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Billionaire George Soros, a frequent contributor to Democratic and liberal causes, gives $23.7 million to a number of “527s,” politically active groups that operate independently of particular campaigns or candidates (see 2000 - 2005, March 2000 and After, and June 30, 2000). Peter Lewis, the CEO of Progressive Insurance, gives almost that much, with donations totaling $23.247 million. Their donations include:
$16 million (Lewis) and $12,050,000 (Soros) to the Joint Victory Campaign 2004, an “umbrella” fundraising entity that distributes funds to two other major groups, America Coming Together (ACT) and The Media Fund.
$7,500,000 (Soros) and $2,995,000 (Lewis) to America Coming Together.
$2,500,000 (Soros) and $2,500,000 (Lewis) to MoveOn.org.
$650,000 (Lewis) and $325,000 (Soros) to the Young Democrats of America.
$485,000 (Lewis) to the Marijuana Policy Project.
$325,000 (Soros) to Democrats 2000.
$300,000 (Soros) to the Real Economy Group.
$300,000 (Soros) to the Campaign for America’s Future.
$250,000 (Soros) and $250,000 (Lewis) to Democracy for America.
$250,000 (Soros) to Safer Together 04.
$117,220 (Lewis) to Stonewall Democrats United.
$100,000 (Lewis) to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
$100,000 (Lewis) to the Sierra Club.
$50,000 (Lewis) to PunkVoter.Inc. (Center for Responsive Politics 2012; Discover the Secrets 2012; Center for Responsive Politics 6/11/2012; Center for Responsive Politics 6/11/2012)
Rush Limbaugh’s monthly e-mail newsletter, the “Limbaugh Letter,” includes the charge that “mainstream Democrats” endorse calls to assassinate President Bush and for the suicide of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
'Kill Bush' T-Shirts, Wishes that Bush Had Been Aborted - Limbaugh tells his readers, “Dingy Harry Reid [D-NV, the Senate Minority Leader] and those absolute wimps have nothing positive to offer anybody in this country. They’re doing nothing but trying to instill fear and loathing, forming coalitions (i.e. their new bosom buddies MoveOn.org) built on seething hatred and rage. That is why it was no real surprise when CafePress.com began selling a yellow T-shirt with a red gash and the slogan, in big words, “Kill Bush.” The whole message was, “For Gods [sic] Sake, Kill Bush, Save the United States and the Rest of the World.” This was the same website that earlier posted a T-shirt for sale with the message, “Dear Tom DeLay, Please Commit Suicide. Sincerely, Everyone.” The same left-wing inhumanity was on display last year when [Democratic Senator] Hillary Clinton spoke at the pro-abortion ‘March for Women’s Lives.‘… [P]lacards held by the marchers read: ‘If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice;’ ‘Barbara Bush Chose Poorly;’ and ‘The Pope’s Mother Had No Choice.’ As I said, no shocker. This is the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their wacko voters and supporters.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178) (CafePress removed the “Kill Bush” shirt after receiving numerous complaints; after removing it, the online store noted that CafePress “is an automated service” and “[h]ate related materials are a violation of its terms of service…” (WorldNetDaily 4/13/2005) Washington, DC, artist Christopher Goodwin created the Tom DeLay shirt and marketed it on CafePress. He removed the listing after a week, during which he was the only one to buy a shirt and he received numerous complaints about the shirt being in poor taste. But before removing the listing, his shirt was the subject of an article on the conservative Drudge Report, after which he received a torrent of angry e-mails—and six more shirt sales. (Horowitz 4/15/2005) )
Exaggerating Differences, Drawing Extreme Conclusions - Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later observe, “This is an in-group rhetoric seeking to reinforce the views of a like-minded audience eager to draw extreme conclusions about Democrats. The strategy capitalizes on tendencies scholars of in- and out-groups have repeatedly observed: that members of a group exaggerate their differences with out-groups, believing out-group members to be rather homogeneous and in-group members less so, and believing members of out-groups to be less human than those in the in-group. Studies also show that people in one group think that the attitudes of an opposed group are more extreme than they actually are…” Jamieson and Cappella argue that Limbaugh’s “in-group” of listeners and readers, often agitated by what the authors call “visceral” language and emotion, has less trouble believing that the “out-group,” Democrats, would solidly back such extremist calls for presidential assassinations and coerced suicides, than would a more disparate group of political observers. “Flooded by the evocative cascade,” they will write, “the reader is likely to grant the implications in the ambiguously referenced (Is Senator Clinton the object of the same left-wing inhumanity or the sentiments expressed in the placards at the rally?) bridging inference (“the same left-wing inhumanity”) and conclude that Hillary Clinton abetted, if she did not outright endorse, the notion that the incumbent president and the pope should have been aborted and the incumbent president killed. At the same time, the audience is unlikely to challenge the conclusion that the T-shirt statements reflect the Democratic mainstream… If these are the sentiments of the Democratic mainstream, then, of course, the Democratic Party is the home of ‘wacko voters and supporters.’” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 177-178)
Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, sets up “Camp Casey” three miles outside of President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch. Bush has come to his ranch for his yearly August vacation; Sheehan has come to demand a meeting with Bush to discuss the loss of her son, Casey, in Iraq. Sheehan chooses the date to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the briefing that warned Bush of Osama bin Laden’s intention to attack the US (see August 6, 2001). Camp Casey begins as a single pup tent in a ditch by the side of a dirt road, in which Sheehan intends to stay for whatever time it takes to secure a meeting with Bush. Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that because Bush is so firmly ensconsced in the protective “bubble” that shields him from awareness of criticism, he and his top officials are blindsided by the media response to Sheehan’s lonely vigil. Casey Sheehan, who died in April 2004 a mere two weeks after his arrival in Iraq (see April 4, 2004), will become, Rich will write, emblematic of both “the noble intentions of those who volunteered to fight the war [and] also the arrogance, incompetence, and recklessness of those who gave the marching orders.”
Bush Refuses to Meet with Sheehan - Bush will refuse to meet with Sheehan and the increasing number of peace activists who gather at Camp Casey, causing him inordinate embarrassment (see August 12, 2005) as more and more reporters begin questioning his motives in refusing to meet with the bereaved mother of a fallen US soldier. Bush even ignores the advice of some of his public relations staffers and fellow Republicans, who ask him to reconsider, as Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “as a matter of courtesy and decency.” Rich will write: “Only someone as adrift as Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president couldn’t win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7. But the White House held firm. In a particularly unfortunate gesture, the presidential motorcade, in a rare foray out of the vacation compound, left Sheehan in the dust on its way to a fundraiser at a fat cat’s ranch nearby” (see August 12, 2005). (Rich 2006, pp. 193-196) Political analyst Charlie Cook says: “Anything that focuses media and public attention on Iraq war casualties day after day—particularly [something] that is a good visual for television, like a weeping Gold Star mother—is a really bad thing for President Bush and his administration.… Americans get a little numb by the numbers of war casualties, but when faces, names, and families are added, it has a much greater effect.” Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway agrees, saying: “Cindy Sheehan has tapped into a latent but fervent feeling among some in this country who would prefer that we not engage our troops in Iraq. She can tap into what has been an astonishingly silent minority since the end of last year’s presidential contest. It will capture attention.” University professor Stephen Hess says that Sheehan’s “movement… can be countered by a countermovement” and therefore negated, but “I think the president might have defused the situation if he had invited her in instantly.” Hess predicts that Sheehan will soon be targeted by Republican strategists in a counterattack (see August 11, 2005 and After).
Focus of Antiwar Movement - Camp Casey quickly becomes the focus of the American antiwar movement, with organizations such as MoveOn.org and Code Pink pitching in to help expand and coordinate the camp, and high-profile Democratic operatives such as Joe Trippi organizing support among left-wing bloggers. MoveOn’s Tom Mattzie says: “Cindy reached out to us.… Cindy is a morally pure voice on the war, so we’re trying to keep the focus on her and not jump in and turn it into a political fight.” (Calvo and Chen 8/11/2005)
The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 10/29/2008)
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” (Palm Beach Post 10/31/2008)
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). (Media Matters 10/30/2008)
The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. (Fang 4/14/2009)
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). (Fang 4/14/2009)
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” (MSNBC 8/14/2009; MSNBC 8/17/2009)
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. (Phillips 5/16/2008)
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. (Center for Responsive Politics 2009; Fang 4/14/2009; MSNBC 8/12/2009) In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009) DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. (MSNBC 8/7/2009)
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009)
Eric Boehlert, an author and editor of the progressive news watchdog organization Media Matters, writes that, in his eyes, the media is ignoring the biggest “political story of the year”: “the unhinged radical-right response to [President] Obama’s inauguration and the naked attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize him through a nonstop smear campaign,” which he says is sponsored by the Republican Party and its conservative supporters. “The misguided movement breaks all kinds of taboos in American politics,” Boehlert writes, “as well as in the press, and is redefining our political culture—for the worse. Yet the press continues to play dumb.”
