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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Leaner LPCA 2008 Budget Approved

The Libertarian Party of California Executive committee met Saturday in Burbank. Here's some of what happened. More details for some of these topics are in the detailed draft agenda and financial information distributed before the meeting by our able Secretary and Treasurer, respectively.

Guest Comments. Our trio of guests included Paul Studier, ambassador from the Orange County LP and the webmaster of the increasingly indispensable LibertarianWiki. In the public comments period, Paul reported the happy news that he and Bill Todd have made great progress on a wonderful project idea: a secure database-sharing facility that will allow LPCA candidates and officers to aggregate the voter and member data they have, and to give secure access to the available data that they're authorized to have. Bill Todd is hosting the service, which is being implemented using open-source industry-standard technology (PHP and MySQL). They already have voter registration data for Orange County, as well as information from National about LPUS members in California. They'll presumably soon get the 20Gb of statewide voter registration data that is collected on our behalf as part of our deal with Labels N Lists. They are (wisely) not aspiring to import the data into a unified database, but at some point it would be nice if we could correlate 1) CA voter registration data, 2) LPUS membership data in California, 3) LPCA membership data, and 4) the 6000 email addresses we distribute to via Constant Contact. For the 2008 cycle I'll be generating RegLib contact tables for the signature-in-lieu efforts of our (50 so far) LPCA candidates, although in theory the Studier/Todd system could allow self-service for intrepid candidates willing to follow my instructions for using Open Office Base.

Chair. Kevin Takenaga's report stressed the need for recruiting, and for strengthening county affiliates and the party's connection to elected Libertarians. Despite the optimism in September about potentially closing the physical office and transitioning our processes to a system streamlined enough not to need a full-time salaried staff, the upshot from Saturday's meeting is that our Secretary Beau Cain will be continuing indefinitely to fill that $40K/yr position as he completes our transition to Donor Perfect.

Northern Vice-Chair Rich Newell's meeting included mention of a meeting held with Bob Barr and the EFF's John Gilmore. No update was given on the Candidate Support Committee's contract with WebAxxess to produce web site templates for non-federal LPCA candidates to use.

Southern Vice-Chair Zander Collier reported on his efforts to use Facebook to network with young libertarians.

Secretary. Beau's report (included with almost all the others in the draft agenda linked above) focused on the two recent renewal mailings. 14% of the 1208 members lapsing in 2007 have renewed, and results are just starting to come in from the 1711 recipients who lapsed in 2006. While 14% is better than the 2-3% that former Executive Director Angela Keaton reported in June for renewals targeting people lapsed as far back as 2001, these numbers reveal significant attrition in our membership. Exact numbers have not been provided to ExCom, but the Treasurer estimated we have about 900 dues-paying members, while a printed report on California Freedom expenses listed 700 "paying subscribers" and 338 life members. Beau is about to transition our processing of recurring donations into Donor Perfect, and to integrate our brand-new PayPal account into our web site.

Treasurer Don Cowles discussed the steep learning curve that he and Beau have been climbing since taking over in April. He revealed that an $11K expense for an accountant in the first half of the year had been reduced to under $1300 for the second half, with no more such expenses being anticipated. I asked Don where in the current budget (pp 45-47 of the June minutes) this expense was anticipated (a polite euphemism for "authorized"), and his reply was something vague about inheriting fuzzy budget categories from the previous administration. However, the only place that the $12,300 fits is in the $70,000 line item for "LPC Office", which nobody seemed to notice at the June meeting had doubled from the $35K in the May draft budget (compared to the $48K of 2006 LPC Office actuals spent by the previous administration). Such black holes of expense are why I was only one of three votes against the 2007 budget, which included footnotes like:
Authorization to spend on Membership Recruitment and Campaigns & Elections to be automatically increased by 1/2 of the amount Net Support and Revenue Available For Programs (excluding Member Recruitment) less Convention Program Expense less County Party Distributions exceeds $78,500. Authorization to spend on LPC Office to be automatically increased by 1/4 of the amount Net Support and Revenue Available For Programs (excluding Member Recruitment) less Convention ProgramExpense less County Party Distributions exceeds $78,500.

Don's report mentioned $14K in invoices paid (mostly) to the "Meta Information" vendor apparently for the Elected Officials Conversion project, and seemed to say the expenses were "not anticipated". The 2007 Budget authorized $15K for Campaigns and Elections, but the statement of 2007 actuals counted $29,546 spent so far on that category. I didn't notice this discrepancy until after the meeting, and during the meeting no explanation was offered or asked for. Given our red ink, it's safe to assume without doing the math that the footnote above could not have authorized this 100% overage of almost $15,000.

