No Holds Barr: The Co-opting of the Green Party? Long Form Version

I originally posted only the short form version of this article on Lady Libertine, as to give the exclusive to Available here now in its entirety with updates and minor edits…

Firebrand comedian and aspiring politico Roseanne Barr is running for the Green Party’s nomination for president of the United States in a move characterized by many as a publicity stunt à la Donald Trump. But with Barr the situation is not entirely as it seems. Yes, she sought to be recognized as an official candidate just as NBC picked up her comedy pilot “Downwardly Mobile,” but Barr has been talking about running for POTUS — and also for prime minister of Israel — since at least 2010. Her progressive persona is no act: Her 1988-’97 “Roseanne” sitcom examined working-class socioeconomic issues, as will her new show, and she has been a vocal supporter of Occupy, having addressed the Zuccotti Park assembly on the day of the movement’s inception. No one questions her progressive bona fides, but many question her motives.

At contention is whether rules were innocently skirted — or intentionally broken — to allow Barr to be officially recognized by the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) in time for an important California ballot deadline. With 65 delegates out of a convention of 400 and a majority of state parties with fewer than ten delegates, the California primary is an important win for Green candidates. Also at issue are apparent conflicts of interest for voting members of the national party’s Steering Committee, whose duties include the oversight and coordination of other GPUS groups like the Presidential Campaign Support Committee. Note that the national and state parties are different entities under the same Green umbrella.

On Barr’s presidential campaign and personal websites, she advocates the “Green Tea Party” and enjoins viewers to “Occupy the Green Party.” This language irks many party members, who feel that they are complicit in a ploy for comeback publicity, rather than part of a serious campaign; they are wary of being co-opted. Nationally, Greens are divided. On one hand, a celebrity like Barr gets people talking again about the Green Party, which suffered when Ralph Nader’s campaign was widely blamed for Al Gore’s loss in 2000. On the other hand, many feel that front-runner Jill Stein is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in rebuilding the party, and that Barr’s charged rhetoric may ultimately damage the party’s credibility with independents and progressives.

Barr is no stranger to high profile PR debacles. She famously screeched “The Star- Spangled Banner” at a San Diego Padres baseball game and dressed as Hitler for a photo shoot for Jewish magazine Heeb. Barr was recently embroiled in controversy for tweeting the address of the parents of George Zimmerman, who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Despite its concerns over behavior like this, the Green Party of California (GPCA) tried to get Barr on its primary ballot. She applied to the state party on the last possible day for its recognition, and was ineligible at that time because she was registered as a Democrat. On Nov. 29, GPCA Coordinating Committee Co-Chair and former GPUS National Co-Chair Sanda Everette sent a letter to Barr and former campaign treasurer Eric Weinrib outlining how she could get placed on the ballot by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen via recognition from the Green Party of the United States. Weinrib contacted GPUS Presidential Campaign Support Committee Co-Chair Tom Yager in January to re-start the process for obtaining recognition from the Green Party of the United States. “Downwardly Mobile” was picked up by NBC the following day.

According to GPCA Secretary of State Liaison Jared Laiti in an e-mail obtained by me, Weinrib told Laiti that he called Bowen’s office on Jan. 23, and that the secretary of state told him that Laiti would have to amend the state party’s candidate list to include Barr. Weinrib then asked the liaison how that could happen, though Everette’s previous letter provided no such option. Laiti wrote, “I indicated that there is no way I could say Roseanne was recommended by GPCA because we had a specific process for doing that, which we are now outside of.” In response to Weinrib’s attempt, the Green Party of California clarified its position on Barr to Bowen’s office in a Jan. 29 letter, stating that it would not recommend anyone else for its ballot, and that the secretary of state should refer to the national party’s determination.

