The Republican party had its first presidential primary debate last week, and despite challenges from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson, the Democratic Party is fully behind President Joe Biden. Third parties have started primary processes as well, and a handful of Libertarian candidates are vying for the nomination.
The Libertarian Party is the third-largest national party in the country. The party’s success peaked in 2016 when former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson captured 3.3% of the vote, the most received by a third-party presidential candidate since Ross Perot’s 1996 bid.
The Libertarian ticket is decided by delegates at the Libertarian National Convention, which will be held in May 2024.
According to the Federal Election Commission, 30 Libertarians have filed to run for president in 2024, but only four — Chase Oliver, Lars Mapstead, Mike ter Maat and Jacob Hornberger — have reported raising or spending any money as of September 1. The four candidates have raised $379,000 and spent a total $230,000 on the race as of the end of June. For comparison, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the least successful fundraiser to qualify for the Republican debate, alone raised $583,000 in the second quarter of 2023. Former president Donald Trump’s campaign committee raised $17.7 million in the same time frame.
A fifth serious candidate, Joshua Smith, entered the race after the FEC’s second quarter deadline so details of his campaign finances won’t be disclosed until the third quarter filing deadline in October.
All five candidates spoke with OpenSecrets about their candidacy and platforms.
Chase Oliver hopes to capitalize on impactful Georgia Senate race
Chase Oliver garnered national attention after the 2022 U.S. Senate Race in Georgia against now-Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Republican opponent Herschel Walker. Oliver ran as a third-party candidate and won 2% of the vote, sending the race to a runoff election and turning it into the cycle’s most expensive contest after raising just $14,000 himself.
Oliver was unapologetic at the time, telling Rolling Stone that “our democracy functions better when we have more than just two choices on the ballot.” Oliver told OpenSecrets that his Senate run is one of the things that sets him apart from the current Libertarian battlefield.
“Of the announced candidates, I’ve probably gotten the best electoral record,” Oliver said. “In terms of ability to get media exposure, vote totals, and overall name ID, I think I’m leading the pack.”
Oliver describes himself as a minarchist, believing in a minimal form of government. On his campaign website, Oliver says he would work to end qualified immunity and minimum sentencing, remove the death penalty, end the “war on drugs,” repeal the Patriot Act and support abortion and gun rights.
“So long as you’re not harming anyone, you should be able to live in peace without the force, fraud or coercion of government or anyone else,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s campaign formed in April and has already surpassed his 2022 fundraising efforts, raising $25,000 in the second quarter of 2023 with no self-funding, according to FEC filings. Oliver relies more on grassroots support than any candidate, with about 24.9% of the money raised coming from small donors who’ve donated $200 or less.
“It’s my least favorite part of doing this whole thing, having to dial for dollars, but it’s something I’m getting more and more comfortable with, and with that comfort comes more success,” Oliver said.
His campaign spent almost all of the money it raised in quarter two, with over half going toward travel expenses as he attends conventions and meets delegates across the country. He ended June with $315 on hand.
While Oliver is the Libertarian candidate with the highest small-donor fundraising reported to the FEC, the coffers of self-funded candidates trump his efforts.
Lars Mapstead uses social marketing to advertise unrigging the system
Lars Mapstead is a tech entrepreneur who co-founded FriendFinder Networks, a company that owns several online dating and adult websites. Since launching in 2021, Mapstead’s campaign has raised $196,000, though all but $2,300 of it was either contributed or loaned by Mapstead himself, according to an OpenSecrets analysis of the committee’s FEC filings. Mapstead says his main priority has been meeting delegates rather than donors.
“I should definitely be able to make it up to the nomination process in May self-funding,” Mapstead told OpenSecrets. “I am raising money, and I’d like to get a lot of small donors just to show that I have support. We are soliciting large donors, and we are looking at PACs, but I don’t currently have one set up for myself.”
Mapstead is centering his campaign on “unrigging the system,” highlighting electoral, economic and healthcare reforms on his website.
To “unrig our elections,” Mapstead would broaden ballot access, eliminate winner-take-all elections and implement ranked choice voting. Economically, Mapstead supports the “fair tax,” which would replace federal income tax with a national consumption tax. In healthcare, he would incentivize transparent pricing, expand Healthcare Savings Accounts (or HSAs) and increase competition in the market by allowing anyone to form a healthcare group, not just employers.
