Libertarian campus group declares itself awesome, but are the numbers right?

Font Size:

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a campus-based libertarian organization formed at the end of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, has landed in a kerfuffle over allegations that it inflated its membership numbers relative to other generally conservative groups.

Some of the most vociferous complaints came from Students for Life, the nation’s largest pro-life student organization.

A press release and an associated, since-amended bar graph recently released by YAL asserts that Students for Life has about 200 campus groups.

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, sharply rejects this figure.

“We have 759 active groups,” Hawkins told TheDC, adding that the nonprofit also employs 15 staffers.

Similarly, Young Americans for Freedom claims 120 campus groups, but YAL pegged the similar-sounding organization with just 50 or so chapters.

The YAL press release claims 422 chapters in 49 states and a national network of over 125,000 student activists.

“The numbers are in,” boasts the press release, “Young Americans for Liberty has outgrown all right-of-center youth organizations to become the largest and fastest growing in the country, based on data released by the Leadership Institute.”

The Leadership Institute is an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that facilities a network of conservative organizations and — via seminars — develops conservative activists for work in politics, government and media. A parade of famous alumni includes Grover Norquist, Mitch McConnell and James O’Keefe.

“Young people are flocking to the liberty movement right now, and I believe we have leaders like Ron and Rand Paul to thank for this,” Alyssa Farah, YAL’s communications director, added in the press release.

The press release and the bar graph brag that YAL “has outgrown” a host of campus-based groups including Students for Life, the Federalist Society, Students for Concealed Carry and the like.

Hawkins of Students for Life is plenty unhappy with both YAL and the Leadership Institute over the claims.

“The Leadership Institute should not have given out these numbers because they don’t have accurate numbers,” Hawkins told TheDC. “Young Americans for Liberty should not have published the numbers without checking the data.”

At about this point, readers who aren’t political junkies are no doubt rolling their eyes and calling this squabble the greatest tempest in a teapot since the invention of teapots. Nevertheless, Hawkins insists the claims she calls irresponsible have the potential to cause real harm.

“This could be damaging to our organization. We tell our investors and our supporters that we have 759 groups.”

Frazee of YAL strongly denies that his group had any ill intent.

“The Leadership Institute just provided information that Young Americans for Liberty is the largest and most active group in its network,” Frazee told TheDC. “We were excited about that and sent out a press release.”

That’s really all there is to it, he said.

He also makes a pretty subtle distinction: He claims YAL said very specifically that it is “the largest and fastest-growing conservative and libertarian youth organization” in the nation.

“To our surprise, Students for Life contacted us about a graphic on our website,” Frazee said. “We took Students for Life off the graphic. It was never our intention to take on any group.”

“It was never a competition,” he added. “We are trying to build a broad conservative and libertarian movement.”

Follow Eric on Twitter and send education-related story tips to