Virginia’s state flag flies in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)
If the main purpose of a political party is to run candidates for office, former Libertarian Party of Virginia Chairwoman Holly Ward says it felt like a “violation” to keep taking people’s money.
“It’s clear that we can’t function,” Ward said in an interview as she explained why the party is dissolving as a corporation and giving back the nearly $30,000 it had in the bank.
Ward provided documents showing the party had dissolved its corporate entity registered in Virginia, but other Libertarians have been questioning the legitimacy of the move and insisting the party will live on.
In an emailed statement, Angela McArdle, the chair of the National Libertarian Committee, said that, as of Tuesday evening, the national body “does not acknowledge that a disaffiliation has taken place and we are waiting on the members of the Libertarian Party of Virginia to issue a statement on the matter.”
“As far as I can tell, the alleged disaffiliation and resolution of the Libertarian Party of Virginia are the actions of a small group of rogue individuals who exploited their positions of power and moved to disaffiliate with no regard for the other members of the party or the bylaws of their organization,” McArdle said.
Ward, a 36-year-old Northern Virginia resident who works in tech, said the disarray over the Libertarians’ status in Virginia is part of a bigger battle over the national party’s tone and focus. The resolution to dissolve the state party, which Ward says was approved Sunday in a 7-6-1 vote by the party’s central committee, said the national party has become “functionally indistinct from other alt-right parties and movements.”
Those “destructive” ideas, the resolution said, include “endorsing thinly-veiled antisemitism, explicitly welcoming bigotry into the party, reversing the LP’s 50-year legacy of support for LGBTQ+ rights, and openly denouncing women’s suffrage, the civil rights act, and democracy itself.”
Ward attributed those trends to a Libertarian faction called the Mises Caucus, which she said is taking over the party apparatus and discouraging Libertarian candidates from running in swing states where they could hurt Republican votes and tilt the outcome toward Democrats.
Ward pointed to several social media posts as examples of the types of messages she opposed, including posts from the national party saying “Social justice is a Marxist lie created to bully and divide the American people,” defining democracy as “mob rule that endangers individual rights” and replying to the AP Stylebook suggesting the pronoun “she” could no longer be used “since we don’t know what a woman is anymore.” She also pointed to a deleted Martin Luther King Jr. Day Twitter post by the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire, an account the national party amplifies, that said “America isn’t in debt to black people, if anything it’s the other way around.” Another post from the New Hampshire account said “6 million dollar minimum wage or you’re antisemitic,” which many interpreted as a reference to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
“Obviously I don’t support any of these messages,” Ward said. “It’s bigoted. It’s absolutely repugnant.”
Asked about the criticisms of the national party, McArdle said those sentiments came from “the same group of rogue actors” and may not reflect the views of all Virginia Libertarians.
Libertarians don’t have a major presence in Virginia’s elected offices, but they used to have at least some heft in state politics.
In 2013, Libertarian Robert Sarvis earned more than 145,000 votes while running to be Virginia’s governor, more than the difference between the winner, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and the loser, former Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Around that time, the party was involved in a handful of lawsuits challenging Virginia’s strict ballot access laws, which many Libertarians feel are designed to make it difficult for any alternative movement to break through and compete with the two dominant parties.
The party has faded in relevance since, running no candidates in recent statewide elections and having little discernible impact on state policy debates. A similar entity could re-emerge in some other form, but the new troubles raise serious questions about the viability of what was once Virginia’s highest-profile third party.
The Libertarians didn’t have a candidate in last year’s gubernatorial race, but the party defended its right to use “L” on state ballots to avoid confusion with the Liberation Party, a third-party effort spearheaded by anti-police brutality activist Princess Blanding.
Online records from Virginia’s State Corporation Commission show the state Libertarian Party’s nonstock corporation is in the process of dissolving, and the party’s website has already been taken down. But there appears to be a power struggle underway over whether the party is or isn’t calling it quits.
Daniel John, the state party’s treasurer, emailed the Virginia Department of Elections Sunday night saying “a few members of the organization acted inappropriately” by attempting to dissolve the party “against the wishes of the body and its bylaws.”
“Due to their choices, they have constructively resigned,” John wrote. “The rest of our board members and I will continue on with business as normal.”
John didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A new Twitter account ostensibly representing Virginia Libertarians appeared Sunday and also cast doubt on the validity of the dissolution vote. And local Libertarian chapters around the state have been chiming in to say the party’s staying put.
“The Libertarian Party of Virginia attempted to dissolve through a childish coup that violated multiple procedures,” wrote the Libertarian Party of Northern Virginia.
A spokesman for the Department of Elections said that, as of Monday, the Libertarian Party of Virginia’s PAC was still considered active and there had been no formal communication apart from John’s email. According to its most recent campaign finance report, the PAC took in a little more than $6,100 between January and March and had $26,984 on hand as of March 31.
Ward, the party’s former chair, said she didn’t think any notification to state election officials was necessary, because Virginia only treats Democrats and Republicans as officially recognized political parties. A party must have received at least 10% of the vote in one of the last two statewide elections to be recognized to qualify as a political party.
If a different group wants to try to reincorporate a new Libertarian Party of Virginia, Ward said, they’re welcome to do so. But she questioned what the point would be since the party doesn’t have candidates to support.
“We couldn’t run anybody,” Ward said. “No one’s even willing to put their names behind this.”
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