Unity08 is a bi-partisan coalition of dissatisfied Democrats and Republicans determined to change the way political parties do business. Despite high profile and big money founders, the coalition has not garnered much media attention and even the political columnists and internet bloggers have been largely silent about the growing group.
Unity08 has already hit one hurdle in its unprecedented bi-partisan plan to elect a joint Democrat-Republican ticket (or vice versa) for President and Vice-President in 2008. The Federal Elections Commission has imposed a cap on contributions the coalition can raise and has denied it "national committee" status.
Members of the Unity08 Advisory Council include former Republican governor of Massachusetts William Weld and former Independent governor of Maine Angus King. A prominent member of the Founders' Council is Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter's chief of staff. A number of other founders and advisors come from business and academic posts.
Although the mainstream media has been ignoring Unity08 the effort has been raising money, hiring technology-savvy activists, developing a litigation team, and actually preparing to run a presidential candidate in 2008.
Unity08's website explains that the coalition is focused on a White House ticket in 2008, no other offices or future plans are contemplated. The legal hurdles faced by the group are enormous as most state election codes do not contemplate such political arrangements and many have inequitable laws that impose heavy burdens on start-up political parties.
Although Unity08 organizers come from the two major parties, and retain their party memberships, they will need to form a new political party in many states to gain ballot access. Already Unity08 has sought recognition as a political party in Mississippi and is preparing a similar filing in Florida.
Intending to hold an internet convention in July 2008 to select candidates, Unity08 organizers are finding the rush by the major parties to move up their presidential primary elections puts the task of building a new party on a fast track.
One of the chief goals of Unity08 is to give a "little jolt of reality" to the major parties about the growing dissatisfaction of the general public with the Republicans and Democrats and business as usual. However, if Unity08 is able to build momentum and create a new paradigm for American elections it must expect legal challenges similar to those faced by Ralph Nader in 2004 when the Democrats took Nader to court in 34 states.
This past weekend Unity08 sent a representative to New York for the annual meeting of the Coalition for Free and Open Elections. COFOE is a 22 year-old ballot access organization made up of the Green Party, the Constitution Party, the Libertarian Party, the Socialist Party, the Committee for a Unified Independent President, and the Reform Party. Reaching out to COFOE, the initial efforts at securing state ballot lines, and the legal challenge to the Federal Elections Commission all signal a serious effort to mount a presidential campaign next year.
Those who scoff at the idea of a bi-partisan ticket might consider New Hampshire where, in addition to the Democrats, Republicans and lone Independent, twenty-two state legislators call themselves Democrat-Republicans. An additional fourteen representatives call themselves Republican-Democrats. Altogether, three dozen state legislators in New Hampshire carry a bi-partisan label.
Although the media hasn't been watching Unity08 closely, the leadership of the two major parties has been paying attention. One indicator of Unity08's tough legal hurdles ahead are comments that have been posted on an influential election law listserve discussion group. Law professor Rick Hasen at Loyola University facilitates the nation's leading election law internet chat group which often acts as a barometer of upcoming litigation. Unity08 has caught the attention of the campaign finance lawyers with its battle against the FEC over contributions and pointed listserve commentary suggests that Unity08's legal problems may only just be getting started. If Unity08 is perceived as a threat to the established order, as Ralph Nader was seen by the Democrats in 2004, then litigation can be expected in any state it seeks ballot access in. The "little jolt of reality" that Unity08 wanted to share with the Republicans and Democrats might soon, instead, be visited upon itself.