The Sierra Club's election of a new board of directors comes under fire
Hearty congratulations to Lisa Renstorm, Jan O'Connell, Nick Aumen, Sanjay Ranchod and Dave Karpf. They won the election for the Sierra Club Board of Directors. I like to call them the Chosen 5. They won in an unprecedented, landslide victory. Why, it was so remarkable, that it was virtually divinely ordained.
Never before has a candidate for the Board of Directors won with a stunning total of nearly 142,000 votes. And never before has so much money been spent on candidates for the Sierra Club Board. The Club can now boast the very best, new directors that money can buy.
We know that an expensive mailing was sent to about 550,000 members. Many Chapter newsletters nationwide carried a message supporting the Chosen 5 -- in violation of the Club's bylaws and the California law. The problem is that we don't know exactly how much money was spent. We do know that printing and postage to such large lists costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Despite many questions to those directly involved, no one was willing to provide answers during the election. Some information is beginning to trickle out, but the figures we've heard so far may not tell the whole story. So, I estimate that reform candidates were outspent by as much as $1000: 1. After the first official report, all 9 reform candidates had spent a combined total of less than $500 on their own campaigns.
Did I mention that all candidates in the race agreed to a spending limit of $2,000 per candidate? But the Chosen 5 rose above that trivial commitment by getting others to spend undisclosed amounts on their elections, without having to do a thing. Someone orchestrated a bizarre independent expenditure-type campaign on which there are no limits and no reports. But my guess is that they spent close to half a million dollars.
So, let's calculate the cost per vote for the Chosen 5. The highest vote getter, Lisa Renstrom, got approximately 142,000 votes. Now, let's say that there was $500,000 spent for 142,000 votes -- that calculates out to $3.52 per vote or less than 1/3 of a vote per dollar spent. Even if Renstrom spent only half of the original amount estimated -- $250,000 -- that's $1.76 per vote, less than 2/3 of a vote per dollar spent.
As the vote totals go down, which they do for all of the remaining Chosen 5, the cost per vote goes up. Let's consider the cost for the lowest vote getter among the Chosen 5, Dave Karpf. He received about 111,000 votes. If $500,000 dollars were spent, that's $4.50 per vote and about 1/5 of a vote per dollar spent.
I was a candidate in the 2004 Sierra Club Board of Director's election. I spent a grand total of $27.95 on my election. I received 8,333 votes. That comes out to $.003 dollars per vote. I received 298 votes per dollar spent. If I had spent $250,000, I would have gotten about 75,000,000 -- yes, seventy five million votes.
If I had spent $500,000, at 298 votes per dollar, I would have received about one hundred and fifty million votes. Can we talk about unprecedented? That's nearly three times the number of votes needed to be elected President of the United States. Of course, there are not even that many members in the Club, so this is strictly an academic exercise, but you get the point.
Imagine the disappointment of a true right-winger like former Club Vice President and current Board member Chuck McGrady, if a reform candidate like me, who wanted strong environmental protection, spent $500,000 and were elected to the Board. McGrady resigned as the Club's Vice President during the election because as he said, "I'm tired of being rolled out to provide partisan cover for the Sierra Club. I'm unwilling to serve in any leadership position which might place me in the role of a spokesman for the Sierra Club in any strident attacks on President Bush."
Speaking of President of the United States, the Chosen 5 have nearly as much of a mandate as George W. Bush. Sadly for the Chosen 5 -- those electoral Goliaths -- the election is not over. Hey, didn't that happen to Bush too? This is getting eerie. While the results are in --- with a lawsuit pending over unfair election practices -- justice and truth may yet prevail.
This election was really about the old guard versus the reformers. The old guard wanted to maintain power for power's sake and perpetuate the status quo. Reformers want stronger protections, fewer compromises on environmental issues, and more grassroots involvement in the process.
Long-time Sierra Club leaders from across the nation joined together to challenge numerous illegal election practices employed this year in a desperate attempt by the old guard to hang on to their power. Unprecedented amounts of money were spent in an effort to keep reform candidates from prevailing in this election. One-sided campaign mailers and unfair election notices were allowed by election inspectors and then challenged in this lawsuit.
The old guard's tactics have been wildly successful to this point, but the judge in the lawsuit, the Honorable James L. Warren, at a preliminary injunction hearing on April 14, stated that he agreed with the plaintiff reformers that "the corporation, itself, cannot legally advance at members' cost, one list of candidates to the exclusion of others."
Judge Warren denied the old guard's motion, led by Club President Larry Fahn, to dismiss the lawsuit and stated, "I do believe that there is probably going to be a pretty good chance of success on the merits with respect to the claim that the Sierra Club has not properly given equal time to all of the candidates."
Incumbent, reform-oriented Board member Marcia Hanscom said, "Basic democratic principles of fairness and honesty were tossed aside in this election, leaving the most progressive candidates at a decided disadvantage. The candidates who want a stronger, more principled Sierra Club deserve an unbiased election, and apparently the Judge who will decide this case, agrees that fairness is required by the California corporation code."
The real story of this election is the need for a Board that exercises proper oversight, insists on holding elected officials of both major parties accountable, fights for tough environmental protection without compromise and consistently votes to support the important grassroots work our activists do in chapters and groups across the country.
Reformers will have their day in court and may get another chance to tell their story.
Copyright © 2004 Karyn Strickler, former executive director of the national Endangered Species Coalition and a reform candidate for the Sierra Club Board of Directors. Contact: www.karynstrickler.com or email@example.com