Review on State Parties

THE STATE PARTIES: GAINING MONEY AND SERVICES State parties have been the poor relations of American party politics. Throughout the parties’ history, the state committees rarely had significant power within the party organizations. There have been exceptions; some powerful, patronage-rich state party organizations developed in the industrial heartland in the late 18005.24 But in most states, most of the time, the state committee was the weak link in the party organization.

In recent years, however, state parties have grown in importance. They are richer, more professional, and more active now than they have ever been

 

 

h———_I‘TheState Parties: Gaining Money and Services 61

before. There has been some centralization of activity throughout the party structure. Let us start the story in the years before this change began.

Traditional Weakness State party organizations were traditionally weak for several reasons. They began as loose federations of semi-independent local party chairs. These local parties within a state differed from one another in many ways: rural/ urban, regional, ethnic, and religious differences, loyalties to local leaders, and conflicts between more liberal and more conservative interests. If one of these factions gained control over the state party organization, the others would be seriously threatened. So this threat was often avoided, in the past, by keeping most of the party’s resources out of the hands of the state organization. Power was decentralized, collecting in the most effective of the local organizations.

Progressive reforms in the early 19005 also weakened the state party orga- nizations. In particular, the introduction of the direct primary (see Chapters 9 and 10) limited the influence of state parties on campaigns for state offices. Candidates could win party nominations in primary elections without party organization support, raise money for their own campaigns and, thus, run them without party help. Even today, relatively weak state party organizations are still found in the states where the Progressives and Populists had greatest strength—the western states, especially the more rural ones.25

Beginning in the late 19605, the national Democratic Party adopted reforms that greatly increased the number of primaries in the presidential nominating process. That reduced the state party’s role in selecting a presidential candidate. The voters, rather than the state party organization, choose most convention delegates now, and most of the delegates come to the convention pledged to a particular candidate rather than controlled by state party leaders. Further, extensions of civil service protections and unionization eroded the patronage base for many state parties. In what may have been the final indignity for patronage politics, some courts have even prevented the firing of patronage workers when the governing party changes.

One-party dominance in several states during the first half of the 19005 also kept a number of state parties weak and conflict—ridden. Southern Democratic Parties were a notable example. When a single party dominates a state’s politics, the diverse forces within the state are likely to compete as factions within that party; the state party organization has neither the incentive nor the ability to unify, as it might if it faced a threat from a viable opposition party. For all these reasons, many state party organizations were described as “empty shells” in the 19405 and 195 05.26

Increasing Strength in Recent Decades Since the 19605, however, state party organizations have become stronger and more active. The state parties began to institutionalize—to become enduring, specialized, well-bounded organizations—during the 19605 and 19705. In the early 19605, for example, only half of a sample of state organizations had

 

 

_|———_—————’_62l CHAPTER 3 The State and Local Party Organizations

permanent state headquarters; two decades later, by 1980, that was true of 91 percent. The number of full-time, paid state party chairs doubled during this time, as did the number of full-time staff employed by the parties in non- election years. These resources—full-time leaders and a stable location—are vital to the development of parties as organizations.27

As with local parties, the state organizations have continued to expand since then. More than half of the state parties surveyed in a 1999 study had full-time party chairs, research staff, and public relations directors. Three-quarters had a field staff, and 91 percent employed a full-time executive director, perhaps the most crucial position in a state party organization. A number of state parties have created internship programs for college students. In California, the Republican Party set up a task force in 2009 to apply leading-edge technologies, including the next generation of computer applications that will come after Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to all aspects of party work. The empty shells are being filled.

