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An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” (Wall Street Journal 11/12/2008; Brauer 11/12/2008) The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. (Brauer 11/12/2008)
US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. (Stern 1/5/2009; Bakst 1/6/2009; Diaz 1/6/2009) Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. (Diaz 1/6/2009) Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. (Duchschere 4/22/2009) Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).
Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. (Lopez and Kaszub 1/12/2009; Steller 1/13/2009) The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. (Weiner 1/12/2009; Steller 1/13/2009)
Republican lawmakers have moved to tone down the incendiary rhetoric surrounding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009). Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he is happy that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see June 3, 2009) and others (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 1, 2009) are backing away from the accusations of racism and liberal activism that have marked conservative responses to Sotomayor’s nomination (see May 26, 2009). “I think she deserves to be challenged,” Graham says. “It is fair to make her address that question and prove it. It is not fair to say that she’s a racist.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says his fellow Republicans “shouldn’t jump to conclusions, particularly with, you know, overheated rhetoric.” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler says Gingrich made his own decision to tone down his rhetoric, and was not asked by other Republicans to do so. Gingrich hopes to “reset the argument,” Tyler says, but notes that “nothing has changed in the structure of his argument, he is just retracting the word racist.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that the attacks on Sotomayor should continue, and says he doesn’t know why Gingrich is backing off. “I didn’t know why he had retracted it, and I still don’t,” he says. “I have my own theory about what Newt’s doing, but since I’m not doing it, I’m not going to comment.” Curt Levey of the conservative legal group Committee for Justice says: “The fact that the most extreme voices have softened I think is good. It’s good. We have to keep the debate civil. Republican senators should be keeping an open mind.… Calling her a racist was a racially insensitive remark. Frankly all we can do at this point is raise questions about her.” Levey has called Sotomayor an intellectual “lightweight” (see May 26, 2009). (Barr 6/4/2009) Concurrently with the Republican lawmakers’ public statements towards moderating the attacks on Sotomayor, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lanier Swann, advises conservative activists to keep up their pressure on Sotomayor. The aide gives the advice during a weekly meeting of influential conservative activists, radio hosts, and others hosted by veteran Washington activist Grover Norquist. “Swann told us she wanted to encourage all of us in our talking points and that we’re having traction among Republicans and unnerving Democrats,” says one attendee. “The point was we should keep it up. She told us at this meeting to put our foot on the pedal.” A second attendee confirms the account. A spokesman for McConnell says he is sure Swann did not call for further attacks. (Bolton 6/3/2009)
The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Senate candidate Norm Coleman’s motion to reconsider the vote recount that found his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), the winner of the November 2008 Senate race (see January 5, 2009). Coleman, a Republican and the incumbent, concedes the election in a brief appearance after the ruling. Hours later, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) signs the election certificate for Franken, clearing the way for Franken to take his seat in the US Senate. “I can’t wait to get started,” Franken says. “I won by 312 votes, so I really have to earn the trust of the people who didn’t vote for me.” Coleman says he chose not to appeal to federal courts given the likelihood that the results would not have gone his way, and says he respects the high court’s decision. The court rejects Coleman’s contention that hundreds of absentee ballots ruled invalid should be counted, ruling that voters have the expectation of filling out the ballots properly and should understand that improperly completed ballots will be rejected. Franken’s seating gives Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate, theoretically giving them a “filibuster-proof majority” that would overcome Republican efforts to block legislation by refusing to allow cloture votes. However, Democrats rarely vote in unified “blocs” as Republicans often do, and two Senate Democrats, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), are hospitalized and unable to cast votes. Franken will be seated after Congress’s July 4 recess. (Associated Press 6/30/2009; Commercial Appeal (Memphis) 7/1/2009) Politico describes the ruling as “remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.” Law professor Larry Jacobs says, “Norm Coleman has gotten shellacked in the court room—by judges who were appointed by Pawlenty.” The Minnesota Republican Party protests the ruling, claiming that it “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted,” but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he accepts the decision, stating: “While I am very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today, I respect Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further. After having more votes on Election Day, he made a great personal sacrifice to pursue an accurate account of the vote for Minnesotans. For that, and his dedicated service on behalf of Minnesota, he should be commended.” (Raju and Kraushaar 6/30/2009)
Charles Grassley (R-IA), a Republican senator considered a key element in the Obama administration’s push for bipartisan health care reform, says that the recent outpouring of anger and resistance at “town hall” forums has “fundamentally altered the nature of the debate and convinced him that lawmakers should consider drastically scaling back the scope of the effort.” Grassley says he believes the public is strongly against the Democrats’ ideas for health care reform, and considers the ideas a run-up to what he calls “a government takeover of health care.” Grassley is a member of the so-called “Gang of Six,” a group of three Republican and three conservative Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee primarily responsible for writing the committee’s reform proposal. In recent days, some Democrats have accused him of attempting to suborn any bipartisanship in the process by his advocacy of “death panels” (see August 12, 2009) and his misleading use of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)‘s terminal illness (see August 5, 2009) in his arguments against reform.
