Electoral mischief is goal of new pro-Gary Johnson super PAC

Libertarian hedge fund manager helping fund ‘Loki PAC’

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Screenshot from an ad produced by Loki PAC, a pro-Libertarian super PAC, which depicts Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump fighting over Ohio and its 18 Electoral College votes.

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A newly formed super PAC named after the Norse trickster god Loki hopes to make electoral mischief by supporting Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson.

Johnson isn’t likely to be more than a spoiler in a race dominated by Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. But make no mistake: Loki PAC wants Johnson to become the next president of the United States.

So what path to victory does the group see for Johnson, who is currently polling around 4 percent nationally?

Loki PAC’s first digital ad explains how the U.S. House of Representatives, rather than the voters, could decide the election. This would happen only if both Clinton and Trump fail to earn the 270 Electoral College votes needed to secure the presidency.

“Gov. Johnson could very well deny Trump or Hillary the votes they need in order to win the Electoral College," a narrator implores in the two-minute spot. "Your vote this year may mean more than it's ever meant in any year before."

Joe Trotter, the founder and executive director of Loki PAC, admits that this is a long shot. But he argues that 2016 is a “historic opportunity” for a minor-party candidate like Johnson, given the high unfavorable ratings of both Clinton (about 55 percent) and Trump (about 60 percent).

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin could also conceivably win Utah and its six Electoral College votes, potentially cutting into the total number of electoral votes available to Clinton and Trump.

“We want to show there is another option, another choice,” Trotter told the Center for Public Integrity, adding that it’s “not a wasted vote to go for a third party.”

The ad’s sponsor

Loki PAC registered with the Federal Election Commission on Oct. 1. Its treasurer is Michael Knebel, a Libertarian activist who, in 2014, unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer in Nebraska.

The super PAC’s honorary chairman is Austin Petersen, owner of the news magazine and website LibertarianRepublic.com, who unsuccessfully sought the Libertarian Party presidential nomination earlier this year.

Trotter — a veteran of the Virginia-based Center for Competitive Politics, which advocates against most campaign finance regulations — is Loki PAC’s founder and executive director. Trotter also previously worked as the communications director for Petersen’s failed presidential campaign.

Money in

As a super PAC, Loki PAC may collect contributions of unlimited size from individuals, corporations and labor unions.

Because it formed so late in the election, Loki PAC will not be required to disclose its donors before Election Day. But Trotter told the Center for Public Integrity that Loki PAC has so far raised $10,000 from a single donor — hedge fund manager Disque Deane Jr., who specializes in water-related investments and is a registered Libertarian in Florida.

In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Deane described himself as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal, in that order” and praised Johnson as the “best choice” in the presidential race.

Deane added that he was intrigued by the intricacies of how the Electoral College worked — and said most Americans don’t understand that the U.S. House of Representatives plays such a pivotal role if there’s no winner on Election Day.

Money out

Loki PAC’s first digital ad buy cost about $2,500, according to official campaign finance filings.

Trotter said people shouldn’t expect “multimillion-dollar ad buys” from Loki PAC, although it will use its limited budget to boost Johnson during the final week of the election.

He added that the super PAC plans to continue playing a role in electoral politics after Election Day.

Why it matters

Johnson, whose official presidential campaign committee has raised $11.4 million through Oct. 19, may not be polling more than a few percentage points nationally, but even that level of support could provide decisive in key swing states.

Recent polls have shown Johnson earning more than 5 percent in several battleground states including Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and Ohio.

Moreover, Johnson is already on pace to earn more votes than he did four years ago, when he garnered about 1 percent of the popular vote. Should he earn more than 8.4 percent of the vote nationally, he’d be the highest-performing minor-party presidential candidate since businessman H. Ross Perot in 1996.

Pro-Libertarian super PACs, such as Loki PAC and its brethren, are hoping to help him run up the score — potentially taking votes away from Trump and Clinton in several crucial states in the process.

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