Time Capsule: Harry Browne Skewers Ross Perot

The late Harry Browne, waging the first of two consecutive campaigns as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for the presidency, criticized Texas billionaire Ross Perot as “a political welfare queen” on this day in 1996.

Browne, who qualified for federal matching funds during both of his bids for the White House but refused to accept them either time, skewered his better-known Reform Party rival for taking $29.2 million in federal funding.

“Apparently, Perot is so concerned about the national debt that he’s decided to add to it by raiding the treasury,” needled Browne, whose name appeared on the ballot in all fifty states and District of Columbia that year.

Perot had spent an estimated $63.5 million of his own fortune on his high-octane campaign in 1992 — a year when he sharply criticized his Democratic and Republican rivals for “spending your money, taxpayer money” on their campaigns.

As a result of accepting federal funding based on his impressive 18.9 percent showing that year, Perot was limited to spending only $50,000 of his own money during his second try for the presidency in 1996.

Browne, who was eligible for $470,000 in federal matching funds during the 1996 presidential campaign, explained that it would not only be inconsistent with his libertarian philosophy to accept taxpayer money, but also “highly inappropriate for me to stick my nose in the trough after having denounced the Republicans and Democrats for doing so.”


  1. Reminds me of why I didn’t like Browne, he was more interested in doing slash-and-burn against Perot than speaking for his own party’s philosophy and criticizing Republicans and Democrats. Matching funds don’t come from the general budget, they come from you checking a box on your tax form if you want to make a voluntary contribution. Then the money people voluntarily contribute — explicitly for that purpose — gets divvied up between eligible candidates. As someone who worked in finance, he would have known this.

  2. The check box on the tax form gets so few checks that the amount collected is not enough to pay for this subsidy. It’s then up to the general fund to make up the difference.

    Browne spent most of his time making positive policy statements. But he was also right to call Perot for what he was: hypocritical.

    Browne was a great man. I recorded over 15 interviews he did on radio and many on TV. I attended the 2000 Libertarian convention and saw his speech first-hand.

    Browne had the only true plan that was specific about balancing the budget while repealing the income tax.

    • Dan, it wouldn’t be hypocritical either way.

      The main structural budget problems are entitlements; Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Perot never argued the Republican position for shrinking the government, he was also for increased infrastructure spending and alternative energy development. In some cases, he wanted increased taxes, ie. gas taxes. If you want to deal with the debt, you deal with the issues that are causing the debt — entitlements. He also argued that corruption in politics caused some of our political problems, leading to gridlock and lack of progress on entitlement reform, so was friendly towards the position of public financing.

      Just because Harry Browne didn’t agree with Perot’s views didn’t make Perot hypocritical.

  3. From reading his books and articles and watching him in videos online, I feel as though I knew Harry Browne personally. He had a gift for the written word, with the ability to articulate ideas with great clarity and precision. He was a true champion of the principles of personal freedom and a towering icon of individual liberty. It grieves me to know that America has passed up a leader like Harry Browne for the sort of charlatans we live with in office today.

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