Obama Should Prove Commitment to Bipartisanship by Abandoning Public Option - Grassley says that if President Obama is serious about a bipartisan approach to reform, he should abandon his support for the so-called “public option” entirely. Such a statement, he says, is “pretty important… if you’re really interested in a bipartisan bill.” Grassley also says that a reform bill would not be truly bipartisan unless it received far more than a 51-vote majority, or even a 60-vote “supermajority,” enough votes to defeat a filibuster attempt. “It’s not about getting a lot of Republicans. It’s about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes.” (Montgomery and Bacon 8/20/2009) Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent contrasts Grassley’s contentious position with the more accomodating overtures from the White House. He writes: “Grassley knows the White House is under tremendous pressure to contain a revolt on the left over the public option. It’s hard to imagine any reason for demanding Obama renounce the public option right now, before there’s even a bill out of the finance committee, other than to make life politically difficult for the president. How does that compare with the White House’s treatment of Grassley? When the Senator endorsed the ‘death panel’ claim, the White House reaffirmed its commitment to working with him. Dems quietly let Grassley claim a big victory by dropping the public option from the Senate bill he’s negotiating. And when Rahm Emanuel questioned the sincerity of GOP leaders yesterday, an apparent shot at Grassley, the White House rapidly walked it back. Grassley, meanwhile, has now raised the bar yet again for what will constitute true bipartisanship on the White House’s part. Pretty telling.” (Sargent 8/20/2009)
Bipartisanship Not Universally Desired - Other Republicans are less interested in bipartisanship. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) blames Obama for the increasingly strident tone of the debate, and accuses Obama officials of “reject[ing] our efforts to work together.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), considered a likely 2012 candidate for president, says flatly: “The Republicans should kill the bill. It’s a bad idea.” House Member James Clyburn (D-SC) says Democrats might do well to abandon any idea of bipartisanship and work on a bill without Republican input, especially since it is unlikely that Republicans will vote for any reform bill at all. But Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says he remains committed to the idea of bipartisanship. (Montgomery and Bacon 8/20/2009)
Democratic candidate Bill Owens wins an unexpected, narrow victory in a special election for the US House seat representing New York State’s 23rd District, a win widely seen as a setback to the national tea party movement. Owens ran against Conservative Party candidate Douglas L. Hoffman in a race that saw the original Republican Party candidate, Dede Scozzafava, drop out under heavy pressure from local, state, and national tea party organizations to give way to Hoffman, their preferred candidate. Scozzafava was the unanimous choice of the 11 county chairs of the district’s Republican Party organization. The 23rd District is traditionally Republican. Conservative figures identified with the tea party, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), who has presidential aspirations, came out strongly in favor of Hoffman and against Scozzafava, as did talk show hosts Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Fred Thompson, and the editorial pages of the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. Scozzafava is a moderate Republican who supports gay and abortion rights, and the federal economic stimulus package promoted by the Bush and Obama administrations. The Republican National Committee (RNC), which had backed Scozzafava, applauded her decision to withdraw and endorsed Hoffman. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), who like the RNC had supported Scozzzafava but in the days before the election endorsed Hoffman, says he worries that having third-party candidates routinely enter races would split conservative votes and give Democrats control of federal and state governments. “This makes life more complicated from the standpoint of this,” he says.“If we get into a cycle where every time one side loses, they run a third-party candidate, we’ll make [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] speaker for life and guarantee [President] Obama’s re-election.