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(another, smaller) Stolen Election

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LOS ANGELES, 16 November 2007--Six years ago, listeners to a progressive radio network called Pacifica settled a lawsuit that allowed KPFK members to elect representatives to their local station board, and through them, to determine who sat on the Pacifica National Board. The demand for democracy was an eruption against a board of directors that considered selling one of the stations to finance a string of smaller Black stations in the South. The settlement instituted the first democratically-run radio network in the U.S., another groundbreaking advance in the network's long history. Such are the vagaries of democracy.

stolen-election-large.jpgToday, that democratic outburst has fallen victim to a single slate of candidates supported by "The Committee to Strengthen KPFK," a powerful amalgam of Local Station Board members, station staff, and new faces, and endorsed by attorney Carol Spooner, one of the key figures in the original effort to democratize Pacifica. And they have injected the influence of a financed election and Democratic Party politics into an institution that prides itself on being "powered by the people." The Committee and procedural violations threaten to confuse and discourage candidates, and endanger the quorum necessary for election certification.

Lack of oversight, improper procedures, and an insider Committee so arrogant that rules seem meant to be broken, are spreading a viscous taint on the credibility of any election outcome. At the same time, a blackout on election violations is so thorough, the determination to make quorum so overpowering after the near-failure of previous elections, that much of the electorate is unaware that infractions have occurred. Even candidates who file complaints receive, at most and only occasionally, an acknowledgment that their complaint has been received.

Already, in the fifth week of the campaign, the Committee To Strengthen KPFK has wantonly violated several of the eleven simple rules laid out for fair elections. The KPFK andidate webpages and broadcast archives, under the control of Committee member and tation webmaster Ali Lexa, been used for numerous inequities in publishing candidate information. And the procedures and timetable of election events distributed to the candidates and posted on the station website for voters has been altered with little or no notification to the voters and the candidates. To date, no sanctions have been announced to repair the damage to independent candidates or to inform the voters.

In spite of its long list of rules violations, the Committee didn't hesitate to inject the election with the influence of privately financed campaigning, purchasing a high-gloss, multi-colored mailer sent to KPFK members, at a cost of $6,000 to $7,000 according to Committee director and candidate Grace Aaron, even as the donation-based station suffers a marked downturn in contributions. The Committee To Strengthen KPFK has taken the first step to becoming a non-profit corporation itself, by affiliation with the International Humanities Center, which has adopted the Committee as one of its projects, providing the group with a tax shelter and anonymity for its donor or donors.

The Pacifica National Board, recognizing the serious disadvantage the mailer poses to low- and moderate-income independent candidates, and that "spending of large sums of money in Pacifica campaigns runs counter to the noncommercial nature of the Pacifica Radio Network while underscoring the discriminatory nature of campaign financing so prevalent and objectionable in mainstream elections," moved on November 1 to begin a process to find remediation for the disadvantaged candidates. The discussion of specific remedies began at the KPFK Local Station Board meeting on Wednesday, November 7. Candidate Jubilee Shine told the local board, "I am here to represent workers. I'm a roofer and a union activist. I couldn't get $7,000 for a flyer for this campaign. I couldn't raise $300." In order to implement the remedies, the board discussed the possibility of a further election delay, to December 21.

lady justice in ropes Aaron formed the Committee to spearhead a campaign to remove progressive, lesbian, and African general manager Eva Georgia in light of a sexual harassment suit filed against her and the network. In July, the Committee presented a petition calling for her removal to the Pacifica National Board, the culmination of a five-year campaign to oust Georgia with a plethora of accusations that began even before a staffer denied her the keys to her office when Georgia officially took over leadership of the station. The Committee invited local media to the board meeting held in Los Angeles, and the event was reported in the LA Times. Throughout the summer, the press was fed accusations, and articles without context appeared in the LA Weekly (twice), where reporters salivated over the charges of Black lesbian sexual misconduct. Meanwhile, the PNB, the CEO, and the CFO stood behind Georgia with unreported public statements of support. The lawsuit is still pending, and Pacifica insiders seem confident that Georgia will be vindicated in court.

