2000 Campaign Report

5d. Frequently Asked Questions about the Willis Controversy

by Harry Browne

To: Supporters of the Browne Team
From: Perry Willis
Thursday, December 27, 2001
Subject: Accusations

An endless series of accusations have been made against me, Harry Browne, and our associates. In an effort to save time I have created the following Q&A to address the various accusations. Only one of the violations has any substance—I violated an employment policy against moonlighting in 1995-96 while I was National Director of the LP.

Question: What did you do?

Answer: I wrote 4 fund-raising letters for Harry's 1996 campaign prior to the nomination. This was a violation of LNC (Libertarian National Committee) policy.

Question: Why did you do it?

Answer: I did not want to see the LP go through another presidential election cycle with little or no growth. The Browne campaign was having trouble producing timely and effective fund-raising letters. This was a problem I knew how to fix. I did so, and the party grew tremendously for the first time since the 1980 campaign.

Question: Why did you wait so long to admit your policy violation?

Answer: I felt as though I was in a no-win situation every step of the way.

I believe that if I had not violated the policy, the 1996 Browne campaign would have failed to achieve its full potential in the general election campaign, I would not have made my best contribution as National Director, and the party would be much smaller than it is today.

Then, if I had admitted my policy violation when I resigned as National Director, Project Archimedes would never have happened and the party would be much smaller than it is today.

Likewise, I continued to hide my violation when I left Project Archimedes because I did not want the resulting controversy to harm the up-coming Browne campaign.

I believe the policy I violated had been created for internal political reasons that had nothing to do with the interests of the Libertarian Party. I believed, and still do, that the policy is destructive to the interests of the party.

You can read my analysis of the policy I violated by clicking here

Question: Were LP funds diverted to the 1996 Browne nomination campaign?

Answer: No.

  • An independent audit was done on the LP accounts for 1995-96 and no problems were found.

  • A second, internal audit was done recently by the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), and again nothing was found.

  • No such diversion was possible in 2000 because there were no links at all between the LP office and the campaign during the entire 2000 race.

  • The LP did not provide funds to Harry Browne's nomination campaign. On the contrary, Harry Browne raised money for the LP, prior to his nomination. In other words, the truth is the exact opposite of the accusation.

Question: Did you steal or misappropriate money from the Browne campaign?

Answer: No.

In fact, none of our critics has made this accusation in so many words. Instead, they've totaled salaries and expense reimbursements over multiple years to make it appear that I and other staff members were grossly overpaid.

Consider how your own income would look if this tactic were applied to you. What if someone added up your income and business expenses over a period of three years and then implied that this was really your compensation for a single year? It wouldn't be an accurate picture, would it?

Unfortunately, this dishonest tactic has now been taken to new heights. In a recent article in Liberty magazine, Bill Bradford applied the "income ื expenses ื multiple years" formula to all the money paid to me and to my girlfriend, brother, and sister-in-law — all of whom worked for the campaign. He then implied that all this money was actually a benefit to me, with the result that people are now asking me why I took a half-million dollars from the campaign.

The answer is simple: I didn't.

Here are the facts:

  • My girlfriend (Stephanie Yanik, a long-time Libertarian activist) and I were both employed by the campaign for three years. My salary as campaign manager, at its height, was only 60% of what I had received in my previous job as LP National Director. Stephanie's salary was less than half of mine.

  • Because of fund-raising difficulties owing to the continual attacks on our campaign, the campaign was continually short of money — and so Stephanie and I forgave nearly $20,000 in unpaid salary at the end of the campaign. I am now nearly bankrupt, and living in my brother's basement. If I had received large sums of money from the campaign you'd think it would be reflected in my lifestyle, but I no longer have a lifestyle. I can't afford one.

  • FEC regulations prohibit campaigns from having credit cards, but a credit card is absolutely vital for campaign travel. So one of my credit cards was used for nearly every trip Harry Browne took. Our critics have added to my supposed compensation the large sums that were charged to this credit card that were billed and reimbursed through my personal company, Optopia Productions. Needless to say, I received no personal benefit from these expense reimbursements. Instead, it should be noted that because of the monetary advances I made to keep the campaign afloat in the face of attempted sabotage from other libertarians, my personal credit is now destroyed.