… I think we are going to get into a very difficult environment around the country if suddenly conservative leaders decide they are going to anoint people without regard to local primaries and local choices.” After Hoffman’s loss, some tea party figures blame the Republican Party for the defeat, saying that if the party had gotten behind Hoffman from the outset, he would have defeated Owens. Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, agrees, saying: “I think Doug Hoffman likely would have won if he had been the Republican candidate from the get-go. It wasn’t a spike in the end zone for the Democrats. They got that seat not because Democrats were brilliant, but because Republicans were stupid.” Some conservatives attempt to frame the loss as a victory because they forced the more moderate Scozzafava out of the race. Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) says, “Our number one goal was to make clear that the Republican Party cannot take someone as liberal as Dede Scozzafava and thrust her out on the voters and expect the voters just to accept it.” The seat became vacant after Representative John M. McHugh (R-NY) was appointed by President Obama to become secretary of the Army. After facing a barrage of heavy criticism from Limbaugh, Palin, and the like, Scozzafava abruptly withdrew from the race and threw her support to Owens. Some critics questioned Hoffman’s eligibility to run for the seat, noting that his home in Lake Placid, New York, is not in the district. The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million promoting Hoffman’s candidacy, and other conservative organizations such as the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and NOM also supported Hoffman. The groups funneled cash into Hoffman’s campaigns, printed up literature, and sent volunteers from other areas in the country to work for Hoffman. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader who now heads the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), says the race proves Republicans need to stop fielding moderate candidates. “My own view right now is the myth that you have to be a moderate—a Democrat lite—to win in the Northeast probably has less standing now than in any time since I’ve been in politics,” Armey says. “The small-government candidate in the Republican Party—or running as an independent—is going to be the one to draw the energy of these voters.” Marilyn Musgrave, a former representative from Colorado who works for the Anthony List, says after the election that the conservative backing of Hoffman proves to Washington lawmakers that they should not take conservative votes for granted. “Don’t just assume we’re yours,” she says. (Feldmann 10/29/2009; Nagourney and Peters 10/31/2009; Peters 11/3/2009)
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)
The conservative activist group Minnesota Majority issues a report claiming that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) won the hotly contested recount for the Minnesota seat (see June 30, 2009) because of votes cast by felons voting illegally in Minneapolis-St. Paul. According to the report, at least 341 convicted felons who had lost the right to vote cast their votes for Franken in the 2008 race (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken was found to have won the race by 312 votes. If the votes allegedly cast illegally were deducted from the final vote tally, Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) would be the winner, the report says. Minnesota Majority makes its claim after studying publicly available conviction lists and voting records. The group claims that attempts to secure an investigation by state and federal authorities have been “stonewalled.” Minnesota Majority executive director Dan McGrath says: “We aren’t trying to change the result of the last election. That legally can’t be done. We are just trying to make sure the integrity of the next election isn’t compromised.” McGrath complains that prosecutors in Ramsey and Hennepin Counties have ignored their findings, including a list of hundreds of allegedly illegal voters from those counties. A spokesman for the county attorney’s offices says the group’s information is “just plain wrong” and full of errors. McGrath says the group went back and double-checked its records after being told that its findings were wrong. He says: “What we did this time is irrefutable. We took the voting lists and matched them with conviction lists and then went back to the records and found the roster lists, where voters sign in before walking to the voting booth, and matched them by hand. The only way we can be wrong is if someone with the same first, middle, and last names, same year of birth as the felon, and living in the same community, has voted. And that isn’t very likely.”
