The Tragedy of the Green Party Fiasco

The Green Party scandal has implications for the future of third parties in Texas
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Here’s some advice for you would-be politicos: If you’re a third party caught in a scandal, having accepted potentially illegal corporate contributions from a firm with GOP ties, your best bet for redemption is not a hastily called press conference on a Friday evening. Before a three day weekend. In the rain.

But apparently the Green Party of Texas does not listen to me. Nor, apparently, do they listen to themselves. Let me sum up the argument they made in today’s soggy press conference: First, taking corporate contributions is legal and we were within our rights. Secondly, taking corporate contributions is unethical and we call on the major parties to return any such donations.

(It’s not just me, right?)

Despite the rather pathetic press conference—five or six reporters straining to hear on the Capitol steps—the Greens actually had a good day. Thanks to a stay from the state Supreme Court, they’re on the ballot for now. But this entire fiasco will likely do long-term damage, not just to the Greens, but to other future third party efforts.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Green Party was found to have accepted a half a million dollar effort to get petition signatures. Turns out, the donation came from Take Initiative America, a corporate non-profit with GOP ties. (Not to mention an aborted effort by Rick Perry ally Mike Toomey to pay for the petition.) While District Judge John Dietz blocked the party from certifying candidates for the November ballot last week, the Supreme Court issued a stay today that allows the party to move forward with the certification. But expect briefs in the next few weeks as the court evaluates the situation.

Wayne Slater has a nice summary of what, exactly, is up for debate:

“Corporations are forbidden from contributing to political parties, but may pay for administrative expenses such as office rent and overhead. The Green Party contends its signature-gathering effort – spearheaded by an out-of-state GOP operative and funded with $532,000 from an undisclosed source — was an administrative expense.”

But the whole fiasco has some pretty tragic implications for third party movements as a whole in Texas.

After all the “Green Party” used to be associated with images of conservation and energy policy, rather than Mike Toomey and Republican corporations. Like ‘em or not, the party’s bids in the past have been more about grassroots efforts to bring attention to the issues that the major parties ignored. They teamed up with the Libertarians to fight for easier ways to get on the ballot. (The Libertarians have done well enough in past years to get on the ballot without having to collect signatures.)

I have a feeling those barriers to the ballot for third parties aren’t going away anytime soon. The efforts around third parties all now seem to be implicated, and everyone wants to speculate about whether the Democrats might be helping the Libertarians.

“If the Democrats have been helping a third party all these years,” Statesman reporter Jason Embry wrote yesterday, “they sure have been a lot better at pulling it off.” The implications couldn’t be clearer. The Texas Tribune led today with a story titled “Do Libertarians Help Democrats and Hurt Republicans?” The Greens aren’t happy about it—the press conference announcement included the that “most of y’all receiving this email have perpetuated the myth started by the Democratic Party that Greens ‘take’ votes away from Dems.” (Note: I don’t think that myth is particularly new.) While no one can say for sure—third parties point to research that shows they take equally from both parties while the Ds and Rs point to research that shows the opposite—it’s clear that neither party is taking chances.

The Democrats are already suing the Greens, even the League of Conservation Voters have called on them to withdraw from the ballot, and I doubt the major parties will be willing to work for third party rights during session.  After I came back, wet and cranky, from the press conference, I had an email from Bill White spokesperson Katy Bacon. The subject line? “Heard you went to a press conference in the rain.” Yes, Katy, you heard correctly. Thanks for the reminder.