So far, Mapstead’s campaign has spent $94,000, spending $57,000 of that in the second quarter of 2023. Before this year, his expenses went almost entirely toward Facebook advertising, and he began spending money on traveling and consulting in 2023.
“I think that the difference between myself and other people is that I’ve kind of become an expert at social marketing through my company,” Mapstead said. “ I’m really good at getting the message out there and reaching the most people possible.”
Mapstead ended last June with $102,000 cash on hand, more than double the combined coffers of his opponents.
“Unlike Republicans and Democrats, Libertarians have a hard time fundraising, because there’s not this deep donor pool that you can draw on from time, time and time again, it’s a relatively small party,” he said. “So one of the big benefits that I have is that I’m primarily self-funding my campaign, and so that gives me a big advantage as far as advertising and getting my name out there, and also just having a large team to secure the delegates.”
Ter Maat proposes Gold New Deal of uncompromising libertarian principles
Mike ter Maat, an economist and former Florida police officer, is also running an almost entirely self-funded campaign. Ter Maat described his platform as “principles forward” and “based on the most transformational ideas in libertarian thought.”
“We believe that having a very, very bold and very principled platform is critical to not only getting our message out as libertarians but also to achieve electoral success in the future,” ter Maat told OpenSecrets. “In other words, it’s part and parcel of our strategy to starkly differentiate us from Republicans and from Democrats.”
Ter Maat has dubbed his platform The Gold New Deal and created a website highlighting his positions, with limiting and decentralizing the power and size of government at the core of his platform. This includes abolishing the Federal Reserve and the IRS, phasing out public education, ending qualified immunity and eliminating federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI.
“We don’t advocate for complete secession,” ter Maat said. “But we do believe in the decentralization of power from the federal government to state governments. We believe that states ought to have the right to resolve conflicts between state law and federal law unilaterally in state court. We believe that states ought to have the right to opt out of federal supremacy.”
Ter Maat is an economist who earned his doctorate from George Washington University and previously worked as an advocate for “free markets in the financial services industry” and in the White House as a financial economist. After founding and running a professional education business for bank executives from 2002-2008, Ter Maat served as a police officer in Florida from 2010 until 2021.
Ter Maat has put $120,000 of his own money into the campaign and raised $7,000 from donors. The campaign has spent $97,000 with at least $40,000 going to paying campaign staff, which he says separates his campaign from others.
“We’re running a campaign that is very professional. We have 14 people on paid staff already, lightly paid,” he said. “We have, in addition to that, a dozen volunteer advisors on our team, and we have volunteers beyond that who are conducting outreach right now.”
Joshua Smith emphasizes veteran, blue-collar background
Joshua Smith is the latest prominent candidate to enter into the race, forming his campaign in late July. The former vice chair of the Libertarian Party began his political career working on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2008. He says his military service in the 2000s helped turn him to Libertarianism.
“I spent some time in the Persian Gulf when I was very young, right after 9/11,” Smith said. “I wanted to go protect my country after our country was attacked, and I found myself on a ship in the middle of the Persian Gulf at war with Iraq. And it didn’t really make much sense to me, because Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. And so I started kind of really looking into the military-industrial complex.”
Smith says he would end the U.S. involvement in foreign wars, close U.S. foreign military bases and cut foreign aid.
While Smith has similar ideological beliefs to hardline Libertarian candidates, some of the changes would be more gradual or moderate.
While he used to support an open-borders immigration policy, he now supports a more streamlined immigration process than the one in place but one that still includes a vetting process.
He is also against Social Security and supports a private solution, but wouldn’t immediately end the program.
“I know that the amount of blood it would cause to just get in there and abolish Social Security on day one would really throw a lot of our most vulnerable citizens into a fury,” he said. “But we’ve got to look for a better way. “
Smith formed his presidential campaign after the second-quarter deadline, so official details
about his finances will first become available at the end of the third quarter in October. Smith told OpenSecrets that he is not self-funding and that he has raised about $5,400 from over 100 unique donors.
Smith said while his priority is going to conventions and meeting delegates, his campaign already has an eye on the general election.
“We’re focusing a lot outside of the echo chamber,” he said. “We want to talk to people and find out what their fears are, and how they can be addressed from the executive branch. So, if we do make it into the general, we already have a working idea of what people want, what they want to see out of a presidential candidate.”