Playing the Nazi Card - Boehlert takes as his springboard the relative disinterest the mainstream media shows to the repeated accusations that Obama and/or Congressional Democrats are Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers, or have Nazi-like goals and ideals (see July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10-11, 2009), as well as the virtually unreported use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric at anti-health care protests (see July 25, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 8, 2009). Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the liberal advocacy organization MoveOn received weeks of negative publicity and media attention when it briefly posted two amateur video clips on its Web site submitted as part of a contest for 30-second Internet advertisements against the policies of the Bush administration. The organization removed the clips within hours and apologized for posting them, but was berated for weeks over the ads. Now, Boehlert notes, Rush Limbaugh and other prominent conservative spokespersons routinely use accusations of Nazism in their rhetorical attacks on Obama and Democrats, with virtually no acknowledgement from the press. Boehlert writes: “Despite the fact that Limbaugh has not apologized for his comments—unlike MoveOn in 2004—and is continuing to compare the Obama White House and the Democratic Party with Nazis, many in the media don’t consider it newsworthy and haven’t condemned it. And more important, journalists don’t show any signs of believing that the episode tells us anything about the radically unhinged nature of the right-wing media in this country today.” Apparently, he writes, most media analysts just consider Limbaugh’s extreme rhetoric a case of “Rush being Rush.” But, he asks, if Limbaugh is going to be considered the de facto leader of conservative thought in America, why isn’t he being challenged on his use of what Boehlert calls “his radical and outrageous rhetoric.… He went to a place that previously was considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press.… Why isn’t Limbaugh uniformly condemned for his words?”
Accusations of Racism, Racist Pronouncements - And Limbaugh is merely one of many. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck recently accused Obama of being a “racist” and having a “deep-seated hatred of white people” (see July 28-29, 2009), and outside of the small number of progressive/liberal hosts on MSNBC and a few scattered notations in the press, the accusation was virtually ignored. “At the [Washington] Post, which obsesses over the intersection of the media and politics,” Boehlert writes, “the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News’s superstar host wasn’t considered newsworthy. That’s correct: Two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America have recently called out Obama as a Nazi and a racist.”
Legitimizing Extremism - Boehlert assigns part of the blame to journalists being “spooked by decades’ worth of ‘liberal media bias’ attacks” that drive them to “refuse to connect the glaringly obvious dots on display.” The extreme rhetorical attacks dovetail with what he calls “the town hall mini-mobs that are wreaking havoc across the country” and “the bizarre birther conspiracy theory” that insists Obama is not a US citizen, but some sort of “plant” from Kenya brought to America to bring down American democracy. “The three right-wing phenomena are all related,” he writes, “and they all revolve around a runaway hatred of Obama (as well as the federal government), and they’re all being fueled by the [conservative media operation], especially Fox News and Limbaugh, both of which no longer recognize common decency, let alone journalistic standards. Yet instead of putting Limbaugh on the receiving end of well-deserved scrutiny and scorn, rather than turning his comments into a political firestorm, the press plays dumb and actually goes out of its way to legitimize the worst offenders of the GOP’s hate brigade.” Boehlert condemns ABC News for inviting conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin to take part in a discussion of health care reform “with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.” Malkin, he writes, is a prime member of the “hate brigade,” helping push the increasingly angry and violent mob confrontations as well as exhorting readers to believe that the Democrats want to exterminate the elderly (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009). The New Yorker recently praised Michael Savage, who routinely attacks women, gays, liberals, and minorities with the worst rhetorical excess (see January 10, 2008, February 1, 2008, February 21, 2008, March 13, 2008, April 3, 2008, June 6, 2008, June 6, 2008, August 25, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 22, 2008, November 10, 2008, and November 18, 2008), calling him “fun” and “addictive.”
