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One hundred and thirty-three ballots, stored in a single envelope, are missing from the warehouse containing the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Minnesota during the November elections. The ballots are part of a statewide recount (see November 19, 2008) to determine the winner of the US Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN—see November 4-5, 2008). Minneapolis officials are diligently searching for the missing ballots, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak (D-MN). The recounts are supposed to be finished today, but Minneapolis has been granted an extension to find the ballots. Franken’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, issues the following statement: “Find the ballots.… The outcome of this election might be at stake.” The Coleman campaign is alleging ballot tampering. “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are,” says Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak. He goes on to say that because Rybak, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and many Minneapolis city officials are Democrats, there could be some kind of orchestrated effort to suppress votes to favor Franken. However, “It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue,” he adds. Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert says there is no evidence of any sort of “foul play” concerning the missing ballots (see November 12, 2008). Official recount tallies show Coleman with a 205-vote lead, but this number is not current and Franken is expected to gain votes, especially if the missing ballots are found and tallied. The missing ballots are from a precinct largely populated by college students, considered a group that generally favors Franken. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/5/2008] Four days later, Minneapolis declares the ballots to be irretrievably missing, ending the state’s counting of ballots and moving the recount process into the next phase—canvassing the results and considering ballots challenged by the two campaigns. Ritchie says that the canvassed and audited election-night results from the precinct can be counted in lieu of the missing ballots, though it takes four more days for the Canvassing Board to come to the same conclusion. Counting the ballots adds 36 (later reported as 46) to Franken’s total. Coleman’s campaign says that there may be other reasons for the ballot issue, with a spokesman saying, “We would hope further review of these other scenarios will be conducted, rather than just accepting the political spin of the Franken campaign.” The Coleman campaign is also protesting some counties’ decision to review initially rejected absentee ballots. Franken is expected to gain votes if the absentee ballots in question are counted. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/9/2008; TPM Election Central, 12/12/2008]
The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejects a lawsuit by Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN), who argued that absentee ballots should not be counted in the vote tallies that are giving his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), an edge in the recount for the Senate seat both are vying for (see November 4-5, 2008). The Coleman campaign, alleging that many of the votes were counted twice, has asked that vote tallies in 25 selected precincts should be reverted to their Election Night totals, which would blot out Franken’s lead in the vote count. The Minnesota high court rules that a question such as this should be reserved for post-recount proceedings, and says that the Coleman campaign’s theory of double-counted ballots is not supported by evidence. Currently, Franken leads by a narrow 47-vote margin. According to press reports, the lawsuit was Coleman’s last, best shot at winning the seat; with the high court’s decision, a Franken victory is “nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.” Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the decision “virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest,” indicating that the Coleman campaign is not yet ready to concede defeat and may well be planning further litigation. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that one senator will be seated on January 6th,” Knaak says. Franken campaign spokesperson Andy Barr says: “We win in Supreme Court. The process can move forward despite attempts to halt its progress and cast doubt on the result.” [TPM Election Central, 12/24/2008; MPR News, 12/24/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/24/2008]
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. [Bloomberg, 1/5/2009; Associated Press, 1/6/2009; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 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. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 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. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009] Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).
Entity Tags: Dean Barkley, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Minnesota Supreme Court, Tony Trimble, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Elias
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7/2009]
Amy Kremer, a former flight attendant who will go on to found the Atlanta Tea Party and become the chair of the Tea Party Express, writes of her extreme disgust with the certification of Barack Obama as president (see January 20-21, 2009). Kremer has previously expressed her conviction that Obama is not an American citizen (see October 2008). She writes: “I have lost all hope on this issue of OBami’s eligibility to be president of the United States. I am totally disillusioned after sitting and watching Congress certify the Electoral College vote on CSPAN without one objection.” [Politico, 2010; Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 10/19/2010]
Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]
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. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 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. [MinnPost, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009]
The lawsuit filed by former Senator Norm Coleman to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) is scheduled to begin on January 26. A three-judge panel will consider Coleman’s case and whether to reverse the findings of the state Canvassing Board, which declared Franken the winner (see January 5, 2009). [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/16/2009]
President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office as administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. His wife Michelle holds the Bible used to administer the oath, which will be redone the second day because of a minor error in Roberts’s delivery. [Source: Access Hollywood]Barack Obama (D-IL) is officially inaugurated as president of the United States. He is the 44th US president. He was elected on November 4, 2008 (see November 4, 2008), and then went through a short transition period. [Washington Times, 1/20/2009] Obama is forced to retake the oath of office after Chief Justice John Roberts errs in delivering it during the inaugural ceremonies. Roberts administers the “second” oath in the White House’s map room; Roberts asks Obama if he is ready and Obama says, “I am, and we’re going to do it very slowly.” Roberts initially said the word “faithfully” out of order, prompting some conservative bloggers and reporters to claim that Obama’s presidency is illegitimate. White House counsel Greg Craig says: “We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time.” The oath properly reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” [CNN, 1/21/2009] Obama takes the first oath on a Bible that belonged to former President Abraham Lincoln, on loan from the Library of Congress. The second oath is taken without a Bible, which is allowed under the Constitution but will lead to further criticism from Obama opponents. [St. Petersburg Times, 1/22/2009]
Prime Minister of Iceland Geir Haarde calls a general election for the spring, two years early. The decision to have early elections is triggered by the global financial crisis, which has hit Iceland particularly badly. Haarde adds that he will not stand again because he has throat cancer. Two days previously, protesters angry at the economic crisis had surrounded his car, banging on its windows and pelting it with eggs. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
The lawsuit filed by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) begins badly for Coleman, with the three-judge panel stopping Coleman’s lawyers from reading off the names, counties, and categories from some 5,500 rejected absentee ballots that they say were improperly rejected. The copies of ballot envelopes the Coleman campaign wanted to admit into evidence weren’t clear enough to be considered proper evidence, the panel rules. Many of the copies were of poor quality and had markings and notes from Coleman campaign officials written on them. Judge Denise Reilly asks one witness, “If I look at these exhibits, how do I know what was put on there by the voter… or the election judge or someone else?” If the Coleman campaign wants to enter the ballots into evidence, it will have to secure the originals from 87 counties, a difficult task. The ruling leaves Coleman’s lawyers at ends for the remainder of the day, with one lawyer saying the team had no plans to go forward without the facsimiles being admitted into evidence. The rejected absentee ballots are a critical element of the Coleman case, which states that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly rejected or were considered with stricter standards than ballots that were counted. One hundred and seventy-six votes out of Franken’s 225-vote margin of victory came from recounted absentee ballots, and the Coleman campaign wants more absentee ballots counted, contending that the rejected ballots would give Coleman the victory. Franken’s attorneys say Coleman is merely fishing for votes, and producing arbitrary reasons to get more ballots into the count. Coleman’s lawyers also contend that some ballots, mostly for Franken, were “double-counted,” and cite results from the town of Eagan as “proof.” Eagan election officials say they have gone through their ballot counts and have found no evidence of any double-counting. Eagan City Clerk Maria Petersen says: “We’re confident, based on the information available to us, that no votes were counted twice. They were counted only once.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/26/2009]
Four far-right “nativists” speak against immigration at a presentation that takes place at Washington’s National Press Club, in an event sponsored by a group called American Cause. The four include Marcus Epstein, the head of American Cause; Bay Buchanan, the sister of MSNBC contributor and American Cause founder Pat Buchanan, and the head of an anti-immigrant political action committee, Team America PAC; Fox News contributor James Pinkerton; and Peter Brimelow, an outspoken white supremacist who founded the racist VDare.com. Epstein is a young activist with ties to racist and white supremacist groups (see October 8, 2007). The presentation is, according to a press release, about “how immigration control is vital to future Republican success.” The release states, “Despite media reports to the contrary, every defeated GOP Congressional candidate supported amnesty or open border policies for illegal aliens—or had Democratic contenders who took tough stands on illegal immigration, according to a new study to be released at a symposium next Thursday.” The study is an American Cause production written by Epstein entitled “Immigration and the 2008 Republican Defeat,” and is, the release says, “a detailed analysis of every single Republican seat lost in the 2008 House race, that shows in virtually every race the Republican supported amnesty or the Democrat supported tough border security.” The release accuses Republicans of “pandering” to Hispanics to secure their votes, without success; argues that Hispanics care little about immigration issues; claims that “[w]hatever gains, if any, pandering to Hispanics gives is greatly outweighed by loss of the White vote, which is more important”; says recent “[d]emographic changes made by mass immigration have been disastrous to Republicans and fatal if not halted”; and says that when Republicans take strong stands for increased border security, “national sovereignty, and immigration control,” they win elections. [The American Cause, 1/30/2009; New York Times, 1/31/2009] The New York Times will call the claims about immigration stances affecting Republican success at the polls “nonsense,” and will state, “In House and Senate races in 2008 and 2006, ‘anti-amnesty’ hard-liners consistently lost to candidates who proposed comprehensive reform solutions” (see January 31, 2009). [New York Times, 1/31/2009] A blog hosted by the pro-immigration American Immigration Council (AIC) will claim that the turnout for the presentation is “scant,” and will observe that the poor turnout “is a hopeful sign that this type of intolerant, out-of-touch rhetoric is no longer mainstream and that the real leaders of the GOP have learned a hard lesson—that alienating and demonizing the largest growing segment of the American electorate is not a winning campaign strategy—and are looking for a new way forward.” [Wendy Sefsaf, 1/30/2009]