County Prosecutors: Group's Claims Largely Erroneous - Phil Carruthers, Ramsey County’s lead prosecutor, says his office is taking the allegations seriously and praises the group for doing “a good job in [its] review.” But, Carruthers notes, the group lacks access to nonpublic information, and that information shows that almost all of the names on the list are of eligible voters. For example, Carruthers says, “public records might show a felon was given 10 years probation, but internal records the county attorney has might show that the probation period was cut to five and the felon was eligible to vote.” Carruthers says Ramsey County is filing charges against 28 people for illegally voting, with more charges possible. McGrath says: “Prosecutors have to act more swiftly in prosecuting cases from the 2008 election to deter fraud in the future, and the state has to make sure that existing system, that flags convicted felons so voting officials can challenge them at the ballot, is effective. In 90 percent of the cases we looked at, the felons weren’t flagged. If the state had done that, things might be very different today.” (Barnes 7/12/2010)
Governor Weighs In, Implying Franken Won Illegally - Two days after the allegations surface in the press, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says the organization may have found “credible evidence” of voter fraud. On Fox News, Pawlenty says of the allegedly illegal votes: “I suspect they favored Al Franken. I don’t know that. But if that turned out to be true they may have flipped that election in a very close election.” Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund has stated flatly on Fox that “hundreds of felons” gave Franken the victory. But Carruthers tells a reporter, “Overwhelmingly, their statistics were not accurate.” Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond adds: “It’s produced a lot of smoke. But at the end of the day, I don’t know if it’s going to produce a lot of fire.” Carruthers says that the list of 480 suspected felons was obviously wrong from the outset, and 270 were removed upon a cursory review. Many other cases were examples of mistaken identity, or the list not taking into account felons who had their right to vote restored. The 28 cases flagged by Carruthers for potential prosecution had already been identified before he received Minnesota Majority’s list, he says. Diamond says much the same of the list of alleged illegal voters in Hennepin County.
Allegations Being Made for Political Purposes? - Local reporter John Croman notes that the allegations are being used by conservatives to push for restrictive voter ID laws. He writes: “Valid ID is needed to register, but not to vote. And yet both of the prosecutors [Carruthers and Diamond] pointed out there’s nothing to keep a felon from using legal ID to vote illegally.” While Minnesota Majority is blaming Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) for the alleged felon voting, Diamond says Ritchie has worked diligently to make the state’s voting rolls more accurate and current. “He’s gotten the system into this century, so it’s actually much easier to prevent felons from voting now,” Diamond says. “I’m going to trial in August with two cases of felons who voted, that were flagged by election workers.” Law professor David Schultz says Pawlenty’s response is surprising: “One, it makes an assumption that it’s been proven that these felons have voted illegally, which isn’t the case. And, two, it makes the assumption that these felons voted overwhelmingly in favor of Franken.” Schultz says he believes Pawlenty is posturing for his upcoming presidential bid: “There’s a certain segment of the population, people who believe Democrats can’t win unless felons and immigrants vote illegally. He’s trying to appeal to that group to further his presidential campaign.” But if that is the case, Schultz says, Pawlenty is casting aspersions on the integrity of Minnesota’s election system for political gain. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune 7/14/2010; Croman 7/15/2010)
Months Later, Six Charges Filed - In October 2010, six felons in Hennepin County will be charged with voting illegally (see October 21, 2010).
Minnesota political and sports columnist Jay Weiner writes of his irritation at the recent claims that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) won the 2008 Senate election because felons voted illegally (see July 12-14, 2010). Weiner became a political reporter during the recount between Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN—see June 30, 2009), and has written a book on the subject, This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount. Weiner notes that the claims by the conservative organization Minnesota Majority are disputed by a number of judges and even, grudgingly, the Coleman campaign’s lawyers. Coleman is now calling Franken the “accidental senator,” Weiner writes, and Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) is casting doubt on Franken’s legitimacy as senator. The story is being pushed by Fox News and by conservative talk show hosts. Weiner notes that research into Minnesota Majority’s claims has proven the claims to be groundless and the organization’s “proof” inaccurate. Weiner says he is angered by the implication that if voter ID laws were in place, those alleged felon votes would not have been cast and Coleman would have won. “This is a long-standing Republican issue to limit voting among the disenfranchised,” Weiner