Proposed poll tax (aka floor fee) at St. Louis national convention violates LP Bylaws - Please let LNC members know you want it eliminated!

The Libertarian Party Convention Committee has proposed that delegates to the upcoming LP national convention in St. Louis (May 28-31, 2010) must pay a $99 "floor fee" before being allowed to perform the functions assigned to them by the party's Bylaws of voting on the Bylaws and Platform, electing officers, and conducting party business. The fact that the floor fee plan comes with the offer of a mail-in rebate of $50 per room to those staying at the convention hotel only presents additional problems with fairness. California LP member Carolyn Marbry has pointed out that it unfairly penalizes local attendees who would not be renting hotel rooms since they could easily get to the location from home, families with more than one delegate per room, and delegates who want to economize by sharing rooms. Delegates bringing more than two pets, which are not welcome at the convention hotel, would likewise be penalized, notes California LP member and greyhound lover Lidia Seebeck.

  I believe the whole scheme is not only an unjust and ill-advised slap in the face to less financially secure delegates, but a violation of the party's national Bylaws. The Libertarian Party is not doing its delegates a favor by allowing them access to the convention hall at the hotel, any more than the party is doing its paid staff a favor by allowing them access to the national party offices where they do their jobs. The *delegates* are doing the *party* a favor by *volunteering* their time to fly or drive to St. Louis and incur the costs of lodging and meals in order to perform the functions assigned to them by the party's Bylaws.

  Convention meeting space is normally provided free by hotels as a condition of the contract they sign with the Convention Committee, and I expect that is no different this time around. Advocates of charging a "floor fee" (really a poll tax on delegates) insist that the real cost of this meeting space is thus unfairly borne by those convention attendees who meet the terms of the contract by renting rooms at the hotel, even though:

• hotel rooms are normally made available to convention attendees at a discount
• it is being proposed in St. Louis that one must still pay a $49 floor fee even if one does rent a hotel room
• the cost of the hotel meeting hall where convention business sessions will be held is almost certainly *far* less than the conservative estimate of $19,600 which the tax would bring in even if there were only 400 paying delegates and all of them received $50 rebates

  Advocates of this poll tax claim that to allow delegates to be present and conduct party business in the meeting rooms used for that purpose without paying a separate charge amounts to a "subsidy" to those delegates. Some have even used insulting terms like "povertarian," "freeloaders," and even "socialist" to describe those opposing the tax.

  The *real* subsidy, which has received less attention, is convention attendees being forced to subsidize the preferences of those party members who want the party's conventions to be held in hotels where free meeting space is only available with a contract guaranteeing the hotel a certain number of room night rentals. The party Bylaws do not require LP conventions to be held in hotels. Many members would be perfectly happy to meet in less expensive venues such as community centers, college campuses, or even outdoors under tents in parks during the summer, and to see the money saved go toward the cause of promoting liberty, which is what we are all here for.

  Some LP members, however, appear to believe the party must maintain an upscale or "professional" image, and/or that the party must offer convention attendees a certain amount of comfort and luxury in order to attract donors, or it will suffer. While this has not been proven, they are entitled to their preference for hotel conventions. But they should not force less well-heeled LP members and delegates, who may have trouble affording the cost of attending a convention in another part of the country at all, to subsidize that preference via a special fee or tax, or to feel they must accept charity if they wish to be a delegate. This is true more than ever during an economic downturn when many people are feeling a financial strain.

  Fortunately, the party's Bylaws do not contain any provision for the national party to require delegates to pay fees in order to conduct party business. I believe some members of the party's National Committee understand that a floor fee is wrong and not permitted, but others need convincing. Here is my analysis of the Bylaws on this topic -- my letter continues below.