Dale Robertson, the leader of TeaParty.org, displays a handmade sign with a racial slur. Mediaite, the source of this photo, later blocked out a portion of the offending word. Robertson’s sign itself is not blocked out. [Source: Mediaite]Tea party activist Dale Robertson, who leads TeaParty.org, displays a sign at a “Liberty Concert” tea party rally in Houston that many critics will condemn for being openly racist. The sign reads, “Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = N_ggar.” Josh Parker of the Houston Tea Party Society later claims that Robertson is asked to leave the event because of the sign. Robertson, one of the organizers of the event, told tea party activists via ResistNet that the rally is the first of a series of events “designed to be the key to create a model for our Nation to Take Back America. The Tea Party does not intend to waste their time simply rallying. The Plan is to optimize the events, they will be fun and Citizens will be asked to run for office, with the focus of Restoring America, and thus, putting it on the Conservative track.” According to Robertson’s email, he and his organization intend to run thousands of tea party-affiliated candidates in the 2010 elections, either as third-party candidates or as Republicans. In 2010, Mediaite reporter Tommy Christopher will observe: “I happen to be friends with a lot of conservatives, including many involved in the tea party movement, and while I disagree with them, I don’t think for a second that Robertson speaks for them, or for most tea partiers. The problem is that, after over a year of protests, the movement has still not succeeded in expelling this element.” [Washington Independent, 1/4/2010; Mediaite, 3/26/2010] Robertson later claims the photograph of the sign was doctored, and will say that the sign actually read, “Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Slave.” Mediaite Photoshop expert Philip Bump will say that there is no evidence showing that the photograph was tampered with or altered. Robertson will promise to provide a picture of the “actual” sign, but will fail to do so. He will blame high-ranking members of the Republican Party for attempting to besmirch his character and reputation. [Mediaite, 3/31/2010]
The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Scott Nelson, US Supreme Court, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Barbara Olson, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Kennedy, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Gregg P. Leslie, Nick Nyhart, Edwin Kneedler, David Souter, Federal Election Commission, James Bopp, Jr, John Paul Stevens, David Bossie, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Malcolm Stewart
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The New York Times, in an unsigned editorial, warns of the possible ramifications of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was argued on March 15, eight days before the Web publication date of the editorial (see March 15, 2009) and nine days before the editorial is published in print; it is unclear in retrospect why the editorial is written as if the arguments have not yet taken place, or whether the dates of the published version are accurate. The Times sums up the case—a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United (CU), planned to air a 90-minute film that was highly critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the days before 2008 presidential primary elections, in violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or “McCain-Feingold”—see March 27, 2002) that bans “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election. CU was aware of the law, and filed a suit claiming that the law unconstitutionally violated its First Amendment rights. “The Supreme Court should affirm that ruling,” the Times states. The CU briefs “mak[e] a wide array of claims,” the “most dangerous” of which is a request to overturn the 1990 Austin Court decision (see March 27, 1990) that banned corporations from using monies from their general treasuries. The Times states: “If Citizens United prevails, it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 3/23/2009]
The image used by San Mateo tea partiers to promote their upcoming anti-tax, pro-Ron Paul event. [Source: Contra Costa Times]Ron Nehring, the chairman of the San Mateo, California, Republican Party asks local tea party organizers not to use what Nehring calls anti-Semitic graphics to advertise their upcoming events. A graphic on a Web site asking for tea party members to attend an anti-tax rally depicts a bucket of money being poured into a funnel with a Star of David on it, which in turn drips blood into a bottle where a person holding a Palestinian flag is seen drowning in blood. The text reads: “Uncle Sam Reminds You: KEEP PAYING TAXES. The ongoing extermination of Palestinian Children Can’t be Done Without Your Help.” The tea party organization is affiliated with the presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). Nehring writes: “The taxpayer movement is incredibly important for California, and we applaud the success of the tea parties that took place across the state on April 15. Because we remain intensely interested in the growth and success of the mainstream taxpayer movement, we strongly condemn the use of anti-Semitic imagery in the promotion of the recent event in San Mateo County.” [Contra Costa Times, 4/20/2009; Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 10/19/2010] The organizing group responds by taking its Meetup.com page private, thus denying access to non-members. Group leader Kathy McGrade writes to the Contra Costa Times that the organization has no direct affiliation to Paul, nor does it control the content on its Meetup pages. She accuses Nehring of enlarging the image to “read the fine print, something I had not done,” and says, “In retrospect I may have chosen a different graphic had I first scrutinized it more carefully.” McGrade then says the image is merely “provocative” and not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, and attacks Nehring for calling the image posters “fringe” members of the tea party movement. Nehring, she writes, has launched “an unjustified smear of Dr. Paul and the people who support him.” [Contra Costa Times, 4/22/2009]
A three-judge panel rules that Al Franken (D-MN) is the legitimate winner of Minnesota’s hotly contested US senate seat (see November 4-5, 2008), ruling against Franken’s opponent, former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 26, 2009). Ironically, when the judges reviewed the ballots under consideration, Franken was awarded almost 100 more votes, setting his margin of victory at 312 votes. Coleman says he will appeal the decision, which will continue to block Franken from taking his seat in the Senate. [Associated Press, 4/14/2009]
Al Franken (D-MN), who won the recount to become the junior US senator from Minnesota but who has been blocked from taking his seat by a legal challenge filed by his opponent, Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 5, 2009 and January 7, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to expedite Coleman’s legal challenge to the recount. Coleman is appealing the recent decision by a lower court to uphold the recount findings and declare Franken the winner of the race (see April 13, 2009). Franken won the recount by 312 votes. Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug says in a court filing, “Because of the important public policy concern of ensuring that the interests of the citizens of Minnesota are properly represented in Congress, this appeal should be expedited.” Lillehaug is echoing concerns made by Franken and his campaign that Minnesota is suffering by having only one, and not two, sitting US senators. Coleman’s campaign says through a spokesperson that it will comply with a Supreme Court ruling; Coleman himself has said he wishes the process to move as quickly as possible. Franken wants oral arguments before the Minnesota high court to begin in early May, but Coleman’s lawyer James Langdon says those arguments probably will not begin until late May or early June. Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), has begun a “Give It Up, Norm” campaign prodding Coleman to concede the election. DFL official Brian Melendez says of Coleman, “If he fights this through to its bitter conclusion, he’ll be not only a sore loser but a permanent loser.” Minnesota Republican Party spokesperson Gina Countryman says, “The number that matters in this whole scenario is the number of voters that remain disenfranchised,” continuing Coleman’s argument that if the ballots were properly counted, he would have won the recount. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009]
Malalai Joya. [Source: Getty]In a series of editorials and interviews, Afghan MP Malalai Joya declares that the upcoming presidential election polls in Afghanistan are illegitimate and have been determined in advance in favor of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai by the United States in cooperation with a group of powerful allied warlords and former Mujaheddin. “Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption, and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House,” Joya writes in a Guardian editorial. [Guardian, 7/25/2009] She echoes this in a later interview in London with the Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Even the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan will not change anything because the next president will be chosen behind the closed doors of the Pentagon.” [Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/3/2009]
Karzai a 'Shameless Puppet' of Afghan Warlords, Coalition Occupiers - In an interview with Johann Hari in The Independent, Joya rails against the current government of Hamid Karzai, the US and NATO occupation, and the mafia-ridden warlordism that dominates Afghan social and political life. She asserts that Karzai keeps power only as “a shameless puppet” of both the Afghan warlords and the occupying powers, thus guaranteeing him victory in the August elections due to his fealty to these powers. “He hasn’t yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords.… At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country,” she says. “Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.” [Independent, 7/28/2009] Joya also slams the recent western troop surge as a farce masquerading as support for democratic elections. In the progressive Internet magazine ZNet, she writes: “We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election—we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia, and occupation.” [ZNet, 5/16/2009]
Suspended from Assembly, in Hiding from Assassins - Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in September 2005 as a representative of Farah province, but was suspended from the parliament in 2007 for publicly denouncing fellow members as drug smugglers, warlords, and war criminals. Her suspension sparked international condemnation and is currently under appeal. Joya, a champion of women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan, lives in hiding and has survived at least four assassination attempts. [Human Rights Watch, 5/23/2007; Democracy Now!, 6/19/2007]
James von Brunn. [Source: UPI / TPM Muckraker]James von Brunn, an 88-year-old man with a long history of violence and anti-Semitism, opens fire inside Washington’s Holocaust Museum. Von Brunn kills a security guard, Stephen T. Johns, before being brought down by fire from other security guards. Von Brunn is hospitalized in critical condition. Von Brunn brought a .22 rifle into the museum and began shooting almost immediately upon entering the building. [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009; New York Daily News, 6/11/2009] The New York Daily News identifies von Brunn as a “neo-Nazi.” [New York Daily News, 6/11/2009]
Targeting Jewish White House Official - Von Brunn has a list of nine locations in his car, including the White House, the US Capitol, and media outlets such as Fox News and the Washington Post. [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009] A note in a notebook found in the car reads: “You want my weapons, this is how you’ll get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.” In September 2010, the press will learn that von Brunn intended to kill President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod, a Jew. Von Brunn did not believe he could get to Obama, authorities will later confirm, but he had the “motive, means, and intent” to kill Axelrod, one of Obama’s closest aides. Axelrod will be given special Secret Service protection. [Guardian, 6/11/2009; Time, 9/30/2010; TPM Muckraker, 9/30/2010]
Shock, Sadness Mark Reactions - Within hours, President Obama and a number of political and cultural organizations will express their shock and sorrow over the shooting (see June 10-11, 2009).
