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The Journal Gazette

  • Byrne

Saturday, August 31, 2019 1:00 am

Furthermore ...

A tale Overstocked in oddities - with roots here at home

Forbes, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal last week chronicled the bizarre tale of Patrick Byrne, former chairman of Overstock.com.

A lightning rod for controversy as he battled bankers, investors and business journalists, Byrne left the online retailer Aug. 22 after claiming his three-year romantic relationship with alleged Russian agent Maria Butina, now serving an 18-month prison sentence, was at the behest of the FBI.

The cryptocurrency champion is reportedly somewhere in South America now; he began his long, strange trip in Fort Wayne.

Byrne, who also is chairman of Indianapolis-based EdChoice, the muscle behind Indiana's school voucher program, was born in Fort Wayne in 1962. His father, John “Jack” Byrne, was assistant manager of Lincoln National Life, according to city directory listings, but went on to turn around auto insurer Geico and convince Warren Buffett to invest in the company. 

Patrick Byrne also was a generous Indiana campaign contributor, having donated nearly $500,000 to Mitch Daniels, Tony Bennett and Republican political action groups since 2007. Byrne championed the “65 Percent Solution” as the magic percentage of school funds that should support instruction. Daniels embraced the idea as governor and pushed a “dollars to the classroom” initiative, in spite of the plan's lack of data-backed evidence.

Byrne had little success pushing vouchers in Utah, where Overstock is headquartered. In spite of his $2.7 million personal investment in a voucher campaign, voters there rejected a large-scale program by a 2-1 margin.

Shares of Overstockplunged after Byrne's state-ments this month about “deep state” involvement in the investigation into Russian interference in U.S. elections.

“If the hors d'oeuvre that was served recently caused the market such indigestion, it is not going to be in shareholder interest for me to be around if and when any main course is served,” Byrne wrote in his resignation letter. “I wish all shareholders a smooth and level road. And don't forget to shop Overstock.com!”