writes. “Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer has used this controversy to call for picture IDs for voters. But guess what? Convicted felons have driver’s licenses. They have photo IDs. Voter photo IDs wouldn’t halt felons from voting. This Minnesota Majority report is being used for other political reasons.” He accuses Pawlenty of being “fast and loose” with the facts in his eagerness to smear Franken, and cites Pawlenty’s appearance on Fox to falsely accuse a Minneapolis election official of possible fraud (see November 12, 2008), and his erroneous claim that Franken won the election through the auspices of improperly counted absentee ballots. But regardless of what else happens, Weiner concludes, the issue will resurface in 2014, when Franken’s Republican challenger will resurrect the charges to attack Franken’s legitimacy as a sitting senator. (Weiner 7/19/2010)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey discusses Fox News’s relentless promotion of its own employees for presidential office (see October 26, 2009 and September 27, 2010). Rainey notes that Fox contributors Sarah Palin (R-AK), Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Mike Huckabee (R-TN) are all using their appearances on Fox to groom themselves for the 2012 presidential race, with the apparent blessing and collusion of Fox News. Rainey writes, with some apparent sarcasm, “It’s easy to get news coverage, it turns out, when you work for a news company!” Other Republicans attempting to build momentum for their own 2012 bid, such as Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, are being “shut out” of Fox’s promotional campaign. And other news networks—even C-SPAN—rarely get to interview Palin, Gingrich, Santorum, and Huckabee, as they are all under exclusive contract with Fox and do not appear on competing news providers. Some Republicans are discomfited by this situation, but, Rainey writes, they are “ma[king] their complaints quietly, lest they anger the powers at Fox.” Rainey goes on to note that the story is getting little attention outside political circles, “[b]ecause the information juggernaut built by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, once a GOP attack dog and now head of Fox News, has been tilting the playing field for so long, so persistently, and denying its bias so shamelessly that it’s created an alternate reality.” Rainey notes that Fox parent News Corp’s unprecedented multi-million dollar donations to Republican causes (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010) have drawn relatively little criticism, even as Fox’s supposedly unbiased and nonpartisan news anchors and personalities (not its prime-time opinion makers) “routinely pound away at conservative talking points.” The other news networks spend their time on regular stories, Rainey writes, but Fox News spends so much “straight news” time covering non-existent “scandals” and promoting conservative causes that, in essence, it has created a conservative-friendly “alternate reality” for itself and its ideological colleagues. “One doesn’t even blink with surprise anymore when a Fox opinion program rolls out black-and-white newsreel footage of fascists,” he writes, “and with uniformly straight faces suggest that the Obama administration has America on the brink of a similar calamity.” Rainey rebuts claims that Fox News is merely countering the “shamelessly liberal” viewpoints of CNN and MSNBC. CNN, he writes, “has hewed relentlessly to the he-said-she said reporting imperative of old. The 24-hour news pioneer puts on alternative viewpoints, and not merely as whipping objects for ideological hosts. It’s aired multiple segments dissecting President Obama, his economic policies, and his plans for Afghanistan.” As for MSNBC, while its opinion shows are hosted by liberals, and Rainey believes that in some sense MSNBC may be trying to be a liberal version of Fox, its news broadcasts are relatively non-partisan. (Rainey 9/29/2010)
Billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump, who for weeks has accused President Obama of not being a US citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, and March 23, 2011), releases an “official” copy of his own birth certificate, allowing the conservative news blog NewsMax to post it on its Web site. “It took me one hour to get my birth certificate,” he tells a NewsMax reporter. “It’s inconceivable that, after four years of questioning, the president still hasn’t produced his birth certificate. I’m just asking President Obama to show the public his birth certificate. Why’s he making an issue out of this?… Ronald Reagan, George Bush have produced their birth certificates. Why doesn’t Obama?” However, Trump releases the same kind of “short form” certificate the Obama campaign released three years ago (see June 13, 2008). His, which shows he was born on June 14, 1946 in Jamaica Hospital in Queens, New York, is a “hospital certificate of birth.” The next day, he provides an official “long form” copy of the certificate to ABC News. There are few, if any, discernible differences between the two. Trump issues the second copy along with a statement from his staffer Thuy Colayco, saying: “A ‘birth certificate’ and a ‘certificate of live birth’ are in no way the same thing, even though in some cases they use some of the same words. One officially confirms and records a newborn child’s identity and details of his or her birth, while the other only confirms that someone reported the birth of a child. Also, a ‘certificate of live birth’ is very easy to get because the standards are much lower, while a ‘birth certificate’ is only gotten through a long and detailed process wherein identity must be proved beyond any doubt. If you had only a certificate of live birth, you would not be able to get a proper passport from the Post Office or a driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Therefore, there is very significant difference between a ‘certificate of live birth’ and a ‘birth certificate’ and one should never be confused with the other.” Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), the former governor of Minnesota and a possible 2012 candidate for president, cautions Trump not to get too involved in the “birther” conspiracy theory, telling an MSNBC reporter: “I, for one, do not believe we should be raising that issue. I think President Obama was born in the United States.” (NewsMax 3/28/2011; Falcone 3/29/2011; MacNicol 3/29/2011) The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters points out that Colayco’s statement that a citizen could “not be able to get a proper passport from the Post Office or a driver’s license from the Department of Motor Vehicles” is incorrect. Both Trump and Obama could legitimately get those documents using the “short form” birth certificates as provided by the two. (Media Matters 3/29/2011) Politico’s Ben Smith reports, somewhat facetiously, that if Trump’s personal qualifications are to be scrutinized as thoroughly as Obama’s have been, Trump is no more qualified to serve as president than Obama. “Trump’s mother, it should be noted, was born in Scotland, which is not part of the United States,” Smith writes. “His plane is registered in the Bahamas, also a foreign country. This fact pattern—along with the wave of new questions surrounding what he claims is a birth certificate—raises serious doubts about his eligibility to serve as president of the United States.” (Smith 3/28/2011)
Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for government and public policy at the American Family Association (AFA), says that the government should stop spending any money at all on anti-poverty efforts because such spending encourages African-Americans to “rut like rabbits.” In a blog post on the AFA Web site titled “Poverty has won,” Fischer says welfare and anti-poverty programs have done nothing but led to the destruction of marriage and harmed African-American children. “We have spent over $16 trillion fighting the war on poverty, and it’s time to run up the white flag of surrender,” he writes. “Poverty has won.” In the post, Fischer says that welfare has destroyed the African-American family by providing incentives for fornication instead of marriage. “It’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits,” he writes. “Welfare has destroyed the African-American family by telling young black women that husbands and fathers are unnecessary and obsolete. Welfare has subsidized illegitimacy by offering financial rewards to women who have more children out of wedlock.” In previous statements on the AFA blog and on his talk radio show, Fischer has claimed that WikiLeaks is about nothing more than gays in the military (see December 7, 2010), that President Obama wants to give the entire North American landmass to Native Americans (see December 22, 2010), and the constitutional right to freedom of religion does not apply to Muslims (see March 24, 2011). Fischer has had as guests on his show potential Republican presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Haley Barbour. (Dolan 4/5/2011; Right Wing Watch 4/5/2011) The link that originally went to the “Poverty has won” post subsequently goes to an entirely different post; the post Fischer originally made subsequently seems to have been deleted. (Bryan Fischer 4/5/2011)
Several prospective contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 participate in a debate in Greenville, South Carolina. The debate is presaged by a “Freedom Rally,” co-sponsored by local tea party groups, the local chapter of the far-right, implicitly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), and a far-right militia organization, the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009). The rally features speakers such as Judge Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who lost his job after refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, and Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC). “The change we’ve done in South Carolina can be done across the country,” Haley tells a crowd of some 200 members. “We need to change the person in the White House.” Other speakers talk about issues such as defending traditional marriage and making gold and silver legal tender in South Carolina. The JBS has been considered so extreme that until 2010, mainstream Republicans refused to countenance its involvement in their political events and campaigns (see April 19, 2010). Former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and radio talk show host Herman Cain take part in the debate. Paul and Johnson are libertarians; during the debate, Paul argues for the legalization of heroin, Johnson calls for the legalization of marijuana, and both call for the US to end its military involvement in Afghanistan. (Serrie 5/5/2011; Legum 5/5/2011; Tumulty and Henderson 5/5/2011) Many credit Paul with bringing the JBS back into “favor” with the Republican Party (see July 22, 2007 and August 4, 2008). Fox News host Glenn Beck has also praised the JBS in his broadcasts (see November 9-11, 2010 and After).