Campaign Committee Chair Ted Brown reported that he'd recruited about 50 of the expected ~100 candidates for the 2008 cycle. I commended him for transforming the 2006 LPCA candidates' forum into a permanent CALPCandidates forum, so as not to repeat our previous discardings of valuable institutional memory about campaigning. I also asked if he was going to recommend to our candidates the comprehensive 112-page Candidates' Guide produced by Allen Rice and Jim Eyer. He said he hadn't finished reviewing it, but that he was glad it had been announced on the CALPCandidates forum. Ted proposed that we oppose Prop 92 (community college bonds) and Prop 93 (merging and shortening Sacramento's term limits, thus saving 40 incumbents), and each vote was unanimous in agreeing with him. We also approved his recommendation to endorse the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act, an effort to prevent eminent domain abuse.

Membership Committee Chair Bruce Dovner presented a hardcopy report recommending we modify the membership cycle to end on the last day of each month rather than on the last day of the year. Bruce's presentation consumed most of the allocated time before Rich moved to end the annual cycle once per quarter. The motion failed 4-4-4, and then seconds after time expired, Zander offered a motion to accept the once-a-month recommendation. While parliamentarian Mark Johnson was protesting the motion was out of order due to time having expired, Kevin ruled the motion so similar to the defeated one as to be out of order. I challenged Kevin's ruling and only Johnson supported him. Time was extended, and Zander's motion passed on a roll call vote with Johnson and Chuck Moulton voting no, and Barnes and McMahon abstaining.

Executive Session. We then held our first executive session of my term, which I'm not allowed to discuss.

LNC Representatives. The sole remaining Audit Committee member Mark Johnson and current LNC 2nd Alternate Scott Lieberman were nominated to fill the LNC representative vacancy we created last meeting by removing Aaron Starr from that position now that he effectively cannot occupy it by virtue of being LPUS Treasurer (and not being allowed to have two LNC votes). Chuck Moulton, and LNC member by virtue of being LPUS Vice Chair, informed us there were two LNC meetings before the terms of our reps expire at our February convention, including a meeting next week in Charlotte. Chuck pointed out that Scott traveled faithfully to LNC meetings, and when Mark was asked if he would do the same, he said he would. I read an email from Scott that answered concerns about his policy views by pointing out that the LNC is an administrative body. Mark won 8-6. Scott was promoted by acclamation from 2nd Alternate to 1st Alternate. Mark Selzer then nominated himself for 2nd Alternate, and was approved without objection. It's possible that he'll attend the February LNC meeting in Vegas, but he surely won't attend next week's meeting.

Audit Committee. There was at no time any discussion of the Bylaws-mandated audit or the status of the Audit Committee. At this point I have no reason to believe that the Convention delegates in February will be given an audit of our finances. To my 13 earlier questions for the Audit Committee, I would now add:
  • How was it that the $13K invoice to Meta Information was "not anticipated"? (The June minutes mention $4K of expected invoices, so if that referred to Meta Information, then how was the magnitude of the expense not anticipated?)
  • Why was the 2007 budget of $15K for Campaigns and Elections allowed to be exceeded by $14K without any apparent authorization?
  • Why were there $12,300 in accounting fees for 2007? Was this all just to administer our payroll?
  • Was an expectation of these accounting costs part of the reason why the 2007 budget approved in June had increased its LPC Office expense category to $70K from the $35K in the May draft budget? What (else) explains the difference?
Fundraising. Don then lectured ExCom that we need to fundraise our way out of our financial problems. (He said at some point that there had been effectively no renewal mailings since UMP ended 2 or 3 years back, but Kevin corrected him to say we'd done some targeted mailings, such as to inactive counties where the LPCA would not have to split the dues with the county.) Don said that none of five ExCom members had solicited the three donors that they were each assigned to thank and hit up for an increased pledge. (I had been assigned 3 $10/mo donors in my area.) He said that one of the five members had even replied to his give-or-get request by saying "we should shut everything down and then he'll open his wallet". I asked who that member was, and he said it was me. I replied flatly that "that is not accurate", and said I'd publish the emails revealing what I told him. They are appended below.

Chuck asked how many unique Coffee Club members we have -- those who give $42/mo, a price analogous to a daily cup of coffee --, and the answer was 15. Don himself donates 5 "cups", totaling $2520/yr. I know Don also donated almost all of the roughly $4000 (if I recall correctly) that the independent Candidate Support Committee was last reported to have in the bank. This level of giving is admirable, but I'd rather have our treasurer focus on anticipating unanticipated five-figure invoices, and avoiding five-figure accounting invoices for administering our $70K/yr office budget, and finding ways to tighten that budget.

