Campaign Finance

Another Johnson/Weld PAC in Action, via Cato Institute Founder Ed Crane

Repurposing his PurplePAC, Crane hopes for seven figures contributions from wealthy libertarians to show Americans they have an option that's "socially tolerant, skeptical of militarism, and for the free market."

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Edward Crane III, one of the founders of the Cato Institute and its leader for decades, earlier this election season was running a SuperPAC called PurplePAC that was dedicated to helping Rand Paul with his presidential bid with the Republican Party. (I reported yesterday on another SuperPAC operator whose Concerned American Voters was supporting Paul's presidential run and is now supporting his Senate re-election run, Matt Kibbe, and his new pro-Johnson/Weld operation AlternativePAC.)

Cato Institute

After the Libertarian Party over the weekend nominated former Republican governors Gary Johnson (of New Mexico) and William Weld (of Massachusetts), Crane has announced he's switching PurplePAC over to their support.

Crane showed me a copy of an email he's sending to some especially wealthy people he knows with an interest in liberty, which reads in part:

I hope you'll consider endorsing Gov. Johnson for President.  You probably know Bill Weld.  This is a terrific, first-rate ticket.  As the Wall Stret Journal put it earlier this week, "an honorable alternative" to having to vote for Trump or Clinton.  Gary and Bill would both be happy to meet with you in Memphis at your convenience.  My Purple PAC is supporting them so, happily, there is no limit on your potential generosity.  Time to dig out from under the embarrassment of the current state of American politics.

In a phone interview today, Crane said he has not yet nailed down any big figure commitments but is hopeful they lie ahead. He's only sitting on around $200,000 right now, he says, not nearly enough for what's needed.

One big money man in the libertarian space is former Cato board member Fred Smith, CEO of Federal Express; Crane figures both since his name is being floated as a VP for Trump and because he still is running a huge business vulnerable to political punishment that he might be a hard sell for big money for the Libertarians, though he intends to try.

"We're going to need seven figure contributions to make a real difference," Crane says. He hopes, within the letter of SuperPAC law which does not allow any discussion of money given or changing hands or strategic use of same around candidates, to help broker meetings between potential libertarian moneybags and the candidates.

Crane used to essentially run the L.P. back in the 1970s, and has a deep understanding of L.P. activist peculiar concerns and protection of their own radical prerogatives. (He walked out of the Party in 1983 when delegates refused to support for president what he saw as the reasonable, respectable real world candidate, Georgetown Professor Earl Ravenal, in favor of Party activist David Bergland.)

"I would have bet anything that would not have nominated [Weld]," Crane says. Weld squeaked by with 50.5 percent support, which Crane jokingly called "a goddamn landslide," on a second ballot.

But he's glad they did, and says it "doesn't make a lot of difference" whether those particular Libertarian delegates don't accept Weld's libertarian bona fides. "The big money is not that picky," Crane says. "They are successful for a reason, so they are reasonable about this sort of thing."

Besides, Crane argues, "Weld is pretty damn libertarian on broad issues. Socially tolerant, noninterventionist in foreign policy, against crony capitalism and is a successful businessman in addition to being a successful attorney. He's a hell of an asset, and this ticket has more real administrative experience than either Trump or Clinton."

What Gary Johnson says so often is true, Crane says: getting in the polls in order to get into the debates is key to unlocking floodgates of big money. "Once people see their choice is not just between a couple of crooks, and there is a political philosophy out there represented by a political movement that a plurality of Americans, agree with: socially tolerant, skeptical of militarism, and for the free market," Crane thinks they will come around. That combination is "not otherwise available" to them unless they know about Johnson/Weld.

Tomato magnate Chris Rufer told The Hill he intends to give over a million for Johnson/Weld though both Crane and Kibbe say he hasn't yet expressed that directly to them.