« Wireless at ALA Midwinter | Main | LISNews10K: Join the Fun! »

December 04, 2003

ALA Campaign Endorsements

As a Councilor, I have an obligation to be up front about my own position on the issue I'm about to discuss. In a nutshell, this stinks.

The ALA Council list has had a flurry of posting activity related to the question of internal candidate endorsements, starting with a resolution posted by a current candidate for ALA president that if approved at Midwinter would allow divisions and roundtables to endorse candidates, and would further allow divisions and candidates to spend their funds to promote their picks.

It's good for ALA to clarify its position with respect to candidate endorsements (and versions of the resolution have been subsequently adopted by ALA members without such blatant conflicts). This came up, in fact, because a roundtable wanted to spend its funds to promote a candidate.

This is painted as a "free speech" issue by some, but I see the original proposal (passionately supported by a determined cadre) as a major disenfranchisement of ALA members.

ALA is already highly politicized, and has a lot of power and decision-making concentrated at the division and office level, and operates on a relatively modest budget for such a large association (as we are repeatedly advised when we ask for new electronic services).

We are constantly told that our membership dollars go to support key legal issues, literacy activities, and improvements to member services. Do you want your ALA dues diverted to annual campaigns? Is that what you paid for?

We are also told that every member counts. Not in this model of misrepresentation, where a handful of people at the divisional level would be able to provide massive leverage to the "company candidate." Candidates, in turn, would be forced to spend far too much time courting endorsements from key divisions in order to get elected.

We are told this is important for communication. If ALA really cared about sharing information about election candidates, it would try harder to connect candidates with members. There are so many cheap, easy tools for this these days. I proposed a candidates' blog as a very reasonable forum that many of us could "attend." We only get a few hundred or maybe a couple thousand people at an ALA candidates' forum. It's 2003, folks. Howard Dean does it; why can't we?

It's my sneaking suspicion that for some time some of the ALA muckety-mucks have been trying to figure ways to replicate the effect of the former practice of announcing only nominated candidates for ALA president and other offices. Once upon a time (the practice only ended in the last five years), petition candidates weren't announced; only those candidates anointed by the inner circle were presented as "the" candidates. Naturally, this provided a huge edge to these candidates, and sure enough, when this practice ended and ALA had to announce all candidates, nominated or petition, the nominated candidates lost their edge. (I crunched through some election results a year or two ago to demonstrate that.)

I support the idea that divisions, roundtables, and other units will neutrally announce "their" candidates. I'm also resigned to the fact that many units will implicitly endorse candidates (or as recently seen at a state conference, rather explicitly, in all but short of a coronation). But as official ALA practice? With funding, to boot?

I like Janet Swan Hill's response, to someone who wondered what other organizations did, that we are not like other organizations and that's a good thing. Let's stay good. Let's use our funds to fight the good fights, let's use our time and energy toward good works, and let's stay the hell away from anything smacking of summer-camp wars--for goodness' sake.

But never mind about me. What do YOU think?

Posted by kgs at December 4, 2003 12:00 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


You don't really have to ask, but since you did:

When I was LITA Newsletter editor, for that brief nine years, I deliberately never "announced" LITA members running for ALA council--because it would have been, in effect, an implicit LITA endorsement, and I didn't think that was appropriate.

I was then, and continue to be, saddened by the other divisions that do publish such lists (including one very large division that always has a very large number of candidates), and in some cases even suggest that members should steer their votes toward those candidates. I continue to be pleased that, as far as I know, LITA hasn't done so.

(Of course, the utter lack of campaigning for LITA offices--at least in my time--doesn't hurt either. In both cases when I ran for LITA president, it was "against" a good friend; in the case when I ran for LITA Board, it was among a group of respected colleagues.)

I think use of divisional or round table funds to support candidates is a terrible idea, for the reasons you state. I have a sneaking idea what round table might be involved, and it's one I avoid at all costs, but even if I'm wrong, the answer's the same: It's a really negative use of dues money.

(Fair warning to avid campaigners: All else being equal, I'll avoid voting for the candidates with the most active campaigns. I don't think I'm alone.)

Posted by: Walt Crawford at December 5, 2003 09:26 AM

I've been reading the ALA Council posts on this matter. I have assumed up to this point that this was an issue of certain members of the Social Responsibilities Round Table, which posts lists of its members. Now, Walt says there's also a large division that also posts lists of its members.

ALA's Sr. Assoc. Exec. Director Mary Ghikas posted to the Council list a reference to the election rules of the American Society of Public Administration. She wasn't promoting ASPA's rules per se, but among their rules are the following:

(a) There is no prohibition against endorsements of candidates by sections, chapters, individuals, or groups of individuals.
(b) No national ASPA money may be used to promote any candidacy.
(f) Members of chapters and/or sections must be notified on a timely basis relative to election endorsements made by chapter council and section executive committees and any expenditure of funds for the promotion of candidates.
(g) Any ad or general membership mailing shall prominently state the source of funding for the promotional device: chapter, section, ASPA committee, candidate's election committee, candidate's own funds, or funds collected on behalf of the candidate.
(h) Chapters, sections, candidates, or candidate election committees purchasing ASPA mailing labels and/or e-mail lists for purposes of promoting a member's candidacy shall be charged the ASPA rates for mailing labels.

This is clearly a different organizational culture surrounding elections from what ALA has always been, despite the listings of candidates by SRRT and the division to which Walt refers. I for one do not want ALA to move in this direction.

Posted by: Skip Auld at December 5, 2003 10:13 PM

As a clueless newbie (member since late 2001) ... my uninformed opinion is: I agree with the positions taken in the post, in principle.

In fact ... well, I haven't voted for an ALA president yet. Because I have no idea who or what I'm voting for. I've never been an ALA candidate forum (because I've never been to an ALA conference), and the position papers seem very ... abstract.

ALA Treasurer candidates are even more of a mystery. And when it comes to Councilors, I've tried going with whatever name I recognize and whoever belongs to the same RTs I do or divisions/offices I have an affinity with. But I don't send the ballot in because, in truth, I haven't a clue as to what I'm doing. I'd rather not vote than be an uninformed voter, and I don't know how to get sufficiently informed.

I'm 100% behind the candidacy blog ...

Posted by: Eli at December 7, 2003 09:36 PM

OK, I shouldn't be so coy: ACRL includes a list of Council candidates who are ACRL members, in C&RL News--and explicitly encourages ACRL members to vote for those candidates. E.g., from the March 2003 issue:

"The following ACRL members are either nominated or petition candidates for ALA councilor in the spring 2003 election. ACRL members are encouraged to vote for these candidates to increase ACRL’s voice in ALA affairs."

(You can see it here, if the link doesn't break:

[Or Google "C&RL News" and go to the March 2003 issue.]

That's a use of ACRL funds, at least indirectly via printing costs, to promote ACRL members in the ALA council races.

I didn't name them originally because I'm fairly sure other divisions do likewise--I just don't see their publications as often.

Posted by: Walt Crawford at December 9, 2003 10:38 AM