St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Focus of filing fee flap shifts to Robin Carnahan

A controversy has arisen among those commenting on the Post-Dispatch’s Political Fix blog over Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s removal of Glenn Miller, Jr.’s name from the Missouri primary ballot for U.S. Congress in the 7th District after the Democratic Party rejected Miller’s filing fee. The Republican Party also announced preemptively that it would also reject Miller’s fee if he tried to file as a Republican. Miller then skipped the GOP and filed as a Libertarian, but that party rejected him too, and Carnahan removed his name from their ballot as well. Missouri law provides that the filing fees are payable to the political party in which the candidate files.

Parties don’t want Miller as their candidate because of his reputation as an anti-semitic white supremacist. The Associated Press identifies him as the former leader of the White Patriot Party.

But the controversy is no longer about Miller and his views. It is now questionable whether Carnahan had the legal right to deny Miller’s right to file in any party’s primary. (Filing as an independent would require a petition drive to get signatures of over 5,000 registered voters from that district.)

I have concluded that the Democratic Party (where Miller first filed) simply decided to reject the filing because they wanted to. With fellow party member Carnahan in charge of election filings, it was easy to get her to oblige. The wording of the Associated Press release that Post-Dispatch reporter Jo Mannies quoted in her blog suggests that the party told the AP that its rejection of Miller’s money meant he no longer qualified to run on the their ticket. The media bought it, just assuming that the party knew what it was talking about. The Democrats were undoubtedly comfortable assuming that Republicans and other parties weren’t about to call them on it, because they want the same power for themselves.

This tactic is regrettably common in government, surfacing most often in sunshine law violations, where a government official blows off an unwanted freedom of information request, and the decision sticks unless and until the requesting party marshalls the resources to file a lawsuit against the government, and win it. It’s bullying, plain and simple. In the current matter, draping it in the clothing of fending off racism is just a smokescreen.

The Oracle and others who commented on the Political Fix can find no statutory authority for denial of Miller’s place on the ballot. A commentator called “publiceye” (believed to be Mayor Slay’s publicist Richard Callow, who runs a consulting firm by that name) pointed out a provision stating that “no candidate’s name shall be printed on any official ballot until the required fee has been paid.” He went on to opine, “No fee. No file.” But I pointed out, with some agreement and no expressed disagreement by other commentators, that Miller’s tender of the fee probably satisfied the payment requirement, and that his check was not deposited to clear was out of his control and not his problem. All political committees, including political parties, have the right to refuse contributions. But does (and should) that give the parties the right to deny the donor the place on the ballot to which the statutes entitle her/him for making the payment?

What solution is best for society? The easy take is that keeping white supremacists and others with toxic views off the ballot is a good thing. But the law must be blind to the substance of a candidate’s political expression, and must apply equally and equitably to all. Since there is no statute (or apparently any case law or state regulation either) on the subject, there are no formal standards governing when a party may reject a candidate’s filing. That would mean that parties could reject filings at will, with no reason required. If allowed to stand as precedent, a party’s right to deny filings would empower factions in control of the party to keep insurgent factions from challenging them, effectively leaving no contest for voters to decide in the primary. That very result is already happening by way of backroom deals that eliminate competition, so it’s safe to expect that parties (or controlling factions) would abuse the right if this trial balloon were allowed to soar.

If such a practice had been utilized in the past, St. Louis would probably have no citywide African American officials, because the white-controlled Democratic City Committee could have held off the successful challenges of Benjamin Goins and Freeman Bosley, Jr., just by rejecting their filing fees. The Jim Crow era Democratic State Committee might have done the same to Ted McNeal, Missouri’s first African American state senator, when he filed to oust white Sen. Edward Hogan in 1960. That’s unthinkable today, but I’ll bet it would have happened then if the pols had thought of it. Darlene Green, Larry Williams and Maida Coleman might not hold their present offices if those earlier trailblazers had been denied the right to compete.

Tom Knapp of St. Louis County, a respected member of the executive committee of the Missouri Libertarian Party, offered this thoughtful justification why parties should have such a power: “Parties are groups of people who associate together to advance political ideas they share. In many states, Missouri included, [political parties] have to do considerable work to secure a spot on the [ballot]. They do so for the purpose of running candidates who advance the ideas the party advocates. . . . Why should someone who wants to run for office be allowed to hijack the efforts of people who do not agree with him and do not care to have their work used to advance HIS ideas, which are antithetical to their ideas?”

In a similar vein, the Missouri Green Party has a platform plank that would allow parties to replace the primary election with a convention or caucus to nominate its candidates. One local Green expresses the concern that a major corporation like Monsanto could file its own candidates for party committee, take over the party, and bring the party’s work against the company’s genetic engineering technology and products to a halt. Neither the Green Party of the United States (with whom the Missouri Green Party is not affiliated) nor the Progressive Party of Missouri (the state’s GPUS affiliate) have any similar plank.

But enough of this “fair and balanced” review of this issue. It is up to Secretary of State Carnahan to enforce the law that exists, not the law she would like to exist. Any changes to current law are the province of the legislature, and it’s already too late to change the rules for this election. I think Robin overstepped her authority. Perhaps she needs to be reminded that manipulating filings for office is what got Democratic Secretary of State Judi Moriarity impeached in the 1990s.