Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Richard Viguerie Confession

Having Viguerie as a keynote speaker has sparked some controversy, lately. Here's some of my thoughts about this I sent to the Radical LP group plus some of my thoughts from nearly a year ago.

I have not been involved in any of the recent discussions where Viguerie was actually chosen as a replacement for Bob Barr as a keynote speaker.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: My Richard Viguerie confession
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 04:09:46 -0500
From: Wes Benedict

Richard Viguerie was a guest speaker just over a year ago at the 2007 Libertarian State Chairs Conference in Orlando. I found his presentation quite inspiring, and as you can see from the note I wrote below to the LNC (almost a year ago), I recommended him as a keynote speaker for our 2008 convention.

Keep in mind I had no idea Bob Barr would be running for President at the time, and as the note below makes clear, I recommended Bob Barr as my second choice.

I found Mr. Viguerie's story quite inspiring. And make no mistake, Mr. Viguerie was clear he was a "conservative" with the goal of holding the Republican Party true to conservative principles, not libertarian principles.

While I did not agree with Mr. Viguerie's goals of achieving conservatism through the Republican Party, I thought Libertarians could learn a lot from the methods he used. I read his book about how he wanted to use tactics that would pull the Republican Party in the conservative direction and thought many of those same principles could be used by the Libertarian Party to pull the general electorate in a more Libertarian direction.

One particular thing that stood out as a tactic that I think Libertarians (including myself) often misunderstand is the role that direct mail plays as a form of advertising, not just fund raising.

I've seen many instances where a Libertarian campaign gets criticized for spending too much money on fund raising. I'll give two scenarios to help make my point. Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario A: Libertarian candidate Smith raises $1 million and spends $500,000 on postcards to voters. (Great--50% spent on advertising!)
Scenario B: Libertarian candidate Smith raises $1 million and spends $500,000 on fund raising letters to voters (with the same info as the postcard but has a return envelope and a fund raising pitch, etc., and results in $300,000 in new revenue--which is spent on more letters). So in this case the campaign spends $800,000 or more on outreach.

I used to be of the mindset that Scenario A was good because 50% was advertising, but did not understand that fund raising letters as in Scenario B were also a form of advertising but one that brought in money to keep the advertising going.

It's late and I'm tired and not in a condition to make sure what I'm writing is clear, but to be clear, I'm saying that despite the recent Bob Barr connections and that I recognize there's a potential conflict here, a year ago I thought Libertarians could learn a lot from Mr. Viguerie's methods.

In 2004, I was one of the main leaders of the successful ballot access petition drive in Texas. Libertarians hadn't had to petition in Texas for 16 years so none of us had experience. We learned on the fly by working very closely with and cooperating with the Nader petition effort. I don't support Nader's views, but definitely learned a lot and benefited a lot by coordinating with his petition effort.

Again, it's real late and I can hardly read my own typing. Not expecting this to alleviate concerns about conflicts. Just providing more background from my viewpoint.

--Wes Benedict
Executive Director
Libertarian Party of Texas

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Lnc-discuss] Keynoter?
Date: Fri, 06 Jul 2007 16:38:26 -0500
From: Wes Benedict
References: <2058229974.1183728878466.javamail.root@fepweb09>

Can you confirm for me exactly what the keynote speaker is? Is that the main speaker at the fundraising banquet dinner on the last major night of the convention?

Who gets the money from that banquet, the party or the presidential nominee?

I may change my recommendation based on answers above. In any case . . .

I recommend Richard Viguerie:

1. I found his speech at the state chairs meeting to be the most inspiring I've heard in years. And, he inspired me to want to support the LP! Having someone like a libertarian-leaning elected Republican judge doesn't inspire me to want to support the LP.
2. I don't think having someone like Brian Doherty or Neil Boortz who will bash the LP (regardless of whether that's deserved or not) will be good for fundraising for the LP. Might as well get Timothy West and Greg Dirasian if critiquing the audience is the goal (inside joke--not all LNC members will understand this reference).
3. Despite several months upward trend in membership numbers, by most measures, the LP is in pretty bad shape when compared to just a few years ago on objective measures: elected libertarians, "active" donors, revenue, etc. I recognize many people are optimistic because we have this or that new program that's fixin' to take off, but by objective measures, we're in the doldrums and I think most rational Libertarian Party members realize that. DEPRESSED? Well, misery loves company!
Richard Viguerie, a Republican, really bashed the Republican Party hard, and that inspired me to work harder for the LP.
4. Junk Mail. Viguerie was a big fundraiser and direct-mailer for conservative and Republican causes. Many Libertarian Party members don't know much about the vital role that direct mail plays in raising funds and in providing advertising and growth of the party. I think having several hundred Libertarian Party members getting a lesson on direct mail might not only help them if they work on fundraising efforts, but might also get them to feel better about opening up their wallets at the banquet or in response to future fundraising letters from national.
5. Richard Viguerie claimed he started a "vast right-wing conspiracy." He said no party leaders asked him to do it--he just took it upon himself to do it. I think it would be great for a room full of Libertarians to hear that they don't need to wait for an invitation or approval from Libertarian Party leaders to make something happen. Just do it!
6. Richard Viguerie was interesting and entertaining and informative. Great for a fundraising banquet. I forget who the guy was in Portland who did the PowerPoint presentation full of technical details that I found extremely boring--and way too long (right before the fundraising)!!!!! Ron Paul was the keynote speaker at the LP Texas convention in 2006 and he was great, but we let him go on and on and on for way too long and he was like the third speaker. People were restless, yawning, sneaking out, bored. We still raised good money, but I think we would have raised a lot more if we hadn't let it go on so long. In any case, our state convention banquet was not nearly as bad as that Portland National banquet. Keep it short, interesting, inspiring!

My 2 cents.

Actually, Congressman Barr would also be at the top of my list.

--Wes Benedict
PS: January through June 2007 LP Texas revenue: about $53,000. wrote:
> Folks,
> Any recommendations for a keynote speaker in 2008?