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Vol. 73/No. 13      April 6, 2009

Socialists win victory for
workers’ political rights
(feature article)
WASHINGTON—The Socialist Workers Party election campaigns won an important victory March 19 when the Federal Election Commission voted to extend the exemption for the party’s campaigns from requirements to report the names of financial contributors and vendors.

The exemption applies to the Socialist Workers National Campaign Committee and local committees supporting Socialist Workers candidates. The FEC voted 5-1 to extend the disclosure exemption until the end of 2012, through the next presidential election.

The SWP’s fight for an exemption is part of its decades-long support for the rights of workers, farmers, and their organizations to engage in political activity—including elections—free from government, boss, and right-wing harassment.

The party was represented by Michael Krinsky and Lindsey Frank, attorneys at the law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman. Frank joined Norton Sandler, chair of the Socialist Workers National Campaign Committee, in attending the hearing.  
'Reasonable probability of threats'
“[T]he Commission concludes that there is a reasonable probability that contributors to, and vendors doing business with, the SWP and committees supporting SWP candidates would face threats, harassment, or reprisals if their names and information about them were disclosed,” the draft Advisory Opinion adopted by the FEC stated.

The four-year extension of the exemption granted by the FEC is two years less than the six-year extension the commission approved in 1990, 1996, and 2003.

“Although the evidence presented by the requestor demonstrates some continued incidents of violence and harassment, those incidents appear to be of lesser magnitude than those referenced in court opinions and prior [Advisory Opinions] granting the exemption,” the draft adopted by the FEC argued.

After preparing its draft, the FEC’s general counsel made it available to the SWP for comment. In a letter sent to the commission on March 17, the SWP’s attorneys agreed with the recommendation to extend the exemption but took issue with the statement that the party faces harassment of a “lesser magnitude.”  
77 incidents
The letter noted that the evidence submitted with this year’s application was “more extensive” than the last two, including 77 incidents of attack, harassment, or threats, incidents that were “equally, if not more, forceful.”

Two commissioners took the floor to discuss the draft before the vote. The commission is composed of six members, three Democrats and three Republicans.

Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, favored extending the exemption for a shorter duration. “I hope that someday, perhaps next time, this will not be necessary,” she said. “We are a long way from the McCarthy era today.”

Steven Walther, another Democrat and the current commission chair, argued that the exemption should be terminated. “I believe that no other party has ever asked for an exemption,” he said, adding that it might be time to end this one exception to the fact that “everyone else has to disclose.”

Walther pointed to two recent news articles: “We’re all socialists now” in Newsweek magazine and a Washington Post op-ed piece entitled “Obama's no socialist. I should know,” written by Billy Wharton of the Socialist Party USA.

He argued that these articles show that socialist views are part of the national debate generated by capitalism’s economic crisis. “Maybe some people don’t like seeing a newspaper like the Militant in demonstrations outside their office,” Walther added, but today socialism is more “mainstream.” That means, he said, “More scrutiny is in order.”

At a minimum, he argued, cutting the length of the exemption to four years was required.

Following the brief discussion, the commission voted 5-1, with Walther voting no, to grant the four-year extension.  
Documentation of gov't disruption
In their application to extend the exemption, the attorneys for the SWP had submitted three documents presenting the history of government spying and disruption aimed at the party, the record of government harassment of party members, firings of candidates and campaign supporters, firebombings and physical attacks on campaign offices, cop efforts to shut down campaigning, and threats against campaign headquarters and supporters over the past six years.

In 2004 the Socialist Workers campaign headquarters in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, was firebombed. This was one of the most severe attacks against the party in decades. It received wide publicity in the region, and as part of posting the material submitted by the SWP publicly on its Web site, the FEC put up a video of the television news coverage of the attack. An FEC staff member said that this was the first time the commission had ever posted a video.

The SWP submitted evidence of nine other physical attacks on SWP campaign offices or campaigners.

During the last six years, three SWP candidates and one campaign supporter were fired from their jobs for their political activity. In three of these cases, the local unemployment agency rejected the claims of the companies that fired them and awarded them unemployment benefits.

In July 2007 right-wingers, including members of the militia group called the Minutemen, mounted a large and threatening mobilization outside a Militant Labor Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, that featured a program in defense of legalization for immigrant workers. The rightists—using a bullhorn—harassed and attempted to provoke those attending the forum, saying, "Where’s the militancy? We thought you were militant.”  
Homeland Security 'no fly' list
In their March 17 letter to the FEC, attorneys for the SWP submitted a new declaration from James Harris, twice presidential candidate for the SWP, and the party’s recent candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.

Harris explained how for the last five years he has been on the Department of Homeland Security “no fly” list, subjected to special processing when he arrives at the airport. Harris explained that he has missed flights while being held back for further investigation.

The SWP also presented evidence showing the substantial expansion of government spying, electronic surveillance, and use of informers against political activists over the past 10 years. From the FBI to local “red squads,” cop agencies have burgeoned under the umbrella of "homeland security.”

“Winning the extension of the exemption is an important victory for workers' rights,” Sandler said after the hearing. “It helps defend the right of workers and farmers to participate in politics with less interference, harassment, and disruption from the federal government, local cops, and employers.

“The hearing also made it clear that we will face a bigger fight to get the exemption renewed when it comes up for review next time, in 2012,” Sandler added. “They argued that the McCarthy period is history and the government should get on with prying and spying. The rulers do not use anti-communism now as their chief rationale for spying. Instead they say they need more spies, informers, and cops in order to ‘fight terrorism.’

“Their real target is the working class as it finds ways to respond to the rulers’ attacks as the capitalist economic system contracts," said Sandler.
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