LNC Steps on it (Again)

In January, I reported that Penn Jillette was going to make some Libertarian Party commercials. In typical LP fashion, another project has been fouled up. I’ll provide the pertinent e-mail chain:

George Squyres:

David Owens has asked me to post this letter to Mike Dixon to the LNC Discussion list to respond to your question about what has happened to the Penn & Teller project. I can confirm most of what David says, except for those phone calls I was not a party to.

The main letter is somewhat lengthy, but contains a lot of necessary detail.

Dave Owens:

Dear Mike [Dixon],

I am addressing this as a letter to you, even though Tony Ryan has asked what happened to it. I am sick and tired of people hammering at me as the bad guy in this whole project when I have done nothing but bust my ass to get this thing done and have been obstructed, largely by you, throughout the entire process. I have covered for you long enough, and since everyone is now rightly demanding an answer as to what has happened with this project, it is time that you answer them.

I was first contacted about the Penn &Teller project on November 10, 2005. By November 28th, I had been contacted by Nevada LP state secretary Nathan (I don’t know his last name) who works in the P&T organization. He had contacted Penn Gillette and gotten his agreement to do a fund raising video for us. We set a shooting date for early January, but shortly after we set things up, it got moved back to the 25th. It would be at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. After researching the cost of a film crew in Las Vegas I came up with a budget of $7500 for the shoot. I asked George Squyres to write the script knowing I could get him to do it for free. Mark Rutherford was in charge of the overall project. I gave him all these numbers early on, and told him that we would need the money to pay for it before we got to Vegas. This was not just to comply with LNC rules. During December and early January, Mark brought Bruce Cohen on board and the two of them raised the $7500. In fact they raised $9300 in total.

I traveled to Las Vegas on January 21st to meet with Penn & Teller’s people on the 22nd. At that point their publicist started changing what they were willing to do as participants in the project. Ultimately, in spite of the fact that I had forwarded the script from George early on and they had approved it, we went through 4 changes before the actual shoot on the 25th, including changing the shoot from Penn & Teller doing it solo as an appeal, to doing it as an interview. I was in no position to negotiate as it was put to me that the alternative to doing what they wanted was not doing it at all. They held all the cards. I chose to go ahead with the project for many reasons, including the fact that we had raised money from donors, our party’s need for funds, and because it would be the first real opportunity to at last have a real celebrity endorsement.

What we got on the 25th was 21 minutes of interview footage that really lends itself to making people into contributors for various pledge programs at all levels. Mark Rutherford saw the first raw clips and said they were far better than he had hoped for. However, because of the interview format and the changes to the script, in order for the film to work we now would need an introduction and a conclusion piece that told people how to become a contributor and join our various pledge programs.

On January 27th I traveled to the State Chairs Conference in Phoenix where I gave you a full report. I had no question that as Chairman of the party it should be you doing the introduction, the conclusion and the actual pitch to get people to contribute and sign up for the pledge program. The party had just gone to the no dues program and the 45 States that were getting UMP funds were being cut off from their major source of income. If we could provide the states as well as the national with a celebrity fund raising DVD that helped their pledge programs get off the ground that would be genuine support for the state affiliates rather than the same old lip service from the LNC.

Your response to me in Phoenix was that ” February is completely booked, every single day.” I responded to you that we could shoot in March and that would give us time to do the editing in February. I told you that we would need to raise money for the second shoot and that the 21 minutes of footage that we all ready had was going to require a lot more editing that I had not counted on.

I returned home and contacted my studio engineer. I had been able to get one of my contacts to put me in touch with a young but very good engineer in New York. In fact he was so up for the project that he flew to Vegas to participate in the shoot on his own dime. We went over the raw footage and came up with a very good price for the editing of 5 versions of the project. Those versions include one version for the first step of the project where we are approaching the major donors, whales and torch club members, a second version for the second step of the project where we are asking for the rank and file party members to become genuine contributors to the national party, a third version that would be sent to a broad cross section of the entire freedom movement through mailing lists obtained from other organizations, as well as two versions that would be used by state affiliates in their own local fund raising efforts. This editing cost us a total of $2500 or $500 per version, which if you ask anyone who knows about costs on this sort of work is far below dirt cheap. I received only $1800 since that was all that we had raised at that point, so I put in $700 of my own and completed the initial editing of the 21 minutes of footage.