Long History of Violence, White Supremacist Ties, and Anti-Semitism - Von Brunn maintains a Web site, “holywesternempire.org,” described by reporters as “racist [and] anti-Semitic,” and is the author of a book, Kill the Best Gentiles, which alleges a Jewish “conspiracy to destroy the white gene pool.” Von Brunn served six years in prison for a 1981 attempt to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board. (On his Web site, he complained of being convicted by a “Jew/Negro” conspiracy of lawyers and judicial officials.) His Web site alleges that the Holocaust is a hoax, and calls Nazi Germany the “cultural gem of the West.” The FBI is investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime or a case of domestic terrorism. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists von Brunn’s Web site as a hate site. [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009; NBC New York, 6/11/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009] “We’ve been tracking this guy for decades,” says SPLC official Heidi Beirich. “He thinks the Jews control the Federal Reserve, the banking system, that basically all Jews are evil.” [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] Von Brunn’s son, Erik von Brunn, says his father’s virulent racism and anti-Semitism has blighted their family for years. In a statement, he writes: “For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice. His actions have undermined your ‘movement,’ and strengthened the resistance against your cause. He should not be remembered as a brave man or a hero, but a coward unable to come to grips with the fact he threw his and his families lives away for an ideology that fostered sadness and anguish.” [Washington Post, 6/14/2009] Further investigation turns up evidence that Von Brunn has connections to white supremacist organizations and anti-government groups. In 2004, von Brunn stayed for four days in Hayden, Idaho, with Stan Hess, then the representative for white supremacist David Duke’s European rights group. Hess recalls von Brunn as being “very angry about society and the Jewish influence at the Federal Reserve.” Von Brunn, Hess says, alluded to violence but never spoke specifically about a target. [NBC New York, 6/11/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009] FBI investigators find a painting of Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ standing together in von Brunn’s home. They also find more firearms, and child pornography on his computer. [MyFoxDC, 6/17/2009; Washington Post, 6/19/2009] Von Brunn also has ties to the far-right, white supremacist British National Party, and had attended meetings of the American Friends of the British National Party. [Guardian, 6/11/2009]
Eradicating Evidence of Support - Within hours of the murder, Web sites featuring von Brunn’s work begin removing his material from their pages; some of those sites are operated by organizations whose members had praised and supported von Brunn’s white supremacist and anti-Obama statements (see June 10-11, 2009).
Connections to Anti-Obama 'Birther' Movement - Von Brunn has also written about his belief that Obama is at the heart of a conspiracy to cover up his Kenyan citizenship (see October 8-10, 2008). Reporter Ben Smith writes, “The penetration of the birther mythology into the violent fringe has to be a worry for the Secret Service, because at it’s heart, it’s about denying Obama’s legitimacy to hold the office of president.” [Politico, 6/10/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009]
Indicted for Murder, Dies before Trial - Von Brunn will be indicted for first-degree murder in the death of Johns. [Washington Post, 7/29/2009] However, he will die in prison before his trial can commence. [BBC, 1/6/2010]
Entity Tags: British National Party, David Axelrod, James von Brunn, Heidi Beirich, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Barack Obama, Erik von Brunn, US Holocaust Museum, American Friends of the British National Party, Southern Poverty Law Center, Stephen T. Johns, Stan Hess, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
In an 8-1 decision, the US Supreme Court refuses to rule against one of the main components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Many conservatives had seen the case as an opportunity for the Court conservatives to either drastically narrow or entirely gut the VRA, and were hopeful of that outcome in light of a recent Court decision narrowing the VRA’s effect on districting (see March 9, 2009). Instead, the Court chooses not to rule on the central tenet of the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, which is that the VRA is largely unconstitutional. The case was brought by a Texas utility district that claimed in arguments that the VRA was unconstitutional and unnecessary in a time when the nation has elected a black president. The plaintiff argued that districts and other governmental entities should be allowed to “bail out” from being covered by the VRA. [New York Times, 6/22/2009; New York Times, 6/22/2009] Many observers were concerned that the conservative wing of the Court would use the case to overturn large portions of the VRA, especially in earlier questioning, when Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio. The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.… No one questions the validity, the urgency, the essentiality of the Voting Rights Act. The question is whether or not it should be continued with this differentiation between the states. And that is for Congress to show.” [New York Times, 4/29/2009] Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, says that the Court should avoid tackling large constitutional questions when it can. “We are now a very different nation” than the one that first passed the Voting Rights Act, he writes. “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today.” Roberts’s opinion says that “a broader reading” of the VRA’s bailout provision should be implemented. Moreover, he writes, the federal oversight of states and areas with a history of discrimination may have served its purpose and may need to be phased out, a position supported by the lone dissenter, Justice Clarence Thomas, who writes that the oversight provision of Section 5 of the VRA should be overturned entirely. It is possible that others will take advantage of the Court’s hesitation to file other “opt out” or “bailout” challenges to the VRA. Some legal experts found the basis of the case to be lacking. Ellen Katz, a law professor at the University of Michigan, calls the Court’s ruling “improbable,” and Richard Hasen of Loyola Law School says “virtually no lawyer” sees the Court’s interpretation as reasonable. NAACP lawyer Debo P. Adegbile says that regardless of questions surrounding the Court’s verdict, the ruling is one to celebrate: “This case was brought to tear the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, and today that effort failed.” [New York Times, 6/22/2009]
Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on. [Source: Jeffrey Thompson / Getty Images / Zimbio]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.” [Politico, 6/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Politico, Larry Jacobs, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al Franken, Minnesota Republican Party, Minnesota Supreme Court, Robert C. Byrd, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Paul Topete of Poker Face. [Source: AmericanFreePress (.net)]A thousand people attend a “tea party” rally in Washington, DC. Speakers include members from a number of anti-tax “reform” groups, the lobbying organization and tea party sponsor FreedomWorks (see April 8, 2009 and April 14, 2009), and a number of radio talk show hosts. A rock band, Poker Face, provides entertainment and technical support. Poker Face’s lead singer, Paul Topete, has publicly called the Holocaust a “hoax” and has written for Holocaust-denial publications. Poker Face was refused permission to play at a Rutgers University event in 2006 and a Ron Paul (R-TX) campaign event in 2007 because of the band’s open bigotry and anti-Semitism. However, as the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights’s Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind will later note, “they made it to the stage of the tea party without any questions asked.” [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 10/19/2010]
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
The press learns that in the final months of the 2008 presidential campaign, the McCain-Palin campaign investigated claims that then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) may not be a legitimate US citizen. The campaign investigation was spurred by reports of a court filing in Pennsylvania (see August 21-24, 2008). A lawyer contacted by the McCain-Palin campaign called the court filing “idiotic,” but the filing prompted the campaign to do some investigating of its own. Trevor Potter, a Washington attorney who served as general counsel to the 2008 McCain campaign, recalls: “We monitored the progress of these lawsuits against the Obama campaign. The McCain campaign faced a series of lawsuits like this, too, alleging that he could not be president because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Both campaigns took the position that these plaintiffs lacked standing.” Potter and other McCain legal experts quickly ruled out any chance of those lawsuits holding up in court. They also investigated the claims underlying the lawsuits. “To the extent that we could, we looked into the substantive side of these allegations,” Potter recalls. “We never saw any evidence that then-Senator Obama had been born outside of the United States. We saw rumors, but nothing that could be sourced to evidence. There were no statements and no documents that suggested he was born somewhere else. On the other side, there was proof that he was born in Hawaii. There was a certificate issued by the state’s Department of Health (see June 13, 2008), and the responsible official in the state saying that he had personally seen the original certificate (see October 30, 2008 and July 28, 2009). There was a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser, which would be very difficult to invent or plant 47 years in advance” (see July 2008). [Washington Independent, 7/24/2009] McCain’s own citizenship has also been unsuccessfully challenged in court (see March 14 - July 24, 2008).
