Third Party Watch’s Austin Cassidy and HoT’s Stuart Richards have taken the Badnarik for Congress campaign to task for their campaign spending practices. The key complaints seem to revolve around office and staff expenditures.
To begin, Cassidy and Richards have been criticized for broaching the topic or covering it without enough investigation. The issue is clearly a fair one, as inappropriate campaign spending has been a key issue of several high profile Libertarian campaigns in the past. The two Harry Browne campaigns certainly serve as examples. Other related issues include the ongoing debate over decentralization of the Libertarian Party in D.C. and the cost of rent for their offices at the Watergate. Two of the four candidates for LP national chair have spoken strongly in favor of moving LP headquarters from the Watergate. This is a fair and reasonable issue for debate among libertarians.
If there is controversy within the LP or the libertarian movement, I’m in favor of opening the debate and the lines of communication between the various parties involved. Cassidy and Richards had some reason for concern, and Stephen VanDyke handled it appropriately with his open letter to Allen Hacker.
This said, now I’ll render my opinion on the general topic at hand.
The first thing I’d like to state is that I worked (for months) in the same office space during the presidential race — therefore I know exactly what I’m talking about here. They are getting a good financial deal on their campaign headquarters. In addition to the square footage, there are other factors to be considered. They are in a professional building with ample parking and convenient highway access. The space is prewired for telephone and computer networking. There’s a pleasant reception area upfront (first door on the left on the ground floor when you enter the building), and the private offices (5, if I recall correctly) are conveniently behind the reception area on the exterior side (big glass windows) of the rental space. The other side has a good room for shipping operations (campaign signs, stickers, etc.) which is convenient for UPS, deliveries from local vendors, and the logical pickup point for local supporters. It has a large room we used for storage (Hacker may have put it to a different use) as well as a functional and secure caging room for accounting purposes. In back, there is a comfortable library/conference room combination, which is suitable for everything from staff meetings to media interviews to volunteer functions.
If you are going to run a multi-million dollar campaign, it’s absolutely necessary to have a paid staff to handle the accounting and related reporting functions, as well as a functional and comfortable place for them to work. You can’t depend on volunteers for this (we’ve tried) as there has to be reasonable control of data entry, balancing accounts, FEC reports, etc. This requires people who can commit (the key problem with volunteers) to being at the office every day (or at least five days per week).
Likewise, other functions need to be paid for, too. I disagree with some of Hacker’s choices. As an example, I’d have hired my communications director long before now — an issue where the campaign still looks very weak. I know they are working on resolving the issue, but it seems from my outside perspective that they’ve blown quite a few earned media opportunities. I certainly don’t agree with every hiring (or other decision) Hacker has made — but it’s his campaign, not mine. He’d certainly not agree with all of my decisions, either — and he is the man in the hot seat, as opposed to the rest of us.
There were several hundred dollars worth of car rental charges, several hundred dollars worth of meals at local restaurants, and some other office-related expenses like phone phone and internet access.
I’m assuming this is a report, and not a criticism. A few hundred bucks for rental cars, and paying for phone and internet access is certainly reasonable.
They also appear to have ordered 100 T-shirts and purchased an ad in at least one local newspaper. Also an ad in LP News.
I never saw the LP News ad, but I assume it was for the purpose of obtaining fundraising from national sources. Local advertising and purchasing T-shirts are obviously reasonable campaign functions.
Quite a bit of travel for Badnarik and his staff, most of it to and from locations outside his district: Las Vegas, Phoenix, and California. About $1,100 or so went to Royal Caribbean International, presumably for Badnarik to attend the California State LP Convention which was held on a cruise ship.
Badnarik was in Phoenix for the LP State Chairs’ conference. It was a good place for him to drum up support, and I spoke with Hacker quite a bit during the event. If Badnarik received enough money or other support at the California LP Convention to cover the expense of the trip, then it was worth it. We’ll have to let Badnarik or Hacker respond to that one.
Amusingly, the candidate himself seems to have paid $4.95 on February 25th for the cost of 2 ginger ales from Royal Caribbean. The item is recorded as “Campaign Event: 2 Ginger Ale: Michael”.
If we’re worried about a $4.95 expenditure for what is already a six-digit campaign, our priorities are misplaced.
The folks working on this campaign seem to be expensing quite a few meals out at restaurants. Outback Steakhouse, Luby’s, Marie Callendar’s, and on and on. There must be a couple dozen meals on here. Since last July they’ve spent more eating out at restaurants than most any other Libertarian Congressional campaign will raise or spend at all this year.
I frequently spend money on restaurants for campaign volunteers and paid staff. To begin, the paid staff does not get all that much money, and never as much as they could with a real job. Any financial offset is helpful to retaining staff. For volunteers, it’s even more important to provide what you can to thank them for their hard (and valued) work. Such meals also serve as motivational functions — especially for the volunteers, but also for the underpaid staffers. If a hundred bucks of food pays for thousands of dollars of labor, it seems a wise investment to me.
When we organize college functions, we generally have free pizza available. It helps (significantly) with the turnout. When I do business with members of the mainstream media, tech firms, non-libertarian politicians, etc., the meals and hotels are significantly more expensive. It’s called the real world, and I’ve eaten at 4 and 5-star restaurants with political players. If we wish to play with the big boys, we’ve got to be able to occupy the same turf — and the Outback is hardly luxury dining.
Other items include a little less than $1,000 for an Acer notebook computer and $415 for a fridge for the office.
I’ve certainly paid much more for laptops and fail to see the problem. I’m not sure about the cost of the refrigerator, so I won’t touch that one.
I speak with Hacker, Airheart and Badnarik from time to time. Hacker and I spent a considerable amount of time with each other in Phoenix discussing the Badnarik campaign. Hacker is the eternal optimist and seems to be following the “build it and they will come” track. His strong belief is that serious money will be raised and it is imperative for the campaign to have the infrastructure in place to handle it. I’ve worked many campaigns (mostly GOP, including my lastest win) where enough money was initially raised to handle basic operational expenses from early financial backers. Afterwards, the overwhelming majority of money raised could be used for paid media. Hacker is obviously using a a similar approach.
Time will tell if the money will actually come, but Hacker has a plan and he seems to be (communications/media notwithstanding) following through with it in a reasonable and consistent manner. It is easy to armchair quarterback, but I’ll tell you from experience that it’s much more difficult to be the one calling the plays.
Anyone can run a campaign without the expenditures required for necessary organization — many Libertarians do. I’ve never seen one (expect for extremely small races in very small districts) actually win, though. If we’re ever to be winners, we must first start acting like them.