Comparing the Statistics - Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the Indianapolis Star published five letters to the editor about the MoveOn controversy. To date, it has not published a single letter about Limbaugh’s Nazi accusations towards Obama or Democrats. In January 2004, 28 of the nation’s largest newspapers published a total of 54 stories, articles, or letters about the MoveOn controversy. To date, that group has published a combined total of six stories about Limbaugh’s Nazi allegations. No paper has printed more than one story on the topic. In January 2004, the MoveOn-Nazi story garnered 300 percent more airtime on CNN than the Limbaugh-Nazi story has received. (Boehlert 8/11/2009)
The Target Corporation, owner of Target department stores, donates $150,000 to a fund with close ties to the campaign of Tom Emmer (R-MN), the GOP’s presumptive nominee for Minnesota’s governor, through its federal PAC TargetCitizens. The donation is $100,000 in cash and $50,000 in “brand consulting.” Another Minnesota-based retail chain, Best Buy Co., gives $100,000 to the group MN Forward, which describes itself as “nonpartisan” but only donates money to Emmer. The money is to be used primarily for ads supporting Emmer, a state legislator. The donations are allowable under the controversial Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to give unrestricted amounts to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). Emmer is a controversial candidate with a record of fiery opposition to gay rights and other stances not popular with moderate and liberal voters, and some are talking about organizing a boycott of Target and Best Buy. Target is the primary focus of the criticism, in part because it has promoted itself as a progressive alternative to corporate retailers such as Wal-Mart, according to an official with progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org. A Target spokesperson, Lena Michaud, says the company supports causes and candidates “based strictly on issues that affect our retail and business objectives.” TargetCitizens, according to Michaud, donates money to both Democratic and Republican candidates. Though Michaud says Target spreads its donations equally between candidates of the two parties, the $150,000 donation exceeds the amount TargetCitizens has donated in all other federal campaigns this year; Target executives have donated primarily to Republicans as well. Emmer, aside from his opposition to gay rights, favors a strict stance on immigration and has advocated slashing the wages of food service workers, whom he claims often make six-figure incomes when their tips are counted. He also advocates the nullification of some portions of the US Constitution, and wants to nullify the recent health care reform legislative package. In contrast, Target has cultivated a moderate image in Minnesota, making public donations to schools, food shelves, and the annual Twin Cities Gay Pride Festival. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, a heavy Republican donor, says his company’s commitment to gay rights is “unwavering.” MN Forward director Brian McClung, who formerly served as spokesman for retiring Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), says: “We believe that everybody has the right to express their opinions and we’re going to run a fair and factual campaign. Our first ad is a positive ad talking about a candidate’s vision for creating jobs.” (Lohn 7/27/2010; Terkel 7/27/2010; Yang and Eggen 8/19/2010) Paul Finkelstein, CEO of Regis Corporation, which has also donated to MN Forward, explains that his company, like Target and Best Buy, donates based on economic concerns. “From a social perspective, I don’t agree with many of his platforms,” Finkelstein says. “My concern, frankly, is jobs. We have to have a tax policy that enables us to be able to create jobs.” Emmer wants to institute massive tax cuts, particularly for business owners and the wealthy, if he is elected as governor. Best Buy spokeswoman Susan Busch Nehring says of the controversy, “We’ve learned from this, and we will thoughtfully review the process we use to make political contributions, to avoid any future confusion.” (Kleefeld 7/30/2010; Yang and Eggen 8/19/2010)
Backlash - Local gay-rights organization Twin Cities Pride says it is “reviewing its partnership with Target” in light of the Emmer donations, while another gay-rights organization, OutFront Minnesota, says in a statement: “Emmer stands alone among candidates for governor in opposing equality for GLBT Minnesotans. Target should not stand with him.” OutFront Minnesota director Monica Meyer says, “This is inconsistent with their values to support the only candidate for governor who stands up for discrimination and divisiveness in Minnesota.” Former Democratic campaign worker Laura Hedlund pickets outside a Minnesota Target store, and tells a reporter, “I think Target is making a huge mistake” in donating money to support Emmer. A YouTube video posted by Minnesota citizen and former Target consumer Randi Reitan goes “viral”; in the video, Reitan returns $226 worth of items to a Target store and cuts up her Target credit card, explaining that she wants equality for her gay son, which Emmer, and by extension Target, does not support. Political science professor David Schultz says he is surprised Target would make such a controversial announcement of support: “I thought they would have sat this one out because they are so smart in terms of marketing. Target has had the warm fuzzies with progressives for years.