The party won exemption in 1974 and has successfully won extension six times since.
The party’s exemption fight is part of the broader class battle 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 commission has set a March 13 deadline for the party to respond.
The SWP’s attorneys filed a request with the FEC Oct. 31 to renew the exemption from having to disclose the names, addresses and occupations of contributors giving more than $200 to its candidates, as well as the names of the campaign’s vendors.
The SWP has faced an “extraordinary history of government and private threats, violence and harassment,” states the party’s application for extension filed by Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank of the prominent civil liberties firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky and Lieberman.
For decades the FBI and other police agencies targeted the SWP, seeking to disrupt its activity in the labor movement, the fight for Black rights and the fight against imperialist war. The scope of the operation was revealed by a landmark 13-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 and collected over 8 million documents on the party and its members and supporters.
The FBI’s Cointelpro Disruption Program, and similar operations targeting the Communist Party, Black Panther Party and other groups, were exposed and pushed back by the mass proletarian struggle to overthrow Jim Crow, the fight against Washington’s war against the people of Vietnam and for the rights of women. The SWP lawsuit helped reveal the character of and deal blows to the government’s political police.
In applying to extend the exemption over the last three decades, the SWP has documented how government spy agencies, local cops, bosses and rightist forces have continued to probe and attack the party. From 1990 to 2012, the FEC granted continued exemption from disclosure on those grounds.
However, both in 2009 and 2013 some FEC officials began to say the SWP exemption should be eliminated. They argued that socialist ideas were becoming more “mainstream” and the party’s exemption — the only one granted by the agency — was no longer justified.
The FEC argues that the SWP no longer qualifies because “the documented instances of harassment have steadily decreased in both quantity and severity.”
Continued gov’t harassment, spying“There is well-established evidence that the SWP has been subject to threats, harassment and reprisals from both government and private actors for more than 70 years — from at least 1941 to 2012,” Krinsky and Frank wrote. This alone is more than sufficient evidence that the exemption is needed, they say, especially along with the continued evidence of surveillance of political activity that the SWP supports and takes part in.
They then cite 33 specific examples of continued harassment, threats and reprisals over the last four years.
Among them is a break-in at the home of a well-known party candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, where nothing was stolen but a smart phone containing political contacts; smashing the window of party headquarters in Los Angeles after a public forum against Washington’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a series of incidents of harassment by cops and threats by individuals aimed at supporters campaigning door to door across the country; examples of individuals who expressed support for the party but declined to sign petitions or subscribe to the Militant for fear of reprisal from bosses or the government; and ongoing attempts to ban workers behind bars from receiving the Militant, which editorially supports SWP candidates, because of its political content.
The application highlights the escalation of spy agencies targeting unions and political activity in recent years. While government spies and provocateurs no longer claim the “Communist menace” justifies their violations of constitutional rights, today they say the “war against terror” means they should continue the same assaults on political rights. FBI-run Fusion Centers, Joint Terrorism Task Forces, special state police units and city Muslim squads, have expanded across the country, as well as electronic surveillance by outfits like the National Security Agency.
“Indeed, this current surveillance is eerily similar to the extensive surveillance of the SWP by the FBI,” the two lawyers write, pointing to recent revelations of spying on protests against cop killings, strikes and lockouts, actions for $15 and a union, and attacks on mosques and Muslim communities. The SWP champions all these fights and SWP members participate in them.
The FEC makes no attempt to counter or even discuss this documentation. It simply ignores it.
“In today’s growing capitalist economic crisis, the rulers in Washington increasingly fear the working class, seeing larger class battles breaking out down the road,” John Studer, SWP national campaign director, told the Militant. “That’s why they seek to expand spy and disruption operations today.”
FEC says SWP too successfulThe commission draft claims that the SWP no longer qualifies as a “minor” party, which is one basis for an exemption, because the party’s 2016 presidential ticket of Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart received some 12,000 votes and working people contributed $80,000 to their campaign. The SWP received more votes in a number of previous elections, but that was never a reason to deny the exemption.
No one can argue the SWP rivals the Democrats and Republicans today. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump got more than 60 million votes each and raised and spent billions of dollars.
“It’s true the SWP is getting a wide hearing on workers’ doorsteps,” Studer said. “We wish we were bigger and could organize the working class to challenge the propertied rulers for political power.