Fund-raising State parties have put special effort into developing fund-raising capabilities. By 2000 (see Table 3.2), almost all of the state parties surveyed raised money at events and by direct mail. They used the money to support a variety of races; party candidates for governor, state legislature, and the U.S. Senate and House received contributions from more than four-fifths of these parties. Over 90 percent of the parties made efforts to recruit candidates for state races; the parties’ new fund-raising skills can be very useful in convincing attractive prospects to run for an office.28

The parties are especially active in recruiting and helping fund candidates for the state legislature.29 These state legislative candidates rely on various levels of party committees for different kinds of help. State legislative parties’ campaign committees3O often recruit and train candidates and provide fund—raising support, advice on consultants, and liaison with political action committees, whereas the local parties are thought to be more helpful in traditional grassroots activities such as GOTV drives.31

The increase in state parties’ election-year fund-raising since 1980 fairly leaps off the page in Table 3.2. National party committees played an important role by transferring increasing amounts to the state parties and candidates. The transfers peaked in 2000, when the national party organizations gave a whopping $430 million to parties and candidates at the state level, many times the amounts that the national parties had infused into the state organizations just a few years earlier.32 Collectively, the state parties were able to spend $53 million raised in large sums, called “soft money” (see Chapter 12), on voter mobilization and GOTV activity in the 2000 campaigns.33

Just as important for the development of strong party organizations, fund— raising during nonelection years was growing as well. The nonelection—year budgets of the state parties climbed from an average (in absolute dollars) of less than $200,000 in 1960—1964 to more than $800,000 by 2000. The result is that at that time “most state parties are multimillion—dollar organizations with experienced executive directors and knowledgeable staffs.”34

 

 

m————LWeState Parties: Gaining Money and Services I 63

TABLE 3.2

Increasing Organizational Strength Among the State Parties

1979—1980 1999—2000 Difference

Typical election-year budget $340 K $2.8 mil. +$2.46 mil. Typical election—year full-time staff 7.7 9.2 +1.5 Off-year budget $337 K $812 l<* +$475 |< Off—year staff 7.2 7.6* +0.4 Conducted campaign seminars 89% 95% +6% Recruited a full slate of candidates — 91% — Operated voter ID programs 70% 94% +24% Conducted public opinion polls 32% 78% +46% Held fund—raising event 19% 98% +79% Contributed to governor candidate 47% 89% +42% Contributed to state legislator 47% 92% +45% Contributed to state senator 25% 85% +60% Contributed to US congressional 48% 85% +37% Contributed to local candidate 70%

Party Strength and Activity

Note: Data for 1979—1980 are from a mail survey of state parties. Data for 1999 come from a mail survey by John H. Aldrich and associates of 65 state party chairs (39 Democrats, 26 Republicans), and data for 2000 from a mail survey by Raymond La Raja of 37 Republican and 37 Democratic state party executive directors.

*Data from La Raja’s 2000 survey.

Sources: For the 1999 data, see John H. Aldrich’s “Southern Parties in State and Nation,” Journal of Politics 62 (2000): 659. For 2000, see Raymond J. La Raja, “State Parties and Soft Money,” in John C. Green and Rick Farmer, eds., The State of the Panties, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), p. 141. The 1979—1980 data are from James L. Gibson, Cornelius P. Cotter, and John F. Bibby, “Assessing Party Organizational Strength,” American Journal of Political Science 27 (1983): 193—222.

Passage of new campaign finance legislation in 2002 (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, discussed in Chapter 12) took away the national parties’ ability to transfer soft money to the state parties. Although that was a blow to the state parties’ finances, BCRA did allow state parties to spend federally regulated money (which the national parties could transfer to states without limits) on federal campaign activities and to raise a certain amount of soft money themselves (up to $10,000 per donor) for grassroots mobilization and party-building. These, added to the high stakes of polarized politics, helped the state parties to maintain active fund-raising. In 2003, after the end of the soft money transfers, state Democratic and Republican Parties raised a total of $189 million—more than they had in 2001.35 Since that time, collective state party receipts and media buys by state parties have not matched their pre-BCRA levels, but party spending in some states, including Missouri and Indiana, has gone up considerably. State parties, then, have become more effective fund-raisers and most have learned to cope with the BCRA reform rules.

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