Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has found himself the victim of an anonymous Internet smear campaign accusing top aides of embezzling funds.
With just a few weeks before election day and his campaign making no significant progress, an email has begun circulating in libertarian circles accusing campaign manager Ronald Nielson of syphoning nearly 90% of the campaign's $2 million to his consulting firm and charges Johnson has not paid for any radio or TV ads, direct mail or paid staff.
But the email's claims are dubious: according to the campaign Johnson has several paid staffers and the campaign has distributed 60,000 yard signs, 165,000 bumper stickers, 670,000 brochures and flyers, and has aired almost 1,000 radio spots. The campaign has also been regularly sending out direct mail to voters and routinely organizes campaign events.
The email, which is signed by an apparently fictional person named Eric Stevens of Twinsburg, Ohio, also implicates Roger Stone, the longtime operative who became an advisor for Johnson earlier this year.
"How much is "former Republican" Roger Stone being paid? The FEC reports don't say but you can bet it's plenty. This mercenary doesn't come cheap," the email says.
Joe Hunter, a spokesman for the Johnson campaign, said that he was familiar with the email, but "I have no idea where that particular one is coming from."
Reached by email, Stone said "I have been paid zero by the Johnson campaign."
"Questions about the FEC filings should be directed to the campaign," Stone said. Nielson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
The campaign's general counsel Alicia Dearn said that "FEC reports show that money raised for the general campaign is going to the general campaign."
"Those line items show money going to pay for all of our staff, advertising, media buys, campaign materials, travel and events, and necessary services," Dearn said in an email.
She added that the email "seems to be from a fake person." Stevens doesn't exist in that area in the phone book or on Facebook.
Additionally, "the Libertarian Party of Ohio has never heard of Eric Stevens," Dearn said, noting that the email address did not originally exist when the it first appeared, and has only recently been registered anonymously.
"This email lacks all credibility and is libelous." Dearn said.
Still, the email does generally point to the fact that much of Johnson's expenditures are in fact going to firms that appear to be connected to his aides.
According to Federal Election Commission reports, a large portion of the campaign's disbursements went to "Political Advisors" or "Politcal [sic] Advisors," with the address of 781 East South Temple Street in Salt Lake City.
No businesses are listed at 781 — but 731 East South Temple Street is the address of the Johnson campaign, according to its website, and also the address of Nielson's communications firm. A call to the number listed for the building led to a voicemail for Natalie Dicou, a Johnson and Libertarian Party spokeswoman.
The September monthly report, for example, lists "Politcal [sic] Advisors" as receiving $229,563.42, by far the biggest expense that month. In the reports, the Political Advisors expenses are for "Media Buys. Candidate Travel and Advisory Services." The report doesn't itemize specific vendors for these services.
The email, which has been popping up on libertarian sites like the Daily Paul, ends with a warning: "Lee Wrights and Bill Still and Karl Denninger tried to warn us. The great Libertarian opportunity of 2012 will be squandered."
Wrights and Still vied at one time to be the Libertarian Party candidate this year.
Stone, a lifelong Republican, changed his affiliation to Libertarian in February 2012. He became involved with the Johnson campaign in March to help Johnson get federal matching funds, telling BuzzFeed at the time that he was a volunteer.
Full text of the email:
Dear Fellow Libertarian,
What in the world is going on?
Governor Gary Johnson's campaign has raised - and spent - more than $2 million yet has not a single TV or cable news ad!
Johnson has even received over $340,000 in Federal matching funds.
Johnson's campaign has no network TV ads, no cable ads, no Facebook ads, no Google ads, no real radio ads, noheadquarters no voter mail, no paid staffers other than some guy named Charles Frohman who is paid a measly $2000 a month.
His Campaign bank account is empty. Where is the money going?
The official campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show 90% of the money raised has been paid to a company owned by Johnson's campaign "Senior Advisor" Ronald Nielson.
You can get Gary Johnson campaign materials like T-shirts, bumper stickers and yard signs - things the Romney and Obama campaign give out for free - if you want to BUY them from the campaign.
What kind of a campaign is this?
Johnson talks a lot about the need for transparency in government. Where is the transparency in his campaign?
Gary Johnson's campaign finances are about a transparent as the Federal Reserve bank!
The official spending reports the FEC requires don't show anything - other than huge payments to Johnson's consultants.
The GaryJohnson2012 website says the campaign has raised $635,000 to "put the campaign on TV". So where are the TV commercials? Isn't this false advertising? Some contributor should sue!
How much is "former Republican" Roger Stone being paid? The FEC reports don't say but you can bet it's plenty. This mercenary doesn't come cheap. Are Stone and Nielson splitting the money and leaving Johnson's campaign bankrupt?
According to the most recent Federal filing the campaign bank account is virtually empty! Where did the money go ?
The Green Party Candidate Jill Stein is has TV ads on CNN and MSNBC and she has raised far less money than Gary Johnson.
The campaign ran a handful of radio ads on libertarian radio programs. How much did they really cost ? Who knows? Johnson's campaign fiance reports don't say. Don't listen for a Gary Johnson radio ad on Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin - you won't hear one.
Don't look for radio or TV ads in the swing states like Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia or even New Mexico. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate has ads on the air in some of those states but not Gary Johnson.
We in the Libertarian Party did not nominate Gov. Gary Johnson so his Republican consultant buddies can rip-off Libertarian donors and line their pockets.
How can Governor Gary Johnson have an impact in this election and put the Libertarian Party on the map if his top advisors are going to pocket all the campaign money? How do we score if the campaign never gets on TV ?
Where the $2 million dollars go? Ask Gary Johnson next time he has a Town Meeting. What has his campaign spent $2 million on?
The Libertarian Party paid to get Johnson on the ballot in 47 states! The Libertarian Party has let the Johnson campaign mail it's donor list.
Why should any libertarian or Gary Johnson supporter give another cent if the money is just going to be stolen? Governor Johnson talks a lot about ethics and integrity. Where is the integrity in ripping off your own campaign donors?
How does Gary Johnson justify a campaign that takes in $2 million but never buys any media? How does Governor Johnson justify campaign filings that hide his expenditures rather than report them?
What ever you do, don't give another penny to Gov. Gary Johnson's campaign. It will just end up in the pockets of Johnson's "advisors"
Lee Wrights and Bill Still and Karl Denninger tried to warn us. The great Libertarian opportunity of 2012 will be squandered.
What a pity.
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.