Our Interview with Brian Phillips (Part I)

The New Jersey Libertarian Party has been thrown into chaos in the last few months. Newly elected state chairman Brian Phillips claims to have uncovered a scandal involving the mishandling of membership dues.

A group of party officials responded to these charges by removing Phillips from his position, and now the party is in danger of splitting apart.

We had the opportunity to talk to Brian Phillips recently, and presented below is the first half of our interview. The second half will run tomorrow.

Third Party Watch: What are the root issues that have sparked this tremendous controversy within the New Jersey Libertarian Party?

Brian Phillips: For over twenty years the NJLP has had the same individuals in one office or another. As Libertarians we know that unchallenged power corrupts. Every year or so the offices would rotate but it was always the same individuals. My election as NJLP Chairman was a shock to the status quo and to the group that somehow regarded the NJLP as their private and personal property. From the day of my election as Chairman there was an unwillingness to work with me and the two other members of my slate who were elected to the NJLP Steering Committee.

As NJLP Chairman I had to right under the bylaws to make appointments to various internal party positions and committees. I felt that my election was a clear mandate for change. I proceeded to appoint individuals to various posts with whom I felt that I could work with and who agreed with my stated objective to transform the NJLP into a major political party within a decade or less. To do so I felt some changes in the appointments of the Chaoir were needed.

Here is an example of poor administration: The NJLP has not updated its platform in over eight years! In the years 1997/1998 NJLP membership was over 1000 in the NJLP had active county organizations in 14 of the states 24 counties. In 2005 membership is under 450 and the NJLP has county organizations in only 4 counties. When I suggested any change I met with cries of protest from what I call the party owners.

Since the day of my election as NJLP Chairman I was denied any information concerning the finances or banking information. I repeatedly asked for this information, but was rebuffed.

Within less than a month after my election as Chairman at our March convention, a current member of the Steering Committee sent me a list of items concerning agenda items for unfinished business. One item he wanted to schedule discussion on was a withholding of national LP dues. These national LP dues had been paid by members who wanted to begin or renew their national LP membership. It was apparent that the funds were not promptly handed over. In addition the Steering Committee member forwarded to me emails which indicated that the prior NJLP Steering Committee conducted much of its business via email. What was provided to me indicated motions proposed, seconded and votes taken. One such vote was to withhold the payment of monies received from individuals for national LP membership.

Somehow what I had read seemed wrong. I could see no way that the NJLP had a right to withhold funds it did not own, to prevent members from joining the national LP and to freely associate. Moreover, the illegal vote to withhold these funds was never recorded in any minutes nor was the same reported to any NJLP State Board meeting or to the recent NJLP convention. In the email the Steering Committee member sent to me suggested this item for discussion he clearly stated that if this withholding became known to members “there could be trouble.”

Meanwhile, I had received emails from members who complained that they had paid their national LP dues but they were not receiving copies of the monthly LP News, an internal LP publication. Many members also emailed me that they paid both their national LP and NJLP dues and their checks were never cashed until three or four months after mailing. To me something seemed wrong.

The prior NJLP leaders had never appointed legal counsel. I sought independent legal counsel. That counsel advised me that as the legal President of the corporation under NJ law that I was obligated to inform the membership, to instruct that the monies withheld be turned over to the national LP immediately and to conduct an internal investigation by the appointment of a special committee. I immediately instructed the NJLP Treasurer to release any monies being withheld. He refused to do so.

When I tried to appoint a internal and independent NJLP committee to investigate what I call “duesgate” my efforts were thwarted. Meanwhile I was receiving even more complaints from NJLP members who were demanding that I either do something or that I resign.

As I was refused any financial information concerning the NJLP and was prevented from appointing a committee to investigate I once again consulted independent legal counsel. I was advised that under NJ law that as President of the corporation I was obligated to report this matter to the office of the NJ Attorney General. I did so and that investigation continues. I am also aware that some members affected by the wrongful withholding may have reported this matter to the US Attorney for possible mail fraud.

Many NJLP officials urged me to cover up for the good of the party. I could not do so and so efforts were made by the criminal cabal that thinks it owns and controls the state party to remove and silence me. As a Libertarian I hold that there can only be true liberty with full responsibility for our actions. Those who lied to and deceived members of the NJLP must also be held accountable to their actions. The “Party of Principle” must act like it has some left to adhere to. Somehow an insane criminal cabal has siezed control of the NJLP. The members must reclaim it.

