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That Pesky Politics vs Principles Question [UPDATE}

Putting aside the legal questions, was it ethical for the Texas Green Party to work with Republicans?
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UPDATE: The Dems have dropped their push to keep the Green Party off the ballot. Their odds weren’t great—on Friday, the state Supreme Court had allowed the Greens to certify their candidates. The Democrats will continue trying to get information on the folks behind the $500,000 corporate in-kind contribution to the Greens’ petition drive. I wouldn’t call the Ds’ press release particularly Green-friendly either. It refers to their “petition gathering scam,” and ends by saying: “If the Texas Green Party ever wants to be taken seriously, their candidates should heed the advice of Texas progressives, step down and dissociate themselves from a Republican corporate money scheme that flies in the face of everything the Green Party claims to believe.”

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How many Republican background operatives are there? Based on the unfolding Green Party scandal, more than you might think. There was the $12,000 aborted effort to help the Greens get signatures, paid for by Perry’s former chief-of-staff Mike Toomey. Then there’s the half million dollar petition drive to the Greens thanks to Take Initiative America, a corporate nonprofit with links to the GOP. Tim Mooney, who helped with that effort, also worked with Perry campaign staffer Dave Carney to get Ralph Nader on the ballot in 2004.

Now another Republican you’ve never heard of has emerged as a new link: Anthony Holm, part of Republican consulting firm the Patriot Group and a spokesperson for long-time Rick Perry supporter and homebuilding magnate Bob Perry. According to emails, he may have offered his help in funding the Green Party effort to get enough signatures to be on the November ballot.

The emails confirm one thing for sure: the Greens knew just who they were getting in bed with.

“So I just got a call that a republican in texas [sic.] wants to give us 40% of the cost of petitioning (caveat, we’d have to go with the petition co that I liked least.)” reads the email from the state Green Party spokesperson kat swift. In addition to her e.e. cummings grammar sensibilities, swift has also argued that the Greens have not done anything wrong. At a Green Party press conference last Friday, she said the party would not have accepted the corporate money had they realized what it was, but nonetheless, she says the party did nothing illegal. (swift did not respond to my call and email earlier this morning.)

It will be at least a couple weeks before anyone files their briefs with the state Supreme Court to answer whether she’s correct—and whether the Greens will get to stay on the ballot—but in the mean time, there’s the question of whether the Green Party’s actions were right.

Phillip Martin of the Democratic Trust has a direct answer. “When you are agreeing to sign on with people who are an anathema to your principles,” he says, “then I think, yes, you’ve crossed an ethical line.”

But the Greens were faced with a quite a challenge: getting the necessary number of signatures to get on the ballot isn’t easy. Texas requires that anyone who signs such a petition must be a registered voter who did not vote in either major party primary. It makes the process all the more time consuming—and expensive.

The Libertarians, who have garnered enough votes in the past election to bypass the petition process, have kept a careful distance from the debacle. Pat Dixon, the state chair of the Libertarian Party, says they considered filing a friend-of-court brief on the case, but after lengthy debate, simply issued a press release. The release both sympathizes with the Greens—they “condemned both the Republican and Democratic parties for manipulating the ballot access laws”—but it also pointed out that the Libertarians had not accepted money from political parties or corporations.

(Also in the press release: Libertarians and Greens evidently play softball together according to the Lib’s Attorney General candidate Jon Roland. I was right!)

“Principle has to win over politics,” Dixon says simply. “…We’re very supportive of ballot access, but we would not want to accept such a gift with stings attached.”

Did the Greens sacrifice principal? They clearly took advantage of the GOP perception that they would take votes away from Democrats—but it’s not clear if they could have come close to getting the signatures without the cash infusions. The current laws limit ballot access and left the Greens to navigate murky territory between giving voters choice and doing favors for Republicans.

Dixon says the debacle shows just why Texas must consider new ways for third parties to get on the ballot—at the very least allowing those who voted in primaries to still sign third party petitions.

Martin has a different take-home message. “At what point do we just call for the Green Party to withdraw?” he asks. Then he notes carefully that he’s not calling for them to do so.

If you ask me, politics is always a bit of a murky business.