… Now they risk alienating half the state’s population.” Emmer himself complains that his right to freedom of speech is being challenged by the protests against Target, and accuses protesters of demonstrating against him for personal reasons, saying: “The sad part to me is, I thought we were supposed to be able to exercise our rights of free speech. We’re supposed to celebrate the fact that we have different perspectives. And it doesn’t seem like that’s what this is about. This seems to be more personal and we’ve got to get over that.” (Lohn 7/27/2010; Kleefeld 7/30/2010) MN Forward continues to garner significant corporate donations even after the Target backlash. (Scheck 8/5/2010; Caldwell 8/6/2010)
Apology - Days later, Steinhafel issues a public apology for the donation, in an apparent effort to ward off planned boycotts by gay-rights and Democratic groups. Steinhafel writes a letter to Target employees that is made public, claiming that the donation was merely to support economic growth and job creation. He acknowledges that the contribution affected many employees in ways he did not anticipate and says: “[F]or that I am deeply sorry.… The diversity of our team is an important aspect of our culture and our success, and we did not mean to disappoint you, our team or our valued guests.” Michaud says the company will do what she calls a strategic review of political donations, and plans to lead a discussion on improving gay rights in the workplace. “Our commitment right now is in letting people know that we’ve heard their feedback and we’re really sorry that we’ve let them down,” Michaud says. “We want to continue doing the many things that Target has done as a company to foster our inclusive corporate culture and then look at ways of doing things better in the future.” Meyer says she is glad to hear Steinhafel’s apology, but her group intends to wait and see if Target fulfills its promise to be supportive of gay rights: “People are really appreciating them reiterating that kind of support but they want to make sure that their consumer dollars aren’t going to fund candidates who do the exact opposite of what Target says it wants to promote in society.” Soon after Steinhafel’s apology, Human Rights Campaign, a human rights organization that supports gay rights, says it spoke with Target about contributing $150,000 to a candidate who does support gay rights, but, the organization says, those talks have broken down. Allison Hayward of the Center for Competitive Politics says corporations should view the Target controversy as a cautionary tale. “This is sort of an object lesson for the next time a Sears or a Wal-Mart thinks about getting involved in some political expenditures,” she says. “Large corporations are not generally interested in alienating customers.” (Scheck 8/5/2010; Yang and Eggen 8/19/2010)
Donations to Anti-Gay Candidates Continue - Federal Election Commission (FEC) records released in December 2010 will show that Target continues to donate to anti-gay candidates. (Shakir 12/24/2010)
Policy Change - In February 2011, Target Corporation issues a new policy to tighten oversight and restrict how the firm’s funds are used for political purposes. Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, one of the companies that filed a shareholder resolution criticizing the donation, says: “This is definitely a trend. More and more companies are stepping up and being transparent about their political spending.” Target still refuses to disclose how much money it donates to trade associations, which are often some of the largest political campaign donors. Target now has a committee tasked with guiding “the decision-making process regarding financial support of political activities,” according to a policy document. (Geiger and Levey 2/19/2011)
Several supporters of Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) throw Lauren Valle, a supporter of Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, to the ground and deliberately stomp her head. The entire incident, which takes place minutes before a debate between Paul and Conway, is caught on camera; videos of the incident are quickly posted on the Internet. The incident occurs shortly after Valle, a member of the liberal political activism group MoveOn.org, pushes her way through a crowd of Paul supporters to approach Paul while he is still in a vehicle approaching the debate. Valle is wearing a blonde wig and carrying a sign that reads, “Rand Paul Republicorps: Member of the Month,” and her intention is to either present Paul with a mock “employee of the month award” from the fake “Republicorps” (misidentified in some news reports as “Republicore”) for his alleged support of large corporations, or to be photographed holding the sign near him. Initially, Valle is blocked from approaching Paul by a security guard and several Paul supporters. Some of the supporters pursue Valle around parked cars, until one of them trips her and sends her falling to the ground. Another supporter yanks the wig from her head. While she is down, two supporters hold her to the ground while a third stomps on her head, shoulder, and neck. While