Back on November 17, I wrote in this blog a post titled “Unity ’08 – DOA?” (See link to original,here. )
Well, I think I called that one right.
Last Thursday, I got a letter from Unity ’08 – below – which sounds like its swan song. And when I visited the web site today, the letter is all that was left. I’m so glad I held off and didn’t donate any funds.
It was a valiant attempt on their part to try to create an organization that wanted to put partisan politics aside. Maybe they picked the wrong year in which to do it. With the large number of candidates for both Democratic and Republican parties, there already seems to be a great opportunity for major political shake-up. It’s almost as if Unity ’08 really wasn’t able to differentiate itself in the barrage of promises for change coming from the candidates themselves.
I was drawn to the cause initially by hearing Sam Waterston talk about it. It was probably the wrong reason to give it a look, but it got me there anyway, which is what the group may have intended. More eyeballs to see and ears to hear their message. I think that as more people realized – like me – that Unity ’08 was not a political party but a political action committee, interest waned. And the organization never seemed to congeal its message. Compounding the problem was an FEC ruling that strangled their fundraising ability. It appears that Unity ’08 was a nice in concept, but that it wasn’t clearly thought through, and maybe the right people weren’t leading the charge.
So while I called its death in November, I think it’s time to finish it off with what I think is its "obituary", from the Unity '08 website:
"Dear fellow members of Unity08,
One of our principles at the outset of this audacious project was transparency and openness. Too often in our recent political history, what you see is not what you get.
For this reason, we are writing you today to lay out the current status of Unity08 and possible paths going forward.
First, however, it's important to reflect upon what we - together - have accomplished in shaping the current political discussion and building a sense of what is possible in this crucial election year. Two of our core ideas - the importance of a centrist, bi-partisan approach to the solving of our nation's problems and the possibility of an independent, unity ticket for the presidency have already gone from far-out to mainstream.
Barack Obama, for example, has made the theme of unity and the necessity of bridging the partisan divide an absolutely central theme of his campaign. And just last week, a group of former and present national office holders - independents, Republicans and Democrats - met in Oklahoma for the sole purpose of stating their belief that at the present perilous moment, a unity government is the only hope of solving the nation's mounting problems. When you have agreement among the likes of former RNC chairman Bill Brock and Gary Hart, you're onto something.
And, of course, waiting in the wings should the divide persist, is the potential of a serious non-partisan candidacy in the person of the Mayor of New York (two of our founders Doug Bailey and Gerald Rafshoon have stepped down from the board and may have more to say about their plans in the near future).
Can Unity08 take full credit for these remarkable developments? Of course not, but through this website, your active involvement, innumerable news stories, op-eds, and public appearances by friends like Sam Waterston, we certainly have helped to bring these ideas to the forefront of the current political discussion.
So in a larger sense, we have accomplished a major portion of what we set out to do. But in the specifics and logistics, we have fallen short.
At the current moment, we don't have enough members or enough money to take the next necessary step - achieving ballot access in 50 states - to reach the goal of establishing our on-line convention and nominating a Unity ticket for president and vice president this coming fall.
The past year has taught us that it's tough to rally millions to a process as opposed to a candidate or an issue. In the past, third party movements that have broken through the monopoly of the established parties have always been based on a person (Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 or Ross Perot in the last decade) or a burning issue (slavery in the case of the insurgent Republican party in 1860). Stirring people and moving them to action about a process change - replacing the quirky primary system that tends to drive candidates to the extremes with something more inclusive and sensible - has proven to be a lot harder than we expected.
And the Federal Election Commission hasn't helped. The Commission has taken the position that we are subject to their jurisdiction (even though two United States Supreme Court decisions hold exactly opposite) and, therefore, that we are limited to $5000 contributions from individuals (even though the Democrat and Republican Parties are able to receive $25,000 from individuals). Needless to say, this position by the FEC effectively limited our fundraising potential, especially in the crucial early going when we needed substantial money fast to get on with ballot access and the publicity necessary to build our membership.
We were caught in a peculiar catch-22; we wanted to break the dependence on big money by getting lots of small contributions from millions of members, but needed some up-front big money to help generate the millions of members to make the small contributions. And the FEC (in effect, an arm of the parties) didn't let that happen. We have challenged this ruling in the federal courts, but are still awaiting a decision and time is running out.
And so reluctantly, especially given the volatility of the present situation, we're forced to scale back - not cease - our operations and suspend our ballot access project. Our website will become less interactive (it takes staff to answer hundreds of e-mails a day) and we can't in good faith make the $5 million commitment necessary to make a serious start on ballot access.
But we're not closing our doors. We believe it is important to see our case against the FEC through (both for Unity08 and any similar movement in the future) and be ready to gear up if (when) we win our case and political circumstances warrant later this spring. Unity is in the air right now, and Mayor Bloomberg seems poised to run on his own (and the fact is that two independent candidacies wouldn't work) if the parties leave the sensible center open - but all this could change in a matter of weeks.
We still believe strongly that we have the right idea, but it just might (emphasize might because who knows what can happen in the next month) not be the right time. In the meantime, a sincere, profound thanks for your help, involvement and support so far and please keep pushin' - for the simple but very powerful idea that solutions to our nation's problems are going to take ideas and hard work from all sources, and that a political system whose stock-in-trade is division may well be the biggest problem of all.
Please know that you have already made a difference and are at the forefront of a movement that may yet save the country.
Board of Directors, Unity08 "
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