Gary Johnson

Libertarian Complaints that Gary Johnson Didn't Handle his 2012 Campaign Finances Correctly

A book-length critique from longtime Libertarian George Phillies argues the party didn't know the truth about campaign debt, and that Johnson spent too much on staff and not enough on "outreach." Gary Johnson responds.

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Gary Johnson's 2012 campaign didn't manage its finances well enough for the Libertarian Party to trust him this time around, argues longtime Libertarian Party (L.P.) member, activist, and frequent candidate George Phillies in a book-length critique called "Surely We Can Do Better."

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Following is a summation of what Phillies found alarming about the Johnson '12 campaign. Phillies' technique is to walk through every available public filing regarding the campaign's expenditures and debt and lay out the results month by month, so it makes for a long, complicated read. (It's further complicated by the fact that Johnson had his aborted campaign for the Republican nomination that ran for a few months before he aimed for the Libertarian crown.)

One of Phillies' concerns is that, as is perfectly legal, later filings often amend the numbers on earlier ones, including the amount of outstanding debt at a given date.

Thus, the latest debt figure for the campaign available for consideration by L.P. delegates before they picked Johnson as their candidate in 2012 showed a significantly lower debt than later amended filings. "2012 National Convention delegates could read that Johnson's campaign, at the end of March, was in debt for $152,373," Phillies writes. "The actual debt as of March 31, 2012 [as revealed in later amended filings] was $1,078,371, seven times as much. 

While all the specifics are laid out in great detail month by month, the summation of Phillies complaint is: 

His campaign raised two and a quarter million dollars in private donations, $632,017 in Federal campaign matching funds, and ended $1,538,118 in debt, a total over 4.4 million dollars. Of that, $627,000 went for general election outreach and $240,000 went for nominating outreach. That's under 20% of campaign dollars earned or borrowed on outreach.

Whether this is an outrage or not depends on your expectations and understanding of professional politicking. Various Johnson defenders I've talked to or read in social media debates basically say, look, there is a core building cost of a professional campaign, and if the campaign doesn't raise much more money over that, then staff will seem to be "overbalanced" to an outsider.

Others less kindly inclined wonder if political campaigns like this function as just ways for pros to make a tidy living for a few months off of activist money. Phillies focuses on hourly wages that he seems to think an L.P. donor might choke on, detailing thousands of "mid level management" hours paid mostly from $95-125 an hour, and over a thousand hours of "senior political officer" hours at $325 an hour.

Phillies' read of the expenditures shows him marking the campaign as having spent in the general election on "media—$204,000; travel—$139,000; email ads—$28,000; web ads—$31,000; printing, shipping, and mailing—$225,000." Those are the categories Phillies considers "outreach."

That's "a total of $627,000," Phillies writes. "Relative to 2.2 million dollars in cash received, that's a bit over a quarter of all income. Relative to that 4+ million dollar campaign [including debt], that's about a seventh of all money received or taken on as debt."  

Phillies also calculates that given a Federal Elections Commission (FEC) announced attempt to claw back $332,191 of the money it gave in federal matching funds, that Johnson's accepting of those funds might have actually cost his campaign money given the cost of complying with their bookkeeping. The full FEC audit of Johnson '12 is here.

I asked Johnson about some of these criticisms of his 2012 campaign's finances last week, after the Blaze-televised Las Vegas debate. He brushed off the debt question, as nearly all of it was owed to his campaign manager Ron Nielson, who agreed either to waive it or to accept "committee data" in payment. This essentially means, Johnson explained, that the campaign got lots of his services essentially as volunteer. Given that, the supposed debt is not an issue he thinks should concern donors or supporters. He also stresses that no money given to this campaign will in any way be used for any debt on any past campaign.

A more meaningful metric for Libertarians to consider, Johnson told me, is the number of votes he got per dollar spent, a number he thinks more than respectable given his 1.27 million votes, and he doesn't feel it accurate to call his campaign spending overweighted against outreach vs. staff. 

The most important thing Johnson wants Libertarians to understand about last go-round's finances vs. this year's is that "we don't go anywhere if it's the same amount of money as last time."

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  1. Johnson, on top of everything else, is also a crony-campaigner.

    1. Well, you’ve got plenty of other choices of crony-campaigners to vote for if you don’t like him. Go ahead and vote for Trump or Clinton, since one of them is 100% guaranteed to be the next president. “Just jump on the TEAM and come on in for the big win!”

    2. Just a normal politician.

  2. The last thing in this world you ever want to do is lose a presidential campaign. Fingers will get pointed.

    1. Remember, when you punch someone, four fingers are pointing back at you. That’s why I prefer a backhanded bitch slap.

  3. A more meaningful metric for Libertarians to consider, Johnson told me, is the number of votes he got per dollar spent, a number he thinks more than respectable given his 1.27 million votes, and he doesn’t feel it accurate to call his campaign spending overweighted against outreach vs. staff. He also tells me they

    What? They what?

    1. Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion!