the incident is occurring, others in the crowd shout, “Get the cops!” A Lexington police spokesman will later say his department had not anticipated any violence at the debate. The spokesman, Lieutenant Edward Hart, says, “She [Valle] worked for MoveOn.org—was a contract employee sent to the debate with MoveOn.org for the purpose of getting a picture with Dr. Paul with the sign.” Valle initially refuses medical treatment, but is later hospitalized and diagnosed with a concussion and multiple sprains. She will later file an assault charge against at least one of her assailants. (Maxwell 10/25/2010; Stein 10/25/2010; Gerth and Steitzer 10/25/2010; Shahid 10/26/2010; Beutler 10/26/2010; Gerth 10/27/2010) Joshua Green, a senior editor of the Atlantic Monthly, calls the attack “truly awful.” (Green 10/25/2010) Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts says, “[A]t this point there doesn’t seem to be anything to justify how this incident unfolded.” (Beutler 10/26/2010)
Lauren Valle's Account of the Incident - Valle later tells a reporter that she has been to other Paul campaign events, and says Paul’s staff members have “expressed their distaste for my work before.” She calls the assault “premeditated,” and explains: “[A]bout five minutes before Rand Paul’s car arrived they identified me and my partner, Alex [Giblin], who was with me. They surrounded me. There was five of them. They motioned to each other and got behind me. My partner Alex heard them say, ‘We are here to do crowd control, we might have to take someone out.’ When Rand Paul’s car arrived a couple of them stepped in front of me, so I stepped off the curb to get around them to get back out front. At that point they started grabbing for me and I ran all the way around the car with them in pursuit. The footage [referring to the video of the incident posted on a number of news Web sites and blogs] is after I’ve run all the way around the car and I’m in front of the car, and that is when they took me down. One or two people twisted my arms behind my back and took me down.… It was about two to three seconds after that that another person stomped on my head. And I lay there for 20 seconds or so, and my partner Alex came and got me up, and that’s the point where there is the media clip of me speaking.” Valle later says in response to reports that she was not struck on the head: “My memory of them is sort of that of a traumatized person. I think it was my head. My head is in a lot of pain today; my neck is kind of kinked. But I distinctly remember a blow to my head.” She says she was able to give interviews to reporters immediately after the assault because the pain started in earnest about 90 minutes later. “I was in severe shock,” she says. (Stein 10/26/2010; Shahid 10/26/2010; Sargent 10/26/2010)
Three Paul Supporters Directly Participate in Assault - Valle’s assertion that there were “five” assailants is either inaccurate, or she is including people who chased her around the parked cars but did not throw her down and stomp her against the curb. The day after the assault, new footage is posted that clearly shows an assailant’s boot coming down forcefully on her head, neck, and shoulders. One of the two men holding Valle to the ground is wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” button, a symbol widely associated with the “tea party” movement. (Beutler 10/26/2010; Bob Layton 10/26/2010) This man is later identified by local police officials as Mike Pezzano, a Paul supporter and gun rights advocate. The other man holding Valle down is not immediately identified. (Gerth 10/27/2010; TPMDC 10/27/2010)
Stomper Charged, Identified as Paul Campaign Coordinator and Donor - The Lexington police later identify the man who initially stomped Valle as Tim Profitt, the Paul campaign coordinator for Bourbon County. Profitt will issue an apology to Valle, though he claims the camera angle makes the assault seem more violent than it was. He will state, “I’m sorry that it came to that, and I apologize if it appeared overly forceful, but I was concerned about Rand’s safety.” Profitt will later demand an apology from Valle (see October 26-29, 2010), and will also blame the police for not intervening to keep Valle away from Paul. Police confirm that Profitt is given a criminal summons. (Stein 10/26/2010; Stein 10/26/2010; Alford 10/26/2010) He will be charged with fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail, a $500 fine, or a combination of both. (Kegley 10/30/2010) Profitt is also a campaign donor, having given approximately $1,900 to Paul’s campaign along with $600 from his wife. Paul’s campaign will later refuse to return the donation (see October 26, 2010). Profitt is later dropped as Paul’s campaign coordinator and banned from future events. Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton says, “The Paul campaign has disassociated itself with the individual who took part in this incident, and once again urges all activists—on both sides—to remember that their political passions should never manifest themselves in physical altercations of any kind.” (Alford 10/26/2010; Sargent 10/26/2010; McAuliff 10/26/2010) Profitt later tells a reporter that he did not actually stomp Valle, he was merely using his foot to keep her on the ground. He cannot bend over because of back problems, he says (see October 26-29, 2010). “[I]f she can hear this,” he says, “[a]ll I was trying to do was hold her until police could get her.” He goes on to state that he believes Valle was at the rally to “hurt Rand Paul.” (Dorsett 10/26/2010)
