sure what Rogers means by “the right thing” here, but if ballot access were so important to the Republican Party and its insiders, it was well within their power to modify Texas’ laws that make it so hard for third parties and independent candidates to get certified. I don’t recall any bills being filed in the last four legislative sessions, during which the Republicans have been in full control, to that effect. Putting that aside, if they had done “the right thing” in proper fashion, we wouldn’t be having this argument in the first place.

Anyway. The Supreme Court is expected to rule by Friday, which is the deadline for parties to certify their candidates for November. That may not be the end of it, however.

Candidates for the ballot have to be certified by Friday. The Supreme Court could say that the order from District Judge John Dietz came too late in the process and is therefore moot, or it could say that the contribution was not an illegal use of corporate money, or it could temporarily allow the Green candidates on the ballot while justices take more time to study the case.

But there are other legal ramifications lurking out there. Election lawyer Buck Wood, who often helps Democratic candidates, said Monday that the Green Party leaders who certify the ballot could be susceptible to criminal charges if the Supreme Court agrees with Dietz that the money that got the Greens onto the ballot was an illegal corporate contribution. Or, more to the point, if they do not disagree with Dietz.

They would become vulnerable if they followed through with their plan to certify the candidates on the ballot, Wood said. The key is that they now know that it was a corporate contribution that came in from Take Initiative America, which paid for the petition drive that appeared to make the Greens eligible for the ballot.

“They’ve been told it’s illegal. They’ve got knowledge now,” Wood said. “If I were their lawyer, I’d say, ‘You go ahead and certify those names and hopefully the Travis County district attorney’s office won’t take an interest in you.’”

David Rogers, a lawyer for the Green Party, said, “With all due respect to Mr. Wood, who is a very fine election law attorney, I believe he is misreading the law in an attempt to gain an electoral advantage for the Democratic Party. He is a consultant for the Democrats in this matter, and all his comments regarding the law in this case need to be considered with that in mind. Texas allows corporate contributions for ‘normal operating expenses’ of a political party. If getting on the ballot isn’t a ‘normal’ expense of a political party, what is?”

Actually, it’s well established that this law refers to “administrative” expenses – things like rent and utilities and office supplies. Corporate money cannot be used on political expenses, which I daresay covers signature gathering for a ballot access petition. But what do I know? We’ll see what the Supremes have to say.

Greens booted from the ballot

A judge in Austin has ruled in favor of the Texas Democratic Party in a motion to bar the Green Party from the ballot this fall on the grounds that the funds used to collect their signatures were illegal corporate contributions.

Attorneys for the Green Party said they would quickly appeal to the Texas Supreme Court in hopes of meeting a July 2 deadline to get the list of candidates to the state secretary of state for a spot on the ballot.

“We have to have the right to carry these nominees over to the secretary of state’s office and if that’s prohibited, the election moves on without the Texas Green Party nominees,” said attorney Steven Smith, a former Republican state Supreme Court Justice who is representing the Green Party.

State District Judge John Dietz ruled that restricted corporate money was used to support the signature drive and did not comply with state election law. The judge said he expected an appellate court to stay his decision.

“We’re obviously never happy about making it difficult for parties or interests to get on the ballot, but we couldn’t stand for corporations coordinated by the inner circle of Rick Perry’s office trying to buy access for another party,” said Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party.

The most interesting testimony concerned Rick Perry’s former chief of staff.

Mike Toomey, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, personally paid for an aborted effort to qualify the Green Party of Texas for the ballot, according to court testimony Thursday morning.

The testimony came from Garrett Mize, who led the failed petition effort beginning last fall. He said Toomey paid him $2,000 a month for about six months with a personal check.

[…]

Mize was approached to run the effort by a family friend, Stuart Moss, who at the time worked for a Republican political consulting and public relations firm run by former Perry communications director Eric Bearse. Bearse said Moss no longer works for him.

Mize quit the effort in April after he grew uncomfortable that Republican interests were driving the initiative and not informing the Green Party.

That wasn’t the only money being spent by Republican operatives working hard to get the Greens on the ballot, of course. There was a whole lot more where that came from.

A group with ties to Republicans paid $532,500 to gather petition signatures to land the Green Party of Texas on this year’s state ballot.

At least one high-ranking Green Party official thinks that money was a corporate donation.

[…]

In a June 10 e-mail to other Green Party officials, state party treasurer David Wager said, “I was promised by a representative of Take Initiative America that the organization was not a corporation and that he would comply with all disclosure requests. Today I was informed that the organization is in fact a corporation and they will not disclose their donors. They claim that their collection of signatures and in-kind contribution was not political. I don’t agree. In my opinion, we have no choice but to refuse the signatures.”