      1. Sorry guys. That was the original lead in to what became the next graf and I f’ed up. Fixed now.

  4. Purity Test FAIL!!!!

    1. I know, right? Federal campaign matching funds? Even Obama didn’t do that! In fact, he was so principled he refused them even after a pledge to do so. THAT’S HOW YOU BE LIBERTARIAN, GOVERNOR.

    2. I learned my lesson from the Ron Paul campaign and Jesse Benton’s mansion. I ain’t donating no more.

  5. I hosted Gary on two occasions in 2012. He flew coach, didn’t check a bag to avoid earning a fee (said that potential $25 charge was someone’s donation), stayed at moderately priced hotel first time and my guest room the second (because only expensive hotel rooms were available in town). He ate out once at a thai buffet and sandwiches and salads at fundraisers the rest of the time. He spent 95% of his waking time meeting with voters and media and fundriaising. He even stayed up way late one night despite 18 hours of fundraising/media that day to talk with a bunch of libertarians volunteers that had come back to my house for drinks after the event.

    Both times he flew directly to another city economy for the same thing. I don’t know all the finances of the campaign, but for what its worth, it was obvious to a blind man that he is a dedicated candidate and conducts himself in a frugal manner in regard to other people’s money when on the campaign trail. These attempts to smear him despite his relative success to earlier campaigns are a sad part of unseemly party politics that even us libertarians are not immune to.

    1. These attempts to smear him despite his relative success to earlier campaigns are a sad part of unseemly party politics that even us libertarians are not immune to.

      It’s the whole problem with politics and political parties in general. Even a small, ideology based party like the LP tends to attract the worst kind of scumbags, like flies to shit.

    2. thai buffet

      He’s lost my American vote.

      *sticks head under soft serve machine at Old Country Buffet*

      1. Sad thing is the thai buffet probably had a soft serve machine too. Because ice cream totally goes with pad thai. /sarc

    3. He flew coach, didn’t check a bag to avoid earning a fee

      Just about every airlines frequent flyer program either gives free bags to the lowest level of their elites or (in the case of Southwest and at the time, Frontier) doesn’t charge a bag fee. So he’s too dumb to enroll and put his FF# on his trips? For as much as he would have flown as a candidate, he should have been racking up miles. Same thing with hotel programs.

      1. I’ll just add that I don’t check bags either but it’s not because of the fee. Also, airlines’ affinity cardholders almost universally get free bags too. Usually no enrollment fee/first year annual fee waived and additional mileage bonus which he could further use to redeem tickets to save his campaign even more money.

      2. You missed the point of my comment worse than Michael Bay missed the mark with Pearl harbor

    4. If only he was even close to being this frugal when he was governor of New Mexico.

  6. meow! hiss!

    I’m no Johnson fan, but WTF is up with these attacks?

    1. Purity Testing. You know who else was into Purity Testing?

      1. Unilever Corp?

      2. Underwriters Laboratories?

      3. Goldbugs?

        1. Hey Groovus, I saw you in other threads but long before I got around to them. Since there’s no way for me to feel those nail holes in your palms, welcome back! I’m glad you’re not buried in an unmarked grave in Siberia.

      4. Because non-defensive wars of choice and freedom of association are such minor and irrelevant issues.

      5. Purina dog chow?

  7. Various Johnson defenders I’ve talked to or read in social media debates basically say, look, there is a core building cost of a professional campaign, and if the campaign doesn’t raise much more money over that, then staff will seem to be “overbalanced” to an outsider.

    Others less kindly inclined just wonder if political campaigns like this function as just ways for pros to make a tidy living for a few months off of activist money.

    Probably “a little column A, a little column B.” All politicians are parasites, regardless of what party they belong to or what their professed ideology or principles are. And so are the campaign pros that work for them. They’re all just trying to squeeze as much money out of the deal as they can, which, to be fair, is just human nature. We all want to be paid as much as possible for what we do, right?

  8. A more meaningful metric for Libertarians to consider, Johnson told me, is the number of votes he got per dollar spent, a number he thinks more than respectable given his 1.27 million votes

    1.27 million votes / $632,017 spent on “outreach*” = ~2 votes per dollar. I don’t know if that’s good or bad compared to what’s typical for presidential campaigns. Or if it is bad, if it’s because the outreach was ineffective or because libertarian ideas just don’t sell with the average mouth breathing low forehead voter, and it wouldn’t matter how much “outreach” Johnson did or does. Probably the latter. People suck.

    *assuming Phillies number is right and he’s not leaving anything out to make Johnson look worse because he also has some kind of axe to grind.

    1. 2 votes per dollar? If he has 1/2 a vote per dollar he would still be blowing Obama, McCain, Romney, Bush Jr. out of the water.

      2008
      Obama spent over 745,000,000 on his first run and got 69,500,000 for 10.94 per vote.
      McCain spent 358,000,000 and got 60,000,000 for 5.97 per vote.
      Barr spent 1,300,000 and got 525,000 for 2.57 per vote.