Stung by the recent decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US government’s credit rating (see August 5, 2011) and the economic turmoil triggered by that decision in response to Republican-backed debt ceiling legislation (see May 20, 2011), US Republicans begin blaming the Obama administration for the downgrade. After the legislation passed, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his fellow Republicans had gotten “98 percent” of what they wanted from the legislation (see August 1, 2011). Boehner now says, “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quotes the S&P report in making his criticisms of Washington Democrats, failing to note that the S&P report singled out Republicans as responsible for the legislative decisions that led to the downgrade. “This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.” Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) says the downgrade and subsequent stock market plummet “provide further evidence that President Obama’s agenda has been a disaster for our economy.” Mitt Romney (R-MA), the former governor of Massachusetts and a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, says the downgrade is “a deeply troubling indicator of our country’s decline under President Obama.” Longshot GOP candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) says the downgrade is due to the spreading of a “cancerous debt afflicting our nation” and calls for “new leadership in Washington” to address the ongoing crisis. Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) calls Obama “inept.” Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a House Republican who led the “tea party” fight to block the debt ceiling from being raised (and thereby triggering a government debt default—see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011, July 13, 2011, and July 14, 2011), now blames the Obama administration and particularly US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the debacle. Campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination in Des Moines, Iowa, Bachmann says that President Obama should fire Geithner: “The president’s refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the AAA credit rating to the United States of America. The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery.… I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” Bachmann accuses Obama of “destroying the foundations of the US economy one beam at a time.” In robocalls targeting House Democrats, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) pins the blame for the downgrade on House Democrats. One call targeting David Loebsack (D-IA) says: “… Loebsack continues to oppose a [Constitutional] Balanced Budget Amendment that would force Washington to live within its means. Loebsack and his fellow Democrats’ addiction to big government spending has led to a downgrade of America’s credit rating and a dramatic loss in the global markets that could force you to pay more for everyday expenses. While David Loebsack keeps standing in the way of real fiscal reform, middle-class families in Iowa could now see a loss in retirement savings while mortgage rates, car payments, and student loans could become even more expensive.” Democrats respond with criticisms of their own. Tim Kaine (D-VA), a Senate candidate, says that “the continuing resistance of Congressional Republicans to entertain the need for new revenue as part of a reasonable solution is a critical part of the downgrade decision.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) adds, “By refusing to negotiate in good faith, Republicans turned the debt-ceiling debate into a hostage crisis and last night we saw its first casualty.” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt says, “The Republican candidates would have put our economy at great risk by allowing the nation to default on its obligations.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls for a “balanced approach” to future economic decisions, which would include revenue increases such as tax hikes and the closing of tax loopholes for rich corporations as well as spending cuts. (Goldfarb 8/6/2011; Brandimarte and Bases 8/6/2011; National Journal 8/6/2011; Haberman 8/7/2011; Hohmann 8/9/2011)
Former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), now a supporter of Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA), tells a reporter from the liberal news Web site Think Progress that the 2010 Citizens United decision allowing donors to contribute unlimited amounts of money to independent groups supporting individual candidates (see January 21, 2010) is “leveling the playing field” in politics. Reporters Scott Keyes and Travis Waldron call Pawlenty’s comment “a turn of phrase that would give George Orwell satisfaction.” Since the decision, a relatively small number of wealthy corporations and individuals have transformed US politics with their multi-million dollar donations (see January 21-22, 2010, March 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, September 21 - November 1, 2010, September 28, 2010, October 2010, Around October 27, 2010, November 1, 2010, (May 4, 2011), May 5, 2011, July 12, 2011, August 4, 2011, October 27, 2011, October 30, 2011, December 1, 2011, December 19, 2011, January 3, 2012, and January 6, 2012). But Pawlenty seemingly believes that campaign finance laws are still too restrictive, and says he believes that donors should be able to make unlimited donations directly to candidates (see December 21, 2011 and January 10, 2012) instead of making those donations to third-party groups. Pawlenty refuses to say the Citizens United decision will help Romney defeat President Obama in the November general election, and instead says that the decision helps “free speech” (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). Pawlenty continues: “Every time they try to contain speech, it pops up somewhere else. This is just me talking personally, I’m not speaking for Mitt’s position on this. The better position is to allow full and free speech in whatever form, but have instant disclosure.” Keyes asks, “You’re talking completely unlimited donations?” and Pawlenty responds: “We have that now, it’s just a question of where the money gets pushed to the third party groups. This leveling the playing field to some extent because in the past, unions in particular (see June 25, 1943 and June 23, 1947) and other interest groups had an advantage in the old system. Now the playing field’s being leveled a little bit.” He clarifies: “Right now, with super PACs and third party groups, there’s essentially unlimited giving to various aligned super PACs and groups. The point is, the United States Supreme Court has spoken. They have said we’re going to have free speech as it relates to political contributions. The First Amendment should be respected and protected, but I think we should also have full disclosure.” Keyes and Waldron write that billionaire corporate owners such as the Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011) have pledged staggering amounts of money to defeat Obama in the November elections, and conclude, “This massive influx of unregulated campaign spending will almost certainly be the new normal as wealthy individuals and corporations find new ways to influence elections, helped in large part by the now-two year old Citizens United decision.” (Keyes and Waldron 1/21/2012)
