2000 Campaign Report

5c. The Perry Willis Investigation

by Harry Browne

January 12, 2002 & September 1, 2002       

In 1995, while National Director of the Libertarian Party, Perry Willis wrote some fund-raising letters for the 1996 Browne for President campaign before I won the party's nomination.

Eventually, the national chairman asked Perry to stop his moonlighting. However, he wrote four more letters before terminating the arrangement.

Between 1996 and 2000, some Libertarians who didn't want me to be the party's nominee kept implying that Perry had been paid by my campaign to use his position to throw the party's nomination to me. Jacob Hornberger, for example, accused me of "lining the pockets" of party employees and LNC members as a way of getting the 1996 nomination.

On April 21, 2001, John Famularo (formerly the LP Secretary and formerly a computer consultant to LP headquarters) made public an invoice from Perry to a vendor who did work for the 1996 Browne campaign — showing that Perry had continued writing fund-raising letters for me after he had been told to stop. Perry acknowledged this in a report he issued on May 11, 2001, to clarify the matter. {www.HarryBrowne.org/policy/policy.htm}

This revelation was welcomed by a number of Libertarians who had always considered themselves opponents of Perry Willis, of the national LP, or of me. They tried to make it appear that Perry had committed an act of extreme corruption — that he had used his position as National Director to subvert the party's presidential nomination process.

When he attempted to point out that he was helping the Browne campaign do outreach to non-Libertarians, which he thought would be good for the party, he was accused of saying that "the ends justify the means" — as though he were justifying a heinous act in the name of some "greater good." One writer (Jim Davidson) even suggested that Perry might justify killing another Libertarian as necessary for "party unity."

It's important to realize that, even as the LP's National Director, Perry had no power to influence the outcome of a presidential nominating race. He controlled no delegates, he had no control over how the nominating convention would be run, he did nothing as National Director to alter the outcome of the nomination race, and he never made a public statement supporting my nomination..

All he did was to write letters that helped me raise money to do outreach to non-Libertarians — and he did it in exchange for market rates of compensation. In fact, nothing in Perry's employment contract with the LP prohibited moonlighting. Despite this, the LNC debated the matter in December 1995 — finally deciding not to prohibit such activity but ordering that such activity be known to the LNC. Although it has been claimed that he agreed to stop and then lied about his continuing activities, the truth is that he vigorously opposed the order to stop moonlighting. This is shown in the minutes of the LNC meeting at which the order was given.

Here are two excerpts from those minutes:

Mr. Willis said he strongly objected to this resolution because what should be of issue is the application of the resources of the Party and whether or not those are misappropriated. Mr. Willis said he could determine on an individual basis whether a specific request from Sharon Ayres for the Browne campaign would or would not violate his fiduciary responsibility to the party. Mr. Willis said that if he could not do any outside work he would resign his position. Mr. Willis said he currently has outside clients and will not discontinue working with them when he has the time. . . .

Mr. Dasbach [then National Chair of the LP] said that the current policy is that staffers can not do work for internal campaigns for free but can do so if paid.

The motion that was carried at the meeting didn’t prohibit outside work — or even work for presidential campaigns.

Other than failing to obey this one minor request from some members of the LNC, Perry performed his work in the most exemplary fashion possible. In fact, he was probably the most successful National Director the party has ever had. And he certainly committed no fraud, embezzled no money, and did nothing in any way to hurt the LP or bring disrepute upon it. 

In other words, there was no corruption.

THE INVESTIGATION

Although the matter was over five years old and Perry hadn't worked for the party in nearly three years, in 2001 the LNC decided to investigate the matter further. The chairman was instructed to conduct a thorough investigation. Dozens of people were interviewed, hours and hours of LNC meetings were devoted to the matter, and in general a great deal of LP resources were expended over something that had no bearing on today's LP activities.

The investigation bore no fruit. There was no indication that Perry had used anything other than his own expertise, on his own time, to help a Libertarian campaign. There was no evidence that Perry had steered party resources to me, to give me an advantage over my opponents for the nomination.

When Chairman Lark approached me to ask what I knew about the matter, I told him I wouldn't cooperate with the investigation. I gave him three reasons for my refusal.

The Investigation Set a Bad Precedent

The first reason was that the investigation set a terrible precedent.

By establishing that there is no statue of limitations on grievances, the LNC has in effect invited anyone with a resentment against another Libertarian to use the LNC as a vehicle for revenge. Now every rumor ever circulated about a prominent Libertarian could be the grounds for an LNC investigation.

In fact, Jacob Hornberger began pushing immediately for a lawsuit to investigate everyone's finances, a member of the LNC agreed, and the LNC chairman issued requests for new audits of the 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns. Although there no longer were any paid employees of either campaign, individuals were expected to interfere with their personal and business lives, sacrificing dozens of hours each, in order to comply with this request just to satisfy Jacob Hornberger.

It's worth noting that the Willis investigation was held mostly on behalf of those who dislike the national party — to investigate those who have done a great deal to build the party, increase its membership, and enhance its image publicly.

