Chicago — Observers in this land infamous for political tricks say a popular method of winning elections is to ensure all of your opponents are thrown off the ballot — the tactic the Daley machine used to first elect an unopposed Barack Obama to the Illinois state senate. Another: Throw a ringer into the race to draw votes away from your real opponent. That latter tactic seems to have been employed by Democrats in this week’s close gubernatorial race in Virginia. And it may have made the difference.
There were many reasons Republican Ken Cuccinelli lost, ranging from his poor fundraising effort and overall strategy to the failure of establishment Republicans to help him as he gained late momentum over Obamacare. But Libertarian-party nominee Robert Sarvis, who won 6.5 percent of the vote in a race Democrat Terry McAuliffe carried by just over two percentage points, was clearly a factor. While some of Sarvis’s vote came from people who wouldn’t otherwise have voted in the race or would have supported McAuliffe, there is evidence that most of Sarvis’s 145,000 votes would have gone to Cuccinelli had Sarvis not been on the ballot.
So how did Sarvis get there? A few hours before the polls opened, we learned that a major Obama campaign bundler from Texas provided the key funding that got Sarvis on the ballot in the first place. The head of the libertarian political-action committee responsible for the effort admitted to Breitbart News that “we probably wouldn’t have spent” the money to secure ballot access for Sarvis if it had not been for a mysterious $150,000 donation received from Texas billionaire and Democratic contributor Joseph Liemandt. The bulk of PAC’s spending in Virginia went to ensuring that Sarvis would get on the ballot. It spent very little there after he qualified.
Liemandt isn’t just a run-of-the-mill Obama bundler. He was invited to a 2012 White House state dinner honoring British prime minister David Cameron. Other invited bundlers were Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
While Liemandt’s company, Trilogy, has given money to some libertarian groups in the past, by far most of its political contributions have been to liberal Democrats. During the 2012 election, Trilogy gave $10,000 to Barack Obama, $92,400 to the Democratic National Committee, and more than $25,000 to Democratic-party organizations in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire.
Ironically, most libertarians I know in Virginia didn’t vote for Sarvis. They listened to former Libertarian-party presidential nominee Ron Paul and his son, Senator Rand Paul, who argued that it would be “insane” for someone to vote for Sarvis over Cuccinelli, a highly aggressive opponent of Obamacare and climate-change taxation while he was state attorney general.
The Blaze website, which first broke the story of Liemandt’s donations, points out that the pattern of liberal Democrats giving to libertarian spoilers may recur in future elections.
Political-action committees enjoy a great deal of freedom and flexibility under the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, which liberals normally love to rail against but are quietly putting to good use.
The Center for Public Integrity notes that “super PACs are allowed to collect unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations to produce political advertisements that are not coordinated with any candidate.” And the power of those independent expenditures (though Virginia’s state election laws are different) can make viable otherwise unimportant candidates. CPI cites examples of how third-party candidates could have decided the 2012 presidential race.
Gary Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, ran as the Libertarian candidate for president in 2012. If the Obama–Romney race had been a bit closer, he could have affected the outcome. Another potential spoiler in that race was Virgil Goode, a former Republican congressman from Southside Virginia who ran nationally as the nominee of the conservative Constitution party in 2012. In the future, Democrats may find it makes for smart if sneaky politics to throw resources to similar candidates in close races. Such tactics clearly paid dividends in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
Lennie Jarratt, a talk-show host whose show airs on Chicago’s WIND-AM, says Democrats in Chicago have used such “divide and conquer” methods for years to plant ringers in GOP primaries and infiltrate Republican organizations with “fake Republicans” who render the party ineffectual. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone,” he tells me, “that, with Chicago Democrats sitting in the White House, they’ll more frequently try these tactics nationwide.”
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.