Did the Libertarian Party get played by a Republican plant in the Senate race? It seems likely, as Eric Fulton, who filed as a Libertarian candidate for the Senate on March 5th and dropped out of the race at the last minute, has longstanding ties to both the Montana Republican Party and Senator Daines, the person most likely to benefit from the absence of a Libertarian candidate in the race.
But if the Libertarian Party acts with haste—as in, by tomorrow—they just might save their line on the ballot.
Was Eric Fulton a Republican Plant?
Let’s start with Fulton, who has a demonstrated record as a Republican and supporter of Senator Daines.
In 2014, he filed for an ran as a Republican for the Montana Legislature in House District 65. According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Fulton described himself as a Republican:
Fulton, 26, was born in Kalispell but now lives in Bozeman, just outside of HD 65. He has never been elected to public office but got a taste of policy making last session when he helped draft House Bill 400, a bill regarding privacy. Fulton described himself as a liberty-minded new Republican. He said his opponent is a member of the Christian right who has invaded the Republican Party.
That run followed a stint as the Chair of the Gallatin County Young Republicans. As their chair, he filed a political practices complaint against Democratic Representative Franke Wilmer, a complaint that was summarily rejected as frivolous by the Commissioner of Political Practices.
Fulton also spoke at a TEA Party event with future Republican Party Chair and current Republican candidate for the U.S. House Debra Lamm at an event in 2014:
“The Bozeman Tea Party will host two events as part of its 6th Annual Tea Party. These events will focus the spotlight on government overreach through NSA eavesdropping, IRS targeting, ObamaCare meddling and government overspending and over taxation. April 15th, Two Events, One Day Noon, Gallatin County Court House (Main Street, corner of 3rd) The Noon rally features: Bozeman Tea Party Chairman Terry Bannan; Eric Fulton, a internet security expert and Debra Lamm, an expert on Common Core.”
A quick look at Fulton’s Facebook page shows his support for Montana Republicans and Republican groups ranging from Matt Rosendale to Republican House candidate Caleb Hinkle.
Fulton not only has a demonstrated record as a Republican, but he has ties to Senator Daines as well.
Fulton has often praised Senator Daines for his work in the Senate.
In 2016, he was included in a Daines press release praising the Senator’s effort to streamline crowdfunding regulations:
Eric Fulton, CEO of Treasure State Internet & Telegraph: “Crowdfunding enables TSI&T to grow at the level our support and the need of our community, not just our debt to asset ratio. Raising the ceiling that triggers SEC reporting is incredibly helpful to grow our business. The cost of triggering those reports is extremely high, both in time and money, and while our company is so small, we have everyone working in all areas of the business. Burdensome reporting requirements can take your focus from growing your business.”
Fulton continued that praise in a letter to the editor in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, calling him a champion for small business:
For small businesses, crowdfunding can be the difference between growth and stagnation — and thanks to Sen. Daines we are excited about the potential growth opportunities that lie before us. With crowdfunding our small Montana-based ISP can acquire investors from across the nation to help us build our dream and prime our state for a new wave of technology-based, high-paying, jobs. So thank you Sen. Daines for championing small business in Montana and supporting our dream to make Montana the state with the fastest Internet.
And in 2015, he gave credit to Daines for helping his small business grow in an article in the Independent Record.
Fulton is also connected to those around Daines.
During Fulton’s run for the House, he received a $150 donation from Chuck Denowh, who was Daines’s finance director in 2014 and who has figured prominently in Republican efforts to gain unearned ballot access for the Green Party through an outfit called Advanced Micro Targeting in 2018:
Advanced Micro Targeting is also directly linked to important players in the Montana Republican Party, most notably Chuck Denowh. Denowh, who was formerly the executive director of the Montana GOP, headed up the Montana effort to pass Marsy’s Law in Montana. The state organization for Marsy’s Law paid Advanced Microtargeting over $400,000 to pass their flawed constitutional amendment in 2016.
And how is Chuck Denowh spending his time now? Consulting for State Auditor Matt Rosendale, the Republican frontrunner to challenge Senator Tester this fall.
Fulton also received donations from Shelby DeMars, a longtime Republican operative who worked for Ryan Zinke and Tim Fox. DeMars, along with Dennis Iverson, who also donated $150 to Fulton, both work at Denowh’s The Montana Group.
Long time Libertarian candidate Roger Roots was sure enough that Fulton was a plant that he posted this on Wednesday:
Mr. Fulton was almost certainly a plant from U.S. Senator Daines campaign. (Notice Fulton either scrubbed his social media pages just prior to filing, or he didn’t have much of a libertarian media trail to begin with.) The Republicans try this right before every U.S. Senate race (and many U.S. House races)–in order to trick the LP into not placing a true Libertarian candidate in the race. Usually we are wise enough to realize what they are doing.
The Libertarians Can Still Run a Candidate but Only If They Move Fast
It appears that Fulton played the Libertarians, lulling them into a false sense of security that they had a candidate, but the party still has time to get a candidate on the ballot—if it acts quickly.
Montana law provides that “[i]f a candidate for nomination for a partisan office dies or withdraws before the candidate filing deadline established in 13-10-201(7), the affected political party may appoint someone to replace the candidate . . . ” Mont. Code Ann. § 13-10-326(1) (emphasis added).
Given that Fulton filed his candidacy on March 5 and withdrew on March 9, Libertarians face the exact scenario the law anticipated and have the right to appoint a replacement candidate.
Montana law (13-10-27) explains that “For offices to be filled by the state at large, the state central committee shall make the appointment as provided by the rules of the party,” and the Libertarian Party rules make it clear that the Libertarian Party can convene to replace the candidate:
If a MTLP candidate for statewide partisan office withdraws or dies prior to the election primary and before the filing deadline or dies or is disqualified prior to the election primary and after the filing deadline, or if a MTLP candidate for statewide partisan office, excepting the candidacy for governor or lieutenant governor, dies, withdraws, or is disqualified after the primary election but before the general election, the State Central Committee may elect or appoint a person to replace that candidate. (MCA 13-10-327.)
A. Selection Process. The Chair shall notify all MTLP members of the vacancy, request self-nominations and nominations of other MTLP members, and call either a State Central Committee Meeting or Special Convention, time permitting. Notice requirements for any State Central Committee Meeting, Special Convention or Executive Board Meeting called to facilitate filling a vacancy may be shortened from the requirements of other provisions as necessary due to imposed time constraints.
Here’s where time is of the essence. Because the Libertarian Party rules mandate that special conventions require four days’ notice and because the party has until March 18, 2020 to replace their candidate, the Libertarian Party needs to announce a special convention by tomorrow, March 14, to select a candidate to replace Fulton.
Libertarian Party chair Sid Daoud did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
It’s possible that the Libertarians will choose to sit this one out and let the Republican Party get away with “a plant” taking away their ballot line in the Senate race, but I suspect that the Libertarians believe their presence on the ballot is important enough to quickly announce a convention and name a candidate to replace the one who never intended to run at all.
And they might not look too kindly on the Republican Party and Senator Daines who tried to deny their voice in the debates and the public discussion.
Let’s hope the Libertarians resist this dirty pool and nominate a real Libertarian to preserve their traditional spot on Montana ballots.