Democratic Party leaders, concerned about public perception that their party is too much the captive of special interests, yesterday abolished the seven established caucus groups as official elements of the Democratic National Committee.
The DNC Executive Committee passed a resolution making it easier for DNC members to hold informal caucuses at party events but revoking official recognition of the DNC's Black, Women's, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific, Liberal/Progressive, Lesbian and Gay, and Business and Professional caucuses.
The action does not affect the representation of the Black, Women's and Hispanic caucuses on the Executive Committee, however. Those caucuses are guaranteed at least one Executive Committee seat under party by-laws, which can be changed only by the full DNC.
Some members of those caucuses are apprehensive that the Executive Committee's action might be the first step toward eliminating their seats on that panel, but party officials tried to quell these fears.
"The blacks, women and Hispanics are protected by the by-laws," said Rachelle Horowitz of the District of Columbia, an Executive Committee and Women's Caucus member. "The by-laws would have to be changed, and anyone can vote against that . . . some seemed worried about representation on the Executive Committee, but I have heard no proposal for reorganizing it."
"I think it's an abomination," said Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), a Black Caucus member. "The caucuses have been a means for blacks and Hispanics to participate and generate interest in the party, and this is going to stifle them."
Party officials conceded that yesterday's resolution was passed partly to halt the recent proliferation of caucuses that was the unintended result of a 1982 Executive Committee resolution. It enabled DNC members to form a caucus by getting the signatures of at least 38, or 10 percent, of the 377 DNC members and submitting a statement of purpose.
That was supposed to limit the administrative load on the DNC secretary's office, but it led to the formation of the Lesbian and Gay, Asian-Pacific, Liberal/Progressive, and Business and Professional caucuses plus the prospect of several more, all of which were pressing for Executive Committee seats.
DNC Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., the architect of the move, said the reason for the resolution is to end discrimination against groups such as the elderly, farmers and others who wanted to hold caucuses at party meetings but couldn't get the 10 percent membership-petition required for DNC assistance.
"I like the idea that ad hoc groups can come together without forming a lifetime, permanent arrangement," Horowitz said. "This makes it easier for a group to get a room without institutionalizing itself."
There was considerable confusion about the consequences of the resolution, some of it caused inadvertently by Kirk. It stemmed from the enhanced status of the Black, Women's and Hispanic caucuses because of their guranteed Executive Committee seats.
"There will be no change in the rights and privileges of those caucuses," Kirk said at the beginning of the brief debate on the resolution in response to a question by C. Dolores Tucker, the Executive Committee's Black Caucus representative.
Yesterday's resolution enables any group of 10 or more DNC members to get administrative and logistic support from the DNC in caucusing during official party events but specifies that such meetings will not be included as part of the official agenda.
After yesterday's meeting, Tucker said Kirk had assured her that these provisions would not apply to the Black, Women's and Hispanic caucuses.
Kirk also said the Black, Women's and Hispanic caucuses "are still officially recognized."
But, about two hours later, a DNC spokesmen said the action had "revoked the official recognition of all caucuses" and that blacks, women and Hispanics would have to go through the same procedures as everyone else to hold caucuses