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Context of 'Mid-October 2010: Controversial Super PAC Spends Millions Attacking Democrats; Co-Founder Has Ties to Crimes of Nixon Administration'

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A conservative super PAC, American Action Network (AAN), launches a $19 million advertizing blitz against Democrats in 22 House districts. AAN was founded by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) and former Nixon administration official Fred Malek. AAN has already pumped $5 million into races featuring Republican Senate candidates. Founded in February, the group was formed, according to Malek, to “counter what the labor unions are doing on the Democratic side.” The group is split into two parts: the Action Forum, a 501(c)(3), which allows donations to be tax-deductible but limits political activities, and the Action Network, a 501 (c)(4), in which contributions are not deductible or disclosed but the group can advocate for political causes. AAN president Rob Collins says: “This Democrat-controlled Congress has already voted for higher taxes and promises next month to raise taxes on America’s families and businesses. This is simply unacceptable and something we wanted to call attention to.” AAN is part of a larger network of conservative super PACs (see March 26, 2010), including American Crossroads, that plans to spend as much as $50 million on Congressional races. AAN shares office space with American Crossroads. [Politico, 10/13/2010; New York Times, 10/17/2010; CT Mirror, 10/17/2010]
Objectionable Ads - The AAN ads airing in Connecticut draw fire after accusing Democrats Christopher Murray (D-CT) and Jim Himes (D-CT) of voting to provide free health care to illegal immigrants and Viagra to sex offenders. Murray accuses AAN of being linked to a number of Republicans in the Bush administration, and asks who is providing the money for the ads. Campaign finance law allows the donors to organizations such as AAN to remain anonymous. “This is one of the biggest TV buys this district has ever seen,” Murphy says. “And what we deserve to know is who is standing behind it. I want to know. I think that’s what the voters want as well.… These ads on TV right now, fronted by a shadowy, anonymous group of billionaire donors and multi-national corporations are a clear sign of what the difference is in this election.” An AAN spokesman refuses to discuss the finances behind the organization, saying only: “What we do is we comply with the letter of the law. That’s all we have to offer about that.” Murray calls the ad’s allegations “laughable.” Both claims have been debunked by independent fact-checking organizations, though Murray’s opponent Sam Caligiuri (R-CT) says the ad’s content is “verifiable,” and says even if the ad is questionable, Murray has told lies of his own about Caligiuri.
AAN Co-Founder Involved in Criminal Activities as Nixon Administration Official - CT Mirror notes that Malek, a Wall Street millionaire and the co-founder of AAN, was not only a member of the Nixon administration (whose crimes and excesses concerning the Watergate scandal led to a round of campaign finance reforms—see 1974 and May 11, 1976), but was also involved in a recent investment scandal. The New York Times goes further in its examination of Malek, noting that he was heavily involved in the 1972 “Townhouse operation” that raised illegal corporate cash in so-called “slush funds” and distributed the monies in key Senate races (see December 1, 1969, Early 1970, March 23, 1971, and August 18, 1974). Malek, the White House personnel chief in 1972, helped dispense illegal patronage deals to Nixon donors and served as deputy director of CREEP (the Committee to Re-Elect the President), an organization heavily involved in criminal activities. And the liberal news Web site Think Progress notes that Malek was the Nixon administration’s unofficial “Jew counter” (see July 3, 1971 and September 1971) and was part of the administration’s illegal persecution of Jews who worked in the federal government. During the Watergate investigation, Malek admitted that some of CREEP’s activities might have “bordered on the unethical.” Malek worked with American Crossroads co-founder Karl Rove during the Nixon administration, when Rove worked to re-elect Nixon as the executive director of the College Republican National Committee. Malek is a member of the Weaver Terrace Group, an informal amalgamation of Republican strategists from “independent” groups who regularly meet, trade political intelligence, and make joint fund-raising trips. The group is named after the street where Rove used to live. Former Watergate prosecutor Roger Witten says: “It creates all the appearances of dirty dealings and undue influence because our candidates are awash in funds the public is ignorant about. This is the problem that was supposedly addressed after Watergate.” [New York Times, 10/17/2010; Think Progress, 10/18/2010]

