(Post Libertarian) I’ve been advocating a vote for Gary Johnson as a form of signaling, hoping that if his support reaches a level such as 5% that the Libertarian Party will begin to steal some attention away from the media gravity well that props up the Republican and Democratic parties. However, I’ve been astonished to learn that there is a real, large, tangible benefit to crossing the five percent threshold.
In the 1970′s Congress passed a handful of laws and amendments with the intention of reducing the influence of money in political campaigns (ha). You can read a general summary about the Presidential Election Campaign Fund here, and peruse the official text of the Federal Election Campaign Act and its amendments here.
There are a few rules about matching funds for primary and general elections, but the big prize is the $91 million grant to “each major party nominee” as well as another $18 million for their party conventions. It’s all funded by taxpayers who voluntarily check a checkbox to specifically divert $3 of their tax bill (note: not paying $3 more) into this election funding pot.
A “major party” is defined as a political party that got “25 percent or more of the total number of popular votes” in the last presidential election, which conveniently only includes the Republicans and Democrats right now (I had been wondering how taxpayers were on the hook for those conventions).
However, a “minor party” is a party whose previous candidate received “5 percent or more but less than 25 percent.” And guess what? Minor parties are eligible for general election funds too, in direct proportion to how far above 5% they get.
If I’m reading § 9004 (a) (3) correctly, this means that if the Libertarian Party had received 5% of the vote in 2008 instead of 0.4% so that the “average number of popular votes” of the major parties was 46.5%, then right now Johnson would have access to about $9.8 million for his campaign (but don’t quote me on that). That’s still a far cry from the hundreds of millions Obama and Romney are throwing around, but it’s also a far cry from the $350,000 Johnson raised last month. If the LP had received 6% last time, they’d be eligible for $11.8 million this time (again with the quotes).
Let me put it plainly, in case you missed it: If Gary Johnson gets 5% of the vote in 2012, the Libertarian Party has access to millions of government dollars in 2016. Wouldn’t that be deliciously ironic?
I’m actually surprised Congress set the threshold so low. Some are using it as an argument to potentially get Johnson into the debates; if the government thinks 5% candidates are worthy of taxpayer dollars, shouldn’t taxpayers get a chance to hear their message even if they’re not yet at the 15% level arbitrarily set by biased insiders?
Five percent of the vote is definitely within reach for Gary Johnson this year. His name isn’t included in polls all the time, but when it is, he’s hit 7% in New Mexico, 7% in Montana, 5% in Colorado, and 3% in Nevada, to name a few. Nationally he has hit 4% of registered voters (though only 3% of “likely voters”). Another national poll has Johnson at 6% already. They say third-party support tends to dwindle with the increasing gravity of the major parties as we get closer to Election Day, and I would not go so far as to say that it’s likely that Johnson will get 5% of the final vote.
A good reason to not write Ron Paul’s name in and instead vote for Gary Johnson.