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A third party trying to crash the Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz race is actually a for-profit corporation

Launched in March, the party bills itself as a movement aimed at toppling the two-party system controlling state politics, but it's a for-profit company that got millions in start-up dollars from investors. Will its founder-turned-candidate get enough signatures to get on the ballot with Ted Cruz and Beto O'Rourke?

Indie Party candidate Jonathan Jenkins hoped to get on the ballot for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Beto O'Rourke and Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Jenkins campaign responding to a GOP complaint.

It’s got a high-tech evangelist for a founder, $6 million in private equity investments, even its own crypto-currency.

No, it’s not a driverless car start-up or some new, life-changing app.

It’s the Indie Party — billed as a “movement” to end the “two-party duopoly” in the United States but built more like a political consulting and technology firm with profit in mind. Its first target — and at this point its only target — is the high-stakes U.S. Senate race featuring Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

Its candidate and founder is a self-described “successful tech entrepreneur” and fluent Mandarin speaker named Jonathan Jenkins. The Euless native has been busily gathering the 47,000 or so signatures he needs to qualify for a spot as an independent on the November ballot alongside Cruz and O’Rourke.

The effort has already drawn opposition from Texas Republicans. In an email sent out early Monday morning, the Harris County Republican Party announced that Chair Paul Simpson is filing a Federal Elections Commission complaint alleging that both Jenkins and the Party have run afoul of election laws with "financial shenanigans." 

Marcus Reese, a spokesman for Jenkins said the campaign was not aware of the FEC complaint but said both Democrats and Republicans apparently "agree with our assessment that Jonathan Jenkins is a candidate who threatens to break their rigged stranglehold on democracy." Reese also noted the FEC found in 2017 that the Republicans' own candidate, Cruz, had not properly disclosed loans from Goldman Sachs in 2012. 

In an interview with The Texas Tribune, Jenkins, 35, says he got into the race because people are hungry for an alternative to the stale talking points and gridlock of the mainstream party candidates. He said he’s “100 percent confident” he will turn in enough voters’ signatures by the June 21 deadline set by the state — and plans to spend some of his own money to pay for the effort. 

“I think there is a demand for a party, of something else, for another choice,” Jenkins said. “In Texas there's a really interesting race and I think both of the candidates are soft on their support and there's a real opportunity for us."

Jenkins is the co-founder of company known as Order With Me (or just WithMe), which helps companies develop pop-up retail outlets. A graduate of Euless-Trinity High School and Abilene Christian University, Jenkins announced the launch of the Indie Party in March and said it had raised some $6.5 million in start-up capital within 72 hours.

Slick videos on the Indie Party website promote independent candidates as the solution to politics as usual, and the party offers a high-tech innovation: a crypto-currency called Indie Tokens that volunteers can earn and sell to donors and that can be used to buy campaign merchandise or political services from vendors, lawyers and pollsters.

It’s “a party that is owned by you, the people, not by the politicians,” declares one of several videos on the Indie Party website. “This is real transparency, instead of behind closed doors and in the shadows.”

But the Indie Party is not a political party at all. It’s a private, for-profit corporation whose finances are — despite the gauzy advertising — not entirely transparent. And it’s owned not by the voters but by private equity investors who provided the start-up funds.

Indie Party spokesman Mitch Allen identified one of the investors as Las Vegas-based Global Trust Group, and said William Attinger, a former Morgan Stanley derivatives specialist, “led the initial investment” on behalf of the group. Attinger is managing director of venture management for Global Trust Group and is on the board of Raise The Money Inc., an online platform for political fundraising, according to his online bio. Calls and emails left with the Global Trust Group were not returned.

Neither Jenkins nor the Indie Party would identify the three other investors who contributed. Nor did Jenkins or the party say how much Jenkins was paid during his stint as CEO of the Indie Party Co., although Jenkins said his compensation was considerably less than the $600,000 the Indie Party estimated in a U.S. Securities and Exchange filing it would pay officers or directors. At the time of the filing Jenkins was the only disclosed officer or director.

All that will be clarified, Allen said, when Jenkins files his required personal financial disclosure later this summer as a Senate candidate.

“Mr. Jenkins was compensated at market rate commensurate to his role as Founder and CEO of the organization,” Allen said. “Note also that we expect Mr. Jenkins will file personal financial disclosures with the U.S. Senate ... disclosing — among other information — his earned income and compensation in excess of $5,000 paid by a single source.”

In the meantime, the party — acting as a paid vendor to the Jenkins for Senate campaign committee — has been busy collecting signatures to help get him on the ballot, Allen said. That, too, will be disclosed in Federal Election Commission reports due later this summer, according to both Jenkins and Allen.

For now, Jenkins is the Indie Party Co.’s sole client, but Allen said it has big plans to expand far beyond the Lone Star State.

“We provide goods and services to independent candidates and aligned organizations at market rates, and seek to become the premier political consulting services and technology firm for independents in the United States and internationally,” Allen said. “As a brand new company, Mr. Jenkins is our first candidate client, but we hope to provide services to many more candidates in this cycle and in future cycles.”

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