Why a Conservative 501(c)(4) is Running Pro-Libertarian, Pro-Marjuana Ads on Hulu

The American Future Fund is trying to convince young liberals to bail on the Democrats and go Libertarian.

Yesterday, North Carolina blogger Matt Phillippi reported that his Hulu-watching had been sponsored by some curious new ads. The American Future Foundation, an Iowa-based dark money group that has spent heavily to elect Republicans, had sponsored short ads that told young people to go for Libertarian Sean Haugh.

"The ads looked very homespun," wrote Phillippi, "and only really got my attention because the message of the first one was 'Get Haugh, Get High' with young people holding up pictures of marijuana while wearing tie-dyes and Bob Marley T-Shirts, which seemed a little outlandish even for a Libertarian candidate."

Phillippi struggled to find the actual spots, but they are real -- and they're spectacular. AFF has registered a YouTube account, "Support Haugh for U.S. Senate," where the almost dreamily chintzy spots can be viewed. First there's this 15 second nightmare, in which attractive young people read the slogans they have been handed.

"More weed, less war!"

"Get Haugh, get high!"

"Ohhhhh yeah!"

Another, hosted by the same Mickey Mouse Club also-rans, tells voters that if they "want war," they should vote for Senator Kay Hagan.



Matea Gold, who got AFF's Nick Ryan on the horn, reports that the initial buy for these spots was $225,000. They're hardly unprecedented. Quite often, struggling candidates attempt to build up the name ID and credibility of fringe candidates who, they hope, can split their opponents' votes. That's why you see so many frontrunners refuse to debate unless the full cast of characters who made the ballot is allowed onto the stage. That's why, as Washington state voters saw in 2006, underdog Senate candidate Mike McGavick ran ads that promoted the anti-war views of a Libertarian and Green candidate running to the left of Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell.



Republicans generally assume that voters inclined to back Libertarian candidates would otherwise be voting for them. The reality: It depends. Some Libertarians run to the right of the field; some, like Virginia's 2013 Libertarian nominee for governor, Robert Sarvis, emphasize the social issues in which they find common ground with liberals. The AFF's bet in North Carolina is that it can unlock Sean Haugh's inner Sarvis, and pull in progressive votes from Democrats who resent having to back a moderate Democrat. 

Haugh finds the whole situation hilarious. "It’s like somebody put me into Google Translate, translated me into another language, and then back into English," he says of the AFF campaign. "It has that sort of disconnected, off-key feel to it. It’s just surreal to be a subject of this. You know what? I think it’s the first time ever that a libertarian candidate has attracted dark money support."

And it's a pure experiment. In SurveyUSA's last poll, Hagan had locked down 84 percent of "liberal" voters. Only 7 percent of voters listed "foreign policy" as their main motivator, and most of theee people backed Tillis. On Facebook, on Twitter, Haugh's been sharing the AFF ads and finding very few people moved from Hagan's camp to his. "Most people see through it," he says. "Still, they are telling people positive reasons why they should vote libertarian. It makes me feel a little dirty, sure. I'm glad I've never met these people. But if they’re injecting my issues into this campaign for their own purposes, that only helps me."

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