Why Harry Browne Refused Matching Funds and Why Ron Paul Should, Too

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There’s a great
deal of discussion (and sources report that there’s tension at GOP
presidential candidate Ron Paul’s [R-Tex] campaign headquarters)
as to whether or not Ron Paul should accept federal matching funds.
There are very strong feelings on both sides of the issue, so it
might prove useful to examine the strategies of the 1996 and 2000
Harry Browne for President campaigns regarding this issue.

In 1996, Harry
Browne was the first Libertarian Party candidate to qualify for
federal matching campaign funds. At that time, Sharon Ayres, Harry
Browne’s 1996 campaign manager, stated, “…we don’t intend to take
the funds, but we do feel that qualifying will give Harry added
credibility when it comes time for participation in debates or other
presidential campaign events that may come up. It shows that Harry
is a candidate with broad national support.”

Harry Browne
was not only the first Libertarian Party Candidate to qualify for
federal matching campaign funds but, more significantly, he was
the first candidate in history to turn them down. (He qualified
again in 2000, but turned them down again.)

Harry believed
so strongly that his campaign should not accept federal matching
funds that he wrote an article on the subject ~ a portion of which
is reprinted below from the January 1996 LP News archives.

Harry Browne

In late November
the Harry Browne for President Campaign became the first Libertarian
presidential campaign ever to qualify for matching funds. Thank
you for helping us achieve this milestone.

have argued for years over whether a presidential candidate should
accept matching funds. The question has always been merely academic.
But now we must actually decide.

There are
three facets of the question-moral, strategic, and practical.

1. The moral
question: Is it right to accept government funds?

I don’t believe
so. I have never taken money from the government, and I don’t
want to start now — – despite the importance of winning the
White House.

I realize
there are deep feelings and plausible arguments on both sides
of this question. And nothing I say can resolve those differences
completely. But I won’t feel right accepting matching funds.

2. The strategic
question: If we take government funds, how will it look to the

In my book,
“Why Government Doesn’t Work,” I set forth a credible plan to
swiftly and certainly reduce the federal government from $1.5
trillion to around $100 billion. I present arguments for getting
the federal government completely out of welfare, education, transportation,
housing, crime control, and regulation. I will be presenting this
program in radio and TV interviews and in public forums.

I don’t want
to waste time answering the inevitable question: “If it’s wrong
for the federal government to subsidize all these activities,
why are you taking a campaign subsidy?” There are answers to that
question, but they sound contrived and self-serving.

Even more
important is the powerful, positive image we create by refusing
federal money. It shows we mean what we say about getting government
out of everyone’s life. We won’t accept any handout the government

on radio shows, callers say: “I think your plan is terrific and
I agree with 90% of it. But how do I know I can trust you? How
do I know you won’t turn out like all the other politicians once
you’re elected?” Now I can answer: “I’ve already proven I’m not
like the others — – by turning down federal campaign funds.
I want the federal government out of your life and your wallet,
and I won’t make exceptions — even when I’m offered a cut of the
money you’ve paid in taxes.”

On July 6,
1996, in Harry’s acceptance speech at the Libertarian Party Convention,
he stated, “I don’t believe in welfare — not for individuals, not
for corporations, and certainly not for politicians. So I’m the
first Presidential candidate in American history to qualify for
matching funds and refuse to take them. Now, if I won’t take the
30 pieces of silver to get elected, you know I’m not going to sell
out once I’m safely in office.”

It seems to
me that if Ron Paul wants to prove that he’s a Libertarian, and
not like all the other Republican candidates, he’ll refuse federal
matching funds.

12, 2007

Pamela Wolfe
Browne [send her mail]
is the widow of the late Harry Browne, and she writes from Kernersville,
North Carolina. Additional information about Harry Browne and his
1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns can be found at: www.HarryBrowne.org.

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