Bus Bench Article Triggers LPCO Newsletter Change

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Bus Bench Article Triggers LPCO Newsletter Change

by Ari Armstrong, February 10, 2004

My off again, on again relationship with the newsletter of the Libertarian Party of Colorado is now off again.

My article about the LPCO's bus bench ad campaign drew three responses, including one by former state chair John Berntson. Berntson was an excellent Public Information Director for the party starting in 2000 (the same time I served as Publications Director), and he was an excellent chair after that. So I figured I would do well to take his criticism seriously when he asserted, "The [LPCO newsletter, Colorado] Liberty has long been the single biggest drain on the party's purse, with little return on the investment."

I do believe the larger, more frequently published newsletter I used to run contributed to the party's ability to raise funds, keep and gain members, and influence the media and state legislature. Of course, the Libertarian Party has suffered a loss of members and funds nationwide since then, so it would be a mistake to assume too great a causal link between the robust newsletter and the relative success of the state party. Nevertheless, I believe funds spent on the newsletter have been among the most useful dedicated by the party. The major parties don't need a newsletter, because their office holders are always in the news. I saw the newsletter as the only visible sign most members had that the LP was an active and professional organization.

Sitting Chair Norm Olsen said he wanted to spend more money on campaigning, and certainly that is a worthy goal. (I don't think buying ads on bus benches will do much to help the LP elect candidates.) Obviously, if the board can think of a better use of funds than the newsletter, it should scale back the newsletter.

Recently the board decided to cut back production of the newsletter from about 5,000 per quarter to about 500, except for the pre-election issue, which will continue to be mailed to the entire list. The larger list represents the total membership of the state LP, which includes those who have registered to vote Libertarian, while the smaller list represents dues-paying members of the national and state LP. (National membership funds are split with state affiliates.) When I produced the newsletter previously, it was mailed to all members and also to members of the press and to state legislators.

So I wondered, if cutting back the mailed newsletter to 500 is a good thing, mightn't it be even better to cut it back to zero? Instead, an all-digital newsletter could be made available on the party's web page. Indeed, an all-digital newsletter could be full color without costing anything extra, and it could include links internally and to web pages. A pre-election, printed newsletter could still be mailed to the complete list of members every year. If this plan were implemented, a postcard could be sent at the time of the first internet publication of the newsletter to notify members of the new arrangement, and to encourage members to join an e-mail alert list.

So on the evening of Monday, February 9, I called up Gallant to discuss the idea with him. I told him I had reservations about the plan, but I thought it should be considered as a cost-saving alternative. Indeed, with the savings in printing and mailing, the newsletter could be produced more frequently (say, bi-monthly rather than quarterly).

Gallant said he'd bring up this idea at the board meeting tonight (February 10). "There's another problem," he added.

Gallant said that Information Director Bo Shaffer wrote to him complaining about my article that criticized the bus bench ads. Furthermore, Outreach Director Rand Fanshier and Campaign Director Michael McKinzie have been pushing to replace me with somebody else to produce the newsletter.

Gallant said he'd like me to complete the next newsletter -- due to be delivered to the printer on March 1 -- but that somebody else would take over after that. I suggested that, if somebody else is competent to take over the newsletter in the future, certainly that person can complete the next one within three weeks. I said I'd be willing to offer advice to the newcomer to help with the transition.

From February, 2000, to May, 2002, I produced 21 editions of the newsletter. I produced two issues before joining the board, then continued as Publications Director. Then, beginning June/July, 2001, I worked for the board at an hourly rate of pay. Over the next year, James Vance produced three issues (actually, he produced a fourth one that was printed but never distributed). In the middle of 2003, Legislative Director Paul Tiger produced an eight-page newsletter, in keeping with the board's decision to print fewer pages. I produced the Fall 2003 and the Winter 2003 issues for a flat fee of $400 per issue.

A November 23, 2003, e-mail from Olsen prompted a discussion between him, Gallant, and me regarding how the newsletter was to be produced, and who was in charge of what. At the time of these discussions, I also heard mentions of complaints made against me by members of the Montrose LP -- complaints I argued were completely without merit. Of course these were the same complaints made against me by the 2002 LP candidate for U.S. Senate, who counted among his supporters Fanshier and McKinzie. So my relationships with various members of the sitting board have not been without tension.

I made it clear to the board that I would produce the newsletter under the direction of the Publications Director in a manner appropriate to a party publication. At the same time, I run an independent web page where other writers and I may criticize the LP. For example, I criticized the bus bench ads.

Gallant noted on the phone that my two roles might create an "appearance of a conflict of interest." I granted that there is a balancing act when filling both roles. However, my newsletters for the party have been among the best and most professional in the party's history. It's fairly easy to resolve particular conflicts: for instance, I could have simply printed somebody else's review of the bus bench ads. I also suggested the board might have a hard time finding somebody to produce the newsletter who would consistently refrain from voicing opinions about the board's decisions. (I mean, we're libertarians for Mises' sake. We were born to argue.)

But I have no problem giving up the newsletter (again). It's not like I have a shortage of projects to keep me busy. (Plus, losing 90% of the circulation takes some of the fun out of it.) The change comes as something of a relief.

I am, however, nervous about the future of the Libertarian Party of Colorado, an organization in which I've invested thousands of hours of my life. I find it ironic that some members of the sitting board, before they gained their present positions, accused the previous board of hostility toward outside criticism. A success-oriented board must actively encourage thoughtful criticism by members.

I here reproduce what I told the board in a December 17, 2003, e-mail, in connection with the complaints coming from Montrose: "[T]he Libertarian Party is a strategy, not a religion... The principles of libertarianism militate against... conformist, party-loyalist views... The goal is liberty. Liberty is more important than the Libertarian Party (or the LPCO newsletter)."

I mentioned to Gallant that it often seems the state LP is some combination of religion, social club, and soap opera. There are some bright lights. Travis Nicks is running a great campaign for Arapahoe County Clerk, though the Republican machinery is grinding against him. The current board has promised a results-oriented campaign season. The bus bench ads do not contribute to that goal. But there are more than nine months to go.

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