Libertarian Ends 2012 with Strange Debt to Campaign Chief
7 February, 2013
Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign slogan was “Live Free” but a Utah-based firm owned by the Libertarian candidate’s campaign manager didn’t “Work Free.” Johnson’s campaign ended 2012 $1,134,602 in debt of which $1,051,637 is owed to the consulting company owned by the campaign manager presumably responsible for accruing that debt, according to a post-election disclosure filed with the Federal Elections Commission and reviewed by parapolitical. The debt is on top of $2.3 million already paid to the firm.
The campaign’s 2012 year-end report lists “debt” to the campaign manager’s firm equal to about 40-percent of the amount the campaign actually raised prior to the presidential election (roughly $2.5 million). Astonishingly, it’s also $300,000 more than Mitt Romney’s vastly larger campaign owed and eclipses the previous record for Libertarian Party campaign debt by more than 600-percent.
Other Third Party Candidates Better Bookkeepers, More Generous
Other third party candidates ended the year in better financial shape. The Constitution Party’s 2012 candidate, Virgil Goode, is clear of debt, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign committee owes $44,000. All $44,000, however, is owed to Stein herself; repayment of personal loans made by the candidate to her own campaign. (The low likelihood Stein may see that cash repaid anytime soon makes it a de facto donation. Virgil Goode, meanwhile, donated about $10,000 between 2011 and 2012 to the Constitution Party National Committee. Johnson, on the other hand, donated just $1,000 to the Libertarian National Committee … the day after announcing his switch from the Republican to Libertarian party.)
The biggest Johnson creditor according to FEC filings is NSON Opinion Research of Salt Lake City, a consulting and polling firm owned by Johnson’s campaign manager Ronald Nielson that also operates under the registered fictitious business name “Political Advisors.” The debt is on top of millions already paid to the firm. Of roughly $2.5 million raised and spent by Johnson prior to the election, more than $2.3 million of his supporters donations and federal matching funds were disbursed to campaign manager Nielson’s company. In most payments, out-of-pocket expenses and billable hours were lumped together by NSON and not separated or itemized, meaning it’s impossible to determine how much the company banked from running the Libertarian campaign. Running all campaign spending through NSON prevents a more detailed, outside determination of how much was spent campaigning and how much was spent paying the fees of Nielson’s company. This is in contrast to other major and third party campaigns which directly paid airlines, printers and other vendors. (For instance, Green Party candidate Stein’s expenditure records are detailed enough that we even know she spent $302 renting chicken suits from a costume company in Powell, Ohio for a publicity stunt.)
Johnson 2012 Campaign Spending: In contrast to the hundreds of vendors other presidential campaigns had, Gary Johnson’s 2012 campaign listed fewer than 20 unique vendors. More than 90% of the campaign treasury was disbursed to NSON Inc., the longtime administrator of the Gary Johnson brand. Roughly $1 million is still owed.
NSON head Nielson previously worked with Johnson on his gubernatorial campaigns and the “Our America Initiative.” The “Our America” letterhead was used beginning in 2009 to describe a supposed “organization” that was featured prominently on Johnson’s campaign bio, where Johnson was listed as the Our America “Honorary Chairman.” However, it appears “Our America” existed on paper only. The registered address of “Our America” was the same as the NSON offices in Salt Lake City and public activity in which Our America was involved seemed limited to promoting occasional Johnson speaking engagements when the now-Libertarian was preparing to run as a Republican (half-a-dozen press releases issued by Our America between 2009 and 2011 only promote Johnson appearances). In a 2011 article, the Tahoe Tribune explained that Our America let Johnson “under the tax code … look as if he’s running for president as long as he won’t admit it.” (Gary Johnson’s website garyjohnson2012.com, was first registered in 2008. The contact address listed is, just like his campaign office and “Our America,” the NSON business office at 731 East Temple Street in Salt Lake City.)
In a federal lawsuit filed in February of last year, former Johnson fundraiser Jonathan Bydlak alleged the NSON managers of the Johnson campaign owed him more than $100,000 in contracted payments they had failed to make good. Bydlak was told, he claims, that campaign donations wouldn’t cover his invoices. However, the complaint goes on to allege -
In April the lawsuit was dismissed over a jurisdictional issue and has yet to be re-filed by Bydlak or his company.
Return of “Our America”
As of last month, the letterhead organization Our America is back and Johnson is, once again, the “Honorary Chairman.” Again located at the same address as the NSON Opinion Research offices in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Our America website says it is “an organization of thousands of activists, young people and defenders of liberty who share the principles of smaller government.” Right now, however, the only outlet for action by those aspiring to join the “thousands of activists” appears to be the opportunity to make a cash donation. The initiative lists no board of directors, endorsers or any affiliated persons other than Johnson, though promises that unnamed “nationally-known and respected leaders” will be joining as “Honorary Board Members” at some point in the undetermined future.
The Our America Initiative is the on-again, off-again masthead Gary Johnson has used to raise money and promote his speaking engagements since 2009.
In one of many donation appeals on the “Our America” website, it is explained that “outreach efforts require funding.” It appears “Our America” has the potential to be a lucrative source of consulting fees for “outreach efforts” by NSON. (According to small type on the website, “OUR America Initiative is being managed by NSON Opinion Strategy.”)