I must also make the point that the editing that will be needed for the introduction and conclusion and final combining of the two is included in the $2500 that my studio engineer agreed to charge. So, there will be no further editing costs, despite the fact that there will be more actual work done. The editing for the whole project is now paid for.

By the beginning of March I still had not heard from you as to when you would be available to finish the shoot, so on the 6th I called you and left a message that we needed to get a date set to finish the project. You never returned my call. During the entire month of March I never heard back from you, in spite of asking others to contact you and trying again myself. At this point another shoe dropped, namely the committee that commissioned this project disbanded.

By the third of April various people, including LNC members, had started to ask what had happened to the Penn &Teller project that they contributed to. Shane Cory at that point requested that I hand over all the raw footage so that he can take over and complete the project. The strong implication of this is that I am either incapable or unwilling to complete the work I have started. This is very insulting and the first slap at me in this project. Having done a number of this type of project in both Florida and Pennsylvania, and knowing that the surest way to produce a very bad product is to have it go from person to person, each changing it to suit a different vision, I refused to hand over the footage. Additionally I am not going to come out of this with damage to my reputation in this area after putting considerable quantities of my own time, money and contacts into the project.

Finally on April 6th you contacted me, not about scheduling the final shoot, but with a demand of an accounting from me of all the funds that have been expended on the project so far. The numbers had already been given to the people involved in the project, including Mark Rutherford, but I complied and sent you an accounting of what had been spent. At this point Mark Nelson got very vocal about this being another typical LNC failure with people doing things out of their skill set, no accounting of what has been spent, and more. He points the finger at me as the one who has screwed the entire thing up and is not getting the job done. This is the second slap at me in this picture. The accounting that I gave of the costs so far was condemned as inadequate and I was told that we need a line-by-line accounting of what monies had been paid to the dozen or so vendors. I will say it again: there have been only two vendors in this entire project, not twelve, and no one else has been paid a dime. I have paid all my own expenses, as has everyone else who has participated. The two vendors who have been paid are the Vegas film crew ($7500) and the New York editing studio ($2500). No one is getting greased and I take it as an insult from you and anyone else the implication that I have pocketed money on this project. If this is how the LP treats activists trying to help the party, there is little wonder that we have gone nowhere in 35 years.

After all of this, I continued to ask you to set a date to finish the shoot, and still you gave me no answer. I am at a loss to understand why you cannot over so many months cut one afternoon out of your schedule to finish this project. I told you that I would come to Charlotte to do it if that would make it easier, but got no response to that either. The only conclusion that I can draw, and have drawn, is that you are opposed to it for some reason. There is no explanation or justification of why you have been “unable” to do what is needed to complete the project, so the conclusion has to be that you are “unwilling.” Yet in the face of this, I am the one who is getting attacked for the lack of performance. I cannot comprehend why you have done this, why you have sat idly by and let me take the blame for the delay in this project, when it would take nothing more than a phone call from you to have it finished. The hard part is done; I do not understand your obstruction of the one of the best projects the LP has ever undertaken when we are sitting on the finish line.

Realizing that you were never going to do what was needed to finish it, and feeling on the advice of many that it would be inappropriate for Shane to do the introduction, I looked around for someone else who could do the final shoot, and finally Bruce Cohen came up with Dave Ruprecht. That would work as Ruprecht is a nationally known personality and would be recognized by many, as well as having the professional skills to do the job well.

I went forward with a schedule based on the fact that Ruprecht would be in Atlantic City to shoot a game show on April 22nd, and would be able to get his film crew to do a quick shoot for us at minimal cost, likely around $3000. From there I could go straight to the editing studio in New York and within a day would have the final product. As I said previously, the editing costs are already paid, so there would be no additional costs. I asked you, by email and phone call, to contact Bruce, by this time the only one remaining of the original committee, and get him moving on raising the final monies needed to finish the project. Again the response from you was dead silence and Bruce did not receive any contact or authorization to proceed. This again stops the project as we cannot spend money we don’t have, and I am not willing or able to cover the costs out of my own pocket, nor should I be asked to do this.

Fortunately, Ruprecht’s schedule changed and his trip to Atlantic City was changed to June 3rd. I say fortunately because we would have been in a real problem if he had shown up and we couldn’t pay the film crew, and it would have been on my reputation as the one who did not pay the bill.

I have contacted Bruce myself to get the fund raising underway, and he has responded that he is ready, willing and waiting, but that he cannot proceed without authorization from the chair to do so. At this point we have less than two weeks before the film shoot in Atlantic City and we cannot proceed, once again, because you will not act, you will not respond to anyone, you will not allow it to go forward. Yet the finger still points at me as the one who is the problem.

