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Well, well, well

The Shady, Right-Wing Firm Helping No Labels Get on the Ballot

No Labels has hired a consulting firm with a history of working for right-wing candidates and causes.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
David Gergen, Senator Joe Manchin, Mika Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough, and Senator Evan Bayh participate on a panel for the launch of No Labels in December 2010 in New York City.

No Labels is desperately trying to get a third-party candidate on the 2024 ballot—so much so that it’s hired a consulting firm with an extensive, shady history of working with right-wing candidates and causes.

No Labels is working to run a “unity” candidate in the upcoming presidential election. But despite repeatedly describing itself as “nonpartisan,” the group seems to court connections with exclusively far-right figures.

Although No Labels has refused to disclose who its financial backers are, it must file public tax returns. Its tax documents for 2022 reveal that the group paid almost $2.2 million to Capitol Advisors, a Virginia-based consulting firm owned by Michael Arno. Arno is a longtime consultant who specializes in ballot access.

But many of his previous clients have been much further to the right than No Labels purports to be. In 2017, Arno worked for the Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart, who made a name for himself in part by embracing white nationalism and the Confederacy. Throughout his campaign, Stewart regularly praised Confederate imagery and called to keep Virginia’s Confederate flags and statues in public. At a campaign stop in March, he proudly unfurled a Confederate flag.

“Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery,” he said. “I’m proud to be here with this flag.”

That August, following the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Stewart insisted that the neo-Nazis were not entirely to blame.

People condemned all those far-right agitators, but no one seemed to condemn the left wing,” he said. “Clearly, half of that violence was committed by left-wingers.”

Stewart’s campaign paid Arno’s California-based firm Arno Petition Consultants $47,975 for various services, including door-knocking and petitioning for Stewart as a candidate. Stewart lost his gubernatorial campaign and lost a Senate bid again the following year.

Arno Petition Consultants also provided ballot-access consulting to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul when the senators ran for president in 2016.

While the firm is not inherently responsible for clients’ beliefs or actions, it could still choose not to work with certain people. What’s more, it seems that, at the very least, its employees aren’t shy about using shady tactics to further the campaigns they work with.

In 2005, the conservative Christian organization Massachusetts Family Institute hired Arno Petition Consultants to help get an initiative on the state ballot to ban same-sex marriage. Its bait-and-switch tactics were so deceitful that state lawmakers ended up holding a hearing on reports from concerned voters.

Multiple people reported that signature collectors would approach them outside supermarkets and ask them to sign a petition to allow beer and wine sales in grocery stores. Immediately afterward, people were then asked to sign a petition supporting the marriage equality ban, with little to no explanation of the details.

Arno told The New Republic that he had initially not wanted to take on the Massachusetts project, but his brother—then a partner at Arno Petition Consultants—said they would. After his brother passed away in 2005, shortly after agreeing to take the job, Arno agreed to work on the campaign to honor his brother.

But just two years later, Arno’s company was at it again. Arno Petition Consultants was hired to support a Republican-backed ballot initiative in California to overhaul the state’s electoral college system. The new method, had it passed, would have significantly increased the number of electoral votes a Republican presidential candidate could receive.

Multiple reporters observed signature collectors asking homeless people to sign petitions to help get the initiative on the ballot. In exchange, the homeless people were given food.

At the time, Arno did not return calls from the press about the reports. But now Arno tells TNR that his firm hadn’t started working on either the Massachusetts or the California campaign when these accusations were made. He also said he had never heard of the bait-and-switch tactics before joining the Massachusetts project.

Multiple news outlets reported at the time that Arno Petition Consultants was indeed working on the campaigns. Massachusetts Family Institute president Kris Mineau also then confirmed the institute had hired Arno Petition Consultants, but denied that the company had done anything wrong.

Arno and No Labels went their separate ways in April. Arno told TNR it was because he felt he didn’t have the energy for what No Labels needed—though he did sign a nondisclosure agreement. No Labels did not respond to TNR’s request for comment about how some of Arno’s past work aligns with the organization’s stated goal of offering a more moderate candidate and creating a space for centrists who are fed up with partisan politics.

But in general, No Labels’ actions don’t seem to match its words. One of the group’s early donors has close financial ties to Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

The organization has also accepted more than $100,000 from Harlan Crow, the billionaire and Nazi-memorabilia collector now infamous for giving Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury vacations, private school tuition, and real estate purchases. Crow helped attract new donors to No Labels, as well.

And one of the newest members of No Labels is former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, who oversaw a contentious, highly partisan, and decidedly far-right four years. He defended voter ID laws, rejected the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, and backed a bill that banned people from using the bathroom that matched their gender identity.

No Labels may say that it is nonpartisan, moderate, and a source of unity. But it continues to show its true colors through the people it chooses for its team—and it’s not good.