The secretary of state would release the names of presidential primary candidates she deemed to be “generally advocated for” on February 6, and would determine that advocacy based primarily on six criteria, including input from state parties (extended to the national party). Barr met none of the “other criteria” listed except for national recognition before the Feb. 6 press release, significant as a major national media event, and because no announced candidates can be removed from the ballot thereafter unless they personally drop out. Weinrib stressed to Everette and Yager that he wanted to gain national party recognition by Feb. 1 to make the Feb. 6 press release. The Barr campaign could have attempted to gain secretary of state recognition on its own — official Green Party recognition is not required, but it would have been important in Bowen’s determination without the other qualifications.

On Jan. 25, Yager announced Barr’s candidacy to the Presidential Campaign Support Committee, and set into motion a one-week period for lodging objections. That window would end at 11:50 p.m. EST on Feb. 1, rather than 11:59 PST, which is standard national party practice for committee voting, though not an explicit bylaw. Despite Barr’s failure to meet eligibility requirement 10-1.7 (which states that candidates must raise $5,000 from independent sources by Feb. 1), Yager said that Barr had met the criteria for recognition. In a last-minute Presidential Campaign Support Committee conference call on Jan. 31, the committee learned that Barr had not fulfilled 10-1.7 and that the campaign had not made a formal financial filing with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), the normal route of 10-1.7 validation. The committee discussed ways to verify compliance and ultimately agreed on requiring the campaign to submit a signed affidavit and a list of donors.

According to Yager, both he and Weinrib believed “that February 6 was a hard deadline for primary ballot access” and that it would be “crucial” for Barr to be recognized on Feb. 1. But Feb. 1 was only “crucial” for making Bowen’s press release. Barr still had nearly two months — until March 23 — to get onto the primary ballot. Mike Feinstein, a California delegate to the Presidential Campaign Support Committee and a former Green mayor of Santa Monica, pointed that fact out to Yager, and explicitly told him and the committee that he would challenge Barr’s recognition if she failed to produce the documentation on February 1. The next day, the affidavit and donor list were not provided, and Feinstein objected to Barr’s candidacy at 11:53 p.m. EST, immediately after he became aware of the deficiency. Yager ignored Feinstein’s objection, giving him no leeway on the three minutes past the 11:50 cutoff.

For verification Weinrib sent Yager a scanned copy of a Wells Fargo deposit slip for three unattributed contributions totaling $5,001. First Republic, not Wells Fargo, was the bank listed on the original FEC filing for the campaign. According to Yager, in his interview for this article and within his correspondence to the Green Party National Committee, Weinrib refused to specify the donors, saying that Barr was in compliance and that “donors would be known when the quarterly FEC filing was made.” (Update:  That April 15 filing shows that former campaign treasurers Hilary Liu and Eric Weinrib each donated $2,500 on Jan. 30. The spirit of the Green Party’s requirement of $5,000 in independent contributions is to prove some level of external support and to keep wealthy individuals from simply buying the ballot line.)

Despite the 10-1.7 deficiency and over the objection of Feinstein, Yager officially certified Barr on Feb. 2 and forwarded her deposit slip as proof of financial compliance. Weinrib did not sign the affidavit of financial compliance requested by the Presidential Campaign Support Committee until Feb. 4. No donor list was provided until the April 15 FEC filing, more than two months later. Bowen recognized Barr as a presidential candidate in her press release Feb. 6.

Because the state party believed Yager had broken the national party’s recognition rules for Barr, it sent a Feb. 29 letter to the Steering Committee and Yager requesting executive session to demand that Yager offer “clear and unambiguous answers” to the California group’s concerns. Executive session is used to discuss sensitive legal and financial matters of the party, such as those concerning potential candidates or elected officials. In a March 11 conference call, despite apparent conflicts of interest, Steering Committee members Farheen Hakeem and Tamar Yager failed to recuse themselves and voted against the state party’s request for executive session.

Hakeem, also a national co-chair, had announced Feb. 29 that she had accepted a position with the Barr campaign and would recuse herself if any conflicts of interest arose. Hakeem declined to comment on her actions for this story. Tamar Yager, Tom Yager’s wife, voted in a measure dealing with her own husband. According to Tamar Yager, “Executive session would not have changed the outcome of the SC’s [Steering Committee’s] decision.” That decision was to urge the state party and Tom Yager to resolve the matter on their own. Three nay votes were cast on the conference call — two of them from Tamar Yager and Hakeem. (Update:  The April 15 FEC filing shows that Hakeem received two “expense advance” disbursements from the Barr campaign totaling $8,000 on March 16 and 22.)