I am unwilling to be implicated as the problem in this picture any longer. The reason this project has been stalled for months when it could have been done in February is laid at your doorstep, and I am sorry that your refusal to respond to me or anyone else has made this necessary. Since I am unable to post to the LNC list, I have asked George to post this for me in response to Tony Ryan’s demand to know what is going on with the project. I have also asked him to post it to the state chair’s list, as the project was presented to the state chairs conference and fund raising was done there. The people who have contributed to this project have a right to know why the project has stalled, and I am not going to take the hit for you.

I am determined to finish this project on June 3rd, not simply because the party needs it, but because when I take on a project I finish it; my reputation as a producer of projects like this is on the line. The party contacted me about doing this; I did not seek it out, but I am always ready to help the party with the skills that I can lend.

Those who have seen the rough cuts know that it will be a major boon to the party. I am asking you to tell the only remaining committee member, Bruce Cohen, to start raising money for the final shoot. No matter what happens I am determined that the final shoot will be on June 3rd and I will have the finished product by June 5th. The only issue is whether we will have to go around you to complete the project, so I will respectfully ask you to either lead, follow or get out of the way.

The ball is in your court, Mr. Chairman. But then it has been in your court since the State Chair’s Conference in Phoenix this last January.

Michael Dixon’s response:

Good morning all

And to those who receive multiple copies, I apologize, but plead the defense of our multiplying email lists.

There is no doubt that I have been disappointed in the lack of completion of this very interesting project. I applaud David for his initiative and his work to date, but urge everyone involved to place their differences aside and work to bring this project to completion soon.

I have had one conversation (I returned the one call I received from David) in early April where David agreed to do 2 things for me.

1. provide an accounting of where funds were spent. I did not ask for exact accounting, just an simple one page outline showing the areas of expense for our accounting purposes.

2. a timeline showing how filming and editing would be completed by the end of April.

Since then I have heard nothing, and have received nothing that addressed either of these points.

Though the primary plan was to have David Ruprecht handle the video work, I have made myself available on several dates for filming in the DC area, and there has been discussion of filming in other locations.

Though I understand and appreciate David’s preference for my smiling visage on this video, I believe that for the benefit of this clip being timeless an actor (not associated with a specific time in the party’s history) is more appropriate. I know that David has been willing and available on the east coast several times over the last months. He and I have discussed this and I am sure he will execute the “stand up” very well.

My need to get accounting information to the national office is a simple matter of appropriate control, reporting, and donor integrity. I am sorry that my requests for data, and a timeline, have met with such a response. I will remain the steward of the member’s and donor’s money and will require that project manager’s of initiatives, large and small, report on their spending for the good of the Party.

I hope that all involved in this will place their differences aside and work to complete this innovative project.

My opinion is that is all too typical of the LNC. While proper accounting details and timelines obviously need to be considered, immediate completion has got to be the main priority when working with people who are volunteering their name, time and expertise on such a project. When someone needs me for a national media appearance such as this, I call the person I’m to meet with and ask, “What day do you want me there?” while scratching a note to the person closest to me to start making flight arrangements ASAP. I can call someone from the airport, if necessary, to provide funding for the trip and turn in receipts afterwards to square away the books. It would be really nice to see the LP begin putting the horse in front of the cart.

UPDATE: According to several phone calls I’ve received today, there is likely to be a bit of blame on both ends of this issue. It seems to be turning into a “he said – she said” situation, and I don’t have any compelling information which I can provide at the moment to clear up the issue. If I had to make a bet on it based on the calls I’ve received, there are probably several parties to cast a bit of blame upon. I’ve been told that some arrangements had been made for Dixon to fly to a studio, that some money may have mysteriously not been properly accounted for, and a few other related things, but I only have hearsay (and no hard evidence) on any of these allegations. I think we will be hearing more about this issue before too long, though.

Perhaps I was too hasty in the title and should have titled this entry “Libertarians Step on it (Again).”

posted by Stephen Gordon
  • Graham

    What exactly does Michael Dixon do? And what does the guy from Supermarket Sweep who married Janet on Three’s Company have to do with this?

  • Don Wills

    Note that Dixon does not answer any questions about his motivations or why communications attempts with him were unsuccessful. Without any other information than the writings, it would appear Dixon isn’t being forthright. That’s really sad.

