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.

By 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.

Libertarians 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 voters?

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 offers.

Frequently 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.

October 12, 2007