That sure sounds like a problem to me. Did you notice how many professional Republicans are helping out the Greens in this effort? Smith, Toomey, Andy Taylor, David Rogers, Cleta Mitchell – it’s almost as if this were really important to them.

Anyway. The Greens will appeal to the Supreme Court, where anything can happen, so they may yet have a chance. The Trib and the Lone Star Project have more.

Greens hire Andy Taylor

Dear Green Party: If you need to hire Andy Taylor to achieve your political goals, then you’re doing it wrong. I just thought you’d like to know that.

Were the Green signatures obtained illegally?

Wayne Slater follows up his previous reporting on the petition signatures that were gathered by an outside organization for the Green Party with the question about the legality of it.

It’s unclear who paid for the petition drive, but funding went through Take Initiative America, a Missouri nonprofit corporation. Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer and expert in election law, said Monday that such a transaction is illegal under state law.

“That corporation cannot make contributions to political parties in Texas. And to do so is a felony,” he said. “It is also a felony for a political party to accept a corporate contribution.”

[…]

Wood said that while an individual donor could legally bankroll petition drives to put a party on the ballot, corporations cannot. Wood has represented Democrats in litigation in which corporate money was illegally used to defeat political candidates.

In the case of the Texas Green Party, a Chicago-based petition-gathering company, Free and Equal Inc., gathered the signatures under contract with Take Initiative America.

It’s unclear whether the petitions could be disallowed based on how the Green Party reports the donation. But the party and its leaders could face significant penalties if they are found to break the law.

The Texas secretary of state is reviewing the signatures submitted by the Green Party. If the agency validates the petitions, the party will be on the ballot in November. A decision is expected by the end of the month.

I have a lot of respect for Buck Wood, who knows a hell of a lot about election law, but he’s not exactly a disinterested bystander here. I’d like to hear from some more experts to see if there’s a consensus view on this. I’m also unclear about whether or not the Secretary of State’s ruling on the signatures’ validity includes consideration of the issue that Wood raises, or if their only mandate is to check to see if the signers are registered voters who did not participate in the primaries. If so, then I presume a lawsuit would have to be filed to challenge the legality of the petitions and their funding source. Can anyone confirm this? Thanks.

Who helped the Greens get on the ballot?

According to Wayne Slater, it was “an out-of-state Republican consultant with a history of helping conservative causes and GOP candidates.”

Green Party officials said an outside group gathered the 92,000 signatures and gave them as “a gift” to the party, which delivered them to the secretary of state, who oversees Texas elections. If the secretary of state determines that enough of them are valid, the party will be able to field a slate of candidates for statewide offices for the first time since 2002.

[…]

Christina Tobin, who heads a Chicago-based petition-gathering company called Free and Equal Inc., said she was approached by [Arizona Republican operative Tim] Mooney to collect signatures for the Green Party of Texas.

Another group, Take Initiative America, based in Missouri, would provide payment, Mooney said.

Mooney estimated the cost at $200,000, but declined to give a specific figure or say who put up the money.

“Take Initiative America, being a nonprofit, doesn’t disclose its donors, nor is it required to,” said Mooney, who has little history of working in Texas. “Take Initiative America is a nonpartisan organization. They’d like to see everybody have a chance to get on the ballot – the more choices the better.”

[…]

Kat Swift, state coordinator for the Texas Green Party, said restrictions in Texas – including a short period for petition-gathering and a requirement that signers be registered voters who did not participate in the primary – are tough for third parties to overcome.

“If it hadn’t been for that donation, we wouldn’t have been on the ballot,” she said.

In an online solicitation to supporters, the Green Party offered petition-gatherers $4 per signature, thanks to what the party on its Facebook page called “last minute fairy tale funding.” At that rate, the effort would have cost between $200,000 and $350,000.

She said the Green Party will report the signatures as an in-kind contribution on its next campaign finance report. Take Initiative America will appear as the donor. No law requires the group to disclose its contributors.

Swift said she has no concern that the funding to get her party on the ballot might have come from Republicans who don’t share the party’s liberal philosophy on issues.

“Wherever the money came from doesn’t bother me,” she said. “If it came from Democrats, which I doubt, or if it came from Republicans – whoever made this donation supports an open ballot, open democracy. And that’s the whole point. People are trying to open the ballot to increase democracy and so, who cares how they vote?”