Barr made her first public campaign appearance at Rally in the Valley, a Green Party fundraising event in Los Angeles on March 23. When I asked her to name her donors, she responded that she is doing “just grass roots all the way” in $10 and $25 denominations. Watch the video below to see her full response.

The major issue for the campaign is that Weinrib, who declined to comment, sought to circumvent the rules before getting recognition and then refused to comply once he got what he wanted. The problems with transparency and accountability are ironic coming from Barr, who seeks to represent Greens and support Occupy, two movements that cherish those very principles. Barr too did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Problematic for party leadership are Yager’s certification of Barr without 10-1.7 compliance, and the apparent conflicts of interest for Hakeem and Tamar Yager. In Yager’s interview for this story, he defended his actions as an effort to be as inclusive as possible. That inclusiveness did not extend, however, to Green Party candidate Harley Mikkelson or to the concerns of the state party. Yager rescinded Mikkelson’s recognition in December, citing a failure to fulfill eligibility criterion 10-1.5, which requires a support petition from 100 Greens. Ironically, Yager reported to the Presidential Campaign Support Committee that achieving national recognition would be important for Mikkelson to be placed on the California ballot by Bowen, neither of which Mikkelson accomplished.

Yager did note that he has nothing to gain from helping Barr, and that Stein is the only candidate to whom he has given and will give campaign donations. The issues between Yager and the Green Party of California deal largely with debates in semantics. Regarding financial compliance with 10-1.7, Yager said, “The rules don’t explicitly outline a verification mechanism.” But the rule does explicitly call for fundraising “not including self-financing.”

If candidates do not make FEC filings on time for verification and refuse to provide a donor list, is the Green Party just supposed to take them at their word? What then is the purpose of the requirement if it cannot be checked? Yager went on to say, “If I find out that self-financing was used to meet the initial $5,000 requirement, I will personally introduce the resolution to rescind PCSC [Presidential Campaign Support Committee] recognition for Roseanne.”

The Green Party of California does not necessarily believe that the donations are from self-financing. Rather, its concern comes more from the disregard for the rules. “We believe that we should follow the very rules that we have set for ourselves, and if we don’t agree with them, we should work to change them,” said Everette in her interview for this story.

At the very least rules were broken to accommodate Barr — at the very worst, laws. Many Greens support Barr’s candidacy nonetheless, noting the problem is mainly a concern to Californians. Those outside of the state may underestimate the power of unlikely celebrity political figures, having forgotten Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surprising gubernatorial win. Stein’s victory is hardly a foregone conclusion, according to her campaign manager, Ben Manski, in a prepared statement for this article:

The Stein campaign was devoting nearly all of its resources to achieving ballot access for the Green Party in the 2012 elections. … Barr’s entrance into this race has forced the Stein campaign to reallocate resources toward the primaries. … With a high profile and well-funded opponent now in the race, we are not taking the primaries for granted.

Green Party of Connecticut member Tim McKee opined that Stein’s strategy of party building through ballot access makes her the more appealing candidate. McKee noted that Stein was out campaigning nearly every day, as if to highlight the contrast with the comparatively reclusive Barr. To her credit, Barr gave a compelling speech any liberal would love at the Rally in the Valley. In it she challenged critics of celebrity activists:

You know what really gripes me … I hate when people say, ‘Well who does Roseanne Barr, or some other show business type, think they are that anybody should give a damn about their political views?’ Well I have a question for those people … who do I have to be?

This double standard for celebrities that Barr decries did however have advantages in the determination of her recognition. Regardless of fame or fortune, transparency and accountability standards must be applicable to everyone seeking office. The question is not who you have to be, but rather what you have to be. And the answer to that is “honest.”

Lauren Windsor is a civil libertarian and a registered member of the Green Party.