A super PAC spearheaded by a longtime ally of former governor William F. Weld’s plans to launch this week, aiming to bolster the Libertarian Party presidential ticket of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and Weld.
The group, named the Socially Liberal and Fiscally Conservative PAC, will operate out of Weld’s Boston lobbying firm and hopes to air television ads to help boost the Johnson/Weld ticket in the polls and onto the fall debate stage. Two Washington-based attorneys with campaign finance portfolios are advising the super PAC, which is prohibited by law from coordinating with the campaign itself.
“We’re looking to raise enough money so that others active in other campaigns and the citizens at large, understand that this is a serious effort to participate meaningfully as a first-tier part of the presidential race,” said the group’s founder, R.J. Lyman, senior vice president of government relations at ML Strategies, the firm from which Weld has taken an unpaid leave to campaign. “What dollar amount accomplishes that, I can’t tell you.”
Lyman, who worked in the Weld/Cellucci administration, repeatedly declined to say how much money the group hopes to raise.
In interviews last week, Johnson and Weld said they believed their ideological brand — small government, expanded personal freedoms — would find purchase in an electorate historically leery of the presumptive nominees of both major parties, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Both Johnson and Weld are former Republican governors.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee, former governor Mitt Romney, said in a CNN interview he would be open to a Johnson/Weld ticket and that it would be “very easy for me” to back the pair if Weld were the presidential candidate.
Johnson, too, suggested he felt his running mate carries more wattage.
“I have no issue being the lesser half on the ticket,” he said.
Weld said he and Johnson are eschewing traditional retail campaign efforts for now in favor of filling their coffers and raising their profiles.
“The two imperatives for us right now are fund-raising and national media,” he said. Weld spoke in an interview in the ML Strategies office he has been using before moving to an office elsewhere in Boston — probably in the Leather District, he said.
While Weld has taken the lead on fund-raising, Johnson has been shuttling between Washington and New York to appear on TV talk shows.
“Bill made the following statement, ‘I really like to raise funds. I really like to fund-raise. And I know the people in this country with the money,’ ” Johnson said in the phone interview.
Weld said he began working through his contact list last week, reaching out to potential donors and eyeing the hiring of fund-raising consultants. He said he enjoys the work, describing himself as “back in my briar patch.”
The super PAC, meanwhile, is being advised by Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman and general counsel to US Senator John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and Matt Sanderson, who worked for Romney’s Commonwealth PAC and McCain’s 2008 campaign before serving as general counsel to US Senator Rand Paul’s ill-fated 2016 presidential bid.
Both men work at the Caplin & Drysdale law firm, and both worked on comedian Stephen Colbert’s super PAC, known as “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”
The effort will take wing as Johnson and Weld find themselves in a deep hole. Some presidential polls do not even include the Libertarian ticket, though a Fox News poll released Friday gave Johnson 12 percent. To qualify for debates, candidates need to attain 15 percent in polls selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
But Weld said he could envision disaffection with both Clinton and Trump leading to a scenario in which the Libertarian candidates draw 15 percent from both sides.
“Both Gary and I think there’s an outside chance and opportunity to actually win this thing, if you have serious erosion on the other two parties,” he said.
Johnson predicted that, if Trump kept up his racially charged rhetoric, more than 50 percent of Republicans would leave the party.
Of establishment Republicans who have stuck by Trump, Johnson said, “Apparently, they’re all going to go down with the ship. Amazing. Apparently, this is going to be the demise of the Republican Party.”
Weld drilled Trump for his statements around nuclear proliferation. Calling it the top national security concern globally, Weld said Trump sounded unstable in his comments. Trump has signaled willingness to allow allied nations without nuclear capabilities, like Japan and Saudi Arabia, to obtain them and has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons in Europe.
“He seems almost like a fused grenade,” Weld said. “You don’t know what direction he’s going to go off in, but you’re pretty sure he’s going to go off.”
He likened Trump to Richard Nixon and his “Madman Theory,” which held that the commander in chief could be most effective if other world leaders suspected him capable of the most extreme measures.
“Mr. Trump is polishing that to a new art form,” Weld said.
Johnson and Weld part ways on at least one policy issue. Johnson believes in the “fair tax,” a national consumption tax that would replace federal income and payroll taxes. Weld, for his part, believes in the “flat tax” and called Johnson’s preference “an awfully regressive way to run a railroad.”