Election 2016: The Perils of Political Welfare

Editorial

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By Thomas L. Knapp

Libertarians have traditionally opposed calls for “public financing” of elections, as well as the current system under which candidates can receive “matching funds” from the Federal Election Commission. In 1996, Libertarian Party nominee-apparent Harry Browne mused about applying for such funding, refusing to commit one way or another until, at the party’s national convention, someone in the crowd screamed “SAY IT! SAY IT!” at him and he begrudgingly announced he wouldn’t seek a government welfare check. And that was the end of that … for the next 16 years, anyway

When former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson dropped out of the 2012 Republican nomination contest and sought the Libertarian nomination instead, some party activists were concerned about his campaign debt (as of April 2012) of about $150,000. No problem, said Johnson. He’d qualify for matching funds and pay off that debt.

Qualify he did, receiving more than $600,000 in political welfare. But it turned out his actual debt had been six times as much as originally reported — more than a million dollars — and his campaign committee ended the general election campaign more than $1.5 million in debt.

In 2016, Johnson is back for a second run on the Libertarian ticket and is thus far the closest thing to a media darling the party has ever enjoyed.

But the $1.5 million debt remains unpaid. And on April 5, the Federal Election Commission notified Johnson and his campaign that it wants a good chunk of that 2012 welfare check back. It deems more than $330,000 in “matching funds” to have been improperly spent. The campaign has 30 days to cough up.

What was shaping up as a banner year for a credible third party presidential campaign seems to be going south for Gary Johnson — and for the Libertarian Party, if it nominates him next month at its national convention in Orlando.

Fortunately, the party has other options. Among others, software tycoon John McAfee, libertarian talk radio host Darryl W. Perry, and former Fox producer Austin Petersen have offered themselves up as presidential prospects.

As a long-time partisan Libertarian, I’d hate to see my party set itself up to come in a distant fourth place this November, behind likely Green Party nominee Jill Stein. That’s already a distinct possibility given the likelihood that Bernie Sanders’s supporters will desert a Hillary Clinton Democratic campaign for Stein. It will get a lot more likely if the Libertarian Party nominates a political welfare queen who can’t balance his campaign’s checkbook.

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Thomas Knapp

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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