Gary Johnson apologized to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and its CEO Paul Rieckhoff over some purported Johnson supporters' "harassment" directed at the veterans advocacy group, according to a press release on IAVA's website.
Johnson was not invited to participate in IAVA's Commander in Chief forum on Wednesday night, where Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton mostly avoided giving meaningful answers put to them by veterans in the audience or meek follow-ups directed to them by NBC moderator Matt Lauer.
In the run-up to the forum, a concerted effort was made by veterans and civilians identifying as Johnson supporters to have the Libertarian presidential candidate (who has polled well among active military servicepeople) included in the forum. Some of the tactics deployed by Johnson's supporters included leaving negative reviews and comments on IAVA's Facebook page and other forms of social media, as well as calling IAVA's offices.
Per IAVA's press release, Johnson "apologized for the threatening and unprofessional tactics some of his supporters have used to express displeasure with their candidates exclusion in major debates."
But for the Libertarian Party (LP), Johnson's exclusion wasn't just a cause for "displeasure," it was a potential violation of the law. As noted in these pages earlier in the week, LP chair Nicholas Sarwark told Reason:
…the LP's position is that as long as IAVA plans to be a "debate-sponsoring organization," the group is required to comply with the same Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules pertaining to "having objective pre-established criteria if they want to remain a non-profit and non-partisan." Sarwark added that if IAVA wants to provide "campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats by offering them a stage and excluding the Libertarian Party candidate, that's fine, but they have to figure out how to re-organize where they can continue going forward without a tax exemption."
Sarwark addressed his concerns in a letter to IAVA on September 2, but has received no response (an IAVA representative told Reason they have no comment on the letter at this time). Sarwark followed up by addressing his letter to Rieckhoff directly via Twitter, which Rieckhoff did not take kindly to, and even took a shot at Johnson's "What is Aleppo" gaffe for good measure:
— Paul (PJ) Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) September 9, 2016
It's asking a lot for presidential candidates to be held responsible for the worst actors among the multitudes of people intending to vote for them (it's tough to imagine Trump or Clinton doing anything of the kind), and Johnson has long tried to distinguish himself from his two major party rivals by presenting a non-aggressive and likably civilized image. For that reason, you can see why Johnson would want to distance himself from any vulgar or legitimately threatening language on the phone, in email, or on social media directed at IAVA. It should be noted, however, thus far no one has indicated that there was any specific harassment of that nature from people claiming to be Johnson supporters.
But does political criticism directed at a non-profit organization that some feel is violating FEC rules pertaining to non-profits rise to the level of harassment?
In a tweet this morning, Rieckhoff referred to a blog post written by the pseudonymous military blogger John Q. Public which was critical of IAVA's handling of the Commander in Chief forum as an example of the kind of thing Johnson apologized to him for. IAVA might not find the analysis in John Q. Public's post to be fair or favorable to their position, but no reasonable person could describe this blog post as harassment.
IAVA has extended an invitation to both Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein to appear in a second Commander in Chief forum. According to Rieckhoff, the group is waiting for Johnson to pick a date that works for him.
Reason reached out to both IAVA and the Johnson campaign to clarify what specifically the candidate was apologizing for. We will update this post if we receive a response.