  • I hired my brother and his wife for low-level campaign positions (I hired 2 family members and 1 girlfriend out of 14 people who worked full-time or part-time for the campaign). They gave up higher-paying, permanent jobs to move across the country to take lower-paying, temporary positions — for which they were continually paid late, with corresponding negative effects on their living conditions and credit.

  • Staff health insurance was procured through my personal company to make it easier to retain the coverage after the campaign ended. These payments (for the entire staff) are also included in our critics' creative accounting of my supposed compensation.

Please understand that I'm not complaining. I never expected the tasks to be easy. But everyone on the campaign worked hard, suffered financial losses, and ended up broke — while our critics try to make it look as though we made a financial killing, or even that we stole hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Question: Why has the Browne Team refused to answer the numerous accusations made against it?

Answer: The Browne team has devoted hundreds of pages and months of phone time to answering questions and providing information to the LNC and others. Collectively, Harry's campaigns in 1996 and 2000 have each done more reporting and disclosure than any other campaigns in LP history. Specifically . . .

  • The 1996 campaign produced a 500-page report that provided the most detailed coverage of any LP campaign ever. This information has been willfully ignored by Liberty magazine and in other reviews of the 1996 campaign.

  • The 1996 campaign and LP headquarters accounts were independently audited in 1997 and passed with flying colors. The 1996 Browne financial records were left at LP HQ and were recently subjected to yet another examination, this time by an internal auditor appointed by the LNC. Again, no problems were discovered.

  • During the 2000 campaign, we published by email the first income and expense report ever provided by any presidential campaign prior to a nominating convention.

  • After the 2000 campaign I produced and distributed a 30-page report by email. This document included yet another detailed description of income and expense. The narrative portion was also notable for being devoted entirely to my mistakes as campaign manager, and to the lessons that could be learned from those mistakes by future campaigns. Unlike previous presidential campaign reports, no mention was made of our successes (for reasons described in the next paragraph). There was no spin. This "warts and all" report was also delivered to the LNC at their December 2000 meeting, and they had the opportunity to question me directly at that time.

  • During the course of the campaign we provided continuing, real-time reports, on the status of campaign activities. Through Harry's campaign journals and our email progress reports, we gave our supporters the most detailed blow-by-blow account of our progress, accomplishments, and problems that any campaign has ever provided. For this reason, we felt our successes were obvious and well known, and so I devoted no time to them in my post-election report. It is notable that during the entire course of the Exploratory Committee and campaign, only 3 contributors (as far as I can recall) expressed dissatisfaction with how we were spending our money. We refunded each of these person's contributions in full.

  • When a former LP computer consultant provided the LNC with documentation (stolen from my computer hard disk) that I had written 4 fund-raising letters for the Browne campaign prior to the 1996 nomination, I could have claimed the document was forged, but I did not. Instead I responded with a detailed report of my moonlighting.

In short, we have not stonewalled. On the contrary, we have provided mountains of information, and now we are taking time yet again to respond to the never-ending allegations.

Question: What is the motivation for all these accusations?

Answer: The LP is a politically managed membership organization, and politics necessarily entails winner-take-all decisions that fulfill the aspirations of some members while thwarting the dreams of others.

Only one person can be the presidential nominee, only one person can be the National Chair, and only one person can be the National Director. There's an incentive for those who lose contests for these positions to tear down the winners — to attempt to win through destruction what they haven't won through construction. And for a few of those who have lost repeatedly, the incentive to destroy has reached hysterical proportions.

So the events of the past few years make more sense when one realizes that virtually all our accusers have expressed other, purely personal grievances against one or more members of the Browne Team.

There are many legitimate criticisms that can be made of the 1996 and 2000 Browne campaigns. I have made the most valid ones myself, in my campaign report. It's also true that I did violate an LNC moonlighting policy. But I leave it to you to decide whether that violation warrants the scale of the vituperation that has been directed at us.

The last six years have been sheer Hell for those of us who have tried to advance Libertarian ideals through Harry's presidential campaigns.

The tactics of our persecutors are noteworthy. They have engaged in exploratory accusations. Every time we've responded to charges, the accusations have either been amended or replaced with new charges. Then, when people have forgotten our answers to the old allegations, our tormentors have trotted them out again as though they were brand new and hadn't been answered already.

Because of the constantly varying and multiplying nature of the charges, most members of our team have, for the most part, stopped responding to them — recognizing the futility in doing so. It has been made clear to us that the only thing that could possibly bring an end to this witch-hunt is the resignation of every member of the Browne Team from the party.