Entity Tags: Jim Himes, Christopher Murray, CT Mirror, American Crossroads, American Action Network, Fred Malek, Weaver Terrace Group, Sam Caligiuri, Committee to Re-elect the President, Think Progress (.org), Nixon administration, Rob Collins, Norm Coleman, Roger Witten, Karl C. Rove, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The progressive magazine Mother Jones reports on Congressional Democrats’ plans to curb the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, which allows unlimited contributions to campaign organizations by corporate and union donors (see January 21, 2010). Last year, Senate Republicans refused to allow a campaign finance reform bill, the DISCLOSE Act, to come to the floor for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Now Democratic leaders say they are considering filing challenges to the nonprofit tax statuses of many of the groups that were so influential in the 2010 elections. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) tells a Mother Jones reporter about the plan. According to Van Hollen, two of the groups they plan to target are Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS and the American Action Network (AAN—see Mid-October 2010), headed by former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN). Together, the two groups spent over $43 million supporting conservative candidates and targeting Democrats, accounting for some 23 percent of all outside conservative spending between them. According to Van Hollen, “People are looking at different legal strategies through the courts because there’s emerging evidence that these groups have abused the rules.” Representative David Price (D-NC) agrees. “I think there are ample goals for challenging the way those groups have acted,” he says. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says in return, “Van Hollen is irresponsibly making claims on zero evidence whatsoever and this is extremely irresponsible for an elected official holding high office.” No one from AAN is willing to respond to the Mother Jones reporting. Both Crossroads GPS and AAN, like many other such groups, are organized under the IRS’s 501(c)4 tax status—tax-exempt, not-for-profit groups whose purpose under the IRS code is “primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” (see 2000 - 2005). The law allows such groups to engage in political advocacy, such as running ads for or against candidates, but such “electioneering” activities must not be those groups’ “primary activity.” As far as is known, Crossroads GPS and AAN have no other purpose except electioneering. 501(c) groups do not have to register as political action committees (PACs) and are allowed to conduct their business with very little outside scrutiny. However, if the Federal Election Commission or the IRS determine a group has violated the rules, that group would be forced to register as a PAC and disclose the sources of its funding. If the Democrats challenge the status of these groups, they would be following in the footsteps of private organizations. A coalition of public advocacy groups has filed complaints against Crossroads GPS and another 501(c)4 group, American Future Fund (AFF—see October 12, 2010), claiming that their primary functions are, according to the Crossroads GPS complaint, to “influence the 2010 federal elections and to elect Republicans to office.” The complaints are still pending. In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) asked the IRS to examine several 501(c) groups to “ensure that political campaign activity” wasn’t their primary activity (see September 28, 2010). [Mother Jones, 1/28/2011]

Entity Tags: David E. Price, American Crossroads GPS, American Action Network, American Future Fund, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Max Baucus, Norm Coleman, Jonathan Collegio, Karl C. Rove, Chris Van Hollen, Mother Jones, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat, a two-day, invitation-only conference in Park City, Utah, features a number of prominent Republican lawmakers and financiers gathered to coordinate strategy for the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney (R-MA). The Washington Post describes the event as three days of “strategizing and fraternizing.” One donor and member of Romney’s national finance team told a reporter before the event that a “well organized, committed team” is expected who are “subordinating individual ego for the greater goal.” Perhaps the most controversial figure attending is Karl Rove, the former Bush administration political advisor who now helps run American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (see April 13-20, 2012). The two groups have been heavily involved in running advertisements and other activities on behalf of the Romney campaign, but the law says the groups must conduct themselves independently of the Romney campaign. The Post reports, “Rove’s appearance could raise questions because of laws barring any coordination between super PACs and campaigns.” Common Cause’s Mary Boyle says that Rove’s appearance “seems to make a mockery of the rule that bans coordination between a super PAC and a candidate.” Tara Malloy, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, agrees with Boyle, but says Rove’s participation in the event is probably legal. “[T]he coordination rule is a pretty slim reed between candidates and the super PACs that support those candidates,” she says. “It’s not by any means an airtight barrier between those two.” To break the law, Romney campaign officials would have to have a “substantial discussion” with Rove about advertising strategies. Malloy says, “The scandal in Washington is what is legal, not what’s illegal.” Other attendees include former Secretary of State James A. Baker; former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, the founder of the American Action Network (AAN), another influential “independent” super PAC (see Mid-October 2010); Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH), a possible vice-presidential contender for Romney; former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt (who will lead Romney’s transition team if Romney wins the presidential election); Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), another possible vice-presidential choice; former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), also on the vice-presidential “short list”; former Governor John Sununu (R-NH); and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to the assemblage, as does former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), a possible vice-presidential pick, moderates a panel discussion on “Innovation in America,” joined by Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, billionaire donor Ken Langone, and two other possible vice-presidential choices, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator John Thune (R-SD). Rove takes part in a panel discussion called “Media Insight,” along with Romney counsel Ben Ginsberg, Kristol and his Weekly Standard colleague Fred Barnes, and GOP strategist Mary Matalin. A “Women for Romney Victory Tea” features Romney’s wife Anne and former Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill. Possible vice-presidential choices Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC) do not attend the conference. Nor does Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), a popular Republican who is not known to be on the vice-presidential list. Many Wall Street and private equity donors are also in attendance, welcomed by Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and the co-chair of Romney’s national finance team. One finance team member predicts the three-day event will raise as much as $700 million for Romney’s campaign. [ABC News, 6/20/2012; Washington Post, 6/20/2012; Think Progress, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Bob McDonnell, Susana Martinez, Robert Jones (“Rob”) Portman, Paul Ryan, Norm Coleman, Bob Corker, Tara Malloy, Tim Pawlenty, Washington Post, Willard Mitt Romney, American Crossroads, American Crossroads GPS, Anne Romney, Woody Johnson, William Kristol, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Mike Leavitt, Nikki Haley, Ben Ginsberg, Fred Barnes, Dorothy Hamill, Condoleezza Rice, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Bobby Jindal, Meg Whitman, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James A. Baker, John Sununu, Ken Langone, Marco Rubio, Mary Boyle, Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Mary Matalin, Karl C. Rove, John Thune

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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