The party’s decades-long successful efforts to maintain this exemption is part of the fight for workers and working-class organizations to engage in political activity—including election campaigns—free from spying and disruption by government cops, the bosses and other enemies of the working class.
The request was filed on the party’s behalf by Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank of the prominent civil liberties law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman.
The SWP first won exemption from so-called “disclosure” laws by a court decree in 1979. The FEC voted to extend it in 1990, 1996, 2003 and 2009.
Based on the FEC ruling, similar exemptions have been granted to SWP campaigns by state and local governments. Without the exemption, the party would be legally required to hand over to the government the names, addresses and occupations of contributors giving more than $200 to its candidates, as well as the names of businesses that do work for the campaign. This would have a chilling effect on potential contributors and would be a blow to workers’ rights.
The party expects a tougher fight this time around. In 2009, two of the FEC’s six commissioners—three Democrats and three Republicans—argued that the party’s exemption shouldn’t last forever.
In the face of extensive evidence of harassment and attacks against the party, including the firebombing of the SWP campaign office in Hazleton, Pa., Ellen Weintraub and then commission chair Steven Walther, both Democrats, declared that political spying and disruption was a thing of the past.
The commission voted to shorten the time when it would review the party’s exemption from six years to four.
In the new filing, the SWP presents 45 documented examples of “threats of violence on SWP campaign supporters both in person and by mail and telephone, job firings and discrimination, and harassment of SWP supporters and campaign efforts by local law enforcement as well as private individuals” in addition to “evidence of the federal government’s continued information gathering concerning the SWP and its candidates and supporters.”
Landmark 15-year legal battleOne key argument for the exemption is the decades-long campaign carried out against the party by the FBI and other political police agencies, which was revealed in a landmark 15-year legal battle against the government, won by the SWP in 1986.
The FBI was forced to admit in court that between 1960 and 1976 it carried out at least 204 “black bag jobs”—burglaries of party offices—deployed 1,300 undercover informers against the SWP, and collected more than 8 million documents on the party and the organization’s members and supporters.
Under the Cointelpro program of the 1960s and ’70s, dozens of disruption operations were carried out. These included attempts to embarrass SWP candidates, cause their arrest, and foment racial strife within the party and between it and other groups.
The ability of the FBI to target the SWP and other groups was pushed back by the mass proletarian struggle for Black rights, the fight against the Vietnam War and for the rights of women. In this context, the SWP lawsuit helped expose and deal blows to the government’s political police.
But they never accepted limits on their spying and began immediately to seek avenues to reestablish free rein.
Less than a year after the party’s victory in its lawsuit, the government submitted affidavits to the court “asserting a continuing need to access information about the SWP, its members, and supporters,” the application said.
They turned more and more to the pretext of “combating terrorism” to justify political spying and harassment, an argument that gathered steam after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
The SWP’s attorneys submitted a series of government reports, private studies and news articles documenting the explosion of new government spy programs and the extensive network of federal spy collaboration with other agencies and city “red squads.”
Much of the stepped-up use of informers, electronic surveillance, and other violations of political rights, the request points out, is aimed at political activity where the SWP is involved, including “labor rights, the political rights of Muslims, and criticism of U.S. military policy.”
Maura DeLuca, the 2012 SWP candidate for vice president, submitted a declaration documenting a “harassing and intrusive interrogation” where a Canadian border-crossing agent drew up on her computer extensive information on DeLuca’s political activity, including the fact that she had made a reporting trip to Cuba for the Militant. This information could only have come from the FBI or other U.S. authorities, the lawyers state.
“There is reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure of the Socialist Workers Party’s contributors and recipients will subject them to threats, harassment or reprisals by private persons and organizations and by government officials,” the party’s filing concludes.
The FEC will review the party’s request, issue a preliminary report on whether to accept or reject continued exemption, and schedule a public hearing.
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