Republican candidates and campaign financiers are beginning to advocate for unlimited donations by wealthy contributors directly to presidential campaigns, using language that is remarkably similar to one another, says Think Progress reporter Scott Keyes. While most Americans disagree with letting so much unregulated and unaccountable money into politics (see January 23, 2012), advocates of direct donations apparently believe that current campaign finance laws, even after the Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010), are still too restrictive. Keyes writes, “The language used by different high-ranking Republicans is so similar that it suggests a certain level of message-coordination on the subject.” He notes a recent statement by Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA—see December 21, 2011), a similar statement by former Republican presidential candidate and current Romney supporter Tim Pawlenty (R-MN—see January 21, 2012), and a January 27 statement by Republican financier Fred Malek (see Mid-October 2010), who told him, “I would favor unlimited contributions to candidates with full disclosure.” Keyes writes that although Romney, Pawlenty, and Malek couple their calls for direct donations with calls for disclosure and transparency, Republicans have consistently voted against measures that would actually bring transparency to campaign finance (see July 26-27, 2010). (Keyes 1/31/2012) The Republican National Committee (RNC) has a lawsuit pending that would legalize unlimited donations directly to candidates (see January 10, 2012).
Almost a quarter of the millions donated to super PACs so far during the campaign season comes from just five donors, a USA Today analysis shows. Super PACs are political organizations that exist to influence elections, which take unlimited amounts of outside money from donors, including individuals, unions, and corporations, and pool that money to advocate for or against a candidate (see March 26, 2010). By law, super PACs are supposed to operate independently of a candidate’s official campaign organization. In August 2011, a USA Today analysis showed that a dozen wealthy individuals and corporations contributed over half of the money given to super PACs (see August 4, 2011). Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has called the influence of the supposedly independent organizations corrosively corrupting and extraordinarily dangerous, and correctly predicted that their influence would increase as the campaign season wears on (see January 3, 2012). Four of those donors are:
Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons, who financed the 2004 “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign that vilified presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), has given $12 million to the Republican super PAC “American Crossroads” and $2.2 million to super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates;
Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife Miriam has given $10 million to “Winning the Future,” the super PAC supporting Republican candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see December 19, 2011 and January 6, 2012), and who says he is willing to donate up to $100 million more to keep Gingrich in the race (see February 21, 2012);
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who has given $2.6 million to “Endorse Liberty,” a super PAC backing Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his presidential campaign;
Houston real estate developer Bob Perry, who has given $3.6 million to super PACs, including $2.5 million to American Crossroads. Perry formerly backed Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) in the presidential primaries, but has now shifted his allegiance to frontrunner Mitt Romney (R-MA).
Republican organizations have vastly outraised their Democratic counterparts, though so far much of the money spent by Republican organizations has been to attack Republican presidential candidates during the primary campaigns. Indeed, some political observers say that Romney would have secured the nomination long ago if not for the billionaires supporting other Republican candidates. “Without the flow of super PAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says campaign finance expert Anthony Corrado. “Super PACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agenda.” Political scientist Cal Jillson says of the billionaires contributing these huge sums: “They are extremely wealthy people who put their resources behind their vision of the appropriate relationship between the government and the private sector. That vision is low taxes, small government, and personal responsibility.” The super PAC working on behalf of President Obama, “Priorities USA,” collected $2 million in late 2011 from Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, but since then has raised relatively paltry amounts in comparison to its Republican counterparts. It raised a mere $59,000 in January 2012, most of that made up of a $50,000 contribution from John Rogers, CEO of Arial Investments and a close friend of Obama. (Schouten, Korte, and Schnaars 2/21/2012) The USA Today analysis is congruent with a recent analysis by Robert Reich, the former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton (see February 21, 2012).
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. (Walshe 6/20/2012; Rucker 6/20/2012; Israel 6/21/2012)
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