I have a hard time believing Kat Swift is that naive, but whatever. This is far from the first time that Republicans have done this sort of thing – it happened all over the place in 2004, with Ralph Nader – and it’s far from the last. What really bugs me is the anonymous nature of it all. I’ve seen so many cases of big bucks Republican and conservative donors contributing anonymously, or demanding the right to contribute anonymously, to affect the outcome of an election. I have no idea what they’re so afraid of, or why they’re so ashamed to sign their names to their work, but it’s all very typical. Good for the Greens, I guess, but forgive me for not viewing this as some great victory for democracy. BOR, PDiddie, and Harvey Kronberg have more.

Here come the Greens

As Perry noted the other day, the Green Party of Texas submitted petitions to the Secretary of State to get on the ballot in certain races in Texas. They failed to do so in 2006, so this will be the first time in eight years that you will see them on your eSlate machine, assuming nothing goes wrong for them from here. As I have heard some concerns about Green candidates potentially siphoning votes away from Democratic candidates, let’s take a look at the 2002 races that featured Greens and see how they did.

Below are all the races that included a Democrat, a Republican, and a Green. Note that in almost every case, there was a Libertarian as well. In 16 races in which there was both a Libertarian candidate and a Green candidate, the Libertarian averaged 1.43%, while the Green averaged 1.03%. In 13 of the 16 races, the Libertarian finished ahead of the Green candidate. The exceptions were in the races for Comptroller (Bowie Ibarra (L), 1.19%; Ruben Reyes (G), 1.72%); Ag Commissioner (Vincent May (L), 1.17%; Jane Elioseff (G), 1.46%); and Congress in (pre-DeLay redistricting) District 25 (Guy McClendon (L), 0.94%; George Reiter (G), 1.20%). Though the latter was won by a Democrat (Chris Bell), I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two statewide races in which the Green outdrew the Lib featured the two worst-performing Democrats in Marty Akins and Tom Ramsay.

There were two statewide races, one for the Supreme Court and one for the CCA, that had a Green but no Lib. In those races, the Green did better than average, scoring 1.75% and 1.73%, respectively. Note, however, that there were also two statewide races (not listed below) that featured a Lib but no Green, and in those races (also one for Supreme Court and one for the CCA), the Libertarian got 1.83% and 2.23%. Downballot, there were three such races, for SBOE District 5, and for State House districts 45 and 47. Here is where the Greens did their best, getting 3.21% in SBOE5, 3.24% in HD45, and 4.13% in HD47. (I did not survey downballot races with just a Libertarian, but I did notice that the SBOE race was a three-way in which the Lib got 5.80%.) The middle one, for HD45, was the only close race in the entire list, and the only one in which the Green candidate might have had an effect on the outcome, as Democratic candidate Patrick Rose won a squeaker with less than 49% of the vote. In the other two races, neither Dem cracked 40%.

Now, 2010 is a different environment than 2002, and I wouldn’t want to draw too broad an inference from these limited data points. My very tentative conclusions are that at the statewide and Congressional level, Green candidates are unlikely to have much effect. In nine of the sixteen races, the Green received less than one percent of the vote. If as many people believe, Libertarians tend to draw their votes away from Republican candidates, they will take more votes away than Greens will from Dems. Again, it could be different this year, but that’s how it looked in 2002. The effect may be greater in local races, such as for State Rep, and if I were to be concerned about an outcome being affected, that’s one place I’d worry about.

It’s also possible the effect could be greater at the county level. There was one race in Harris County that featured a Green and a Libertarian, and that was for County Judge. In that race, the Green candidate, Deborah Shafto (who ran for City Council last year as a member of the Progressive Coalition), did better than the Libertarian candidate, getting 2.06% to his 1.21%. Given that the Republican was incumbent Robert Eckels and the Democrat was some guy I’ve never heard of, candidate quality for the Ds and Rs may have been a factor, I don’t know. This year, there will also be one such race, for County Clerk, where Shafto’s fellow Progressive Coalition candidate from 2009 Don Cook will be on the ballot. Like Perry, I’m a bit concerned about the possibility that the presence of a Green candidate could give the Republican candidate an edge, but there’s nothing to be done other than to urge support of the Democratic candidate, Ann Harris Bennett. We’ll see how it goes.

One last thing: As noted by Ballot Access News, if a Green candidate gets 5% in any statewide race, or 2% in the Governor’s race, they will automatically qualify for the ballot in 2012, with the latter getting them on through 2014. I think there’s very little chance of that happening based on what we saw in 2002, where that 1.75% I cited earlier was the best any Green did, but given the lack of a Democrat in the Comptroller’s race, the odds of them qualifying for 2012 are excellent.

Anyway. Click on to see all the races that included a Green Party candidate from 2002.

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