Libertarian Johnson's Joint Fundraising Committee OK'd

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

Oct. 14 — Gary Johnson's Libertarian presidential campaign will be able to collect contributions up to $227,700 through a joint fundraising committee established with the national Libertarian Party and two dozen state Libertarian Party committees, according to an advisory opinion ( AO 2016-15) approved by the Federal Election Commission.

Much of the money collected by the joint fundraising committee will have to be held in escrow, however, until the state Libertarian Party committees receive individual approval from the FEC. Most of the state committees have applied for FEC approval but have not yet been approved by the agency.

FEC rules require state party committees to meet certain conditions—including having candidates on the ballot—before they are approved and able to receive contributions of up to $10,000 annually per contributor to aid federal candidates. Most federal political committees are allowed to receive only $5,000 per contributor.

Johnson's campaign has already started collecting money through a joint fundraising committee, known as the Gary Johnson Victory Fund. The committee has been collecting contributions up to $122,700, according to its website.

Clinton, Trump Have JFCs

FEC approval of the Johnson joint fundraising committee, called the Gary Johnson Victory Fund, puts Johnson on par with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, both of whom have joint fundraising operations able to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars per contributor. Johnson is running far behind Clinton and Trump in fundraising and public support, however.

Johnson's 2016 campaign committee has collected nearly $8 million, while Clinton's campaign has collected $373 million and Trump's has collected $166 million, according to FEC disclosure reports.

Johnson has registered as high as nearly 10 percent in some national public opinion polls. However, he has fallen short of a goal to be included in this year's general election presidential debates. He did not reach a threshold of 15 percent support in public opinion polls set by the private nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates to be eligible to participate in the debates.

The Johnson advisory opinion related only to his 2016 campaign and was separate from another recent advisory opinion request from Johnson's 2012 presidential campaign committee. The 2012 Johnson campaign has asked the FEC for permission to try to raise unlimited contributions to repay the U.S. Treasury some of the federal matching funds received by Johnson for that election (See previous story, 10/07/16).

$333,441 Repayment Required

If the FEC consents and the campaign can raise the money needed, it could mean Johnson would avoid having to repay the public funds from his own pocket. But it could mean Johnson will have to keep raising money long after the November election to make the repayment to the Treasury, as well as pay off some of his campaign's $1.5 million in other debts from the 2012 race.

In the 2012 race, Johnson's campaign collected a total of less than $2.8 million, including more than $550,000 in federal matching funds, according to FEC reports. After the election, the FEC determined he was required to make a repayment of $333,441 of the matching funds to the Treasury.

Johnson's 2012 campaign ran afoul of complex FEC rules governing the federal matching funds program because the campaign didn't update a disclaimer posted on Johnson's campaign website regarding which contributions would be matched. The incorrect disclaimer told contributors their money would be eligible for federal matching funds to be used for both primary and general election expenses in 2012, even though the FEC determined that Johnson was ineligible for public funding in the general election.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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