It's also interesting that, outside of a group of people who seem to be complaining continually about one thing or another, the investigation had very little support from party members. My email list has over 18,000 subscribers — mostly LP members — and it's possible to email me through this website. It was very easy for anyone to reach me, and to ask me whether I was involved in any of the things that were alleged. But despite the large amount of publicity about the controversy, I received no more than a half-dozen inquiries about it.

And yet the LNC by its investigation made it seem as though something earth-shaking was involved. It publicized the investigation extensively in LP News — perhaps to prove to the malcontents that it wasn't corruptly burying the scandal.

The LP has always had whiners who fail to win any internal contest, and resort to spreading rumors, anonymous hit pieces, and venom as a way of trying to get what they want. There is no way to stop such things from happening. But there is no reason in the world for the Libertarian National Committee to give more respect to the rumor-mongers than to the dedicated activists who have done so much to build the party.

I'm aware of a number of hard-working people — some of them major donors to the party — who have simply given up on the LP after seeing how much time and attention is wasted in internal bickering. The LNC not only shouldn't be encouraging the pettiness; it should be taking a stand against it.

Nothing to Be Achieved by the Investigation

The second reason I declined to cooperate was that the investigation couldn't possibly achieve anything meaningful.

No plausible accusation had been made of any wrongdoing other than Perry's refusing to honor an unofficial request to stop moonlighting over five years before — and he had already acknowledged this. So what was the investigation going to achieve? No one had even accused Perry of violating his employment contract or any LP bylaw or resolution.

And what was the LNC going to do about what happened five years before? Fire Perry Willis retroactively? Expunge from the LP's historical record that I was the 1996 candidate?

There was no reason for the LNC to do anything. But if the LNC members felt that something must be done to acknowledge what happened, the LNC could have passed a resolution stating that it disapproved of Perry's actions, setting forth an unambiguous employee policy concerning such matters, and warning that disobedience by an LP employee would be dealt with harshly in the future.

Anything else — such as a lawsuit, condemnation, or even investigation — could only make the LNC look ridiculous while achieving nothing for the party. And such activities would add fuel to the fire started by those who were hell-bent on claiming that the LP is saturated with corruption.

The Investigation Wasted Resources

My third reason for declining to cooperate was that the investigation was a waste of very valuable, limited resources by the LNC.

What has the LNC been doing lately to make the party bigger? As of August 2002, the LP's membership has declined by 28% in 2½ years. The growth that Perry Willis engineered as National Director, encouraged by Steve Dasbach as National Chair, has been replaced by a sharp decline. Every plan, every hope, every idea that a Libertarian has for enhancing liberty depends on a larger LP membership — to provide the funding, the talent, the skills, the connections necessary to carry out any plan. But growth has been put on the back burner while the party leaders contemplate their navels.

What has the LNC been doing to enhance the LP's public image? What has the LNC been doing to create a more favorable climate for its 2002 candidates?

Unfortunately, the answer to all these questions is: Far less than its efforts to investigate a 5-year-old moonlighting violation.

A great deal of time and effort were wasted on this investigation.

The Outcome

For these reasons, I wouldn't cooperate in any way with anything that might divert me, the LNC, or the membership of the party from our missions — or might encourage future investigations that could achieve nothing and would waste the limited resources of the party.

And what was the outcome of the investigation?

As expected, once started, the investigation immediately widened to encompass following up on other rumors — such as allegations of financial wrongdoing. 

As expected, it stoked the fires of slander against a number of the LP's most productive members.

As expected, nothing new surfaced. At the end, nothing was known that hadn't been known at the outset.

As expected, the investigation consumed a lot of valuable resources. For example, the LNC chairman sent inquiries and questionnaires to 113 people, including follow-up requests when responses weren't forthcoming. I can't imagine how many dozens of hours he must have had to divert this project.

When his report was submitted to the LNC, the Committee met on August 26, 2001, to consider what to do. A resolution was proposed — and amended — and amended — and amended to make the language stronger and stronger and stronger.

This was the opportunity to bring down Perry Willis — a man who may have achieved more for the Libertarian Party than any other single individual. He caused the membership to increase at a faster rate than at any other time in the party's history, professionalized the national office, moved the party headquarters out of the slums of Washington and into a modern office building where reporters could safely come for interviews, and much more.

For this, the Libertarian National Committee rewarded him by:

  • Censuring him.

  • Prohibiting him from employment and contractual relationships with the party for 5 years.

  • Forbidding him (or any organization with which he is associated) from renting the LP donor list or advertising in LP News.

  • Maligning him in LP News.

As a result of the investigation, the LP is worse off. Initiative has been discouraged, and the party has been transformed from a dynamic, entrepreneurial enterprise into a moribund bureaucratic organization.

HYPOCRISY

Those who worked so hard to condemn Perry Willis and to defame the 2000 presidential campaign were politically motivated in their quest. They weren’t working to improve the party’s ethics. They wanted to satisfy old grudges and get revenge for losses suffered in internal party contests.

