Will Amash Court Donors for a Presidential Run at FreedomFest?

Is Justin Amash running for president? That’s the question Tina Nguyen tried to answer in an excellent column for Vanity Fair.  While the piece offered plenty of hints, the ultimate answer was nothing new.

We have no idea. 

But the piece from Nguyen does contain one particularly fascinating nugget. Amash, the newly-minted Independent congressman from Michigan, will be a featured speaker at FreedomFest. Taking place at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas from July 17-20, it is billed as “the greatest libertarian conference.” 

FreedomFest isn’t just for libertarian politicians. While it does feature plenty of people either in office or in the political arena, the list of speakers has plenty of influential business people and celebrities. For someone who might be entertaining the idea of launching a presidential campaign, it could be the perfect place to start lining up donors with big pockets. 

While Amash continues to insist that he’s not yet made up his mind on a potential presidential campaign, his bio on the Freedom Fest website definitely doesn’t avoid fanning the flames of speculation: “Will he? Won’t he? If he does, will it be LP or GOP? One thing is for certain, we are looking for a presidential candidate that embrace principles of liberty to the MAX. Is Justin Amash the one?” 

While Amash didn’t write it, he almost certainly gave his approval on it beforehand. And that should at least be telling. If he comes away from this four-day conference with the idea that a presidential campaign could generate enough money to be a major player, perhaps it will sway his decision which he ostensibly hasn’t yet made. 

Who are these potential big-money donors with whom he’ll be networking? Some who are familiar in libertarian circles, such as Penn Jillette, John Stossel, Jeffrey Singer, Larry Sharpe, Cliff Maloney, and Libertarian Party Chairman Nicholas Sarwark. But the big names that are perhaps more eye-catching to someone looking to pull in big bucks, includes: Louis Navellier, Kevin Harrington, Grover Norquist, Vince Foster, John Mackey, Peter Schiff, and Kevin O’Leary. 

For fans of the show Shark Tank, O’Leary’s name might jump out the most. A successful tech entrepreneur, O’Leary has made a name for himself as a businessman and as one of the regular hosts of Shark Tank. With an estimated net worth north of $400 million, O’Leary is known for his abrasive personality and focus on the bottom line numbers. He’s also become more involved in politics in recent years, campaigning to be the leader of the Conservative Party in his home nation of Canada, but ultimately dropping out. 

As a Canadian citizen, O’Leary can’t donate to any US campaigns but he can endorse candidates and ask his colleagues to donate. O’Leary has a long list of equally rich colleagues, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has described himself as libertarian-leaning and wants to defeat Donald Trump so badly he considered running for president himself

Some of the other big names at FreedomFest include Peter Schiff, a stockbroker who served as economic adviser for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential run, and Grover Norquist, the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform who has recently been critical of Trump’s tariffs.

Additionally, several representatives from both the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity (AFP) will be speaking at FreedomFest. Both are funded by Koch Industries. With AFP functioning as one of the more prominent arms of the Koch’s political advocacy network, there’s great potential there as well. Last month, I detailed how Amash’s previous connections to the Koch network could come into play with a presidential campaign. 

Of course, money is a big factor in something as monumental as a presidential campaign. If Amash were to mount one, he would need to be able to pull in a lot of cash. He’s never been a big fundraiser in his previous House races (not that he needed to be); nevertheless, it will be important to have a donor network in place if he wants to be competitive in a presidential race. 

With the lineup present at FreedomFest, Amash may be able to test the waters. If he gets positive vibes, a campaign launch could soon follow. 

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