WASHINGTON — The charges announced on Wednesday against three former Ron Paul aides do not directly touch the presidential campaign of his son Rand Paul. But the indictment strikes not only at the main super PAC supporting Paul, but at the heart of the libertarian world that has supported both Pauls' political careers and laid the groundwork for their campaigns.
The former staffers were indicted on Wednesday for concealing payments to an Iowa state senator in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul.
Two of those staffers — Jesse Benton and John Tate — represent two of the most important heads of the Paul family Hydra: the presidential electoral operation, and the libertarian network of policy pressure groups, direct mail firms, and activist organizations that Ron Paul cultivated and which form the basis of the Paul family's political network to this day.
Benton is even a member of the Paul family: He is married to Ron Paul's granddaughter (Rand Paul's niece). Benton served as Rand Paul's campaign manager when he ran for Senate in 2010, then Ron Paul's presidential campaign manager in 2012; he then went on to manage Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign, and is now running America's Liberty PAC, the main super PAC supporting Paul's 2016 bid and the only one recognized by Paul himself.
Tate is an even longer-serving member of Paul world, having filled top positions on both the 2008 and 2012 Ron Paul campaigns. As the president of the Campaign for Liberty, the Ron Paul-founded libertarian group, Tate is in charge of an extensive activist base — and, importantly, email list — of which Rand Paul has been able to take advantage.
But the Campaign for Liberty is just one in a family of loosely connected activist groups — including the National Association for Gun Rights, the National Right to Work Committee — that often intersect with the Pauls' political operations. Rand Paul himself at one point was regularly signing the "pub notes" on top of Campaign for Liberty emails to its listserv, though this appears to have petered out in the past few months.
The players in this world maintain that they're not working at the behest of Paul. "We don’t coordinate or work with Rand and never get calls from them saying don’t do this, or please do this,” Tate told BuzzFeed News in February. During that interview, Tate acknowledged that "it’s always in the back of my mind and a concern" that people will think that the Campaign for Liberty works in the electoral interests of the Pauls.
“There are people who assume we were only founded to help Ron run for president or help Rand run for president," Tate said at the time. "Most people have realized that’s not why we exist.”
But both Tate and Benton have profited personally off of Rand Paul's presidential efforts this time around. According to Federal Election Commission documents, America's Liberty PAC has paid out $63,000 to Benton's firm, Titan Strategies, since March. For his part, Tate has pulled in more than $34,000 since January, according to the super PAC's filings.
A spokesman for Rand Paul's campaign on Wednesday afternoon distanced Rand Paul's campaign from the allegations — but still suggested that the prosecution is politically motivated and that the announcement of the charges is meant to coincide with the first Republican primary debate,
"Senator Rand Paul is disappointed that the Obama justice department chose to release this just prior to the highly anticipated first Republican presidential debate; it certainly appears suspiciously timed and possibly, politically motivated," the spokesman said. "Additionally, these actions are from 2012 and have nothing to do with our campaign."
The language mirrors Ron Paul's statement on the matter, which also alleged a politically motivated government conspiracy, as well as Benton's lawyer's.
And as for Rand Paul, he'll be on the debate stage on Thursday alongside the other candidates who are polling in the top 10. His candidacy has struggled recently to wrest the media's narrative away from its underwhelming poll numbers and lackluster fundraising, and the indictments will certainly help with that — though not in the way they may have hoped.