ICYMI: The Bulwark: ‘Swindlers,’ ‘Hijacking,’ and ‘Blackmail’: Inside the Kennedy campaign’s Natural Law Party meltdown in Florida

New reporting this morning from The Bulwark reveals how RFK Jr.’s campaign may have violated various campaign finance laws in an attempt to gain ballot access. In attempting to form an alliance with Florida’s fringe third-party group, the Natural Law Party, the RFK Jr. campaign offered to exchange money in a deal that went sour. The campaign later offered $30,000 to be paid via a donor outside of the normal FEC reporting process. 

This follows RFK Jr. aligning himself with other fringe third parties including the Michigan Natural Law Party and the American Independent Party – which has a (decades-long history of right-wing, racist beliefs. Additionally, RFK Jr. sought ballot access through the Alaskan Independence Party, a party that has advocated for seceding from the U.S.

The Bulwark: ‘Swindlers,’ ‘Hijacking,’ and ‘Blackmail’:Inside the Kennedy campaign’s Natural Law Party meltdown in Florida

By: Mark Caputo

  • “It seemed this was the Year of the Third Party,” said Wendt, the former chair of Florida’s Reform Party affiliate. “This would be the year where we would be able to make an impact.”
  • So Wendt started the process of reconstituting the long-defunct Natural Law Party of the United States with the Federal Election Commission and he resurrected its Florida branch. He planned to hold a convention and nominate Kennedy for president so that RFK could appear on the Florida ballot as the Natural Law Party candidate. 
  • Kennedy’s campaign loved the idea. And the two sides started talking money. Wendt signed a $10,000-a-month consulting contract with Kennedy’s campaign on February 24.
  • Bureaucratic delays and mistakes turned into mistrust. A bitter rift grew. Wendt was ultimately paid nothing. And he lost control of  the Natural Law Party of the United States, which was taken over by Kennedy allies.
  • Wendt, a 39-year-old Lyft driver, wants the national Natural Law Party back in his control. He calls the Kennedy campaign unethical “swindlers.” Kennedy campaign officials fired back, accusing Wendt of illegally “hijacking” the national party and trying to “blackmail” the campaign, and suggesting to him that his actions amounted to “extortion.”
  • “If you meet a member of our team in Tallahassee on Wednesday morning and withdraw the filing with them in person at the Elections Division, clearing the way for us to submit it on site once you withdraw yours, I will attempt to arrange for a donor of ours, whom I know, to pay you the $30,000 you would have received for one month of consulting, including the sign on bonus and severance fee,” Brana wrote.
  • In interviews with the Bulwark, four independent election law attorneys who reviewed the contract were divided over the degree to which it violated various campaign-finance laws designed for transparency.
  • Stuck in the middle of the conflict was Darcy Richardson, who has been involved in third-party politics since 1978. […] Like Wendt, Richardson said, I’ve soured on the Kennedy campaign. . . . I haven’t been impressed by his campaign or the people he surrounded himself with. His whole campaign staff is made up of neophytes who don’t know the first thing about politics, the mechanics of how it works, what it takes.”  […] After 48 years of being a “die-hard third-party guy,” Richardson said, “I think I’m going to vote for Biden.”
  • Richardson faults Wendt for not clearly communicating with the Kennedy campaign’s Brana and getting into a hostile relationship with him, but he also said the contract that the Kennedy campaign drafted was “kind of shady” and “suspicious.” The other two election-law experts I spoke with, a Democratic lawyer and a Republican lawyer, neither involved in the presidential race, also labeled the contract “shady.”
  • “My concerns are what Kennedy will do for the Natural Law Party. I didn’t hear anything in our last conversation about what Kennedy or his ‘cause’ will do to make the situation better for America,” Wendt said in a text message to Brana memorializing the conversation.