Posted: June 9, 2012 by John Sexton
In the ongoing discussion of Barack Obama’s involvement with Chicago’s extremist “New Party,” online literature from the Party likely reveals that the young state senator not only was a member but had to commit financially to membership.
This past week, National Review author Stanley Kurtz revived the question of whether or not Obama was ever a member of the Party. Arguing for the affirmative, Kurtz demonstrates fairly conclusively that it did. On the other hand, Joel Rogers, founder of the New Party, tells Ben Smith that it did not. And documents available online suggest that Kurtz is correct and that Rogers is not being completely truthful.
First, there’s a bit more background which is relevant here. Kurtz originally raised the question of Obama’s involvement with the New Party back in 2008. At the time, the campaign denied Obama was ever involved and referred to the allegation as a “crackpot smear.” Ben Smith, then at Politico, wrote a piece in which he quoted New Party founder Joel Rogers to the effect that Obama had never been a member of the New Party because the New Party didn’t have members.
On Thursday, Kurtz announced the discovery of new documents that supported his original claim. In particular, he found minutes of a 1996 New Party meeting which read:
Barack Obama, candidate for State Senate in the 13th Legislative District, gave a statement to the membership and answered questions. He signed the New Party “Candidate Contract” and requested an endorsement from the New Party. He also joined the New Party.
Friday, Ben Smith conceded that this proves the White House was wrong when it claimed in 2008 that Obama had never sought an endorsement. However, Joel Rogers is sticking to his claim that the New Party never had members, telling Ben Smith, “‘I have no idea what the Chicago people were saying about him being a member,’ he said. ‘We didn’t have membership, it wasn’t a membership organization.'”
The problem with this is that the New Party website–earlier drafts of which still exist in the internet archive–mention membership repeatedly and, as we’ll see, even define what membership meant. Here’s the 1999 version of the New Party website, specifically the “Join the New Party” page. Let me pull a few quotes that seem pertinent:
- Transforming the face of American politics is a long, hard task. Your membership dollars can help us make each step of this process a reality
- [T]he New Party’s work depends on our members.
- Most New Party members join as a monthly sustainer.
- Sustainer pledges are automatically deducted from members‘ credit cards
- All New Party members receive a free subscription to our quarterly newsletter
- If you have any questions about the New Party that weren’t answered on our site, or if you want to know if your membership is current, please contact our membership coordinator
There’s also a “Chapters & Members” page which gives a link if you want to “Become an At-Large Member.” Here’s the at-large member form which is addressed to the New Party headquarters in Brooklyn “ATTN: Membership Services.” The form also notes that a one-time contribution of $36 is considered “basic membership.” The “Jobs and Internships” page has a job listing for Executive Director which reads, “With close to 20,000 members and a growing staff (now 25), the organization is poised to elect progressive majorities in cities across the country…”
What is evident looking at these old websites is that membership in the New Party was contingent on making a donation. That is spelled out even more clearly on this 1997 New Party web page titled “New Party Profile.” It reads in part:
The New Party is run by dues-paying members, who are organized into chapters. The national organization provides support for chapter growth and coordination. Every member gets one vote.
From 1992 through early 1997, the New Party grew to 10,000 members. Growth has been accelerating-membership doubled each of the last two years-and we hope to be at 20,000 by the end of 1997.
Clearly the New Party did have members. Its membership was based on dues. And dues-paying members were allowed to vote. This completely contradicts every part of the statement Joel Rogers gave to Ben Smith in 2008 and this week. As the founder of the group, there’s no way he could have been unaware of this, so we must conclude he was intentionally not telling the truth.
But the fact that New Party members were “dues-paying” suggests something else. Let’s examine the statement Stanley Kurtz discovered once again:
Barack Obama… signed the New Party “Candidate Contract”… He also joined the New Party.
Here is the New Party of Illinois “Candidate Contract” listed on a website in 1999. We can’t be completely sure, but this is likely the same or similar to the document Obama signed in 1996. Note that the contract has two parts. The first part stipulates what the New Party will do for the candidate. The second part lays out what the candidate is expected to do for the New Party. And right there, consistent with everything else we’ve seen, item #2 says “Join the New Party as a dues-paying member.” Here’s a screenshot:
Based on the various statements on the Party’s website and the “Candidate Contract” Obama signed, it’s clear that joining the New Party is synonymous with making a monetary contribution (of at least $36). The meeting minutes say Obama “joined the New Party,” so we can say with near certainty that, like all the other members, he paid to join.