Overkill

To illustrate the truth of this, it is informative to consider how the LNC's handling of my minor policy violation differs from the LNC's treatment of far more serious matters in the past. I have been . . .

  • Censured.

  • Prohibited from employment and contractual relationships with the party for 5 years.

  • Prohibited from renting the LP donor list or advertising in LP News.

  • Seen my name (and those of my associates) raked through the mud in LP News.

In addition, the American Liberty Foundation (which Harry and I founded last year) has been prohibited from renting the LP's mailing list or advertising in LP News, until or unless the following people publicly condemn my moonlighting activity of nearly 6 years ago: Harry Browne, David Bergland, Sharon Ayres, Jack Dean, and Michael Cloud. (None of them is willing to do so.)

By comparison . . .

In the mid-90s, a member of the LNC was found to have stolen money the LNC provided to fund a local campaign. The LNC member was censured for this, but remained on the LNC and wasn't prohibited from renting the LP list or advertising in LP News. And LP News gave very little coverage to the matter. No demands or prohibitions were placed on any of the individual's associates.

In the late 1990s, a former LNC member and well-known Libertarian activist was found to have stolen the LP's donor list, the most valuable asset the party owns. He was taken to court, and eventually admitted the theft. This is by far the most serious crime the LP has ever had to deal with. But organizations the individual works for are still allowed to rent the LP list and advertise in LP News. In addition, no associates were tarred with his guilt, as mine have been, despite the fact that many people worked on the campaigns that benefited from his theft.

In addition, his crime (which was more than just a policy violation) was handled with the utmost sensitivity and respect. All LNC discussions of it took place in closed session. And even though the evidence of his crime was available when he subsequently ran for Chair of the LNC, it was not used against him. He wasn't tried in the court of public rumor. And the LP News article about the final settlement of his case was minuscule.

By contrast, vastly more was written about my minor policy violation in just one issue of LP News than the combined coverage of the two thefts I've cited. And more was written about my policy violation in two issues of LP News than has ever been written about any positive contributions I've made to the party over a period of more than 20 years — contributions that include record-setting increases in party income and membership, to name just two.

In addition, no action has been taken against the individual who publicized my illicit moonlighting — even though he obtained the information by burglarizing LP computers, and even though he failed to report what he found immediately, despite having a fiduciary responsibility to do so as a (then) member of the LNC.

Likewise, Bill Bradford of Liberty magazine was caught taping a closed session of the LNC where issues related to my policy violation were discussed with legal counsel, but no action has been taken against Mr. Bradford either.

Chasing Away Good Members

I think the lesson is clear: the minor transgressions of the most productive members of the party will be treated far more harshly than major crimes committed by unproductive members. This is nothing new. . . . 

  • The team that now runs the Cato Institute, and that gave the party its first early successes, was attacked relentlessly over a period of several years during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They finally left the party altogether, and have been surviving quite well without the LP.

  • In 1988 an employee of Ron Paul's was found to have embezzled funds from the Congressman's private coin business. This non-LP matter was used as the pretext to make allegations of financial impropriety against his 1988 presidential campaign. Relentless demands for investigations followed. Mr. Paul's campaign was even turned into the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by a member of the LNC (something similar happened to us), but no evidence of any wrong-doing related to the campaign was ever found. The only result of this tempest was that Ron Paul now keeps his distance from the LP — and some of his campaign associates, who should be our allies today, have become bitter enemies of the LP.

Now history is repeating itself. The LNC has instituted conditions that were supposed to bring the current controversy to a close — only to later reverse those conditions and add new stipulations. The criteria we are asked to satisfy to bring this matter to a close are constantly changed. This leads us to believe that the witch-hunt against us can only be ended by our collective departure from the LP. We believe this is the real goal of those who have mounted this public smear campaign against us.

You will have to decide for yourself whether the contributions of Harry Browne and his campaign staffs for 1996 and 2000 have helped or hurt the party, and then ask yourself why these people are being singled out for harassment, after all they've done for the LP.

I leave you with one final thought: the individual who publicized my moonlighting ranged far and wide over my computer hard disk, removing documents and emails. If he had found evidence of any wrongdoing on my part, aside from the minor moonlighting violation, he certainly would have trumpeted that evidence far and wide. He has not done so for a simple reason: there is no such evidence.

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