Super PACs are strange things.
After a series of federal court rulings allowed groups to organize as nonprofits and raise—and spend—limitless amounts to influence elections, they've popped up everywhere. Organizers don't have to disclose their donors (although that may soon change), and often the general public knows very little about their activities.
Elect Liberty PAC, which formed in August and is supporting Libertarian US Senate candidate Gary Johnson, is one such dark money group.
But while we may not know much about who's giving how much, we know the political action committee's ads have a lot of faces that might be familiar to Johnson. And even though many of those people seem to live in Utah, they want you to know that Gary Johnson is right for us. Or you. Or maybe for them.
It's not so clear.
Elect Liberty has produced a series of testimonial-style videos currently living a somewhat sheltered existence online, but ready for distribution should the need, or perhaps the money, arise. Voters have seen scores, maybe hundreds of these types of political commercials before. They feature a series of people telling you how awesome a candidate is. In this case, it's Gary Johnson.
Johnson entered the race last month as a replacement for Aubrey Dunn. Johnson was a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003 and ran for president twice as a Libertarian. In 2016, his vote totals in New Mexico were high enough to vault the Libertarian Party into major party status, making it easier for candidates to get on the ballot.
It's important to note that, by law, Gary Johnson can't have anything to do with Elect Liberty's strategy or ads. It's fair game for the super PAC to use images of him. In fact, there's nothing illegal about the ads. But it appears most of the people in them live in Utah, where the commercials were made. Not illegal, but pretty weird.
No one from Elect Liberty would return multiple calls or emails from SFR. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show the super PAC is based in Utah and was started by Mike McCauley, a conservative Utahan who was formerly a Republican Party official there and has also played in Colorado politics.
The New Mexico Democratic Party took notice of the ads and immediately went to work deconstructing them.
"New Mexicans know Gary Johnson, but his Utah-based Super PAC doesn't seem to know New Mexico," said party chair Marg Elliston.
The most notable of the bunch is called "Washington Doesn't Work" and appears to have been shot entirely at an outdoor mall in Salt Lake City. The man in the frame above seems to be Evan Twede, a longtime Johnson associate who told an outdoor advertising publication during Johnson's 2016 presidential run that he'd been buying media for Johnson for 25 years. He has an artistic streak and uses a pseudonym of Evan Lord.
"He's gonna be the swing vote," the man says, "and I tell you what, I want a swing vote like Gary Johnson."
So, too, apparently, does Twede's son, identified by Democrats through his Facebook account. "If they're not representing us, why do we keep electing them?" the red-haired man asks?
These people can say whatever they please, even if they're in Utah and the election in question is in New Mexico. But the ad does get strange when it starts talking about "typical" politicians who act as "another rubber stamp, flashing plastic smiles" and "kissing fake babies."
SFR hasn't come across a fake baby at a political rally, but it could happen. The child in the video appears to be alive (and may also be Evan Twede's grandson).
A moment later, a man at the mall in Utah tells us "Gary keeps it real."
Gary may well keep it real—his campaign has seen the ads but didn't have a comment—but Elect Liberty's version of keeping it real may have gone slightly wrong.