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Aaron chaired the LSB in 2006 until her term ended and she was voted out. During her tenure, she forced the local board into numerous closed sessions to present sundry charges against Georgia. One, an expense report purported to show Georgia's misuse of station funds but discredited by the Pacifica CFO, Lonny Hicks, was circulated widely among station staff despite its confidentiality. Aaron, along with Committee members and the slate's other two returning candidates, Lamont Yeakey and Donna Warren, during earlier elections were members of a slate known as Progressives for Independent, Responsible Community Radio. PIRCR and slates at other stations in the network were organized by Spooner from Pacifica members who had opposed ensuring elected representation for underrepresented communities in the new Pacifica Bylaws. The Committee To Strengthen KPFK and Spooner, after roundly condemning Georgia for bringing a lawsuit down on the network, are contemplating their own lawsuit against Pacifica for refusing to include their partisan mailer with the ballot mailing, according to Committee member Ian Masters in his November 4 broadcast (since edited out of the archived version of the broadcast).

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Slate members Ricco Ross, Linda Sutton, Dan Wang, and Ahjamu Makalani, according to their election materials, are all active in the Progressive Democrats of America, a faction of the Democratic Party, raising alarm bells about mainstream party funding and takeover of the "fiercely independent" radio station. Makalani, who has moved from the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party to vice chair of the Progressive Democrats, explained that they were supporting John Edwards in the national elections because, "Kucinich wasn't a viable candidate."

Other Committee candidates include Aaron, Summer Reese, Donna Warren, Lamont Yeakey, Lich Doan, Sarkis Ghazarian, Sergio Monteiro, and Shel Plotkin. Popular radio show hosts Shawn Casey O'Brien, Don Bustany, and Eben Rey are running with on the Committee ticket for staff seats on the local board. Meanwhile, candidates without insider connections, largely newcomers to KPFK's election process, are left to slug their way through the morass of confusion, violations, and unannounced changes, in what is turning out to be something akin to a no rules wrestling match.

The elections are supposed to operate under the terms the new Pacifica Bylaws and the summaries provided to candidates in the 2007 Fair Campaign Provisions for Listener Candidates and for Programmers, Staff and Management, with the enforcement of the National Election Supervisor, Casey Peters, and Local Elections Supervisor, Liliana Sanchez.