Gregg Jarrett, guest host of Fox News’s “straight news” broadcast The Live Desk (see October 13, 2009), tells viewers that the Obama Justice Department “thinks it’s okay to intimidate white people, not okay to intimidate black people at the polls.” Jarrett and others are discussing the Justice Department’s decision to dismiss a case against the New Black Panthers, who had been accused of intimidating white voters during the November 2008 elections. Jarrett interviews Washington Times editor John Solomon, whose paper implied, without proof, that the decision to drop the case may have come from “senior elected or politically appointed” White House officials and not from career prosecutors who felt the case lacked merit, as the Justice Department says. Solomon says that during the Bush administration, Congressional Democrats “very strongly raised questions about the politicization of the Justice Department—political people, or career people answering to political people, overruling the front lines of the Justice Department, and this fits that debate right now in the Justice Department. And I think Congress, the Republicans and some Democrats, are asking questions now about whether career people got their say here and whether they were really listened to, or whether some other agenda had been carried out.” Jarrett then notes: “Well, the other message may be that this is a Department of Justice who thinks it’s okay to intimidate white people, not okay to intimidate black people at the polls. That could be one conclusion that people may reach here by their decision.” [Media Matters, 7/30/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai attempts to cut a secret deal with one of his presidential election rivals in a bid to knock his strongest challenger from the race, to ensure a clear victory and, ostensibly, the minimization of sectarian violence a tight result might provoke in the hyper-armed country. In the proposed deal, Karzai asks former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani, a candidate currently running third in the polls, to give up his election bid in exchange for a job as “chief executive”—a post described as similar to prime minister—in a Karzai government. Such an agreement would likely unite the Pashtun vote and knock Karzai’s main contender, Abdullah Abdullah, out of the race. Karzai’s offer will be confirmed by several sources, including Ghani himself, and may have backing from top US officials. “If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as president and Ghani as chief executive,” one campaign official will tell The Independent. During the election campaign, Karzai has made deals with tribal leaders and various warlords, promising them positions and patronage in exchange for the votes they control. The Independent cites international officials who believe that as many as 20 cabinet positions have already been pledged.
Karzai's Offer Confirmed - President Karzai’s brother, Qayum Karzai, is the first to approach Ghani with the proposal according to sources close to Karzai’s inner circle. Karzai presents Ghani with the argument that Ghani can’t win the election anyway, and even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to hold on to power. Ghani’s staff will also confirm that Karzai emissaries make an offer, but they say that Ghani has no plans to pull out of the race and will continue his campaign. Ghani himself will later confirm Karzai’s overture. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” he will tell reporters in the province of Faryab (see August 8, 2009).
Top US Diplomats Holbrooke and Eikenberry Back the Proposal - Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Ghani, according to the Independent report. “It makes sense,” a policy analyst with close links to the US administration says. “Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win.” Furthermore, The Independent notes that the idea of a chief executive was originally devised in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat, a profile that certainly fits Ghani. The Washington Post will later report that according to Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, US officials back the idea of a new chief executive position under Karzai. The Post also reports that US officials have discussed the “chief executive” proposal with Ghani. US embassy officials, however, deny any involvement in back-room deals. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Washington Post, 8/14/2009]
Threats of Post-Election Armed Protests, Civil War - Analysts and journalists suggest that Afghanistan’s coming elections threaten to split the country along ethnic and sectarian lines, possibly igniting a civil war reminiscent of the 1990s (see March 13, 1994). “The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy,” one Afghan analyst says. Anticipating fraudulent results, Abdullah’s campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations if Karzai wins. Abdullah’s supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but “with Kalashnikovs,” should Karzai win a second term. [Independent, 8/7/2009; Reuters, 8/8/2009]
Ashraf Ghani, one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s main presidential election rivals, denies that he has agreed to withdraw from the August 20 election in exchange for a top position in a future Karzai government. Karzai proposed the back-room offer to Ghani in late July (see Late July 2009) in the hope of securing victory over leading contender Abdullah Abdullah. In the proposed deal, Karzai offered Ghani a job as “chief executive” in his (future) government if he would agree to drop out of the race. “I’ve been approached repeatedly, the offer is on the table. I have not accepted it. The issue is the extent of crisis. We are in a very difficult moment in our history,” Ghani tells reporters in Faryab province. However, it appears that Ghani, a former finance minister under Karzai, is holding out for a better deal. Suggesting that he is not ruling out a return to government if allowed to implement his plans, he says, “There would have to be very very firm commitments, time-bound set of activities, full embracement of the program that I’ve articulated for the next 10 years.” [Reuters, 8/8/2009]
The second round of arguments in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case (see January 10-16, 2008, March 24, 2008, March 15, 2009, and June 29, 2009) is heard by the US Supreme Court. The first round of arguments, which unexpectedly focused on an unplanned examination of government censorship, ended in a 5-4 split, with the majority of conservative justices readying a decision to essentially gut the entire body of federal campaign finance law in the name of the First Amendment (see March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), but an angry dissent by Justice David Souter that accused Chief Justice John Roberts of failing to follow the procedures of the Court in rendering the opinion prompted Roberts to temporarily withdraw the opinion and offer a rare second argument (see May 14, 2012). Newly appointed Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues her first case before the Court. Citizens United, the plaintiff, is represented by former Bush administration Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Olson, a veteran of Court arguments, quickly discerns from the new round of “Questions Presented” that the Court is prepared to not only find in the plaintiff’s favor, but to use the case to render a broad verdict against campaign finance law as a whole. Olson argues cautiously, not wanting to extend the case farther than the Court may desire. The four minority liberal justices, knowing the case is lost, try their best in their questioning to raise awareness in the public once news reports of the arguments are made public. One of those justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, asks: “Mr. Olson, are you taking the position that there is no difference” between the First Amendment rights of a corporation and those of an individual? “A corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights. So is there any distinction that Congress could draw between corporations and natural human beings for purposes of campaign finance?” Olson replies, “What the Court has said in the First Amendment context… over and over again is that corporations are persons entitled to protection under the First Amendment” (see January 30, 1976, April 26, 1978, June 25, 2007, and June 26, 2008). Ginsburg follows up by asking, “Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?” Olson replies, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.” Kagan then takes her turn, and begins: “Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, I have three very quick points to make about the government position. The first is that this issue has a long history. For over a hundred years, Congress has made a judgment that corporations must be subject to special rules when they participate in elections, and this Court has never questioned that judgment.” She begins to make her second point before Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the conservative majority, interrupts her. In 2012, author and reporter Jeffrey Toobin will write that Kagan almost certainly knows hers is a legal “suicide mission,” and can only hope that her arguments may sway the Court to narrow its decision and leave some of the existing body of campaign finance law intact. She tells Roberts later in the questioning period, “Mr. Chief Justice, as to whether the government has a preference as to the way in which it loses, if it has to lose, the answer is yes.” Justice John Paul Stevens, the most senior of the liberal minority, attempts to assist Kagan in making her argument, suggesting that the Court should content itself with a narrow ruling, perhaps creating an exception in the McCain-Feingold law (see March 27, 2002) for the plaintiff’s documentary (see January 10-16, 2008) or for “ads that are financed exclusively by individuals even though they are sponsored by a corporation.” Kagan agrees with Stevens’s proposal. Stevens then says: “Nobody has explained why that wouldn’t be a proper solution, not nearly as drastic. Why is that not the wisest narrow solution of the problem before us?” Kagan, with help from Ginsburg, undoes some of the damage done by Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart during the first argument, where he inadvertently gave the conservative justices the “censorship” argument by which they could justify a broader verdict. Ginsburg asks: “May I ask you one question that was highlighted in the prior argument, and that was if Congress could say no TV and radio ads, could it also say no newspaper ads, no campaign biographies? Last time, the answer was yes, Congress could, but it didn’t. Is that still the government’s answer?” Kagan replies: “The government’s answer has changed, Justice Ginsburg. We took the Court’s own reaction to some of those other hypotheticals very seriously. We went back, we considered the matter carefully.” Unlike Stewart, Kagan specifically says that the government cannot ban books. But the censorship argument remains. After the arguments, the justices render the same verdict: a 5-4 split favoring Citizens United. Roberts, Scalia, and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas vote in the majority, while Ginsburg, Stevens, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor vote in the minority. The second round of questioning, with its much broader scope, gives Roberts and his conservative colleagues the justification they need to render a broad verdict that would gut existing campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, US Supreme Court, Citizens United, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, David Souter, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Federal Election Commission, Sonia Sotomayor, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malcolm Stewart, Clarence Thomas
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) finds himself under fire from conservative “tea party” protesters after voting for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see June 3, 2009) and promising to work with Democrats on crafting clean energy legislation. Graham holds a “town hall” meeting at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and faces protesters who accuse him of being a “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only.” Activist Harry Kimball shows a display that depicts Graham and fellow Republican moderates Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as being flushed down a toilet. Kimball tells a reporter, “This is for every RINO who has failed to represent us.” One protester draws loud applause when he asks Graham, “When are you going to announce that you are switching parties?” Graham defends his positions and denounces the influence of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) on the Republican Party, saying: “I’m going to grow this party.… I’m not going to let it be hijacked by Ron Paul.… I’m going to find people in Maine, Delaware, Illinois, other places—” to which audience members shout, “Move there!” Graham continues, “… [t]hat can win as Republicans, and I’m going to go up, and we’re going to move this party, and this country forward, and if you don’t like it, you can leave.” Several audience members walk out of the auditorium when Graham makes his last statement. During his presentation, angry protesters interrupt him with shouts of “You’re a country club Republican!” “Sotomayor!” and “You lie!” Outside the event, one protester displays a sign decrying “Unconstitutional Anti-Christ Socialist Federal Deficit Spending Programs,” and accuses Graham of being part of the government problem. “We’re not going to be the party of angry white guys,” Graham tells the crowd. [Think Progress, 10/13/2009; The State, 10/13/2009]
