Monday, May 26, 2008

Questions Asked, Questions Answered


Good Information is Hard to Get

I asked folks to send along nuts-and-bolts questions about the D.N.C., the history and workings of the Democratic Party, and matters of political theory and practice. Here is a selection of the questions I received, with my replies.

If people have further questions, send them to me and I will try to do more posts like this one. I will do my level best to answer accurately. I will not be taking questions that call for my opinions of specific candidates or that are personal in nature. With that caveat, feel free to to send in any questions that you think I may be able to answer.

An excerpted version of this post appears here.
  • Question: When we give $3 on our tax returns does this go to the RNC and DNC? If so then why shouldn't there be a Federal regulation of each party?
Short Answer: Yes, funds go to the R.N.C .and the D.N.C., but only for the purpose of financing their national conventions. This purpose was designated by Congressional legislation and it is regulated by federal law and rules administered by the Federal Election Commission.

Somewhat longer answer:
In both law and politics there is tremendous tension over public campaign finance and the government regulation of political activities. This compares to the tension about the relationship between government funding of religious organizations and regulation of their activities. In a nutshell: the more narrow the funding, the more limited the government regulation. Because the R.N.C. and D.N.C. can only use federal funds received for operational expenses at their conventions, courts have, so far, not regarded this sort of funding as giving the federal government the right to further regulate Party activities.
  • Question: I'm confused as to how Senator Clinton’s campaign is keeping track of the number of delegates required to secure the nomination.
Somewhat short answer: There really is no simple answer to this question, but I will try. At the outset of this year’s process, a candidate who won 2025 delegates at the convention in Denver (“regular” and “super” delegates included) would have achieved the simple majority required to become the nominee. With Michigan and Florida unseated, the overall number of delegates is 3736 and so to win a simple majority at a convention that excludes Michigan and Florida, a candidate must secure 1868 at the convention. Because of the ever shifting winds with regard to Florida and Michigan at different times during the course of this primary season, both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have named different numbers that their campaigns would regard as constituting a simple majority. For example, at one point, a proposal was floated that would seat half the delegates from Michigan and Florida. If this were done, the math changes accordingly. Divide 313 (the total number of MI and FL delegates) by two and you get, rounding up, 3892 total delegates. On this scenario, a simply majority is 1947.

Short answer: Since in one way or another Michigan and Florida are likely to be seated, it is virtually impossible for either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama will arrive in Denver with a majority of “regular delegates”. This will leave the choice of the nominee up to how the superdelegates vote. Superdelegates can change their minds right up to and including each ballot at the convention, regardless of any endorsements or pledges they give – these pledges and endorsements simply are not binding.


Bottom line: The race is very close and if neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton withdraws before Denver, the superdelegates will have to take responsibility: their votes at the convention will decide the nomination, assuming the nomination is decided on the first ballot, and assuming that all delegates selected by primary and caucus vote according to the results in their states on the first ballot. (Yes, incredibly enough, this is just an assumption because different states have different rules as to just how bound their non-superdelegates are!) Important disclaimer: Precisely because the rules are slightly indeterminate in defining the number of delegates needed and because the Michigan/Florida situation increases this indeterminacy, my own numerical analysis involves interpretation. I believe my interpretation to be a reasonable one, but it probably is not the only reasonable one.
  • Question: How does the D.N.C. pick its chair?
Short Answer: Via election.

Slightly longer answer: Generally, candidates who run for the position are prominent members of the party, and they do confer with each other about their intentions to run. No candidate can be “drafted” to lead the party. The election is regulated by internal Democratic National Party Rules.

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