Statements Issued - Following the incident, Paul’s campaign issues this statement: “We understand that there was an altercation outside of the debate between supporters of both sides and that is incredibly unfortunate. Violence of any kind has no place in our civil discourse and we urge supporters on all sides to be civil to one another as tensions rise heading toward this very important election. We are relieved to hear that the woman in question was not injured.” Shortly thereafter, MoveOn issues its own statement, which reads: “We’re appalled at the violent incident that occurred at the Kentucky Senate debate last night. Numerous news reports clearly show that the young woman—a MoveOn supporter—was assaulted and pushed to the ground by Rand Paul supporters, where one man held her down while another stomped on her head. This kind of violence has no place in American society, much less at a peaceful political rally. Our first concern is obviously Lauren’s health and well being. She is recovering, and we will release more details as we have them. We are concerned that no arrests have yet been made, and we hope those responsible will be brought to justice quickly, and that Rand Paul will join us in condemning this horrible act.” The next day, Paul tells a Fox News interviewer: “We want everybody to be civil. We want this campaign to be about issues. I will tell you that when we arrived there was enormous passion on both sides. It really was something where you walk into a haze of lights flashing, people yelling and screaming, bumping up. And there was a bit of a crowd control problem. I don’t want anybody though to be involved in things that aren’t civil. I think this should always be about the issues. And it is an unusual situation to have so many people so passionate on both sides jockeying back and forth. And it wasn’t something that I liked or anybody liked about that situation. So I hope in the future it is going to be better.” Conway weighs in: “I was shocked to see video footage of a Rand Paul supporter stomping the head of a woman outside the debate last night. We can disagree on issues, and I don’t know what preceded the incident, but physical violence by a man against a woman must never be tolerated. It is my hope that steps have been taken to ensure this kind of thuggish behavior never happens again in this campaign.” (Stein 10/25/2010; Sargent 10/26/2010) The progressive news site TPMDC reports that Paul calls for civility, but refuses to explictly condemn the attack. (Beutler 10/26/2010) Conway later issues the following statement: “We are still waiting for Rand Paul to apologize to the victim of this attack. A boot stomp to the head of a woman is never appropriate. Rand should apologize to her, stop blaming others, and identify the others involved in this thuggish behavior and disassociate his campaign from them immediately.” (McAuliff 10/26/2010)
The man who stomped a woman’s head against the curb of a parking lot in the moments before a Senatorial candidate debate in Kentucky (see October 25, 2010 and After) calls for an apology from the woman he assaulted. Tim Profitt, a former campaign coordinator for the Rand Paul (R-KY) Senate campaign, is facing potential criminal and civil charges on behalf of the woman he assaulted, Lauren Valle. The campaign of Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway (R-KY), has called for Profitt to apologize. But Profitt tells a local television reporter: “I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I would like for her to apologize to me, to be honest with you.” Profitt adds, “She’s a professional at what she does, and I think when all the facts come out, I think people will see that she was the one that initiated the whole thing.” Officials for MoveOn.org, the liberal advocacy group with whom Valle is affiliated, are outraged by Profitt’s position. MoveOn official Ilyse Hogan says: “I am offended and outraged by the words of Tim Profitt. Profitt said the attack was ‘not a big deal,’ that Lauren ‘instigated it,’ and that ‘she should apologize’—words that are eerily familiar to many women who have faced assault and abuse.” A spokesman for the Conway campaign, John Collins, says Profitt’s attempts to minimize the assault are inexcusable. “I think anyone who has seen the video could see that it was one-sided and that it was not a crowd-control problem but rather a sort of a mob, thuggish mentality of some of the Rand Paul supporters,” he says. Collins notes that the Paul campaign has not yet released the names of the two men that threw Valle to the ground and held her down as Profitt stepped on her, and continues: “Anyone who watched the video saw two men wrestle a young woman to the ground and then a third man, Profitt, come and stomp on the back of her head. I think the simple question we have is when is it ever okay… for two men to wrestle a young woman down to the ground, even without the stomping.” (Roxas 10/26/2010; Gerth 10/27/2010) Valle later refuses an apology. In an open letter to Profitt, she writes: “I have been called a progressive, a liberal, a professional agitator. You have been called a