Harry Browne: The Libertarian Party's Colin Powell?
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
The Libertarian Party won't pick its presidential nominee until its national convention in Washington, D.C., July 4, 1996.
But the party's small salaried staff, now working out of the Watergate Hotel of 1972 break-in fame, has its own campaign strategy: choose a presidential nominee by fait accompli at least two years in advance, and put him on the road to do fund-raising.
The goal of this plan? To generate money not only for official party operations, but for extra salaries for these very employees, speech-writers and consultants, who all the while maintain the pose of being uncommitted in what is officially a three- or four-way race for the party's nomination.
Four years ago, the candidate presented to the party faithful as their "only choice" by this same small cadre was former Alaska state Rep. Andre Marrou, at the time a resident of Las Vegas.
Marrou, at least, had run for vice president on the Libertarian national ticket in 1988, was known to have been a party member for some years, and had held elective office. He has since disappeared from all party functions -- even the biennial convention parade of previous national candidates dating all the way back to 1972 -- in some kind of nonspecific ignominy, after garnering only 200,000-odd votes for a party that had polled 1 million in 1980.
When Mr. Marrou's ability to raise funds for the small salaried clique had been used up, he was tossed aside like last week's newspaper.
But his handlers were not shame-faced. The campaign had worked out fine from their point of view. All they needed now was another horse. So, without the undue bustle that might have been stirred up by interviewing any long-time Libertarians with real-world campaign experience, the same small cadre of Watergate conspirators pre-selected as their presidential nominee, in the summer of 1994, financial newsletter author Harry Browne.
Mr. Browne was apparently chosen for the modest fame earned with the publication 20 years ago of his book How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, and for his ability to deliver a well-rehearsed Chamber of Commerce luncheon speech singing the praises of lower taxes and less regulation of business (which I'm all in favor of, don't get me wrong), while mentioning not a word about the portions of the LP platform that might scare away conservative campaign donors, the parts about gay rights and legalizing drugs and machine guns and the like.
Mr. Browne had his own reasons for welcoming the opportunity to go on the road this year with someone else footing the bill. He's just bringing out a new book. He smilingly told the Connecticut state Libertarian convention on Sept. 23: "This is the longest book tour I've ever been on."
It may also be the most lucrative book tour ever organized by the party's salaried functionaries.
In the final quarter of 1994, Kiana Delamare, roommate and Significant Other of the party's towering executive director, Perry Willis of Tucson, received $24,000 from the Harry Browne campaign in a single three-month period, according to candidate Browne's official filings with the FEC. Libertarian Party national chairman Steve Dasbach, an Indiana schoolteacher, says Delamare was working as Browne's full-time scheduler, but "had a falling out, not with the candidate, but with the way the Browne campaign was being run," and left the Browne campaign in January, 1995.
Significantly, after January of 1995, when Ms. Delamare also separated from Mr. Willis, no more funds appear in the FEC reports flowing to Delamare, but executive director Perry Willis starts to show up himself, receiving $2,577 from the Browne campaign in the first half of 1995.
Willis was paid to write a fund-raising prospectus, explains Dasbach, Willis' official boss as the national party's highest-ranking elected officer. "When I found out about that, I talked to Perry and told him I had some concerns, and I asked him not to accept any further work of that nature until it had been discussed with the LNC (Libertarian National Committee)," Dasbach says.
William Winter, the party's wiry salaried director of communications, received $885 in Browne money in the second quarter of this year, and $1,142 in the third, according to the same FEC reports. Stuart Reges, the party headquarters' paid computer consultant, who Dasbach says is also serving as Browne's campaign treasurer, received from the Browne campaign $6,781 in the second quarter of 1995, and $8,325 in the third, the equivalent of an extra annual salary of $30,000.
The question of whether all this creates the impression of a conflict of interest was discussed by the party's National Committee in August, Dasbach says.
"As regards Bill (Winter), ever since he came to work for us he has done work on his own time for candidates, generally for free. In this case he has done some layout work for the Browne campaign and the Jorgensen (vice presidential) campaign, but because of the provision in our policy manual that prevents staff from directly supporting specific candidates, he has done that work as a paid vendor at market rates, and the LNC did not have a problem with that."
I asked Dasbach whether he sees any risk that a paid office staff beholden to the Browne campaign, often for more of their income than the party itself supplies, might steer media inquiries or potential donors to the Browne camp, implying that he was already as good as the party's presidential nominee?
"They're given the names and numbers of all the candidates when they call in, all the candidates are treated just alike," Dasbach says.
Why does he believe that?
"They'd do that because they have ethical standards," Dasbach says.
