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Vol. 72/No. 45      November 17, 2008

Socialists defend workers’
rights to political activity
The Socialist Workers National Campaign Committee filed a request with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) October 30 for a renewal of its exemption from requirements to report the names of financial contributors.

The party’s exemption request is part of the fight of workers, farmers, and their organizations to be able to engage in political activity, including election campaigns, free from government, boss, and right-wing spying and harassment.

The request was filed on the party’s behalf by attorneys Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank of the internationally renowned law firm Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman.

The FEC has continuously granted six-year exemptions to the SWP’s campaign committees since 1979, most recently in 2003.

In this year’s request to the FEC, 62 incidents of harassment from 2002 until 2008 are documented, including “physical attacks on SWP campaign supporters and offices, threatening mail and telephone calls, job firings and discrimination, and harassment of SWP supporters and campaign efforts by federal and local law enforcement as well as private individuals.”

Among the incidents:

Without the FEC exemption the party would be required to make public the names, addresses, and occupations of contributors giving more than $200 to its candidates and election campaigns, as well as the names of printers and others who do work for the campaigns. This would be a ready-made “enemies list” for government agencies, employers, private spy agencies, and right-wing groups and individuals.

Such reporting requirements have been on the books since 1971, when the Federal Election Campaign Act was passed. Since then, Socialist Workers campaign committees have refused to turn over the names of contributors and have fought for the right to do so without penalty.

In 1979, after a five-year public campaign, the SWP won a federal court ruling exempting it from the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The ruling was based on the threat to First Amendment rights to free association posed by disclosure of campaign contributors’ names.

One of the central arguments in the application for exemption is the findings in a landmark 15-year legal battle, won by the SWP in 1986, that revealed a decades-long campaign of harassment, spying, and disruption by the FBI and other political police agencies.

Between 1960 and 1976 the FBI carried out at least 204 “black bag jobs”—burglaries of party offices—employed 1,300 informers against the party, and collected more than 8 million documents on the party, the Young Socialist Alliance, and the organizations’ members and supporters.

Under the FBI Cointelpro program of the 1960s and ’70s at least 46 disruption operations were directed specifically at the SWP. This included attempts to embarrass SWP candidates, cause the arrest of candidates, and foment racial strife within the SWP and between the party and other groups.

Cointelpro-type operations have been conducted against a wide range of political, Black rights, and labor organizations in addition to the Socialist Workers Party. The SWP’s victory in its lawsuit exposed government political interference and was an important gain for the political rights of all.  
Changes in FBI guidelines
The letter to the FEC requesting an extension of the SWP’s reporting exemption notes that over the past decade, federal agencies and state and local cops have expanded spying and harassment against political activists. This increased targeting of political activity is justified under the rubric of the need to fight “terror.”

As part of this effort, the FBI recently announced changes in the guidelines that broaden its ability to spy on and infiltrate political groups. The application for an exemption notes that police agencies from New York to California have moved to rehabilitate political police units once known as “red squads.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security now works with a nationwide network of 58 “fusion centers” across the country where federal, state, and local cops can gather and share information gathered through spying on political groups and their activities.

The new, relaxed FBI guidelines replace ones adopted in the wake of revelations in the 1970s of government harassment of the SWP and other groups.

The application notes that these new guidelines “powerfully reinforce the chilling effect of the government’s long history of systematic harassment of the SWP and similarly make the recent instances of violence and intimidation even more weighty.”

In this context, the SWP’s application to extend its exemption is part of the fight today to defend the political rights of workers, farmers, and others exercising their constitutional rights.

The stakes in this fight are also higher today. Before the party’s last application in 2002, the FEC had ruled unanimously in favor of continuing its disclosure exemption. The April 2003 decision to extend the SWP’s exemption, however, was approved by a divided vote of 4 to 2. Of the two commissioners who voted against the extension one was a Democrat, the other a Republican.

Messages urging the FEC to extend the exemption can be sent to the Federal Election Commission, 999 E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20463. Contributions earmarked for this fight can be sent to the Socialist Workers National Campaign, PO Box 31322, San Francisco, CA 94131.
Related articles:
Socialists: workers need to organize in face of capitalist crisis
On to next 365 days of workers’ fights!
Dominican workers in N.Y. hear socialist candidate
Initial SWP campaign vote totals  
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