conservative, a Republican, a member of the tea party movement. Fundamentally and most importantly, you and I are both human beings. We are also both American citizens. These two facts, to me, are far more meaningful than the multitude of labels that we carry. And if these two facts are true then it means we are on the same team. I have not been for one moment angry with you and your actions. Instead I feel thoroughly devastated. It is evident that your physical assault on me is symptomatic of the crisis that this country is struggling through. And it seems that I will heal from my injuries long before this country can work through our separation. Only when we decide let go of our hate, our violence, and our aggression will we be able to communicate to each other about the issues that divide us. Right now, we are not communicating, we are stomping on each other. No one can ever win, no one can ever be heard, with violence. You and I, as fellow citizens, and we, as a country, have a choice. Either we choose to continue the cycle of inflicting violence upon each other, screaming at each other, insulting each other, and putting one another down or we find a way to sit down and start listening to each other. We’ll see how far we get. We are all viciously and vociferously feeding a fire that will only burn us down together. We must reach inside ourselves and make space for each other. We must forgive each other. We must believe in our capacity for transformation. The moment we choose compassion and reconciliation is the moment that we will begin to move toward freedom. There is no other way. I believe that you should be held accountable for your actions but I also recognize the incredibly negative impact that the consequences must be having on your life, and I wish you all the best as you yourself heal from this. Violence hurts everyone.” (McMorris-Santoro 10/29/2010) Profitt is charged with assault against Valle; he will plead not guilty, and his lawyer will claim that his assault was justified (see October 26-29, 2010).
US District Judge Robert Hinkle rejects an attempt by the US Department of Justice to block Florida’s attempted purge of what it calls non-citizens, in part because Florida has temporarily suspended the purge. Hinkle says that federal law prohibiting the systematic removal of voters in the months before an election does not apply to non-citizens. Hinkle also accepts Florida’s assurance that it has ended its purge efforts. The Justice Department argued that the purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), which makes it illegal to perform what the law calls a systematic removal of voters before a federal election. Florida’s primary will be held on August 14. In 2011, Florida’s state motor vehicle agency created a database of some 2,600 people whose citizenship was determined to be “questionable,” but county election supervisors stopped using the database to remove voters from their rolls after concluding the list was unreliable and contained the names of many eligible voters. Justice Department lawyer John Bert Ross called Florida’s effort to purge “non-citizens” a “dragnet” that illegally forces US citizens to prove their legitimacy, though Ross was unable to cite an instance of a legitimate voter being removed from the voting rolls. Ross asked Hinkle to restore the voting rights of everyone purged from the voting rolls, a request that Hinkle rejected, saying: “Leaving ineligible voters on the list is not a solution. Non-citizens should not be voting. People need to know we are running an honest election.” The Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, is suing for access to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database to “better ascertain the citizenship status of voters,” according to Detzner’s attorney Michael Carvin. DHS has so far refused the request. Carvin says that if Detzner receives the data, “I do expect the state to proceed [with the purge] and protect the integrity of the voter rolls.” Hinkle accepts the state’s arguments that it is carrying out its duty to make sure non-citizens do not “dilute” the votes of actual citizens. Hinkle showed some concern that over half of the people on Florida’s “purge list” are Hispanic, saying: “That’s discriminatory, at least in effect. I don’t suggest that that was the purpose of this.” Hinkle also chided Collier County for sending letters to “potential non-citizens” challenging whether people born in Puerto Rico are legitimate US citizens. People born in Puerto Rico are US citizens by law. Collier County elections staffer Tim Durham says the county never sent such a letter. Hinkle says that with the elections approaching, “[t]he federal government and the state government ought to be working together to try to minimize the mistakes” instead of trying to settle the problem in court. Florida Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) praises the ruling, saying, “The court made a commonsense decision consistent with what I’ve been saying all along: that irreparable harm will result if non-citizens are allowed to vote.” Democrats say Scott is trying to suppress legitimate votes in Florida; liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org calls the purge “racist” because of its focus on Hispanics. (Bousquet 6/27/2012)
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