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who challenged President Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, says she will not run for president in 2012, 2016, or afterwards. Asked by NBC interviewer Ann Curry: “Will you ever run for president again? Yes or no.” Clinton replies, “No.” She then elaborates: “I mean, this is a great job. It is a 24/7 job. And I’m looking forward to retirement at some point.” Clinton would be 70 in 2016, when Obama would presumably not run again; she has long said she has no intention of challenging Obama’s re-election in 2012. Curry asks about a concern by some “that you have been marginalized, that you—that the highest-ranking woman in the United States [is] having to fight against being marginalized,” and Clinton calls such concerns “absurd.… I think there is such a—you know, maybe there is some misunderstanding which needs to be clarified. I believe in delegating power. You know, I’m not one of these people who feels like I have to have my face in the, you know, front of the newspaper or on the TV every moment of the day. I would be irresponsible and negligent were I to say, ‘Oh, no, everything must come to me.’ Now, maybe that is a woman’s thing. Maybe I’m totally secure and feel absolutely no need to go running around in order for people to see what I’m doing. It’s just the way I am. My goal is to be a very positive force to implement the kind of changes that the president and I believe are in the best interest of our country. But that doesn’t mean that it all has to be me, me, me all the time. I like lifting people up.” [Washington Post, 10/12/2009; People, 10/12/2009]
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, political activist Virginia Thomas. [Source: Associated Press]In November 2009, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, establishes a new “tea party” organization she calls Liberty Central. (Some media sources claim that Liberty Central begins operations in January 2010.) She describes the group as intended to bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. “I am an ordinary citizen from Omaha, Nebraska, who just may have the chance to preserve liberty along with you and other people like you,” she says at a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) discussion with tea party leaders in Washington. “I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country. I have felt called to the front lines with you, with my fellow citizens, to preserve what made America great.” She also says she started the group because of her reaction to what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.” The group also intends to work to elect Republicans and defeat Democrats, and provide political strategies and “talking points” for conservative candidates. [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Commission, 7/1/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011] In May 2010, the organization officially declares itself open for business, launching a $27,000 Web site, and touting partnerships with a number of prominent conservative groups and the backing of prominent conservatives such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo, whom Justice Thomas has called “my good friend.” [Politico, 7/6/2010]
Questions of Conflict of Interest, Ethics - Almost immediately, legal ethicists assert that Virginia Thomas’s role as the head of a partisan, openly political advocacy organization could taint her husband’s impartiality, especially in light of the Citizens United Court decision, in which her husband sided with the 5-4 majority (see January 21, 2010), that allows her group to accept donations and spend them without publicly disclosing information about them. The group could have benefited from the Court’s decision, and Justice Thomas’s decision could be seen as being influenced by his wife’s decision to start the group. Law school professor Lucas A. “Scot” Powe, a Court historian, says, “I think the American public expects the justices to be out of politics.” The expectations for spouses are not so clear, he adds, saying, “I really don’t know because we’ve never seen it.” Legal ethicist Stephen Gillers, another law professor, says, “We expect the justice to make decisions uninfluenced by the political or legal preferences of his or her spouse.” Moreover, the press learns that while the Court was deliberating the Citizens United case, Liberty Central received an anonymous $550,000 donation. Government watchdog organization Common Cause wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking if Justice Thomas should recuse himself from the case, and wrote that “the complete lack of transparency of Liberty Central’s finances makes it difficult to assess the full scope of the ethics issues raised by Ms. Thomas’s role in founding and leading the group.” (The media later learns that $500,000 of the anonymous $550,000 donation for the organization comes from Dallas real estate investor Harlan Crow, who also hosts a fundraising event for the organization at his home. Crow once gave Justice Thomas a $19,000 “Frederick Douglass Bible” as a gift, and donated $150,000 to build a new wing named for Justice Thomas on a Savannah, Georgia, library that he visited frequently in his youth.) Common Cause also notes that Justice Thomas had failed to report on his financial disclosure filings his wife’s income over the last 13 years, prompting him to file amendments to the filings that indicated the sources, but not the amounts, of his wife’s income. Justice Thomas refuses to recuse himself from the case.
Period of Success - Liberty Central flourishes for a brief time, with Virginia Thomas assembling a veteran staff and forging relationships with conservative donors, with most of whom she and her husband had long, close relationships. Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, one of the over 30 state and national tea party groups that are listed as partners in Liberty Central’s affiliate network, says, “Her association with Justice Thomas clearly provides a level of credibility that others wouldn’t be able to have, just because of the beliefs that he has and the stands that he has on the different positions that align with our own.” Liberty Central’s connection with Justice Thomas, Graham says, “gets you to open the email, if nothing else, as opposed to some other one that you may not even open.” Liberty Central hires the services of CRC Public Relations, a prominent Washington communications firm that has garnered some $15 million in fees from a number of clients, including top Republican Party committees and the presidential campaigns or political committees of George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain, among others. Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a tea party lobbying organization also partnered with Liberty Central (see April 14, 2009 and April 15, 2009), says, “Ginni was able to raise the seed capital to have a real launch” because of her connections in small-government conservative circles. Kibbe says most people are unaware that she is the wife of a Supreme Court justice. Tea Party Patriots leader Jenny Beth Martin calls Thomas a “mentor” for many tea party organizations, and says she helps these organizations “to navigate some of the waters in DC.… She’s been kind of a mentor, and when we had questions about things that we were doing, we bounced a few of the ideas off of her and also off of a few other people in DC just to make sure that what we were doing made sense.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011]
Media Attention - In a June 2010 interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Thomas says she is sure “liberals” will “persecute” her just as she says they did when her husband was undergoing confirmation for the Supreme Court. “They’re after me now sometimes,” she says. “And so, we’re not going to be dissuaded. We are in the fight for our country’s life.” She and Hannity engage in a lively conversation about the “tyranny” of the Obama administration. She also promises to “watch for conflicts” between herself and her husband. In October 2010, the media reports that Virginia Thomas leaves a voice mail for former college professor Anita Hill, who accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings for the Court (see October 8, 1991, October 8-12, 1991, and October 11-12, 1991), demanding that Hill issue an apology to her husband. The voice mail says: “Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas. I just want to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometimes and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.” The attention from the voice mail prompts more negative media attention, and some donors begin distancing themselves from the organization. (Virginia Thomas later admits that her voice mail message for Hill was “probably a mistake,” though she will call the media’s response to it “laughable.” She will call the message “an olive branch” she extends to Hill. For her part, Hill says: “I don’t apologize. I have no intention of apologizing and I stand by my testimony in 1991.”) [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010; Fox News, 6/8/2010; Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 10/19/2010; Washington Post, 11/15/2010]
Thomas Steps Down, Group Merges with Another Organization - In November 2010, Virginia Thomas steps down from her leadership post at Liberty Central. The group then merges with another, similar group called the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, an organization founded by ex-CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a largely discredited book “exposing” the “secrets” of the Clinton administration. Sources later tell reporters that Virginia Thomas sells off Liberty Central because it cannot raise the funds needed to support its large staff and high overhead. According to CRC spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll, Thomas will “take a back seat so that Liberty Central can continue with its mission without any of the distractions. After discussing it with the board, Mrs. Thomas determined that it was best for the organization.” However, Sarah E. Field, general counsel of Liberty Central, disagrees, saying: “There are many opportunities being presented to Liberty Central, but there is no agreement at this time.… The sources of this story appear to be people without full understanding of the facts.” Keith Appell of CRC tells a reporter that the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner “breached confidentiality” by reporting her conversation with Carroll. Gardner responds, “Everything I attributed to Caitlin Carroll comes from an on-the-record conversation we had by telephone this morning.” Within hours, Thomas files incorporation papers for a new political lobbying and consulting firm, Liberty Consulting (see February 4, 2011). [Politico, 7/6/2010; Politico, 11/15/2010; Washington Post, 11/15/2010; Politico, 2/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Lucas A. (“Scot”) Powe, Liberty Central, US Department of Justice, Matt Kibbe, Leonard Leo, Obama administration, US Supreme Court, Sean Hannity, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas, Keith Appell, Stephen Gillers, Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, Jenny Beth Martin, Sarah E. Field, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Anita Hill, Amy Gardner, CRC Public Relations, Caitlin Carroll, Harlan Crow, Clarence Thomas, FreedomWorks, Carl Graham, Donald Rumsfeld, Common Cause, Conservative Political Action Conference
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
An image of Dede Scozzafava, altered by a conservative activist to make her appear as Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold. [Source: Saberpoint (.com)]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. [Christian Science Monitor, 10/29/2009; New York Times, 10/31/2009; New York Times, 11/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Dick Armey, Dede Scozzafava, Tim Pawlenty, Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard, Brian Brown, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Bill Owens, Rush Limbaugh, Susan B. Anthony List, Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Fred Thompson, Douglas L. Hoffman, John M. McHugh, Republican National Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Mike Huckabee, National Organization for Marriage, Marilyn Musgrave, Club for Growth
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Screenshot of Fox’s November 18, 2009 broadcast using 2008 footage to claim ‘huge crowds’ at Palin’s book tour. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News’s Gregg Jarrett, anchor of the Happening Now news broadcast, tells viewers that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is “continuing to draw huge crowds while she’s promoting her brand new book [her autobiography Going Rogue]. Take a look at—these are some of the pictures just coming into us. The lines earlier had formed this morning.” Fox News then cuts to film from the 2008 presidential campaign, where Palin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, was speaking to a large and enthusiastic crowd. The footage shows rally participants waving “McCain/Palin” signs while others hold pom-poms and cheer. Jarrett says, “There’s a crowd of folks.” [Media Matters, 11/18/2009; Think Progress, 11/18/2009; Chicago Tribune, 11/18/2009] Media Matters soon identifies the footage as being from a November 1, 2008 rally in Florida. [Media Matters, 11/18/2009] Progressive columnist and blogger John Amato, calling Fox News’s usage of the footage a deliberate “hoax,” writes that he has filed a complaint with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) over the use of the footage. [Huffington Post, 11/18/2009] Shortly afterwards, Fox News airs an apology, with another anchor saying in part: “We didn’t mean to mislead anybody. It was a mistake, and for that we apologize.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/18/2009] The next day, Fox News senior vice president Michael Clemente blames a “production error” for the use of the inaccurate footage, saying: “This was a production error in which the copy editor changed a script and didn’t alert the control room to update the video. There will be an on-air explanation during Happening Now on Thursday.” [Think Progress, 11/19/2009] Unnamed sources tell a Chicago Tribune reporter that “serious disciplinary action” may be taken against those responsible, and that Fox News executives consider it “a sloppy and unnecessary error.” [Chicago Tribune, 11/18/2009] The Tribune and a number of progressive bloggers note a similar error on Sean Hannity’s Fox News broadcast two weeks earlier (see November 5, 2009).
Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV), vying for the seat held by Harry Reid (D-NV), advocates armed insurrection to bring about conservative change in America, and implies that she is ready to use violence to defeat Reid in the race. Angle tells radio talk show host Lars Larson that she believes the US is ripe for an armed revolution, and if “this Congress keeps going the way it is,” Americans will implement “Second Amendment remedies.” The Second Amendment grants citizens the right to own firearms. Larson asks Angle where she stands on the Second Amendment, and she replies: “You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, ‘My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” Larson later says that he believes Angle means exactly what she says, particularly about supporting armed insurrection against Congress. “If it continues to do the things it’s doing, I think she’s leaving open that possibility,” Larson will say. “And I think the founders believed that the public should be able to do that when the government becomes out of control. It just matters what you define as going too far.” [Washington Post, 6/15/2010] At least one other time during the primary, Angle publicly advocates that Reid be “take[n] out” with “Second Amendment remedies” (see June 16, 2010). After winning the Nevada Republican primary for the Senate, Angle will retract her remarks (see June 30, 2010).
Recently Left Hard-Right Independent American Party - Angle is a relatively recent convert to the Republican Party. For much of the 1990s, she belonged to the Independent American Party (IAP), a hard-right group that combines libertarianism—gun advocacy, tax repeal, and states’ rights—with Christian social conservatism and an avowed fear of what it calls the “North American Union,” a supposed union of Canada, Mexico, and the US. According to IAP members, Angle left the party in 1998 when she ran for the Nevada state assembly. IAP executive director Janine Hansen will tell a reporter: “It was because she wanted to run for office. And it was difficult for members of our party to get elected at that time. It was a strategic move on her part.” The IAP considers the Republican Party “corrupt and socialistic,” according to its Web site. IAP founder David Hansen drew national attention in 1992 by bringing a sign to a political rally that read, “If Guns Are Outlawed, How Can We Shoot the Liberals?” [TPMDC, 6/15/2010]
Supports Violent Militia - Angle is also a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right group that enjoins its members—which include many soldiers and police officers—to refuse to follow orders they consider unconstitutional, and warns that the government intends to turn American cities into “giant concentration camps” (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010). The organization has been cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a violent militia group that is actively recruiting members for an upcoming armed revolt. Angle’s husband Ted Angle will say in June 2010 that while he is not sure whether he or his wife are full-fledged members, both of them stand firmly behind its principles. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes will later say that because neither Angle nor her husband are members of a uniformed service, they can only be associate members, and he is not sure whether Sharron Angle is a member. Rhodes will also deny that Oath Keepers is a militia. “We are an education outfit,” he will say. [TPMDC, 6/9/2010]
Entity Tags: Stewart Rhodes, Ted Angle, Sharron Angle, Lars Larson, David Hansen, Oath Keepers, Harry Reid, Janine Hansen, Independent American Party, Southern Poverty Law Center
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks writes that the tea party movement mirrors what he calls the shift in the American public “from left to right,” and the correlation that “[e]very single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year. The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.… The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should ‘go our own way’ has risen sharply.” Brooks, who calls himself “no fan” of the tea parties, says that the movement has “all the intensity” that once belonged to supporters of President Obama, and the movement has the power to shape American discourse and policy for the next decade. The tea party groups, he writes, define themselves “by what they are against.… They are against the concentrated power of the educated class. They believe big government, big business, big media, and the affluent professionals are merging to form self-serving oligarchy—with bloated government, unsustainable deficits, high taxes, and intrusive regulation.” The tea party movement is quite popular among independents, according to some polls, and more popular than either Obama or the US Congress. Brooks expects the movement to “be transformed” in the coming year, probably to be headed by one or another charismatic, populist lawmaker such as Marco Rubio (R-FL) or Gary Johnson (R-NM). “If they succeed,” he writes, “their movement is likely to outgrow its crude beginnings and become a major force in American politics. After all, it represents arguments that are deeply rooted in American history.” Brooks concludes: “In the near term, the tea party tendency will dominate the Republican Party. It could be the ruin of the party, pulling it in an angry direction that suburban voters will not tolerate. But don’t underestimate the deep reservoirs of public disgust. If there is a double-dip recession, a long period of stagnation, a fiscal crisis, a terrorist attack, or some other major scandal or event, the country could demand total change, creating a vacuum that only the tea party movement and its inheritors would be in a position to fill.” [New York Times, 1/4/2010]
The book Game Change, an “insider” account of the 2008 presidential campaign by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, features what appear to be racially questionable remarks made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) about Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. Reid, portrayed by the authors as more enthusiastic about Obama’s candidacy than he publicly admitted, said in private that he believed the country was ready to accept an African-American as president, particularly a “light-skinned” black man “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” [The Atlantic, 1/8/2010] The day after the press reveals Reid’s remarks, he publicly apologizes for making them. “I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words,” he says in a statement. “I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments. I was a proud and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama during the campaign and have worked as hard as I can to advance President Obama’s legislative agenda. Moreover, throughout my career, from efforts to integrate the Las Vegas strip and the gaming industry to opposing radical judges and promoting diversity in the Senate, I have worked hard to advance issues important to the African-American community.” President Obama responds in a statement that he and Reid discussed the matter: “I accepted Harry’s apology without question because I’ve known him for years, I’ve seen the passionate leadership he’s shown on issues of social justice, and I know what’s in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.” [The Atlantic, 1/9/2010; Washington Post, 1/9/2010] Conservatives have accused Reid of racism before (see December 5-8, 2004).