Third Party Watch: Do you believe that the “old guard” was actually profiting from this situation in some way, or was it simply a case of incompetence on their part?

Brian Phillips: I prefer to refer to them as the “party owners.” No, I do not think they did this for profit.

Apparently they did this in protest over what they regarded as problems with a new national LP database. The NJLP collects $25 from members for national LP dues. It retains $15 and should forward $10 per member to the national LP. There is no way to determine how many members were affected by the withholding without an independent audit of the party’s books. The NJLP has never had an independent audit. Perhaps now I understand why an independent audit was never perfomed.

When I contacted the national LP they had no idea that the NJLP was withholding any dues and were unaware of any protest. The national LP stated that they failed to notice the sharp decline in LP membership renewals from New Jersey. The national LP Chairman, Michael Dixon issued a statement to this effect and demanded that the NJLP hand over any national dues monies it was holding withhout delay.

The defense that has been put forward by the party owners is that given the poor services from the national LP that a withholding was justified. I remain puzzled that they conducted this without informing the members affected, the NJLP State Board, the March NJLP Convention and somehow they neglected even to record the same in the minutes of the Steering Committee. Frankly, I do not understand why this was done and to what end and purpose. That is why I refer to this act as one undertaken by the criminally insane. It just makes no sense whatsoever.

During the time this withholding began there were indications that the national LP dues may increase from the present $25 to $50. Some may have been upset at this proposal and used the occasion to make a silent protest. A possible increase in national LP dues is still and matter of much debate within the party.

Remember what I said before in that power when unchallenged and a long standing regime does abuse becomes naturally arrogant. While Libertarians can see the beniefit of term limits for Congress we seen unable to apply the same sound principle to our internal party government.

Third Party Watch: Has the national party commented on this divide or taken any steps to support either side?

Brian Phillips: I have been disappointed in the limited role the national LP has played in this matter. The national LP has used the rationale that this is just a internal factional dispute within an affiliate. I disagree. The withholding of national LP dues paid in New Jersey was done without the knowledge and consent of the members. Those members who paid their national dues were denied the right to associate with the national LP and to receive the benefits of membership. The national LP should have clearly condemned this.

Furthermore, the action taken by the NJLP party owners while being illegal was also a blatant use of force and a a clear of power. That also warranted the outright condemnation of the national LP.

When I became aware of the “duesgate scandal” I kept the LP Chair, Michael Dixon, closely informed of all developments. I informed him of the fact that I was blocked from conducting any internal investigation and that I was obligated under NJ law as President of the NJLP, Incorporated of advising the legal authorities. I asked Mr. Dixon outright if he disagreed or had other advice. He said he had none and he actually commended me for my efforts. That is way I find it amazing that some in the LP have loudly condemned the fact that I advised the New Jersey Attorney General of this matter.

I honestly feel let down and disppointed by the role of the LP national Chairman, Michael Dixon and by the refusal of the Libertarian National Committee to even comment on this matter. Somehow I feel betrayed and stabbed in the back.

Check back on Thursday for Part 2 of our interview.

7 Responses to “Our Interview with Brian Phillips (Part I)”

  1. Housewife Says:

    Great blog. Welcome. I look forward to reading Part 2. Very nice.

  2. Austin Cassidy Says:

    Housewife: Thanks very much! :)

  3. Rich Says:

    Brian Said - “Meanwhile, I had received emails from members who complained that they had paid there national LP dues but they were not receiving copies of the monthly LP News, an internal LP publication. Many members also emailed me that they paid both their national LP and NJLP dues and their checks were never cashed until three or four months after mailing. To me something seemed wrong.”

    Something was indeed wrong, but it was nothing on the part of the NJLP leadership. From the May General Meeting minutes:

    “Dues Issues with National LP: Lou Stefanelli, NJLP Treasurer, reported to the membership about the problems with the National LP. He said that last summer’s May/June check to National was deposited, but the members listed on the accompanying report were never processed. National failed to deposit checks for July and November 2004. Lou has received no response from National regarding the April 29, 2005 letter he sent to Michael Dixon, National LP Chair, listing the problems noted above. Stefanelli included a check and membership report with his letter.”

