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August 01, 2004

The 2004 Libertarian Convention and Nominee Badnarik

Via The Volokh Conspiracy I found an excellent article on the The 2004 Libertarian Convention Since the Libertarians are a small party, their convention does not get TV coverage and hence is more than just an extended campaign ad cum try-out session for future vice-presidential candidates. They actually fight over nominations. And this year an underdog (not really a "dark horse") won the nomination.

The winner, Mr. Badnarik,

... has written a book on the Constitution for students in his one-day, $50 seminar on the Constitution, but it is available elsewhere, including on Amazon.com. It features an introduction by Congressman Ron Paul and Badnarik's theory about taxes. His campaign website included a potpourri of right-wing constitutional positions, as well as some very unorthodox views on various issues. He proposed that convicted felons serve the first month of their sentence in bed so that their muscles would atrophy and they'd be less trouble for prison guards and to blow up the U.N. building on the eighth day of his administration, after giving the building's occupants a chance to evacuate. In one especially picturesque proposal, he wrote:

I would announce a special one-week session of Congress where all 535 members would be required to sit through a special version of my Constitution class. Once I was convinced that every member of Congress understood my interpretation of their very limited powers, I would insist that they restate their oath of office while being videotaped.

This is not an intelligent nomination, even for the Libertarians. How did it happen?

The Libertarian party did not want a failed campaign--

... another campaign like the past two, in which LP nominee Harry Browne had spent millions of dollars but had gotten .50% and .36% of the vote. Russo thinks Browne is a "disgrace to the Libertarian Party" because Browne promised to spend the money he raised during the campaign on advertising, but spent it instead on personal travel, generous salaries for his staff, and building a fundraising base for future use. (Browne had spent only $8,840 of $1.4 million on advertising in his first campaign, and about $117,000 of $2.7 million on advertising in his second.


In 1996, Browne hired Perry Willis, the party's national director, and Bill Winter, editor of the party's newspaper, to work for his nomination. This violated party rules and the terms of both employees' contracts. When exposed, Browne, Willis, and Winter all agreed to end their business relationship. Five years later, copies of invoices for services rendered were found among files archived on Willis' computer at LP headquarters, revealing that he and Browne had conspired to continue their illicit relationship and, with other members of Browne's staff, had conspired to pay Willis by a process of laundering the funds through another legal entity. Willis admitted that he had done this, arguing that his work for Browne's candidacy, though in violation of his employment contract and LP rules, was of such vital importance to the party that it justified his and Browne's lying and defrauding the party. Browne at first told supporters that he could explain everything in a way they'd find acceptable, but as the evidence mounted, he simply refused to say anything on the subject, not even responding to the National Committee's investigation.

The party's National Committee passed a resolution banning the party from doing further business with Willis or any entity with which he was involved, and condemning Browne and the other members of his management team who were implicated in the scheme.

But one of Browne's conspirators remained in charge of the party's publications and, not surprisingly, chose not to report very much about the episode, and other party officials presumably were reluctant to publicize Browne's misdeeds out of fear of hurting their ability to raise funds. Despite the lack of publicity within the party about Browne's malfeasance, a substantial number of party activists learned about it and were disgusted with Browne.

What happened in 2004 was that the two front-runners knocked each other out with much bad feeling, and the backers of one went to Badnarik. Nobody had expected this, so nobody knew much about Badnarik. The whole process was confused:
The situation on the floor was confusing: the chair had called for the second ballot, and the nominating session was recessed for delegates to get lunch. Many left without realizing that they were supposed to vote before going to lunch. Outside the convention hall, people were running about asking delegates whether they'd voted, and sending them back into the hall to do so.


The nomination process was over. LP delegates had chosen as their standard-bearer a man who had willfully refused to file his federal tax return for years, refused to get a driver's license but continued to drive his car despite having been ticketed so many times that he couldn't recall the exact number, proposed to blow up the United Nations building, wanted to force criminals in prisons to stay in bed until their muscles atrophied, and planned to force Congress to take a "special version" of his class on the Constitution. And the overwhelming majority of delegates didn't know any of this about their nominee.

Shortly after Badnarik made his acceptance speech, Larry Fullmer, an Idaho delegate and Russo supporter, learned from an Oregon delegate that Badnarik hadn't been filing his income tax returns. Fullmer, he later recalled, "freaked" at the news. "From early afternoon until 5:00 a.m. Monday, I spent every second telling folks about Badnarik and the IRS." Fullmer spoke to more than a hundred delegates, and didn't find a single delegate who knew that Badnarik hadn't been filing returns. Most were "shocked" at the news.

Among others, Fullmer spoke with Mary Ruwart, who responded, "Larry, ya gotta get the election reconsidered," and proceeded to tell him that Robert's Rules required that a motion to reconsider the nomination was in order only if it was made by someone who had voted for the nominee. Fullmer also approached Judge Jim Gray, the LP senate candidate in California, and told him about Badnarik's not filing his tax returns. "You are running on a ticket headed up by a constitutional nutcase who has refused to pay his taxes for years. What do you think about that?" Gray responded, according to Fullmer, in these words: "Larry, if what you say is true . . . you already know what I think."

No doubt getting Libertarians organized is like herding sheep, but this perhaps show the limitations of guided rationality. Politics, unlike economics, lacks the Invisible Hand, and needs some bosses to run things. In this case, the bosses could have helped by putting together their information about Badnarik, or by generating some by using the economies of scale of staff and delegation. Their followers would, if rational, have willingly lent their votes to the bosses in blocs, knowing that the bosses would have better information and could direct their votes better than could they themselves.

Posted by erasmuse at August 1, 2004 04:01 PM

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I don't get what the issue is. A non-serious party, dedicated to a non-serious ideology decides on a non-serious candidate. And the surprise is . . .?

Posted by: Chris Atwood at August 2, 2004 04:13 PM

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