      2012
      Obama 985,000,000 got 66,000,000 for almost 15 per vote.
      Romney 992,000,000 got 61,000,000 for 16.25 per vote.

      I will take 2 votes per dollar any day.

      At the local level, my personal study has produced and average of 5 per vote.

      1. Thanks. Question though: Do those represent spending on “outreach” or total campaign spending? If the latter, then it’s not a direct comparison my to Johnson 2012 calculation.

        Although Johnson’s total campaign spending per vote still compares fairly well:

        $4.4 million spent and 1.27 million votes = $3.46 per vote.

        If that is total campaign spending per vote, then only Barr in ’08 looks slightly better. If you did take into account only “outreach” dollars for those other campaigns then, yeah, Johnson ’12 blows them all out of the water.

        Slight Mea Culpa: I used the wrong number for Johnson’s outreach spending above: it was $627,000, not $632,017 (that was his FEC matching funds). I was in a hurry and took the wrong number from the article. It still works out to ~2 votes per dollar.

        1. my to

          *to my* Sometimes I get lysdexia.

          1. So sometimes you introduce yourself as a donkey’s cynical hole?

      2. Here’s the problem with all of this. Money is spent on voters that were not automatically going to vote for you. Johnson’s million-or-so votes were already there. It’s hard to know how many votes he really bought here.

        1. I wouldn’t say the LP can count on 1,000,000 votes. Usually their base is 400,000.

        2. OK, but doesn’t that apply to other candidates as well? Aren’t there plenty of folks who will vote (D) or (R) every time simply because TEAM?

  9. Phillies has a history of doing this, up to and including initiating FEC investigations into LP candidates that he lost to. He probably thinks he is doing the right thing, but I don’t consider using the hammer of government against fellow party members very libertarian.

    1. Yeah, I suffered through watching Phillies destroy non-purists at many national conventions.
      He’s the enforcer for the wacko wing. aka assassin

  10. The last thing in the world we want as libertarians is to nominate a former two-term governor who’s the most libertarian politician in recent memory who was also a successful businessman, mountain climber and triathlete.

    Wouldn’t want that.

    1. the most libertarian politician in recent memory

      ROFLMAO. Good one dude.

      1. Name a politician more libertarian than Gary Johnson in recent memory. Ron Paul? Justin Amash? Maybe close, but I can make a great case GJ.

        1. Ron Paul is no libertarian, He’s an extreme social conservative with the same perverted view of States Rights as the KKK and other southern racists.

    2. Mountain climber and triathlete? What is the argument there? He will bring in the triathlete and climber votes?

      1. What is the argument there?

        If you’d stated the argument honestly ….

      2. Glad you said it because if he was a competitive bingo player, it’d make zero difference.

        1. Having said that. In face-to-face discussions, and as part of the overall package, it does impress the hell out of many that he’s climbed the tallest mountain on every continent, starting with Everest.

          That makes him an achievement seeker, enhances his personal image and separates him from the political class.

  11. As a libertarian leaning voter I believe campaign finance laws are an affront to free speech. Unless Johnson was taking the money and spending it fraudulently, I could give a shit.

    1. I don’t anyone is accusing Johnson of criminality or even unethical acts. It’s more of an accusation that he did not spend the money wisely, which will make people think twice before donating again.

      1. As if they had any clue how it should have been spent.

  12. I remember there was a big stink about the Harry Browne campaign. There was a lot of noise, but after reading a lot of junk online, I never could figure out what all the bellyaching was about.

    I’m glad there are watchdogs, but is Phillies one of those guys who goes to LP conventions and argues when Roberts Rules of Order aren’t strictly followed?

  13. Gay-Jo lost me when he rejoined the Republican party after his run as a Libertarian.

    I donated money to his campaign and I don’t want to see a penny of it used for those GOP fuckwacks.

    Now I get emails asking me for more scratch.

  14. Phillies (and other LP types) have been complaining about how LP candidates spend their money for decades. There seems to be some misconception that running for president costs nothing, and all the paltry money raised should go to national TV ads. The real problem is that no LP candidate since Ed Clark has raised enough money to mount a real campaign AND run national TV ads.

    Gary Johnson should be able to break that barrier this time, since he’s already polling at 10+ percent and Trump-Clinton is so unpopular.

  15. I know George Phillies. I worked with him on various committees and such, at several national LP conventions.

    He’s an ideologue — I don’t call them purists anymore. Ideologues are as deadly to us as they are to the Dems abd Reps.

    Ours are even more deadly. The greatest mistake the party ever made was calling itself “The Party of Principle.” That means it’s more noble to get 1% of the vote, and never do shit, because one “stood on principle,” instead of actually DOING something.

    See Erc Hoffer’s “The True Believer,” the seminal study on how zealots and fanatics eventually bring down all mass movements. Then remember that libertarianism (the ideology) is rejected by 91% of libertarians (the values).
    And why thousands of Nolan libertarians are in local elected office, expanding liberty, inch by inch if needed, But would never call themselves libertarians, Also why you’re never told about them.

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    :Cringe:

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