The Violations

Apparent violations by the Committee to date include:
  • The Committee To Strengthen KPFK was provided with access to a mailing house and the use of the KPFK membership list held by that mailing house, while many other candidates were unaware that such a service was available and nearly all are unable to afford those services. That list was used to send a mailer endorsing those candidates to the voters, unduly affecting the outcome of the election.
  • The Committee To Strengthen KPFK used a website for four weeks that had "KPFK" in its URL, in direct violation of a prohibition against using the station call letters in an election-related URL.
  • Ian Masters, program host and signatory to The Committee To Strengthen KPFK, in his broadcast of October 14 concluded that some candidates did not adhere to the mission of the Foundation, a clear disparagement of the candidates and violation of the rules for programmers.
  • Masters during his broadcast of November 4 called some candidates "psychotic," while he deemed The Campaign To Strengthen KPFK "sane" and "reasonable,", alleged that "pinche ethno-fascists" were disrupting the elections with "lots of race-baiting." (The archived version of this broadcast was edited to remove the offending remarks.)
  • Jon Wiener, program host and signatory to The Committee To Strengthen KPFK, included a hyperlink on his show's webpage from the KPFK website to his personal website , where he endorses the Committee slate. Campaign rules prohibit using the station website to link to any endorsement.
  • Lich Doan is running as a listener candidate although he was regularly announced as assistant producer for Background Briefing from June 1 to August 31, and he continues to be announced as the assistant producer for that show, giving him regular on-air name recognition and disadvantaging candidates without similar access to the airwaves. Candidates are disqualified for listener seats after 30 hours of work for the station in the three months prior to the start of the campaign.
  • Ajhamu Makalini, a write-in candidate according to The Campaign To Strengthen KPFK, did not have the requisite fifteen signatures for his nomination form but has been allowed to participate in the on-air and in-person forums.
KPFK website and archives inequities:
  • Candidate Lich Doan's statement included two references to his endorsement by Masters for the first month it was posted, an unfair advantage to candidates who did not use staff services to promote their candidacies. Staff services are forbidden to candidates.
  • Candidates Bayard Condon and Jubilee Shine have their names inaccurately posted on the website, and Joaquin Cienfuego's name is misspelled on the ballot, so that their names on the website do not match their names as listed on the ballot.
  • Candidates Bayard Condon, Reza Pour, Schyna Pour, and Alise Sochaczewski's answers to the candidate's questionnaire have not been posted on the station website, while other candidates' answers have been available for weeks.
  • The English on-air candidate forums for November 1 was not posted to the archives of station broadcasts until November 5 and the Spanish forum of the same date is still not available, although the forums for October 30 and 31 were available immediately after broadcast.
  • The English-language forum of October 29 as originally posted edited out the responses of candidate Leslie Radford, and, when that was brought the attention of the Local Election Supervisor, the forum was hyperlinked to a non-existent file.
  • Candidate Lawrence Reyes' email address and telephone number, included in his candidate statement, were not included in the station website posting of his statement, and candidate Radford's website was not included in the station posting of her statement, and these inequities continued for weeks into the campaign. Other candidates' statements that included email contacts and website addresses, notably addresses to the Committee's website, were posted properly.
Procedural infractions:
  • The deadline to submit ballots was moved to November 26, but not all voters have been notified of the extension, so that some voters inevitably returned their ballots on the date indicated on the ballot without access to all information about the candidates or remedies of grievances that may occur after the original ballot deadline. The extension of the deadline also shortens the time to extend the election to assure a quorum, endangering the elections altogether.
  • Unannounced changes to the published timetable, including more than a week's delay in mailing the ballots, delaying the on-air candidates' forums, delaying broadcast of the candidates' on-air announcements, and extending the return date for ballots, have caused some candidates hardship in planning an election campaign.
  • No announcements have been made to the candidates of election events, changes to the election materials and election deadlines, any sanctions resulting from election violations, or the Pacifica National Board motion regarding elections passed and referred to committee, so that candidates are reliant on word of mouth to participate fully in the election process. Links from Pacifica's homepage to Election News in English and Election News in Spanish lead to Washington, DC candidate statement.
  • No time has been provided for a question-and-answer call-in period between candidates and station listeners as required by the Bylaws. (Since this originally posted, the election deadline has now been extended to December 11 to allow for call-ins.)
  • Until November 5, no carts were aired regarding any election events, election materials, election deadlines, or any sanctions resulting from election violations, so that voters are denied timely election information and reminders on the airwaves, endangering informed voting and making a quorum.
  • November 5, although the election timeline requires that broadcast begin immediately after the fund drive which ended on October 20.
  • English-language forums will be rebroadcast while Spanish-language broadcasts will not, and neither candidate statements nor ballots are available in languages other than English.
  • In-person candidate forums have been announced on the air only a handful of times, the announcements occurred only a day or two prior to the forum, and the address of the first in-person candidate forum was not posted on the station website until some hours before the forum, while announcements directed voters to that website for the address of the forum.
  • The Local Election Supervisor appointed candidate Grace Aaron to convene the first in-person candidate forum and refused to intervene when that forum became contentious. The Local Election Supervisor did not attend the second candidate forum, leaving the host to moderate the event. In both cases, the lack of leadership diminished candidates' communication with voters.
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