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Libertarians declare 'mission accomplished' in Virginia — after super PAC help

Robert Sarvis, who earned record 6.5 percent of vote, bolstered by big-dollar groups

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Two days after Virginia voters narrowly elected Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, Libertarian National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict declared "mission accomplished."

If so, a pair of super PACs played an overriding role in the success of Libertarian Robert Sarvis, who garned a sizable 6.5 percent of the vote — the third-highest vote total for a Libertarian gubernatorial candidate in history, in any state.

In the final stretch of the campaign, a pro-Libertarian super PAC called the Purple PAC financed a media blitz, spending roughly $300,000 on TV ads — nearly $100,000 more than Sarvis' campaign itself raised during the race.

And of the roughly $200,000 raised by Sarvis, the Libertarian Booster PAC ranked as his largest donor, behind Sarvis himself, at about $11,500, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Major donors to the Purple PAC include Kentucky horse breeder Richard Masson and billionaire options trader Jeffrey Yass, who sits on the board of the Cato Institute, as the Center for Public Integrity has previously reported.

Meanwhile, the Libertarian Booster PAC, which under Virginia law is allowed to accept unlimited contributions, was started in 2011 by Benedict. It counts Joe Liemandt — the Stanford University dropout who founded and runs the software company Trilogy — as its largest donor this year.

That relationship has earned Sarvis and the PAC ire from the likes of Rush Limbaugh to Karl Rove in recent days.

The reason for their fury: Liemandt and his wife Andra have deep financial ties not only to the Libertarian Party, but also to Democrats including President Barack Obama.

For instance, Andra Liemandt was credited by as bundling $326,000 for Obama's 2012 re-election efforts, according to documents obtained by the New York Times. Federal Election Commission records show the couple alone donated $156,700 to the Obama Victory Fund, which boosted Obama's campaign, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic parties in battleground states like Virginia.

The Liemandts together also donated about $141,000 to the Libertarian National Committee between 2008 and 2012, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of FEC records.

In a press release issued Thursday afternoon. Benedict argued that Sarvis should not be called a spoiler by Republicans.

"My hope with the Robert Sarvis campaign was for the election to be close between the Democrat and Republican, with the Libertarian getting more votes than in previous elections," said Benedict

"I want Libertarians to win elections," Benedict continued. "But I also want them to run for office even when they're unlikely to win. Why? To get the public to discuss and consider libertarian principles."

Both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli also benefited from spending by independent groups, although not to the same extent as Sarvis. And for his part, McAuliffe raised about $33 million, while Cuccinelli raised $18 million.

Update Nov. 8, 2013, 10:16 a.m.: Purple PAC President Ed Crane — a former chairman of the Libertarian National Committee and founder of the Cato Institute — told the Center for Public Integrity that his group's extra boost was a "healthy thing" for the Virginian electorate, which got to hear from a candidate with a "socially tolerant agenda" who also favors "lower taxes and less business regulations."

Like Benedict, he challenged the notion that Sarvis' campaign was a boon to McAuliffe.

"This idea that libertarians are automatically taking votes away from Republicans is just not true," he said.

Crane added that if Purple PAC had started earlier and had $5 million at its disposal, instead of a few hundred thousand, Sarvis "could have got a quarter of the vote."