That’s a strong accusation on my part, but there is adequate evidence to support it.

First, the LNC had determined in two previous scandals that individuals had actually stolen valuable LP property — money in one case and the LP's mailing list in the other. They received neither the penalties nor the publicity that were imposed in Perry's case — even though it was established that Perry had done nothing worse than to disregard the wishes of some of the LNC's members to stop moonlighting — an activity that wasn't in violation of any established party policy.

Second, Perry Willis was accused of working on his own time at market rates of compensation for one of the presidential campaigns before the nomination. No one has ever offered any credible evidence that he used his position to further one candidate at the expense of a candidate’s Libertarian opponents.

But in 2002 Ron Crickenberger used his LP position as National Political Director to further the campaigns of two candidates who hadn’t yet received their state parties’ nominations for office (the very thing that many people had falsely accused Perry Willis of doing) . . .

  • When Aaron Russo decided to run for governor of Nevada, Crickenberger did many things to help him including trying to find a campaign manager for him. This was acknowledged openly in an LP news release of April 9, 2002, and in an article in the May 2002 LP News.

  • When the LP decided to target a few Republican Drug Warriors, Crickenberger chose Carole Ann Rand to be the LP opponent of Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. According to an LP news release of July 27, 2002, Crickenberger said, "We had about a dozen Libertarians volunteer to run against Barr, but Carole Ann was my top choice."

If the opposition to Perry’s activities wasn’t politically motivated, why was there no opposition to what Ron Crickenberger did which was (1) a far more prejudicial action by an LP employee, and (2) occurred after so much had been said and done to establish a policy that LP employees must avoid even the appearance of favoring one Libertarian candidate over his opponents?

Please understand that I have nothing against Ron Crickenberger, Aaron Russo, or Carole Ann Rand. Nor do I have any particular objection to what Mr. Crickenberger did. But doesn’t it seem strange that, given the cries for blood aimed at Perry Willis for contracting to write fund-raising letters on his own time, not one public protest has been lodged against the official help Crickenberger gave to LP nomination candidates at the expense of their Libertarian opponents?

Obviously, the purpose of the attacks against Perry Willis was not to promote "ethics" or rid the LP of "the appearance of impropriety," but to rid the LP of Perry Willis.

PROBLEMS IN A MEMBERSHIP ORGANIZATION

In free market, everyone can get what he wants. If you like Heinz ketchup and I like Hunts ketchup, neither of us is a threat to the other. You can buy what you want and I can buy what I want.

But in any political environment whether government or a membership organization there is a winner-take-all situation. There may be many contenders for an office or for a party’s nomination, but there can be only one winner in each case. This means only one candidate and his supporters get what they want and everyone else must do without.

Some people accept defeat graciously. But there always will be some others who won’t tolerate losing. Those people will use almost any tactic to avoid losing and, once having lost, will do almost anything to exact revenge.

During his long career in the LP, Perry Willis won a lot of internal battles (and lost some as well). There are numerous disgruntled opponents who have seized on any opportunity to get even with him. Their motives are made clear by their selective indignation.

The accusations about Perry first surfaced in rumor form during the 1996 campaign raised by proponents of one of the losing candidates for the presidential nomination. The accusations were picked up and escalated by Jacob Hornberger when he sought the 2000 nomination.

(It should be noted that the 2001 revelations did nothing to prove that Jacob Hornberger had been right all along. Every claim he had made was either (1) untrue, or (2) already known. His long accusatory essays achieved nothing but dissension and disharmony in the party.)

The attacks on Perry Willis were finally brought to fulfillment in 2001, when members of the LNC who had long opposed him were able to effectively ride him out of the party on a rail.

THE RESULT

Collective organizations are inherently inefficient. It is almost impossible for a committee to govern effectively.

The LP was the most productive when Perry Willis took the initiative and ran the party's headquarters entrepreneurially as though it were a corporation. The result was tremendous membership growth, vastly elevated professionalism, and new outreach programs.

He wasn't a lone-wolf dictator. He worked under the supervision of the LNC, and he was in constant contact with party chairman Steve Dasbach with whom he had an excellent relationship. But he didn't submit to daily direction from a multitude of cooks, each of whom had his own recipe for spoiling the broth.

Perry Willis has been a genuine Libertarian hero. The Libertarian National Committee has diminished itself and the Libertarian Party by trying to diminish him.

My Record

As for me, there are numerous activities in the campaign that I now wish we'd handled differently. There may have been opportunities to which I now wish we'd paid more attention.

But I am not ashamed of anything that I did.

It doesn’t matter to me what Jacob Hornberger, Bill Bradford, George Phillies, Vin Suprynowicz, or any of the other accusers say. I know the truth, and I don’t need to prove anything to them.

Most important, I know that every day of my life I can look in the eyes of my beloved Pamela without shame or guilt for a single act of the campaign.

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