Central Committee Elections. ExCom discussed the question of whether to instruct the Secretary of State to hold county central committee elections for the LPCA. Ted Brown said that when we got ballot access back in 1980, the state legislature refused to enact rules allowing NOTA on the ballot (as our bylaws require), and so we chose to be governed by the Peace & Freedom section of the elections code. Some California libertarians even more contrarian than I -- like Allen Rice and Gail Lightfoot -- claim that the ExCom decision in 2006 not to hold such elections (for the first time) was a nefarious plot to suppress dissent from those few people who would rather gather the requisite 20 signatures than pay the $25 annual LPCA dues. I suspect the decision was motivated by roughly equal parts of desire to
  • minimize how much we let the state's force-initiating machinery interfere with our private right of association;
  • close the door on a way to withhold party dues as some kind of protest; and
  • try to redirect members' ballot-access efforts toward actually running for office.
I think the third concern is canceled out by the idea that membership is more valuable if you make yourself work for it. I share the second concern only to the extent that elected CentCom members are free-riding on the otherwise-mandatory dues of regular members, and that there is no obvious answer for how the party finances its core operations if everyone were to avoid dues this way. The first concern is my primary one, since (as I've noted) there are parts of the P&F election code that really stink, and so we shouldn't associate ourselves any more closely with them than is strictly necessary for getting and using ballot access.

Bruce Dovner said that he had a history of filing for an automatic CentCom seat out of concern for the apparent takeover opportunity presented by the P&F rules. Mark Selzer said it was nice practice for members to go through the signature-gathering process, see their name on the ballot, and get a certificate of election. I pointed out that one's name only gets on the ballot if more people run than the 7 to 15 spots available in a typical county. Ultimately, arguments like the above seem to have won the day, and my notes say only Chuck Moulton voted against asking the Secretary of State not to hold the elections.

2008 Budget. Don repeated that his and Kevin's priorities for the 2008 budget are
  • core membership operations;
  • the California Freedom monthly newsletter;
  • the Libertarian Perspective weekly op-ed release;
  • the annual convention.
Don noted that this budget zeros out costly projects like Operation Breakthrough and Elected Official Conversion, and contains no ~$20K vague categories of expenses. That meant that my only remaining questions were about the $38K in staff salary and the $9K of Outside Services to pay for the layout of California Freedom. Beau had told us in September that he didn't anticipate wanting or needing to work full-time in the office, but Kevin's report in the morning suggested that this thinking had changed. I asked Beau to clarify whether he planned to continue managing the office through the duration of the 2008 budget, because I wasn't willing to commit to that kind of spending unless I knew we were going to get somebody who worked as Beau has been working. Beau answered in the affirmative, and added that he was going to fundraise too. That's icing on the cake to my mind, because I consider his already-achieved cost savings to be equivalent to fund-raising. (It's actually better, because cutting costs saves after-tax dollars, whereas a donor in my tax bracket would have to earn an extra $200 to finance $100 in marginal donations to the Party.)

I then noted that the projected $9000 in layout services for California Freedom seemed extravagant given our financial situation. I proposed that a less gold-plated layout for CF could save us $5000 in those services, and moved to reduce the CF outside services budget by that much. Chuck asked if I was volunteering to do the CF layout, and I replied that while I was not volunteering to reproduce the gold-plated layout work that I was proposing to economize on, I'd be willing to work for free on a simpler layout. Johnson moved to amend my motion to note that I was volunteering to work on layout, and both the amendment and the motion passed without objection. This change very nearly eliminated the projected $5600 2008 deficit. Chuck graciously noted that in-kind contributions and cost-cutting were equivalent to fund-raising, and commended me for so generously "donating" to the Party. I joked in response that he should wait to see my layouts before putting a price tag on my contribution.

With these two compensation cost centers addressed to my satisfaction, I was able to vote with the rest of the committee to approve the amended 2008 budget, with no objections. In the ensuing discussion of other California Freedom costs, Matt Barnes moved to stop sending paper copies of CF to our 338 Life Members. After wide criticism and clarification of the expectations of the Life Members in the room, Barnes withdrew his motion. Mark Selzer had spoken eloquently about how Life Members are often donors and should not be antagonized, while Beau said that there is a distinction between those who've never contributed again and those who have. Before Barnes withdrew his motion, I was going to try to point out its unfairness with an amendment giving an optional refund to Life Members who want to cancel, after deducting the costs of a regular full membership for the term so far of the life membership.

Ron Paul. Mark Selzer raised an inquiry from the absent Lawrence Samuels about whether ExCom thinks Bylaw 9.2 prevents anyone in the LPCA other than the five officers from supporting someone like Ron Paul who could still turn out to be the LP nominee. I had just offered a motion expressing the sense of the body to this effect when time expired before anyone could second the motion. The meeting ended 20 minutes ahead of schedule, with the entire amended agenda having been covered.