  • (groan!)

  • disinter

    Imagine my shock.

  • Michael Hampton

    This is the sort of thing which has kept me from getting involved with the Libertarian Party. When the guy running the thing is a politician, rather than a libertarian statesman, it’s very difficult for me to think the party will be effective.

    Perhaps the politician removal service needs to start by removing Dixon.

  • This is precisely the kind of thing that gave me reason to distance myself from the party after the ’04 elections. This surely can’t be giving a good impression to the LP celebs (some who may even read this) that the LNC has its s*it together, you know?

    Not that I won’t vote for LP candidates — quite the opposite — but the lack of order and transparency is disheartening to sit and watch day after day. Kind of like being the cleanup guy after a trainwreck.

    Keep fighting the good fight, HoT. :)

  • Good God, why is Dixon being such a horses ass? Seriously, he needs to pull his face away from his dick and get the freak out. Perhaps we could get Mr. Gordon to take over as LNC Chair? ;)

  • As “LP insider” controversy’s go, this one is rather tame. Also it looks to me like the project will eventually come to fruition. I will talk to a couple of LNC reps about this matter. If enough of us do that, this should be resolved pronto.

    In the meantime please look at my two-race for Texas State Senate. I will be debating my opponent tomorrow night and, based on early face-to-face campaigning, I am feeling quite confident that I have a real shot at pulling the upset here in the Austin area. Additional support from Libertarians around the country will allow me to complete the execution of the initial portion of my campaign strategy which is designed to prove that I really do have a chance to win. Once I have demonstrated that this is a real race, additional funding should be forthcoming from a wider circle than just my libertarian friends. Please help out by visiting http://rockhoward.org and using the Contribute link in the “Things To Do” box on the left. Thanks!

  • Stephen Gordon

    Rock — please make sure that I get footate of the debate. Good luck.

  • Sandra Kallander

    1. David Ruprecht is the Executive Director of the LP of California. He was recruited into the LP by Harry Browne when they met on a shoot. He’s a great guy!
    2. Has anybody looked into verifying that the phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses the parties to this are using are accurate? It sure sounds like both sides think they’ve responded appropriately to every contact they got. Maybe some contacts went astray.

  • Mr. Dixon, who also approved the crossover to Raiser’s Edge without doing an alpha test if it sent readable files to State Committees (it didn’t; MA went 8 months before we got one), is running for re-election as National Chair. He has three opponents: Bill Redpath, Ernie Hancock, and myself.

  • Graham

    Yeah, I saw Harry Browne’s video infommercial in 2000. I am not doubting that Ruprecht is a good guy..

  • Timothy West

    I was told about this some months ago over the phone by a LNC member, and I was starting to wonder what the hell had ever happened to it. I guess now I know.

    It is in everyones best interests to get this resolved ASAP before it goes to the point where it’s not recoverable.

    Make time in your schedule. TV spots with them on lp.org and whatever coverage we can afford to buy will be very helpful to the LP’s chances in 2006 and 2008, provided we dont immolate ourselves in convention first. :)

    If this effort fails due to simple “creative visioning differences” between him and others as opposed to letting the people who most understand the project do their job, then Dixon has done the party a great injury. It’s not his job to decide that kind of thing! That is something to be delegated and followed up on in your role as a manager.


  • Timothy West

    There’s one other thing that needs to be said.

    ….the first step of the project where we are approaching the major donors, whales and torch club members, a second version for the second step of the project where we are asking for the rank and file party members to become genuine contributors to the national party, a third version that would be sent to a broad cross section of the entire freedom movement through mailing lists obtained from other organizations, as well as two versions that would be used by state affiliates in their own local fund raising efforts.”

    This progression is EXACTLY BACKWARDS in percieved order of importance!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I cant understand how a video shoot is useful in a mass mailing fundraiser. I am FUCKING SICK of the LP using the snailmail method again and again. If the primary goal of getting this done is so we can now mail out snazzy funding letters with Penn’s picture on it, then there is a lot of room for improvement somewhere.

  • Michael H. Wilson

    Timothy West writes: “I cant understand how a video shoot is useful in a mass mailing fundraiser.”
    Yeh, I’m asking that same question.
    How is it to be used? Maybe that has something to do with the problem at hand.

