Gary Johnson

If Johnson Gets 5 Percent of the Vote, Would the Libertarian Party Take FEC Money?

It may be a focus of debate among delegates in 2018.

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Johnson voters
Christopher Brown/Polaris/Newscom

If current polling numbers hold, the Libertarian Party could surpass an important vote share threshold come November.

If Gary Johnson and Bill Weld receive at least five percent of the popular vote, they'll be officially classified as a "minor party" by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). If that happens, the Libertarian Party's candidate in 2020 would qualify for public matching funds based on how much of the vote they receive.

At RealClear politics, Bill Scher takes note of the possibilities:

If Johnson snags 5 percent of the national popular vote, the Federal Election Commission will classify the Libertarians as an official "minor party," granting the 2020 nominee a lump sum of cash for the fall campaign, courtesy of the American taxpayer. (And don't you think for a second that the vehemently anti-big-government Libertarians won't cash that big government check in a heartbeat.)

The exact amount of federal funds depends on the size of his vote, but Green Party officials – who have been chasing 5 percent for years – estimate that meeting the threshold would yield about $10 million. That may seem like chump change compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars major party presidential nominees routinely raise. But Johnson has gotten this far after raising only $8 million through August. The prospect of knowing the Libertarian Party's nominee is guaranteed $10 million will allow him or her to hit the campaign trail running, improving the odds of getting into the debates, winning an even larger share of vote and fortifying the party's place in the American political landscape.

Isn't it a little bit odd for Scher to assert what the Libertarian Party would do in a snarky parenthetical aside rather than simply contacting them to ask? Scher's hardly an objective observer of the election from his home at liberaloasis.com. That's certainly no sin (read about my own lack of objectivity here), but it took me no time at all to contact the Libertarian Party and talk to party chair Nicholas Sarwark.

The reality is, according to Sarwark, members of the Libertarian Party are not in agreement over whether to take the money, and it will have to be something hammered out if Johnson actually reaches the threshold. (Keep in mind this FEC fund Scher describes is made entirely from voluntary donations from taxpayers. The FEC notes in its guidelines "Money for public funding of presidential elections can come only from the Presidential Fund. If the Presidential Fund runs short of funds, no other general Treasury funds may be used.")

"We would be delighted to have that conversation," Sarwark told Reason. "Right now we're just entirely focused on the election and having Johnson do as well as possible."

In the event Johnson reaches the FEC vote threshold, Sarwark believes the most likely outcome will be that delegates to the Libertarian Party's 2018 national convention would need to hammer out a possible bylaw about whether a potential candidate should be permitted to accept the money. As a legal matter, Sarwark notes, it's the candidate who decides whether to take the money, not the party. So the bylaw would serve the purpose of attempting to bind a future candidate to the party's attitude toward whether to accept the grant.

Another potential concern is that accepting the grant actually imposes a limit on fundraising by the candidate as part of matching these funds. While it might, at the moment, appear to be a boon for whoever comes after Johnson (it certainly was for Pat Buchanan following after Ross Perot with the Reform Party), if this Republican Party crack-up continues and more people see the Libertarian Party as an alternative, it actually might not be in the party's interest to tie themselves down this way. There's a reason the Democrats and the Republicans don't avail themselves of this money anymore. Neither party has accepted any grants for the general election as yet, and the only primary candidate to accept matching funds was Martin O'Malley.

Voluntary participation in the program has also plunged, according to the FEC, dropping from nearly 30 percent of returns in 1980 to a little over 5 percent of returns in 2015. That's an interesting lesson right there for folks who want to demand public funding for elections. These folks aren't putting their money where their mouths are.

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  1. (Keep in mind this FEC fund Scher describes is made entirely from voluntary donations from taxpayers.

    As far as I’m concerned, there are bigger inconsistencies to worry about for any major libertarian candidate. The problem starts when those contributions are taken by force.

  2. Take the $10 million then give it back to the rightful owners. I eagerly await my check from the Libertarian party.

    1. Oh nevermind should read the article I don’t contribute to that fund. Who the hell contributes to voluntary taxes?

      1. Taxes is the lunch money that gets shaken from our pockets together.

      2. “Contributing will not raise or lower your taxes.”

        It’s not a donation. It’s just diverting your money from some other “worthy” cause.

        1. Not even that. It is money that causes the government to borrow more to cover those other “worthy” causes.

  3. That’s an interesting lesson right there for folks who want to demand public funding for elections. These folks aren’t putting their money where their mouths are.