[Excerpts from emails I sent to Treasurer Don Cowles on Friday, the day before he claimed I said "we should shut everything down and then he'll open his wallet"]

Your attachment (stating I've donated $0 this year) is not accurate. I've given $400 to the LPCA and its causes this year, and $4700 over the last four years. I campaigned for ExCom on the clear position that the LPCA's operating expenses should be brought in line with its dues income. I said that I would continue to donate to LPCA projects I supported, but that I would not be fundraising to support our recent expense structure. [...]

If many LPCA members find $50K/yr value in having a physical office and a salaried staff, let's set up dedicated pledging mechanisms for them, and/or redivide the dues+newsletter fees to reflect the component of that $50K/yr that isn't strictly needed to run our core membership processes. And if all of that $50K/yr is needed to run our core membership processes, then somebody needs to explain how that could possibly be the case. All other state LPs presumably run their processes on a lot less money, and I'm sure that at least one of them has a model that could (with perhaps some volunteer labor) scale to our size. [...]

As a minority of perhaps just one on ExCom, I of course cannot demand that any or all of my recommendations be followed. I'm just giving honest feedback, and letting you know what it will take to win votes and funding effort from me. If this administration wants to follow a different approach than what I recommend, it has every right to do so. Just please don't portray me as shirking a duty that I explicitly declined to sign up for and that assumes a funding model that I've consistently argued against. [...]

My ExCom campaign spam to all the convention delegates (which I ironically paid $200 to the convention committee for the privilege of sending) said somewhat tongue-in-cheek that I'm "willing to finance important LPCA projects" but that I "won't raise funds from anyone but himself". In my associated blog posting LPCA Strategy & Tactics that answer my questionnaire for party office candidates, I clarified:

What should be the fundraising expectations for LPCA officers?
We shouldn't need to be to be doing heavy generic LPCA fundraising if we have the right dues model and engage in projects that are either self-financing (from incremental project-specific fundraising) or are cheap (e.g. due to use of information technology). Aside from money for specific projects, we should more often being asking our members for their time (e.g. in outreach efforts) than their money.
Thus I have no problem with fundraising for worthy projects. My objection is to fundraising for operational expenses I consider extravagant [...]

1 comment:

AllenRice said...

Hey Brian,

I take keyboard in hand, to respond to your post here, in which I am accused of being "contrarian" and a believer in a "nefarious plot", regarding the EC decision in 2006 (and now in 2007/8) to oppose the holding of State supported LPCA County Central Committee elections. Neither phrase applies.

First, calling me "contrarian" regarding the actions of the EC is a misuse of the word, along the lines of calling that homeowner who takes steps to prevent erosion of a hillside on his property "contrarian" as regards the effects of water. It implies a perception of rain as having some sort of consistent intent and plan, as well as the ability to carry out such plan. Rain of course does not have those qualities; neither does the EC. Each just sort of does what it does, because that is its nature. Probably there is in fact no category within which my interactions with the EC can be modeled. A better approach would be to start from my perception of the _formal_ LPCA (as contrasted against its registrants): an apolitical, comically mismanaged fraud.

As for "nefarious plot": "Nefarious" (which I had to look up) seems to mean "aggressively evil". I do not view the EC as evil, merely foolish. And as for "plot", my past and current experience with the EC says to me that the EC could not "plot" its way through an episode of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

Regarding the 14-1 vote by the EC at its 12/1 meeting, to once more suppress State supported LPCA County Central Committee elections, I agree with some of your analysis:

1) The argument that it "redirects members' ballot-access efforts toward actually running for office" is overcome by the idea that membership in the Central Committee is more valuable if it is worked for rather than simply purchased.

2) The argument that it "closes the door on a way to withhold party dues" is clearly an abhorrent one, unless we are to concede up front that it is proper for the LPCA to support the manipulation of state law in an attempt to balance its books.

3) But your argument that it's okay to apply this restriction because the LPCA "shouldn't associate [itself] with them [the P&F Party] any more closely than is strictly necessary for getting and using ballot access" makes no sense at all. First, as you concede, it was the LPCA's decision, not that of P&F, to "CHOOSE {emphasis mine) to be governed by the P&F section of the elections code." Second, I checked with P&F (Kevin Akin, Southern Vice Chair): The P&F section of the Code was changed AGAINST that Party's will; in response they now have a standing rule, that _their_ Chair will ALWAYS authorize state run Central Committee elections.

This puts the LPCA in the position of, for a perceived benefit to itself, having either directly motivated a change to the Election Code, or having coasted upon some legislator's desire to make the change. So much for maintaining a distance from government control.

In either case, since the EC is so proudly taking this step, I trust there will soon be a press release bragging about it. Seeing none within a week or so, WGLA, working from its standing as a formal libertarian PAC, will issue one. This may be less than complimentary.

Allen Rice