Scott Brown. [Source: Boston Herald]Republican Scott Brown (R-MA) narrowly wins a special election for the US Senate seat vacated by long-time Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away in August 2009. Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general. The victory is seen as a strong victory for the “tea party” movement, which backed Brown, a former Massachusetts state senator, even though he is considered something of a moderate Republican. Brown raised over a million dollars in less than 24 hours, in large part due to money from lobbying groups that back tea party organizations. Brown’s victory makes the Senate makeup 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans, enough to allow Senate Republicans to mount filibusters against Democratic proposals without fear of party-line “cloture votes” that would let Democrats pass legislation without Republican support. [American Conservative Daily, 1/9/2010; BNO News, 1/19/2010; The Week, 4/15/2010] Brown went on Fox News a number of times in the days before the election to help raise his profile among conservative voters and donors alike. On January 11, Fox News analyst Dick Morris pleaded with Fox viewers to contribute money to the Brown campaign. [Media Matters, 1/11/2010] Some observers speculated that Brown’s choice to pose nude for a magazine centerfold in 1982 might hurt him with conservative voters, but Newsweek columnist Katie Connolly wrote that because Brown is male, voters would not hold it against him as they would a female. [Newsweek, 9/15/2009] Newsweek will later compile a number of sometimes-contradictory explanations for why Coakley loses the race. One is that Coakley ran a poor campaign, an explanation advanced by a number of Democratic figures and liberal commentators. New York columnist Jason Zengerle will write of the singular “ineptitude” of Coakley and her campaign. Some liberal commentators will accuse Democrats of taking Coakley’s victory for granted, backing their explanation with, among other evidence, a memo from the Coakley campaign that noted “apathy” among national Democrats and a lack of money from national sources. Some conservatives will say that voters are alienated by the aggression of the Obama administration and other liberals, which energized conservatives. Some, including White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, will note the “infighting” among Democrats over Obama’s health care reform compromises, and say that such infighting weakened voter support for Democratic candidates. A few liberal commentators will say flatly that Democrats did not do enough to promote Coakley’s candidacy and energize the base. Lastly, a number of liberal commentators, along with Gibbs, will say that Brown rode a wave of anti-Democratic support into office. Blogger Chris Bowers will write that the current “political environment is terrible for Democrats, and they are going to lose seats in 2010.” [Newsweek, 1/19/2010] Before the election, the Boston Herald noted that Brown had been “all but abandoned” by the Republican campaign committees, who apparently believed that he had little chance of winning and chose not to sink money into his campaign. [Boston Herald, 12/29/2009]
The Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller posts a scathing criticism of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision (see January 21, 2010) on the Foundation’s blog. Miller writes that the implications of the decision “are breathtaking—opening the floodgates of political money such as we have never seen before. If you thought Congress was ‘for sale’ to the highest bidder, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Nothing less than a fundamental rethinking of our campaign finance laws is demanded as a result of today’s decision.” Miller writes that transparency in donations and funding is not “a panacea for the horrific consequences of today’s decision, it is critically important as the shredded system is rebuilt. Today’s decision underscores the necessity of creating comprehensive real-time disclosure for all election spending—across the board—from when and how often candidates, individuals, and PACs report their contributions and expenditures to those involved in independent expenditures, issue ads, or direct election advocacy.” Miller focuses on the portion of the majority opinion that claimed Internet-based disclosure is sufficient to keep the public informed about campaign finance practices. The opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.… This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.… [M]odern technology makes disclosures rapid and informative.… A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today.” Miller agrees, but notes that “the disclosure system [Kennedy] describe[s] doesn’t yet exist. The current disclosure system is insufficiently ‘rapid and informative’ and does not make effective use of modern technology.” Miller predicts a “tidal wave of corporate campaign expenditures” that will not be exposed or held accountable by the current disclosure system. “The quarterly reporting system now in place is outdated and ineffective—ridiculous, in a word.” Miller concludes: “[T]his decision should trigger momentum toward ensuring that all election-related information is available online in real-time. Disclosure remains a crucial antiseptic to the corrupting influence of money in politics. We should ensure our system is as transparent as possible.” [Ellen Miller, 1/21/2010]
Ian Millhiser, a constitutional policy analyst and lawyer for the liberal Center for American Progress, writes of what he considers the disastrous effect that the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010) will have on American politics. Millhiser says the majority ruling in the Citizens United decision is plainly wrong, and that the case presented to the Court had nothing to do with the First Amendment right to free speech. “Prior to Citizens United, no law prohibited anyone from saying anything they wanted,” he writes. “Corporate CEOs and other wealthy individuals could spend their own massive salaries to run political ads on TV. People who are less rich than corporate CEOs could pool their money together via organizations. The only thing that wasn’t permitted before Citizens United is that the CEO of Bank of America could not tap into Bank of America’s massive, multi-billion dollar treasury to defeat” a candidate he or she does not support. The decision not only “provide[s] Fortune 500 companies with a massive megaphone to blast their political views to the masses,” but “it also empowers them to drown out any voices that disagree with them.” Millhiser notes that the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns spent a combined total of $1.1 billion in 2008, a record-breaking sum. However, he goes on to note that because of the Citizens United decision, corporate donors could easily spend 100 times that amount if they wanted. ”$1.1 billion is nothing, however, compared to the billions of dollars in tax subsidies given to the oil industry every year, or the $117 billion fee President Obama wants to impose on the Wall Street bankers who created the Great Recession. Indeed, with hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate profits at stake every time Congress begins a session, wealthy corporations would be foolish not to spend tens of billions of dollars every election cycle to make sure that their interests are protected. No one, including the candidates themselves, have the ability to compete with such giant expenditures.” Until Congress can rein in what Millhiser views as the excesses of the Citizens United decision, “many extremely well-moneyed corporations will still succeed in unleashing their treasuries on the electorate, and drowning out opposing voices.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2010]
Loyola Law School Professor Richard Hasen writes that the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010) is a “bad day for American democracy.” The Court as headed by Chief Justice John Roberts is a conservative activist court, Hasen writes, determined to recraft “constitutional law in its image.” The Citizens United ruling opens up the American political system “to a money free-for-all.” Hasen originally thought the Court would make a narrow ruling in the Citizens United case, perhaps finding that the campaign finance law often referred to as McCain-Feingold (see March 27, 2002) does not apply to video-on-demand broadcasts. “That would be in line with some of the past decisions of the Roberts Court, when it had preferred to chip away at existing precedent rather than dramatically move the law rightward.” But during questioning, it became clear that the conservatives on the Court were ready to dismantle McCain-Feingold as opposed to merely chipping away at it. The Court struck down limitations on corporate spending entirely (see March 27, 1990) and much of the legal limitations on so-called “soft money” campaign funding (see December 10, 2003). Hasen says that the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy equates funding limitations with censorship. Hasen writes: “There are many responses to Justice Kennedy’s reasoning. He wrongly assumes that corporations or unions can throw money at public officials without corrupting them. Could a candidate for judicial office, for example, be swayed to rule in favor of a contributor who donated $3 million to an independent campaign to get the candidate elected to the State Supreme Court? Justice Kennedy himself thought so in [a previous case]. And yet he runs away from that decision in today’s ruling. Justice Kennedy acknowledges that with the ‘soft money’ limits on political parties still in place, third-party groups (which tend to run more negative and irresponsible ads) will increase in strength relative to political parties. And that possibility raises the real chance Congress will repeal the ‘soft money’ limits, thereby increasing the risks of quid pro quo corruption.” Hasen believes that Kennedy is enshrining a fundamental principle of financial inequality—that wealthy individuals and corporations now have the legal right to unduly influence elections via their money. Money, Hasen writes, should not be equated with speech, as Kennedy has found. Instead of doing what the Court traditionally does, Hasen writes, and taking a narrow view of a constitutional issue as it has in a recent case (see June 22, 2009)—the time-honored principle of “constitutional avoidance”—this time the Court has gone to the extreme to transform the constitutional interpretation of electoral procedures. “[T]he Court went out of its way to overturn its own precedent, in violation of its usual rule of stare decisis, which calls for respecting past rulings for the good of reliable law-making. And it did so violating its usual rule, which it cited even yesterday, that it does not generally reach issues not raised in the initial petition to the Court. In short, the Court did not have to do what it did today.… This is a Court that has taken a giant leap toward deregulation of the electoral process.” [Slate, 1/21/2010]
OMB Watch, a nonprofit government accountability organization, issues a press release blasting the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. OMB Watch calls itself “disappointed” in the decision, and writes that it “fears [the decision] will lead to moneyed interests drowning out the voices of citizens and smaller advocacy organizations.” OMB Watch contends that the decision was wrong in stating that corporations and unions were denied access to campaigns and the election process—denied free-speech protections—by previous campaign finance law. “[P]rior to today’s decision, corporations were not stripped from political speech entirely during campaigns,” the organization says. “Rather, corporations and unions could pay for federal election spending through political action committees. The ruling will certainly alter corporate and union spending on future elections. This decision will have a profound impact on the 2010 midterm elections and 2012 presidential election.” The release quotes Lateefah Williams, a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst at OMB Watch who specializes in nonprofit voter engagement issues, as saying: “It will allow corporate interests to significantly impact those races by funneling massive amounts of money to support or oppose candidates.… Our fear is that the voices of large portions of our citizenry and the charities that advocate on their behalf will be drowned out in the process.” OMB Watch calls on Congress and the White House to pass legislation that would curtail the effect of the decision. [Brian Gumm, 1/21/2010]
Many Republican lawmakers and their supporters celebrate the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. Most observers believe that Republicans will benefit from the ruling, as large corporations who can now spend large amounts on influencing elections tend to support more conservative candidates and causes (see January 21-22, 2010). Most Republicans who praise the decision do not mention the presumed financial advantage they may now enjoy, but instead focus on the issue as one of freedom of speech. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) says of the decision: “It is about a nonprofit group’s ability to speak about the public issue. I can’t think of a more fundamental First Amendment issue. [The ruling could] open up resources that have not previously been available [for Republicans].” Representative Steve King (R-IA) says: “The Constitution protects the rights of citizens and employers to express their viewpoints on political issues. Today’s Supreme Court decision affirms the Bill of Rights and is a victory for liberty and free speech.” Fellow Republican House member Mike Pence (R-IN) agrees: “If the freedom of speech means anything, it means protecting the right of private citizens to voice opposition or support for their elected representatives. The fact that the Court overturned a 20-year precedent speaks volumes about the importance of this issue.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says the ruling is a big step towards “restoring the First Amendment rights [of corporations and unions].… By previously denying this right, the government was picking winners and losers.” Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele says: “Today’s decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC serves as an affirmation of the constitutional rights provided to Americans under the first amendment. Free speech strengthens our democracy.” And US Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) says, “Today’s SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold is a victory for free speech.” One of the few Republicans to speak against the decision is Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who calls it “regrettable” and “disappointing.” Snowe is joined in her criticism by fellow Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the co-author of the legislation partially overturned by the ruling (see March 27, 2002), who also says he is “disappointed” by the decision. [Associated Press, 1/21/2010; Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
