Libertarians step into the big money spotlight

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson speaking in 2015. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Libertarians are stepping up to the big time when it comes to fundraising from political action committees. Already, a PAC is redirecting its support away from the Republican Party and over to the small-government Libertarian cause.

Purple PAC, founded by former Cato Institute President Ed Crane, originally supported Sen. Rand Paul’s, R-Ky., presidential campaign. Paul, whose namesake has long been identified with Libertarian viewpoints, dropped out of the Republican primary race on Feb. 3. On Wednesday, Purple PAC announced its support for Gary Johnson, just three days after the former New Mexico governor won the Libertarian Party’s nomination at its national convention in Orlando, Fla.

“We intend to spend at least $10 million in support of the Johnson campaign,” Crane announced in the Wednesday statement. As of March 31, the PAC reported it had $363,252 on hand.

Funding for Libertarian presidential campaigns has always been a blip compared with the mountains of cash backing candidates of the two major parties. In 2012, Republicans and Democrats each spent more than $1 billion on their respective presidential campaigns. In comparison, the Libertarians received less than $2.5 million in that election. But with Johnson currently picking up 10 percent support in some polls against Trump and Clinton, money is starting to flow in his party’s direction — with more likely on the way.

Just last Tuesday, tomato farming tycoon Chris Rufer announced he would commit $1 million to the Libertarian cause. Rufer is considering donating either to Purple PAC or Concerned American Voters PAC, which, similar to Purple PAC, had formerly supported GOP hopeful Paul.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, on May 24, Johnson created the Gary Johnson Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with his campaign and 15 state parties. The maximum contribution currently allowed is $80,400 per donor. Clinton and Trump have similar joint fundraising committees with the national and state parties, but their maximums are much higher — about $350,000 and $450,000, respectively.

Additionally, individual donors can give up to $33,400 to the Libertarian National Committee, which has raised a total of $1,518,011 and has $286,909 cash on hand as of April 30. Chairman of that committee, Nicholas Sarwark, has been trying to pin down who could be the next megadonor to the Libertarian cause.

The Koch brothers, the billionaire industrialists Charles and David, have richly supported GOP candidates in the past. (David Koch actually ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980.) With their support of small government, free trade and self-proclaimed backing of socially liberal causes, the Kochs may be more in line philosophically with the Libertarians than with today’s GOP — and more inclined to shift their money to this third-party candidate.

According to Politico, the Libertarian Party has made “back-channel” attempts to connect with the Kochs, although the brothers have denied any contact with them. It would appear at this point that no Koch money is coming the way of the Libertarian Party — yet.