Somehow this seems so appropriate. Ron Paul, Texas Congressman, libertarian, Jew Hater as found a way to give his campaign a lift —literally. The Republican who’s slogan is “the Jews have too much Power in America” is launching a Campaign Blimp. I hope he will be on it (and stay on it).
Ron Paul blimp charts unprecedented course
By: Kenneth P. Vogel
Up in the sky: It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s … Ron Paul?
If a whimsical publicity stunt goes as planned, a blimp hyping the long-shot Republican presidential campaign of the Texas congressman will launch next week.
The Ron Paul blimp is set to fly from North Carolina, over Washington, New York and Boston, before heading to New Hampshire, where the Jan. 8 primary offers the iconic libertarian perhaps his best chance of translating his zealous Internet support into votes.
Like the unprecedented online fundraising behind Paul’s bid, the blimp effort, which appears on pace financially, isn’t affiliated with the official campaign and pushes traditional political conventions.
And that’s not just because it likely would be the first blimp to be turned into a flying billboard for a White House hopeful.
It also tests the reach of campaign finance rules by employing an innovative funding structure that could expose a new way to pour largely unregulated money into politics.
If the model is successful, hypothetically it could allow a media consultant to produce slick attack ads and — without ever disclosing how much was raised or spent — solicit millions from “sponsors” to air the ads in key states.
“It’s much more than just Ron Paul’s campaign,” said Jerry Collette, a former California Libertarian Party official who’s managing the effort.
“It’s a whole new way of presenting opportunities to individual people to be able to participate in elections in a way they’ve never really done before.”
Indeed, though Collette and other principals are Paul supporters, the outside lawyer retained by blimp backers is former Federal Election Commission chairman Brad Smith, who is advising former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s rival bid for the GOP nomination.
Smith is among the leading opponents of campaign finance laws, and the blimp plan offers common cause on that front with Paul’s anti-regulation supporters, as well as an opportunity to set potentially far-reaching FEC precedent.
As for the plan itself, it’s an unabashed plea for attention for Paul’s campaign.
The website boosting it envisions it this way: “The mainstream media is mesmerized as the image of the Ron Paul blimp is shown to tens of millions of Americans throughout the day. … The local television stations broadcast its every move. … The PR stunt generates millions upon millions of dollars worth in free publicity, and captures the imagination of America.”
Though the annals of American politics are flush with examples of all manners of props and stunts, it’s tough to find other blimps.
“We’re not doing a blimp because traditional political wisdom maybe doesn’t say that that’s the best way to spend money,” said Paul campaign spokesman Jesse Benton. “But who knows? It could turn out that the blimp is the best thing that anyone’s done.”
As for the money floating the blimp, Collette and Smith have developed a detailed business plan carefully structured to avoid Byzantine campaign finance laws.
They shunned traditional mechanisms such as creating an independent non-profit group under section 527 of the IRS code — like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the other groups that spent millions on ads in 2004 — or a political action committee — like EMILY’s List. Instead, they went an almost unheard of route, establishing a for-profit company: Liberty Political Advertising.
The name is a nod to Paul’s ideology and the website boasts the “legal arrangement offers the best of both worlds: no limits and virtually no regulations.” In other words, very libertarian.
Instead of soliciting donations like a PAC or a campaign or a non-profit political group, Liberty says it’s “selling political advertisements that you can sponsor.”
By Friday evening, Liberty had pulled in nearly $150,000.
Each payment will fund a portion of the $350,000-a-month blimp rental fee and associated costs ($10 pays for 1-minute’s worth of advertising on the blimp, while $1 million buys 10 weeks, according to the website).
The plan also calls for a spotlight truck, remote-controlled blimps trailing the main blimp and paid support staff, as well as the 10-seat blimp, which measures 190-feet long and 60-feet high and until recently was leased to the U.S. Navy.
It’s set to launch Monday from Elizabeth City, N.C. Provided it gets the requisite government clearance, it’ll fly over favorite Paul rhetorical targets like the Federal Reserve and the IRS, as well as the center of the free market — Wall Street, before an event at Boston Harbor on Dec. 16.
That’s the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party and the day Paul’s supporters plan to contribute $10 million to his campaign.
A website planning that so-called “money bomb” has solicited more than $2.5 million in pledges, while the blimp website says its crew will “dump tea into [the] harbor” from the blimp.
Asked how that would jibe with littering laws, Collette, Liberty’s managing partner, said he didn’t see a problem.
“It’s not like we’re going to dump tons of it — just enough to be symbolic,” he said.
“It’s a natural ingredient. It’s not going to pollute the harbor.”
The blimp itself will be affixed with banners asking “Who is Ron Paul” and will urge people to “Google Ron Paul.”
The other side will feature the distinctive “Ron Paul Love Revolution” logo gracing countless pro-Paul web forums and blogs.
“We specifically left off any reference to an election, because most people do not care about politics,” the effort’s website explains.
“We want to bring them back into the electoral process, and messages like the ones chosen — distinctly different than the same old boring way of advertising candidates — will do that.”
Those messages might have been off limits had blimp backers raised money for the effort using a 527, since those groups can’t explicitly support or oppose campaigns.
Likewise, had blimp backers registered with the FEC as a political action committee, they would have had to report how they raised and spent almost every dime. And they would have been barred from accepting contributions of more than $5,000-a-year from any individual.
Things could get a little tricky, though, since payments of more than $250 to fund the blimp likely will be considered “independent expenditures” that require detailed FEC disclosure reports from Liberty’s customers.
That’s something that might offend the libertarian sensibilities of some Paul supporters.
But Collette said his company intends to make it painless to comply.
It will automatically produce independent expenditure forms for customers to print, sign and mail, which Collette predicted they’d do because “word has gotten out that this is going to bury the FEC in paperwork for the cost of stamp.”
He said the goal is to make a profit, then market similar services to supporters of other candidates. “It ain’t nothing like a PAC,” he said. “This is a business.”