Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is trying to expand his base of support and donors beyond the confines of his father’s unsuccessful presidential runs. So far, donors, as they are with all 2016 contenders, are generally holding back. But it will be hard for him to lure donors and convince voters that he is his own man, and not simply a more sophisticated version of his father, former U.S. representative Ron Paul, so long as he surrounds himself with so many of his father’s allies and aides. Moreover, dependence on the same people who ran his father’s campaigns and direct mail operation may account for his foreign policy stumbles and heated dustups with a growing list of conservative media figures. (A number of the latter have focused on Rand Paul’s past statements and challenged his conspiratorial views, some of which bear a striking resemblance to Ron Paul’s far right/dogged libertarianism.)
As a starting point, it is not unusual that Rand Paul, who came to politics late in life with no political experience or organization of his own, should turn to familiar faces from his father’s circle of friends and advisers. After all, his involvement in his father’s campaign would have put him in the company of close Paul family confidantes, all too familiar with the family potholes (e.g. the racist and conspiratorial newsletters that went out under Ron Paul’s name). In effect, Rand Paul finally was going into the family business. However, by keeping his father’s people in his own inner circle, he will make it harder to claim he’s not part of his father’s fringe political world.
It is not easy piecing together the Rand Paul circle(s). The Post has reported: “Paul’s leadership team is set up as part of Rand Paul Victory, a group that pools donations. It is a joint committee that overlaps the fundraising efforts of Rand PAC, Paul’s political action committee, and Rand Paul 2016, his Senate campaign, and his aides describe it as the basis for a presidential campaign.” Throw into the mix Stand With Rand PAC, for which interestingly, the treasurer is Dan Backer. He is the same person who helped run the Ron Paul super PAC Endorse Liberty and a second super PAC, Revolution PAC, which also supported Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. The Stand With Rand group ran into problems with the FEC when there were questions about its association with Rand Paul’s political groups
Then there is John Tate, Ron Paul’s campaign manager. He is now president of the Campaign for Liberty, appears with Rand Paul and is reported to be among his close advisers. In January, he started a new super PAC, as the Sunshine State News reported:
John Tate from the Campaign for Liberty, currently chaired by former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, will take over America’s Liberty PAC, a new super-PAC. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., weighed in on Tate’s new assignment. Tate headed up Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2012 and was the national political director for his 2008 presidential bid. “John will be missed,” said Rand Paul on Wednesday. “I’ve known John since before I even ran for the United States Senate. He played a crucial role in bringing top-level staffers onto my 2010 run for the Senate – including my political director, Doug Stafford. John has been someone I’ve leaned on ever since.
There is also Trygve Olson, a senior adviser to the Ron Paul presidential election team who is now with Rand Paul. The overlap continues. A.J. Spiker, a longtime Iowa Republican operative who helped Ron Paul’s presidential operation, recently left the Iowa GOP to join Rand Paul’s nascent presidential team. Jesse Benton, who ran Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate race and Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, is currently working for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whom Rand Paul endorsed (and with whom Rand Paul mended fences after an acrimonious primary in 2010 in which McConnell endorsed Paul’s opponent). Many Republicans expect that Benton will return to Rand Paul’s operation after the McConnell campaign.
Jack Hunter was yet another Ron Paul campaign aide. He was hired on to work for Rand Paul and to write his book, but when Hunter’s past neo-Confederate ramblings came to light, he was forced to step down.
Then it really gets complicated. Slate’s David Weigel recently has reported on direct mail operations run by the National Right to Work Committee and National Association for Gun Rights. Both Pauls drew on talent working in this quadrant of the right wing:
From 1987 to 1991, Mike Rothfeld oversaw National Right to Work’s direct-mail program. He left to form Saber Communications, which would run mail operations for the National Association for Gun Rights and the National Pro-Life Alliance, and then do direct mail for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign[.] Different groups, same strategy: reaching out to the maximum number of conservatives to bring them aboard a campaign for (usually hopeless) legislation the establishment wouldn’t touch.
This network, little understood even inside the right, would supply some of the key talent to Ron Paul’s growing organization. John Tate spent 14 years at National Right to Work, six of them as vice president. He went on to become the political director for Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign, and has led the Campaign for Liberty (the main organization that grew out of the 2008 run) since 2010. Doug Stafford, who was Rand Paul’s chief of staff until he left to run his RANDPAC, came directly from National Right to Work.
If you’re a little dizzy from all the Ron and Rand associates, that is understandable. None of this is to suggest Ron Paul is directly pulling the strings or that Rand Paul has adopted the entire worldview propounded by his father and advisers. What is significant about all this is the degree to which Rand Paul, despite his efforts to insert himself into the GOP mainstream, has clung to (or tried to cling to, in the case of Jack Hunter) the same crew that surrounded his father. When he has added people such as Richard Burt (a foreign policy adviser), he hasn’t necessarily extended his ideological reach. (Burt backed anti-interventionist Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary and co-founded the Global Zero outfit that recommended unilateral disarmament.) And when he repeats conspiracy theories (e.g. on World War II and former Vice President Dick Cheney) that compatriots of his father would find unexceptional, he gives fodder to those who conclude that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
UPDATE: Dan Backer e-mails to insist that Endorse Liberty and Revolution PAC were not super PACs but hybrid PACs. A hybrid PAC, an expert campaign-finance lawyer tells me, includes “separate accounts for unlimited Super PAC contributions and limited candidate contributions.” Backer also states that “being counsel and providing FEC compliance is a far cry from ‘helping run’ either entity.” He insists the PAC for which he is counsel has nothing to do with Rand Paul, hasn’t had any events and doesn’t have a Web site. And if you really want to get into the weeds, here’s a piece from OpenSecrets.org from last month detailing the intersection of National Right to Work, election activities and Paul’s closest adviser, Doug Stafford. It certainly makes my point that whatever the legal entities, the groups in Paul world manage to find each other and work cooperatively.
Trygve Olson says he is no longer paid by Rand Paul or his PACs but does e-mail with him and talks with lots of reporters about him.