  • Stuart Richards

    We need to get our shit together as a party. I’m not sure whose fault it is, but GET IT TOGETHER. ALL OF YOU. We can have Penn and Teller raising money for us if you all can just STOP. THE. INFIGHTING.

    And Timothy West is, yet again, right-our big-time donors are in our camp already, and the only way we can squeeze more cash out of them is by winning stuff and therefore looking like a worthwhile investment. The freedom movement in general are the guys who need to see this-a video like that can get a fuck ton of people in the LP and donating.

    And WTF? This had better not go snailmail… use the LP email list for once! Email this out to them. Ask other freedom-loving orgs for access to their lists; PAY them if you have to. But do it by email! Almost everyone with email is capable of clicking on a link and watching streaming video, which costs us next to nothing; not everyone’s going to pop a DVD in and watch it. USE EMAIL FIRST AND FOREMOST.

  • George Whitfield

    Hi Rock,
    I checked out your website and it does look like you have a winable race. I just sent you a contribution. Best wishes on your campaign.

  • “All of you.”

    And there’s the major problem of the Libertarian Party… (almost) everyone is willing to sit back and talk about how stupid the LNC is… but yet… I wonder how many of those people will make the self sacarfices and actually run for the LNC in Portland?

  • ianbernard

    Stuart, according to Shane Cory the email list is not to be used too often, because someone might unsubscribe if they get an email from it!

    In regards to this controversy, this is not a shock to me:

    Infighting and bureaucracy are disgusting, and a prime reason why I don’t contribute money to the national party anymore. (I am a lifetime member, BTW.)

  • Timothy West


    in my case, running against Jim Lark would not be successful, I dont think….but I did think about it just to mke it interesting. Now it’s out of the question until my problems are cleared up or I am dead, one tor da other. :D

  • Tim,

    By saying almost I meant to exclude you and Steve Gordon… both of whom make very positive steps for liberty by working with the LNC in some instances, despite our stupidity. :-)

  • Ah yes, Trevor Mr. Stud on the LNC (Lazy Nonexistent Club) is pressing his nose and mouth firmly on Tim and Steve’s butt. What do you have to worry about Trevor-you’ll be re-elected to that glorious post of inefficiency. There are still a few shady types on the LNC (Republitarians-like Aaron Starr) that make me wanna puke when LNC is ever mentioned.

  • Mr. Stud? Wow, I knew the guys on the LNC weren’t that good looking but if I’m a stud, well, the party is doomed.

    As for the Lazy Nonexistent Club… the members of that club spend several thousands of dollars each year to go to those LNC meetings. It’s a sacarfice they make – and they do the best they can to run the party.

    As for Tim and Steve, they’re good guys. I supported Tim’s move to be on the PlatComm and I wish Steve would run for the LNC.

    Actually, I won’t be re-elected because I’m not running. I all ready have 60 hours of work a week as ED of Georgia and I can’t afford another LNC term right now. Heck, I won’t even be able to make it out to Portland. But I’m sure my region will elect another stud to fill the post.

  • Of course, one could ask what the use of the video will be. So far as I cold tell from the State Chairs meeting, the purpose of the video was to generate broadcast/cable TV ads for the Libertarian Party as a name, with a short trailer to be added giving local and state contact information.

    A search of the LNC Minutes did not find references to this project that would explain the project in more detail.

    One sends the video to potential donors, to convince them to mail us money. One might also try a fundraiser that is a CDROM playable on computer and TV, rather than a letter, and there are nonconventional profile CD ‘disks’ (that are noncircular) that can readily be mailed.

    I see Mr. West attacking paper mail fundraising. His prior wrong efforts were attacks on dues, which killed one of the party’s primary income streams. If he also manages to kill direct mail fundraising, it will not matter who is elected to the national committee. The LNC will go broke.

  • vforvandyke

    George Phillies: The jury is still out on dues, but I’m betting it will raise membership substantially (and thus people who can be contacted via mail/email).

    My sticky point with the LP’s mailing campaign is that they haven’t given their software the brains to NOT send snail mail to people who have a valid email address. You have no idea how angry it makes me to get a letter from the LP asking for money when they could have simply sent me an email (and if you are going to advocate sending media in the mail, they better damn sure send that to people who don’t have an email address on file).

  • disinter

    I agree, the LP wastes WAY too much money on mail solicitations to the choir. Spend that money on publicity, then the members and interest will come… along with donations IMHO.

  • If you send a video file to someone who uses dialup, especially someone whose software autodownloads, you have probably not recruited a donor.