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Profile: Americans for Tax Reform (ATR)

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) was a participant or observer in the following events:

Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) says that a House member has been physically assaulted during a town hall meeting by anti-health care protesters (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). He refuses to identify the representative in question. Instead, he warns that the increasingly riotous confrontations at town hall meetings by conservative protesters are rising to “a dangerous level.” He blames misinformation disseminated by conservative lobbying organizations who are helping orchestrate the town hall disruptions (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) and on Fox News (see August 3, 2009 and August 3, 2009). “When you look at the fervor of some of these people who are all being whipped up by the right-wing talking heads on Fox, to me, you’re crossing a line,” he says. “They’re inciting people to riot with just total distortions of facts. They think we’re going to euthanize Grandma and the government is going to take over.” Another Democratic staffer says flatly, “These people are crazy.” Connolly notes that many of the more elderly protesters receive Medicare, but are seemingly unaware that Medicare is a government program. Steve Driehaus (D-OH), who recently held a contentious health care discussion (see August 3, 2009), says: “We’re not going to say we’re no longer going to listen to constituents because of a few angry protesters. We have no intentions of changing our plan based on any extracurricular nonsense.” Grover Norquist, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, says the protests are nothing more than spontaneous outbursts of real public anger. He also says his organization encourages its members to attend town halls, and gives them talking points, suggested questions to ask, and slogans to chant (see August 5, 2009). “People are pissed,” he says. “They’ve been lied to.” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Americans for Tax Reform, Steve Driehaus, Gerry Connolly, Grover Norquist

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Grover Norquist, the highly influential leader of the conservative activist group Americans for Tax Reform, acknowledges that his group, along with Americans for Prosperity and the National Conservative Union among others, has encouraged its members to attend town hall meetings to protest health care reform proposals (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Norquist also admits that his organization provides talking points, suggested questions to ask, and slogans to chant at the meetings. However, he says his group does not endorse the raucous, sometimes riotous discussions that are taking place. “The more civilly you ask the question, the more powerful it is,” he says. “Nobody says go and scream. That’s the least effective thing you can do.” But a former Republican aide notes, “If you are going to town-hall, you understand the potential pitfalls.” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: National Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, Americans for Prosperity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The press releases a confidential, “sensitive” memo from the American Petroleum Institute (API) detailing a plan to create “Astroturf” rallies at which industry employees posing as ordinary citizens will urge Congress to fight climate change legislation. The memo was obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace and sent to several reporters. It urges oil companies to recruit their employees for events that will “put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy,” and will urge senators to “avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill.” The campaign is funded by a coalition of corporate and conservative groups called the “Energy Citizens” alliance, which includes the anti-health care reform group 60 Plus, the industry “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), Grover Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, and the National Taxpayers Union. API president Jack Gerard, who signed the memo, asks recipients to give API “the name of one central coordinator for your company’s involvement in the rallies.” And it warns, “Please treat this information as sensitive… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.” At least two major oil corporations, BP and Shell, are members of API and also belong to the US Climate Action Partnership, which supports the House legislation sponsored by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA). API has spent over $3 million lobbying against that bill this year. API spokesman Bill Bush says his organization is not trying to deceive anyone. “I don’t think anyone’s hiding the ball about this,” he says. “I don’t think anyone’s trying to suggest that this doesn’t have anything to do with the oil and gas industry.” Greenpeace has asked API to reveal the member companies funding the Astroturf efforts. Shell Oil Company later informs reporters that it will not take part in the rallies. In a statement, the corporation says, “Shell’s position is not aligned with the consensus opinion of the API on Waxman-Markey, therefore Shell will not participate in the rallies.” [Gerard, 8/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/14/2009]

Entity Tags: British Petroleum, American Conservative Union, 60 Plus Association, American Petroleum Institute, Bill Bush, Greenpeace, National Taxpayers Union, Energy Citizens, FreedomWorks, Royal Dutch/Shell, Americans for Tax Reform, Jack N. Gerard

Timeline Tags: Global Warming, Domestic Propaganda

The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” [Washington Post, 4/13/2012; iWatch News, 4/20/2012; Think Progress, 4/20/2012]
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” [iWatch News, 4/20/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, National Right to Life Committee, Karl C. Rove, Barack Obama, American Crossroads GPS, Washington Post, National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Tax Reform, Melanie Sloan, Campaign Law Center, Bill Allison, Jonathan Collegio, Steven Law, Harold Simmons, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy 21, Republican Jewish Coalition, Bobby Jack Perry

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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