"That's a bunch of baloney," says income tax protester Irwin Schiff of Las Vegas, one of Browne's three challengers for the nomination and not one to mince words. "It's a conflict of interest. Obviously if someone calls they'd be pushing Harry Browne; they're working for Harry Browne."
Executive Committee member and fund-raising supervisor Sharon Ayres shows up in the Browne FEC filings as the recipient of $26,331 in the second quarter of this year alone, and $14,079 in the third -- the equivalent of $80,000 a year. It's easy enough to see why the party's National Committee turns a blind eye to such political coziness: hungry for funds to fight ballot access battles forced upon them by incumbent-protection laws in many states, the party leaders can't help but smile when candidate Browne reports paying the party more than $13,000 in one six-month period just to rent their membership mailing lists.
The FEC reports show Browne speechwriter Michael Emerling Cloud, partner with Perry Willis in running the 1992 Marrou campaign and long-time author of fund-raising letters for the national party, receiving $13,766 in the second quarter of '95, and another $16,514 from July through September -- the equivalent of an annual compensation of $60,000.
"With regard to Sharon Ayres," the party's development director, "I was certainly expecting she was being paid," Dasbach says. Ayres and Emerling Cloud are Harry Browne's campaign chairman and campaign manager, respectively, according to Dasbach.
"This isn't anything new; it is not surprising that the people who are most active in the party are also the people who are going to end up being active in campaigns," Dasbach says. "Our various state chairs usually line up with one candidate or another. Tamara Clark (chair of the Arizona Libertarian Party) is acting as campaign manager for Rick Tompkins."
Clark makes no secret of her work for Arizona favorite son Tompkins, work for which she says she has accepted no salary to date. But she views the uniform partisanship of the entire Washington headquarters staff as something more ominous: "The fund-raising materials I've seen handed out at NatCom meetings make it clear Harry Browne is as good as the nominee," she says. "If he had not had access to that national headquarters, if you take away Perry Willis and Bill Winter and Stuart Reges and Sharon Ayres, there's no way Harry Browne would be where he is today."
Of more interest to donors, with the Browne campaign reporting income of about $160,000 per quarter, these "expenses and consulting fees" start to add up. Browne fund-raising letters have indicated in the past that those donations would fund an all-out push for the New Hampshire primary, including radio and TV ads, and Mr. Browne's actual relocation to the Granite State this fall.
But, with the exception of hefty expenditures for direct-mail, the Browne FEC reports to date seem to show less than $6,000 in actual advertising outlays. National chairman Dasbach explains: "We thought the primaries would help, but it now looks like there's going to be no significant effort in the primaries by any of our candidates. ... With the money Steve Forbes is dumping in (to New Hampshire), it would be difficult for any Libertarian candidate to do enough there to be noticed."
Harry Browne comes to the task with a few known weaknesses. He is new to the party -- new to politics entirely -- not having registered to vote in 20 years. He has written in his books that political organizations are to be avoided. He has never before run for any public office, and no one was sure where he stood on most of the issues.
Now, in the November issue of the party's official newsletter, the Libertarian Party News, Mr. Browne has answered the last objection at least in part, stating exactly where he stands on the crucial issue of taxation.
Unfortunately, Mr. Browne's half-page letter to the editor appears to be somewhat at odds with the party's well-established platform.
(The Libertarians, alone among the nation's three largest parties, keep essentially the same platform every year, and expect their candidates to conform to it, rather than custom-tailoring a new platform to the candidate every four years.)
The Libertarian Party platform doesn't beat around the bush: "Since we believe that all persons are entitled to keep the fruits of their labor, we oppose all government activity that consists of the forcible collection of money or goods from individuals in violation of their individual rights. Specifically, we ... oppose all personal and corporate income taxation, including capital gains taxes; (and) support the repeal of the Sixteenth Amendment."
The platform also states: "We oppose as involuntary servitude any legal requirements forcing employers or business owners to serve as tax collectors for federal, state, or local tax agencies."
Yet Harry Browne writes in the party's official organ that he favors creating a new federal tax: a 5 percent national sales tax.
Furthermore, should that Browne Tax fail to raise enough money to cover government costs, candidate Browne is ready with an alternative "10 percent flat tax (structured in a much more private, less intrusive way than the Republican plan) to amortize and pay off the remaining federal debt as quickly as possible."
Of course, Browne stresses that these new Browne Taxes are intended to replace the existing income tax.
What such a plan ignores is the unbroken record of all jurisdictions that have laid "replacement" taxes in this century.
