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Obama Donor Behind Third-Party Va. Candidate? Maybe Not

Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for Virginia governor, speaks with the news media after casting his ballot in Nokesville, Va., on Tuesday.
Cliff Owen
Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for Virginia governor, speaks with the news media after casting his ballot in Nokesville, Va., on Tuesday.

This week's hot rumor in Virginia: Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis was a spoiler, bankrolled by an Obama bundler from Texas, to undercut Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

On Election Day, Sarvis captured nearly 7 percent of the vote in a race Cuccinelli lost by less than 3 percentage points to Democrat Terry McAuliffe.

"Bought and paid for," as Rush Limbaugh said, and as circulated by Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, National Review Online and others. Even uber-strategist Karl Rove pointed to a Democratic moneyman.

But a few things are off here. The $150,000 that they cite went to an existing Libertarian PAC, not the candidate. A co-founder of the PAC says less than $20,000 found its way to Virginia, for both Sarvis and legislative candidates. And the mystery donor is more generous to Libertarians than to Democrats.

The Center for Responsive Politics says that since 2009, Texas high-tech entrepreneur Joe Liemandt contributed $172,500 to Libertarian committees versus $132,996 to Democratic committees and federal candidates. (He did max out to President Obama in 2011: $5,000.) Add in money from his wife, Andra, and Democrats edge out Libertarians, $243,993 to $235,829. Andra, not Joe, is the Obama bundler, listed as raising between $200,000 and $500,000 for the 2012 campaign. Neither of the Liemandts gave directly to Sarvis.

Wes Benedict, who co-founded Libertarian Booster PAC, says he got a call from Joe Liemandt in 2008. Benedict told NPR, "He said, 'What would the Libertarian Party do with a million dollars?' "

Benedict says the PAC started out in 2011, focusing first on Texas races, and Liemandt contributed — although less than $1 million. Benedict says, "Last time I communicated with him was months ago."

Benedict, now executive director of the national Libertarian Party, says he recruited Sarvis to run for governor. "If we were out there just hoping to make a Republican lose," he says, "then we would have recruited a Tea Party-sounding Libertarian that just talked about right-wing issues and Obamacare's no good, that kind of stuff."

Peter Overby is the power, money and influence correspondent on NPR's Washington Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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