    So National had not been processing the NJLP members for about a year.

    Brian did nothing to resolve this issue. Instead he made attacks upon hard working volunteers of the NJLP because of a $400 payment that was delayed by three months.

    At the well puclicized and well attended General Meeting the members removed him unanimously. Also from that meetings minutes:

    “Motion by Elizabeth Macron to remove Brian J. Phillips as Chair of the NJLP:

    MR. CHAIRMAN: I PRESENT A MOTION TO REMOVE MR. BRIAN J. PHILLIPS FROM HIS POSITION AS CHAIR OF THE NJLP.

    Mr. Brian J. Phillips was narrowly elected Chair on March 19 of this year. Since that time, he has shown by his actions and words that he is ill suited to the role of Chair. The Steering Committee called this General Meeting to consider removing Mr. Phillips from office, as he is unfit to serve. Mr. Phillips began by attacking key volunteers. For example, he threatened to “fire” our Newsletter Editor, Deb Sackett; our Membership Coordinator, Robert Hull, and our Convention Organizer, Jay Edgar. He presumed that his position as Chair gave him the power to run the party single-handedly.

    In addition to threatening to “fire” hardworking volunteers, he has attempted to make appointments without the approval of the State Board or Steering Committee, in violation of the By-Laws.

    Mr. Phillips has attempted to close or restrict access to party meetings, change meeting locations on inadequate notice, cancel meetings and change the Party’s business rules- without the required advice and approval of the Steering Committee or the consent of the State Board.

    Mr. Phillips has made defamatory communications to our members, to the National Party, to Liberty For All, to JerseyPolitics.com and to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office.

    Mr. Phillips has written open letters to the NJLP membership wherein he refers to myself, Mr. Stefanelli, Mr. & Mrs. Flynn, Mr. Ellett and Mr. Hull as “animal waste,” and “fetid feces.” He says we are an “insane criminal cabal.” I am informed that several members have removed unsubscribed to the Announce list because of Mr. Philips’ venomous and disturbing communications.

    Since Mr. Phillips has come into office we have seen the resignation of Darren Young and Tom Abrams, two long term activists who, after years of involvement and campaigning, now say the NJLP is “hopeless.” Since Mr. Phillips has come into office we have seen the resignation of Darren Young and Tom Abrams, two long term activists who, after years of involvement and campaigning, now say the NJLP is “hopeless.” Mr. Phillips has claimed that there are 30 to 50 members of this party who are so angry they will only communicate with him. None of these 30 to 50 people have ever been named, nor have they ever shown up at any meetings. And, notwithstanding their claimed existence and anger, Mr. Phillips elsewhere laments that he stands alone. He asserts that the entire party membership is apathetic, complacent and deluded by the “criminals” who have been running the party for 25 years. If Mr. Phillips continues as Chair, this party and its candidates will be crippled. Accordingly, I speak in favor of his removal from office.

    Motion passed unanimously (36-0)”

  4. Douglas E. Says:

    It is a shame when disputes like this pop up in parties that are already so small that they don’t even have any influence. How are we supposed to be able to take on the Demopublicans if we can’t even get along ourselves?

  5. Rich Says:

    Doug,

    While it derailed the NJLP for a short period, it really isn’t much of an issue. The fact that a late payment of $400 was made an issue of just goes to show that the NJLP is a party of principle. This molehill of a problem was blown way out of proportion, the members listened to both sides of the story, and decided it was a molehill, that Brian was in the wrong, and they acted accordingly.

    The Demopublicans on the other hand can mismange millions of dollars and no one even bats an eye.

    The issue did affect the party’s leadership ability to concentrate on getting candidates on the ballot. We probably would have had many more assembly candidates on the ballot than the seven we have now. On the other hand perhaps it just weeded out assembly candidate who were not willing to work hard?

    We do have an excellent gubernatorial candidate, Jeffrey Pawlowski. Its time for the voters of NJ to stop allowing the state to be run by the big party bosses. NJ is full of political corruptioon and patronage jobs.

    http://pawlowskiforgovernor.org

    Rich

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