This post was written by Connor Balough
Boosting his friend George W. Bush to reporters, Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico recalls a conversation they had at a conference on state government: “George turns to me and says, ‘What are they talking about?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘You don’t know a thing, do you?’ And I said, ‘Not one thing.’ He said, ‘Neither do I.’ And we kind of high-fived.’ – New York Times, July 28, 2000
On this degrading election day, I want to take one last look at our alleged “third choice”, the huckster who supposedly “shakes up the status quo” and can “break the two-party stranglehold.” Or, as he calls himself, “Perrier.”
This is the hidden story of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson — which is really a story about the depths of corruption and depravity that our democracy has sunk to. I’ve made it clear already that I find Rocky Anderson to be a genuine progressive alternative, someone whose ideas I am for and who has a real track record of governing, as well as trial lawyer and human rights activism experience. But our politics today don’t allow a Rocky Johnson as a real choice, not yet anyway.
Since Gary Johnson and libertarianism is the only real Third Party choice our gangrenous democracy allows us, it’s time we took a serious look at him — and it’s not pretty, folks. Because if you poke beneath the facade, what you find is a sponge absorbing just about every bad right-wing idea, and a campaign mixed up with some of the most loathsome GOP political operators of the last few decades.
Gary Johnson, in other words, is proof that our democracy is finished, a fistula of bad politics swelling up under Lady Liberty’s armpit.
It’s surprising to me how little skepticism or critical interest there is in Gary Johnson’s third party campaign, especially since he’s been hard-sold to progressives as the “real alternative” or “principled” or “more progressive than [NAME OF CORRUPT DEMOCRAT SCUMBAG HERE].”
The fact that Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party was founded and funded by the Koch brothers (David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s VP in 1980 in order to make it easier for the Kochs to shovel more money into the party and the libertarian cause), and that Gary Johnson was a longtime loyal Republican — considering all of this, and what’s at stake in presidential elections, it would seem to me malpractice for a journalist to assume there isn’t a story, or several stories, to be found under the Gary Johnson rock. Stories that matter. And that are bizarre and fun and grotesque in their own right.
The first interesting thing about Gary Johnson is that he decided to set up his campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, just a few blocks away from the HQ of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. That’s where Gary Johnson’s main Super PAC is located as well. Gary Johnson isn’t Mormon.
The Salt Lake City Tribune also thought it was a little weird, so they asked about it in a story headlined“Ex-New Mexico guv bases his presidential campaign in — Utah?” which begins:
A Republican presidential candidate has landed his national campaign headquarters in Salt Lake City, just a couple of blocks from the Utah governor’s mansion. But it’s not the White House contender you might think it is.
It turns out there’s a simple answer: Gary Johnson’s campaign chief, Ron Nielson, is based here. Ron Nielson runs a conservative polling firm called NSON Opinion Strategies, whose headquarters is the same three-story building on South Temple Road as Johnson’s campaign headquarters, and the same address as Gary Johnson’s “Our America Initiative” nonprofit, which launched his bid for the presidency in late 2009.
Unfortunately, the SLT didn’t pry any further, because this is where things start to get interesting. For one thing, NSOM has a history of working with GOP right-wingers including crotchety Mormon asshole Orin Hatch and ex-witch and masturbation-denier Christine O’Donnell, as well as the Koch’s ‘Reason’ magazine. They also worked on a smear campaign against Harry Reid in the run up to the 2010 election, but I’ll get to that later.
The point here is that Gary Johnson’s campaign headquarters is located in Romney’s backyard, in a right-wing Republican polling firm’s office. Gary says he likes transparency and believes he should wear his backers’ labels on his jacket like a NASCAR driver. Let me help him into his coat….
According to documents filed with the state of Utah, the person responsible for filing the paperwork to register Gary Johnson’s “Our America Initiative” is Maureen Otis, a Texas attorney with deep roots in the far-right Minutemen movement, and with Republican Party voter-suppression dirty tricks. Otis’s Texas law office is listed as the mailing address for Johnson’s “Our America Initiative.”
Maureen Otis has a long history with far-right anti-immigration vigilante groups. Just a few years ago, Otis served as board secretary for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which the Southern Poverty Law Centerdescribed as a “nativist extremist” group that “targets individual immigrants rather than immigration policies.” That Minuteman outfit collapsed after donation funds went missing, much of it paid to Maureen Otis’s own private company, “American Caging,” a company that specializes in “caging as the name implies.
“Caging” was used by Bush operatives to suppress the minority vote in 2000 and 2004. Slate offered this definition of vote “caging”:
“Vote caging is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren’t living at (because they are, say, at college or at war).”
Maureen Otis’ clients for American Caging included nonprofits set up for Alan Keyes, a fundraiser for Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Alliance, and other assorted homophobic Christian groups.
So what does the attorney who registered Gary Johnson’s “Our America” outfit really believe, the libertarian end of the Republican spectrum that Johnson represents, or the reactionary extremism of the Minutemen and Christian homophobes she serves?
Maureen Otis answered that question herself on her own twitter feed, such asthis June 5 tweet following Scott Walker’s win in the Wisconsin recall:
“Great news for WI & start of an important trend for Repub’s in the fall. Time for everyone to $$ to Romney campaign.”
If Maureen Otis were the only hard-right operative involved in Gary Johnson’s campaign, her confused allegiances might just seem odd. But as you’ll see, extremist right-wing operatives like Otis are all around Gary Johnson, beginning with the “Our America Initiative” nonprofit that launched his campaign.
The lawyer who incorporated the “Our America Initiative” charter documents, an A-list GOP dirty tricks operative from Orange County named Jim Lacy, also worked with and supported the same Minutemen outfits as Maureen Otis. Like her, Jim Lacy also operates a bland-sounding direct-mail business called “slate mail” that targets Democratic voters with mailers purporting to come from fake liberal groups with names like “The John F. Kennedy Alliance” with a soothing photo of JFK on one side, and a slate of supposedly “Democratic” candidates on the other side. In reality, Republican candidates pay to have their names and faces secretly mixed in with the liberal candidates whose names and faces appear to give it a semblance of authenticity. Lacy’s slate order business is, he claims, the largest in the state of California, if not the entire country, and it wreaked so much havoc on California local elections that even Orange County residents revolted with a ballot requiring slate mailers disclose. Lacy fought to have the courts void the will of Orange County’s voters, and the courts agreed, saying that putting restrictions on how badly Lacy could deceive voters violated his First Amendment rights and constituted a form of tyranny.
So both lawyers whose names are on Gary Johnson’s main campaign group since 2009 are not only associated with right-wing extremists and violent nativist vigilantes, but more importantly, both of them specialize in fraudulent vote schemes that help their Republican Party clients win elections by deceiving Democratic Party voters.
Lacy has been poisoning American politics since his radical-right college years when he was national chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom. In recent years, Lacy has been a major backer of anti-immigrant Minutemen groups, Islamophobia, and “birther” conspiracy-theory outfits smearing Obama as a foreign-born Muslim. Lacy co-founded a handful of far-right immigrant-bashing outfits with “Birther” leader Gary Kreep, Orly Taitz’s creepier half in joint lawsuits filed to “expose” Obama’s birth certificate as a fake. Both Kreep and Jim Lacy have provided legal help to Minutemen groups in San Diego, when they were at their violent peak terrorizing homeless illegal migrant workers and vandalizing their shanties.