My own home state of Connecticut, after debating a state income tax to "replace" the "unfair, regressive" state sales tax for decades, finally started levying a state income tax in 1992 thanks to former Gov. Lowell Weicker, recently knighted for this act of liberal heroism by the Kennedy widows up in Cambridge.
The sales tax it was to "replace?" Despite the fact that the state is now rolling in extra hundreds of millions from the unanticipated success of the Indian casino in Ledyard, the sales tax, which once peaked at 8.5 percent, ended up receding only to 6 percent, from whence it now threatens to climb again.
But even if we "trust" Congress to really enact the Browne Taxes as "substitutes," a 10 percent income tax is not really a "flat" tax at all. The Constitution -- absent the 16th Amendment, which the Libertarians vow to repeal -- authorizes only a capitation tax: If a worker making $10,000 has to pay a $500 share of highway construction costs, then the share to be born by the industrialist who earns $1 million is ... $500.
The notion that one man who uses the highway must pay $50,000, while another man who gets the same use must pay $500, is "fair" only by the definition of the socialists, who hold that each must pay "according to his ability." We would never tolerate this in our everyday dealings. If the supermarket started charging well-dressed customers $80 for the same can of soup that the last woman in line got for 80 cents, because "they look like they can afford it," the customer pool would thin out dramatically.
A "flat" income tax is a socialist tax, and the mind balks at imagining any way to collect it that doesn't involve the "involuntary servitude" mentioned in the LP platform, beckoning the "guilty-till-you-prove-otherwise, we-don't-need-no-stinking-court-order" IRS to continue garnishing, seizing, jailing, and employing Lon Horiuchis with their trusty Remington Model 700s when necessary to make sure everyone turns over all their payroll records, all their bank records ... the whole catalogue of IRS intrusions enforced on a bleating, terrified, economically stagnant nation on pain of bankruptcy and, eventually, death.
Mr. Browne justifies this startling abandonment of the principles of the nation's only "party of principle" by explaining that he, alone among all previous Libertarian candidates, "has a chance to win."
"This means I have to propose a specific, credible program that I would pursue vigorously as president," he writes to the LP News. "The question we should ask, he advises, is "Will people be dramatically better off with my plan?"
Now, I have nothing against Harry Browne personally. I've met him (I have met and talked with all four of the announced candidates); he seems presentable and well-behaved.
Nor do I wish to discourage those who fight for freedom; I believe our cause will prevail in our lifetimes.
But Harry Browne is no Ross Perot. He would have had no more chance of capturing 5 percent of the vote a year from now -- even had he won the Libertarian nomination, a hope surely more remote after this amazing letter -- than the Bucknell Bisons have of winning the Super Bowl.
("His chance of winning is comparable to him being hit by a meteor," says the always pithy Irwin Schiff, who admits he can't win either, but says he is running to talk about the income tax, as he then proceeds to demonstrate at length.)
Even if some future Libertarian should draw 35 percent and throw a presidential election into the House of Representatives, should the Libertarians agree to a new 5 percent sales tax in exchange for the promise of the presidency?
I don't think so. The Socialists didn't compromise their principles in 1912, or in 1920. But by 1940 Roosevelt had enacted most of their platform, including Social Security, because they had won the battle of the public imagination, without ever having elected anyone to speak of.
Anyway, the point is that the LP is still years away from being offered such tantalizing deals.
As to the notion that the Libertarian Party -- only now surging into public awareness -- should compromise its calls for the complete legalization of guns, drugs, prostitution, and the complete elimination of all taxation-at-gunpoint, in exchange for the handful of beans summarized by "Will people be better off?" ... sure, why not? Let's call for 10-year sentences for possession of LSD, instead of 20. That would make the drug martyrs "better off." Let's call for drafting only half as many men as we lost in Vietnam, suiting them up in powder blue, and flushing them down the toilet in Bosnia; let's murder only half as many innocents the next time we send our ATF blackshirts to "do a Waco."
We already have a party that promises "the same old welfare-police state, only with a slower growth rate." It's called the GOP.
The best thing that can be said about Mr. Browne's coming out for taxing-them-at-gunpoint now is that it still leaves real Libertarians eight months to choose their actual nominee from among pugnacious and entertaining tax protester Irwin Schiff, and 20-year Air Force veteran, immediate past chairman of the potent and fast-growing Arizona Libertarian Party, national spokesman for the Fully Informed Jury Association, radio talk show host, school privatization activist, and former candidate against John McCain for the U.S. Senate, the Libertarian Party's "Mr. Principle," Rick Tompkins.
This should not be hard.
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas, Nevada 89127.
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