Jacob Hornberger argues reform isn’t enough
Jacob Hornberger, founder and president of the Future Freedom Foundation, says he knows he is far from being the frontrunner in this race. He doesn’t have as much money as ter Maat or Mapstead nor the name recognition of Oliver.
But he says Libertarian Party delegates should choose him and his platform, which he says is “based on pure libertarian principles.”
“My campaign calls for the dismantling of every infringement on liberty, including the dismantling of the welfare state and the national security state,” Hornberger told OpenSecrets.
Hornberger ran for the Libertarian nomination in 2020, losing to the more moderate Jo Jorgensen. Though he endorsed Jorgensen in the general election, he says a Libertarian candidate who makes concessions on principles to appeal to more voters is doomed to fail. Jorgensen received 1.2% of the popular vote.
“What we’ve got to keep in mind is that that message of reform is a loser message, and it has proven to be a loser message for 25 years,” Hornberger said. “The American voters keep telling us, ‘we don’t like this message coming out of your party,’ and yet we continue running presidential candidates that favor that message thinking that maybe this time it’s going to be different.”
Hornberger’s campaign has spent $13,000 this year, with most of it going toward the design and maintenance of his website. On the site, Hornberger presents his positions on 23 different issues. He supports open borders and free trade but opposes Social Security, Medicare, gun control, drug laws, the CDC, the IRS, the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, foreign aid, sanctions and embargoes.
Hornberger’s campaign raised $30,000 from late February to the end of June, more than any other candidate raised from donors. About 95% of it came from 12 donors who contributed an average of $2,400, with the rest coming from donors who gave $200 or less. Hornberger had $17,000 on hand by the end of June and said he will spend most of his money traveling to conventions and meeting delegates.
Libertarians disagree on the point of running
The candidates have different goals and strategies for the general election. Mapstead said since he believes a Libertarian winning the race is unlikely, his strategy as nominee would be to concentrate his efforts in specific states and districts in an effort to win a single electoral vote, which the Libertarian party hasn’t done since a faithless elector voted for the first Libertarian presidential candidate in 1972.
“I want to do that to put Libertarians on the map and give us the credibility that we deserve,” Mapstead said. “My goal is to get as many people to Google ‘what is a Libertarian?’ and see if that matches their philosophy.”
Ter Maat disagrees with Mapstead’s strategy and said the most efficient way to garner national attention is to have a national campaign that aims to win the presidency.
“Our objective is to spread the libertarian message nationwide,” he said. “The most cost-effective way to do that is on a national basis through national advertising, through national media, national earned media. It is inefficient, and I believe in the long run therefore ineffective, to focus a campaign on small areas like Maine and Nebraska. Victory, to us, does not look like … getting one single electoral college vote.”
Hornberger concurred with ter Maat and said that the best way to spread the Libertarian message is by having an uncompromising national message.
Oliver said he will also have a national campaign but will focus mainly on states where the Libertarian Party needs a minimum turnout to maintain ballot access, like in Oliver’s home state of Georgia. Smith said his goal would be to get 5% of the national popular vote in order to qualify as a “minor party” federally, qualifying candidates for public funding.
The Libertarian Party’s chair Angela McArdle said regardless of strategy, a presidential run is useful for bringing attention to the party and lower-level Libertarian candidates
“Obviously, you’ve got to go in with a winning mindset and the goal is to eventually win the presidency,” she told OpenSecrets. “But my goal in the here and now is to use the presidential campaign to bolster a grassroots movement and support down-ticket candidates, especially at the local level because those candidates have a much higher chance of winning.”
All five candidates said that they are likely to endorse the Libertarian nominee. McArdle said that despite feuding ideological factions within the Libertarian Party, party members have put aside their differences in past elections to support the nominee. McArdle herself is part of the Mises Caucus, a group of hardline Libertarians who support Austrian economics, strong private property rights and decentralization.
“In 2020, the Mises Caucus really was supporting Jacob Hornberger, who didn’t get the election,” McArdle said. “But most of us still showed up for Jo Jorgensen, volunteered on her campaign, did everything that we could to get her as much exposure as possible.”
The Libertarian National Convention is nine months away. Jorgensen didn’t form her 2020 campaign until late August 2019, and the party’s 2016 nominee, Gary Johnson, didn’t announce his until January 2016.
“This is still a little bit early in the race for Libertarians,” McArdle said, “and we still have a lot of people who tend to announce after the new year. The candidate pool is going to expand considerably over the next five months.”