    Of course they’re not. That wouldn’t be fair. It’s only fair if everyone is forced to participate, whether they like it or not.

  4. He won’t and they shouldn’t

    1. This is the nicest thing you’ve said about Johnson all morning.

    2. Tacit acknowledgement that Johnson is going to get over 5%, sucker.

      1. Ever think SIV was that guy in a Trump shirt that stormed the stage at Johnson’s Phoenix rally?

    3. The old Libertarians shouldn’t use the highway or drink municipal water argument. Why does anyone take that idea seriously anymore?
      Let’s do a little hypocrisy test shall we?
      1) Do Green party members buy anything wrapped in plastic when a paper wrapped option exist somewhere?
      2) Do Bernie supporters shop at stores that have employees making under $15/hr?
      3) Did Democrats refuse their returns from the Bush tax cuts?
      I for one don’t make Libertarianism my religion. I have one I am perfectly happy with. Not conducting my personal affairs as if I already exist in a libertarian world without all the distortions in markets and private life that currently exist doesn’t rise to the level of moral transgression or even a logical conflict for that matter.

  5. Keep in mind this FEC fund Scher describes is made entirely from voluntary donations from taxpayers.

    These people deserve whatever outcome the election has.

  6. I think there’s no difference between taking this money and taking all the tax deductions one is entitled to. Use the money, get elected, then scrap the fund. That’s ideologically consistent.

    1. Agree. Play by the rules until you can change the rules.

      1. To do otherwise would be like not watching a certain TV channel on principle because you wouldn’t have paid for it if it weren’t in the bundle.

    1. I seem to recall a time when Reason would (rightfully) devote at least 3 articles to every big Wikileaks revelation…

      1. There are campus twitter meltdowns to cover.

    2. Government is the things we steal together.

    3. Silly, you can’t “Loot” Haiti.

      You extort money from aid agencies, and hand out peachy ‘humanitarian development’ jobs to political-climbers who need something to burnish the CV

      1. Its pre-looting. Which is what? Extortion?

        “Nice aid project you got there, be a shame if you never got to help anyone”

        1. Extortion?

          Not really extortion.

          Its the professional infrastructure of “Aid” that requires gigantic bureaucracies with dozens of layers of “human development”-master’s degrees… International Affairs programs stuffed with the children of rich foreign dignitaries… people who may spend one season of their lives visiting places like East Africa or New Guinea, then the remaing 40 years of their career in cocktail parties in Geneva, Brussels, or Singapore.

          My ex-gf worked for the UN, in aid work. I spent a few years getting free drinks at those parties. Nice work if you can get it. But its basically a gravy-train for elitists to pretend they’re “helping”. They’re not.

          1. *the real shock to this system in the last 20 years has been the few developing-world economists who have come out and stated “Stop ‘Helping’ Us

            there have been more than a few. People who actually live in places like Africa or Haiti or other decades-long recipients of “aid” have been looking at themselves and contrasting their development to places like India or SE Asia and realizing that the “handout” system doesn’t serve them – it serves the people Giving the Handouts.

            Whenever a bureaucracy faces this kind of existential threat, they respond by co-opting the message, buying out the messenger by giving them some peach gig, sending them off to the ‘conference’ circuit… and then diluting the analysis of the problem to meaninglessness, so that business-as-usual can continue more or less unchanged. (or superficially changed; the terms and claimed strategies might evolve, but the structure, the key-constituents, and the patronage mechanism remains)

    4. I wonder if the Clinton Foundation is covering the smugglers’ fees to bring them here, too.

    5. But these were just generous donors trying to cut through red tape so they could save lives!!!!!!!!

  7. Libertarians take FEC money?!? Why, that’s almost as ridiculous and hypocritical as Big Money Donors Trying To Get Big Money Out of Politics

    its all in the game.

    1. + Many a tear has to fall…

      1. Written by a US Vice-President.

  8. If they don’t at least consider taking it, then they are idiots.

    1. This is the Big-L Libertarian Party we are talking about.

      1. Big L is poor and dangerous.

  9. 1 in 20 still contribute? They don’t even offer a jackpot to a lucky winner.

    1. The payoff is that you feel good that you have contributed to the electoral process.

  10. Think about the end game.

    Would you rather say “We need to get rid of this handout that all you people, but not me, are getting”, or

    “We need to get rid of this handout that I’m getting as well as all of you.”

    One is asking other people to sacrifice, the other is asking other people to join you in a shared sacrifice.

