John Ramsey became old enough to buy a Carlsberg nine months ago. The 21-year-old college student from east Texas isn’t old enough to serve in Congress. His intellectual role model, U.S. Texas Representative Ron Paul, has been in Congress 22 years -- longer than Ramsey has been alive.
Yet, Ramsey is leaving a mark on U.S. politics that may outlast his political mentor and presidential candidate, Paul. The college senior spent $1.3 million of his own money to create a super-political action committee, Liberty for All Super PAC, that backs candidates who endorse what Ramsey calls “freedom philosophy.” The dogma includes policies championed by Paul, such as supporting free-market economics, protecting civil liberties, slashing government spending and opposing most U.S. military action.
Ramsey’s super-PAC passed its first test on May 22. It spent more than $561,000 on television and radio ads to help Tom Massie, a Kentucky engineer, defeat two experienced politicians in a House Republican primary election. Ramsey’s super-PAC spent more than any of the candidates.
“This is the first step. We’re looking to spread our message,” Ramsey, who’d shed his afternoon blue-jeans for a gray suit, told about 20 people in their teens and 20s who gathered for a victory party at one of the PAC’s headquarters in Bellevue, Kentucky.
Hunting and Fishing
Towering over the other attendees at 6-feet, 7-inches, the one-time, daily tennis player still finds time for matches -- as well as hunting and fishing -- between his political project, investments and studies.
Ramsey attends Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he’s several courses shy from a double-major in business economics and finance.
He enjoys studying central banking systems, including the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve, which, like Paul, he says should be audited. Among his favorite authors is Frederic Bastiat, a French economist who promoted free markets as a source of “economic harmony” in the early half of the 1800s.
His interest in economics and finance comes from his grandfather, Justin Robert Howard, a banker who died on Thanksgiving 2010 and left a fortune to his survivors, including Ramsey and his two older siblings.
Howard -- “Big Papa” to Ramsey -- “taught me about cash-flow statements and P/E ratios” as a young teenager, Ramsey said. He manages his own portfolio, which includes interests in energy, real estate and timber.
“I’m involved in a lot of investments that are not linked to the dollar,” he said. “That’s my favorite way of diversifying, whether it be through alternative currency, gold, through companies that do mining in precious metals. That’s my number one goal now, to diversify from the dollar more and more.”
Ramsey said his sister, Vanessa, a lifelong Democrat, expressed some skepticism about his political spending, though he said family and friends have supported his desire to promote his causes.
He uses the word “grandfather” to describe his relationship with Paul, a 76-year-old House member. He met Paul in 2010, and they’re pictured together on Ramsey’s Facebook page.
“Ron Paul has been an absolutely phenomenal role model for me personally,” Ramsey said. “It’s so honorable to have him as sort of the grandfather of this movement he’s created in this country.”
Rosa Parks, a black woman who helped spark the civil rights movement in 1955 when she refused to take a seat in the back of a public bus, and Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of that movement, are also role models for their practice of peaceful civil disobedience.
“You can’t spread freedom through violence,” Ramsey said. “Humanitarianism can only be done through peaceful means.”
Ramsey’s interest in free-market ideas deepened last summer during studies at Oxford University in England. Ramsey said that his classmates from Europe and Asia had much different policy views. Some of them quoted from Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto,” Ramsey said.
Youngest Super-PAC Member
After campaigning for Paul in Iowa and Maine, Ramsey said he became “tired of sitting on the sidelines” and decided to form the super-PAC, becoming perhaps the youngest member of a new set of wealthy political actors freed by federal court decisions to spend as much money as they wish on elections. According to Federal Election Commission records, Liberty for All Super PAC became official on March 5.
An early call for help went to Preston Bates, 23, a former Democratic Party operative in Kentucky who worked briefly on Paul’s White House effort. Bates was so interested in Ramsey’s idea that he drove more than 1,000 miles from his Louisville hometown to meet Ramsey at his condominium in Austin. Ramsey offered him the job of executive director, running the day-to-day operations of the super-PAC.
Bates traveled to Washington in April to attend a conference about using technology in political campaigns. Ramsey and Bates are big on technology: Ramsey says that when he saw a colleague working on an outdated computer, he immediately took him to an Apple store to buy a new model.
Bates has received advice about the super-PAC’s development from David Boaz, the executive director of the Washington-based Cato Institute, and Thomas E. Woods Jr., a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, based in Auburn, Alabama and named for an Austrian free-market economist and philosopher, he said.
Ramsey intends to expand beyond the Liberty For All super-PAC activity to include 501c3 and 501c4 non-profit arms that can engage in issue advocacy and charitable work.
He and Bates also are planning to diversify their donor base after hiring professional fundraisers. Among those they plan to seek help from is Peter Thiel, a billionaire investor who provided Facebook Inc.’s first outside investment and who gave $2.6 million to a different super-PAC that backed Paul’s presidential campaign.
“There’s no reason why, by the end of the summer, we can’t have $10 million,” Ramsey said.
One detail he won’t share: how much of his own money he’s willing to part with.
“How much does freedom cost?” he said. “I’m willing to do what it takes, within my ability to promote and have a more free world.”
In the short-term, the super-PAC, which has about 15 to 20 staffers, is focusing its efforts on winning down-ballot contests in which they’ve identified a preferred “freedom candidate” who shares their philosophy. Liberty for All’s next target is a county constable race in Austin, where the super-PAC is backing a gay, black, Democrat who owns a gun store.
The presidential election no longer interests Ramsey.
President Barack Obama and presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney share too many policy views, he said, noting that the former governor’s health-care overhaul in Massachusetts was a blueprint for the national plan Obama signed into law in 2010.
“I don’t see a lot of difference between the two candidates,” he says.
Ramsey also doesn’t care about the party affiliation of the candidates his group vets.
No Partisan Labels
“We would like to have a freedom candidate running,” Ramsey says. “Party is not the big thing that we look at.”
For Ramsey, winning elections is a means to an end. He eschews referring to his spending as political contributions, preferring to refer to his work as a “humanitarian rescue mission.”
Liberty for All “is a political action committee, but I see it as more of a humanitarian effort,” Ramsey said.
In the future, Ramsey wants to pursue philanthropic pursuits and earn a doctorate in economics. He’s interested in the economics of developing countries including India, and he says he wants to engage on such issues as world hunger and water sanitation.
With the super-PAC dominating his energies, though, his academic career is on hold, which he says he probably will finish “at the correct time.”