  11. If Johnson Gets 5 Percent of the Vote, Would the Libertarian Party Take FEC Money?

    As Spartans replied to Philip of Macedon when he said that if he came, they would be destroyed, never to rise again:

    “If”

  12. I think they should take it and use 10% on nothing but saying we dont like this program.

    1. And then get it changed into $1 bills and the have helicopter flights throughout the country drop the bills and see the masses fight over the booty.

      1. And cement our image as the party of racists.

  13. 5% = 5 million votes, if I’m not mistaken.

    If he gets that many votes he’ll ROB the president elect of any claims to a “mandate”.

    I have little enthusiasm for dem lite Gary Johnson. But it would soothe my aching heart (Clinton being the next president) if he makes some serious noise.

  14. Of course they should take it – and use it to build an actual self-sustaining political party. That would actually help the ton of small-l libertarians serving on school boards or as county deputy sheriff or something to join the big-L and improve the local candidate pool

    And yes of course that is also the first step to perdition for those Libertarians who can’t bear to be polluted by the world. After all – it is far better to leave this as a gotcha question for the big-L prez candidates in 2256 – would you have accepted matching money from the United Galactic (the federal/US having been subsumed in 2080 and no one remembering it after the 2092 global brainwarming to combat climate denialism) govt in 2020?

  15. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

    If Trump was smart, he would have taken the funds and thrown it in HRC’s face that he was trying to use the system the campaign finance reform folks are always crowing about while she was cashing big checks from Saudi kings and Goldman Sachs.

    1. Brooks, TRUMP IS WORKING FOR HER!

      I really am 98.725% convinced now. How has done nothing but help her, more than anemic, candidacy.

  16. RE: If Johnson Gets 5 Percent of the Vote, Would the Libertarian Party Take FEC Money?
    It may be a focus of debate among delegates in 2018.

    The question should be, “If Johnson Gets 5 Percent of the Vote, should the Libertarian Party Take FEC Money?
    The correct answer, for what’s behind door number one is…not only no, but hell no.

  17. The average Libertarian presidential campaign raises around $1 million. Johnson in 2012 was around $2 mil. Johnson/Weld this year, about $8-10mil, maybe one or two more if you toss in the PACs (which are a new thing for the LP).

    The funds available to the 2020 nominee would be around $15-20 million, depending on the exact vote totals. (It’s calculated as the ratio of the minor-party candidate’s vote total to the average of the major-party candidate’s vote totals; plus you have to factor in an estimate of how much money will be in the fund).

    The fundraising restrictions that apply to “minor parties” (5-25% of the vote) are a lot less restrictive than for the major parties whose nominees have been opting out. Major-party candidates can’t fundraiser at all if they take the money; minor party candidates still can up to the limit of the amount they’re eligible for. So the LP nominee would be handed a check for ~$15 million, plus still be able to privately fundraise up to another ~$15 million.

    Chances that the 2020 LP nominee would be able to fund-raise more than $30 million by opting-out are effectively nil. In terms of which option gives the LP the most ammo to play with, there’s no question it’s taking the money.

  18. O’Malley was not the only one who took primary matching funds, by the way. Jill Stein did too. She faced an effectively uncontested primary of course, but was able to get matching funds up until the Green convention formally nominated her, which was deliberately delayed as late as possible into August for precisely that reason. It’s why she was able to do a brief spurt of TV advertising then but hasn’t since— the money can’t be used for the general election; which is defined as starting when they formally accept their party’s nomination.

  19. “That’s an interesting lesson right there for folks who want to demand public funding for elections. These folks aren’t putting their money where their mouths are.”

    Stop it, you’re killing me with laughter.

  20. We should have got McAfee. He’d fit right in with the other crazies.

  21. No. We will not take the money since it means that we cannot receive private contributions.

    Once the LP builds on the present momentum the possible contributions can be more than the Federal funds.

    And anyway, why would we take Federal money to begin with?

    Just don’t see it happening for the LP.

  22. If the 2 party system starts to fall apart and people start looking at the LP then raising +$10M will be a cake walk. So taking the money would be unwise.

    In today’s world of running for Prez, $10M is just silly money and a ridiculous offering and certainly not a particularly tantalizing carrot to entice libertarians considering to sit this one out to come to the polls. Now, if they were guaranteeing that the next LP candidate would be in the debates regardless of their polling number, I would pencil a trip the election booth into my calendar.

    As far a voluntarily donating funds at tax time. I would sooner buy the whip for my master.

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