The New York Times calls today’s ruling in the Citizens United case (see January 21, 2010) “disastrous,” saying that “the Supreme Court has thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century.” The Court has used the excuse of the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010) to “pave… the way for corporations to use their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections and intimidate elected officials into doing their bidding.” The Times recommends that Congress should “act immediately to limit the damage of this radical decision, which strikes at the heart of democracy.” In essence, the Times writes, lobbyists for corporate, labor, and special interests now have the power to sway elections in the directions they prefer. And the ruling gives those same interests the power to intimidate and even coerce candidates. “If a member of Congress tries to stand up to a wealthy special interest,” the Times writes, “its lobbyists can credibly threaten: We’ll spend whatever it takes to defeat you.” The Times notes that since the inception of the nation, its founders have “warned about the dangers of corporate influence. The Constitution they wrote mentions many things and assigns them rights and protections—the people, militias, the press, religions. But it does not mention corporations.” Corporate money has been banned from elections since 1907 (see 1907), and that ban has been in place, in one form or another (see June 25, 1910, 1925, 1935, 1940, June 25, 1943, June 23, 1947, March 11, 1957, February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, January 30, 1976, January 8, 1980, March 27, 1990, March 27, 2002, and December 10, 2003), until today. The Times accuses the Court of “overreach[ing],” using “a case involving a narrower, technical question involving the broadcast of a movie that attacked Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court elevated that case to a forum for striking down the entire ban on corporate spending and then rushed the process of hearing the case at breakneck speed. It gave lawyers a month to prepare briefs on an issue of enormous complexity (see June 29, 2009), and it scheduled arguments during its vacation” (see September 9, 2009). The Times says the ruling is “deeply wrong on the law,” particularly in declaring corporations as equivalent to people, with the same First Amendment rights. “It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate.” And the Times derides the statement in the Court’s majority opinion that says independent corporate expenditures “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” citing Senator John McCain (R-AZ)‘s characterization of the Court’s reasoning as being plagued by “extreme naivete.” The Citizens United case is, the Times writes, “likely to be viewed as a shameful bookend to Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). With one 5-to-4 decision, the Court’s conservative majority stopped valid votes from being counted to ensure the election of a conservative president. Now a similar conservative majority has distorted the political system to ensure that Republican candidates will be at an enormous advantage in future elections.” The only two ways to rectify the situation, the Times concludes, are to overturn the ruling via Congressional legislation and have a future Court—with a different makeup—overturn the decision itself. [New York Times, 1/21/2010]
Liberal MSNBC commentator and talk show host Keith Olbermann devotes one of his “special comments” to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations in elections (see January 21, 2010). Olbermann starts by reminding his viewers of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling by the Court that found no African-American could be considered a US citizen (see March 6, 1857). Olbermann compares Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Citizens United decision, unfavorably to the much-maligned chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott ruling; Olbermann says that the Citizens United decision “might actually have more dire implications than” the 1857 finding. Olbermann says: “In short, the First Amendment—free speech for persons—which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections. None. They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want—sooner, rather than later—they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the Visiting Nurse Service. And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and re-election to office soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.” Corporations can, in essence, buy and sell politicians at will, Olbermann says, and those politicians can change laws as their corporate donors dictate. “[A]ny legal defense you can structure now, can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now. And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November, or two years from now, can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014, or 2016, or 2018.… Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within 10 years, every politician in this country will be a prostitute.” Labor unions, Olbermann says, will quickly be “strangled” by corporations “so they pose no further threat to the corporations’ total control of our political system.” Taxes on the wealthy and on corporations will be slashed, and social programs will be eliminated, “because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations.” Wars that benefit the military-industrial complex will become the norm. Racial and religious profiling will become commonplace, because the corporations will want to shift blame from their own machinations onto someone else, and people of different religions or ethnicities are easy targets for such blame. The “poor dumb manipulated b_stards” of the “tea parties” will “have a glorious few years as the front men as the corporations that bankroll them slowly unroll their total control of our political system,” until they are “banished, maybe outlawed, when a few of the brighter ones suddenly realize that the corporations have made them the Judas Goats of American freedom.” The Obama administration’s bank reforms will be eliminated by “his successor purchased by the banks.” Corporations will buy and control government entities from federal agencies to town councils. Billionaires will “buy and install their own city governments.” The mainstream media as we know it will disappear, because the corporate-owned government will require media outlets to reassure the populace that “everything’s great” and no one is needed to speak out against the government. The Internet, currently a venue that allows the most disparate of opinions to be voiced and shared, will be corralled and brought to heel. Olbermann concludes by saying: “The right wing won’t even tell their constituents that they are being sold into bondage alongside the rest of us. And why should they? For them, the start of this will be wonderful.” [MSNBC, 1/21/2010]
Liberal MSNBC commentator and talk show host Keith Olbermann devotes one of his “special comments” to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations in elections (see January 21, 2010). Olbermann starts by reminding his viewers of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott ruling by the Court that found no African-American could ever be considered a US citizen (see March 6, 1857). Olbermann compares Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the Citizens United decision, unfavorably to the much-maligned chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott ruling; Olbermann says that the Citizens United decision “might actually have more dire implications than” the 1857 finding. Olbermann says: “In short, the First Amendment—free speech for persons—which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections. None. They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want—sooner, rather than later—they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from president to head of the Visiting Nurse Service. And if senators and congressmen and governors and mayors and councilmen and everyone in between are entirely beholden to the corporations for election and re-election to office, soon they will erase whatever checks there might still exist to just slow down the ability of corporations to decide the laws.” Corporations can, in essence, buy and sell politicians at will, Olbermann says, and those politicians can change laws as their corporate donors dictate. “[A]ny legal defense you can structure now, can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now. And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November, or two years from now, can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014, or 2016, or 2018.… Unless this mortal blow is somehow undone, within 10 years every politician in this country will be a prostitute.” Labor unions, Olbermann says, will quickly be “strangled” by corporations “so they pose no further threat to the corporations’ total control of our political system.” Taxes on the wealthy and on corporations will be slashed, and social programs will be eliminated, “because money spent on the poor means less money left for the corporations.” Wars that benefit the military-industrial complex will become the norm. Racial and religious profiling will become commonplace, because the corporations will want to shift blame from their own machinations onto someone else, and people of different religions or ethnicities are easy targets for such blame. The “poor dumb manipulated b_stards” of the “tea parties” will “have a glorious few years as the front men as the corporations that bankroll them slowly unroll their total control of our political system,” until they are “banished, maybe outlawed, when a few of the brighter ones suddenly realize that the corporations have made them the Judas Goats of American freedom.” The Obama administration’s bank reforms will be eliminated by “his successor purchased by the banks.” Corporations will buy and control government entities from federal agencies to town councils. Billionaires will “buy and install their own city governments.” The mainstream media as we know it will disappear, because the corporate-owned government will require media outlets to reassure the populace that “everything’s great” and no one is needed to speak out against the government. The Internet, currently a venue that allows the most disparate of opinions to be voiced and shared, will be corralled and brought to heel. Olbermann concludes by saying: “The right wing won’t even tell their constituents that they are being sold into bondage alongside the rest of us. And why should they? For them, the start of this will be wonderful.” [MSNBC, 1/21/2010]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” overturning of corporate campaign finance restrictions (see January 21, 2010) a disaster. Schumer says, “With a stroke of a pen, the court decided to overrule the 100-year-old ban on corporate expenditures and override the will of millions of Americans who want their voices heard in our democracy.” Other Democrats agree. When questioned about Schumer’s comments by reporters from the Tampa Bay Times’s PolitiFact investigative arm, Schumer’s office says that the “100-year-old” reference refers to the 1907 Tillman Act (see 1907), and cites Justice John Paul Stevens’s dissent, which stated: “The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907.” PolitiFact finds that Schumer’s characterization is “a stretch” because of the differences between independent expenditures and direct contributions. Independent expenditures are monies spent by corporations to support or oppose an issue or a candidate. Direct contributions are donations to a candidate’s campaign. Corporations may not make direct contributions to campaigns; they have to form political action committees (PACs) for that purpose. The Citizens United decision does not affect that portion of the law. According to PolitiFact, the Tillman Act applies more to independent expenditures than to direct contributions, as does the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act (see June 23, 1947). Schumer’s characterization, PolitiFact finds, is not entirely accurate. “[H]e ignores the fact that the ban on direct donations from corporations to campaigns still exists,” PolitiFact writes. “And the oldest law that specifically banned independent expenditures dated to 1947. You could also argue that we should be dating this from the 1970s campaign finance laws, or even the 1990 Austin case (see March 27, 1990). So he’s exaggerating the scope of the ruling and how long the laws have been on the books.” [Tampa Bay Times, 1/22/2010] Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) joins Schumer and other Democrats in criticizing the ruling, calling it the “worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case” (see March 6, 1857). [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
The press reports that the US Chamber of Commerce and other lobbying organizations are the biggest winners in the controversial Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court (see January 21, 2010), which allows corporations and labor unions to spend unrestricted amounts of money in support of, or opposition to, federal candidates. The Chamber of Commerce spends more on promoting Republican and conservative candidates than almost any other organization outside of the Republican Party itself. Other trade organizations, which tend to support Republicans, will almost certainly up their spending on behalf of their candidates, or in opposition to Democrats, according to experts interviewed by reporters, as will most corporations.
Unrestrained Spending to Favor Republicans - Democratic lawyer Marc Elias says: “It is a sweeping decision. In one opinion, the Court struck down all bans on corporate independent spending.” GOP lawyer Robert Kelner says that the ruling “will reflect a huge sea-change in campaign finance law. The Court went all the way. It really relieves any restrictions on corporate spending on independent advertising.” Another GOP lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, says: “It’s going to be the Wild Wild West. If corporations and unions can give unlimited amounts… it means that the public debate is significantly changed with a lot more voices, and it means that the loudest voices are going to be corporations and unions.” Former Federal Elections Commission member Brad Smith says, “This case will lead to more spending, I think, in political elections.” Lawrence M. Noble, the former general counsel for the FEC, says a lobbyist can tell a candidate, “We have got a million we can spend advertising for you or against you—whichever one you want.” Political science professor Robert Watson, who has consulted with Democratic campaigns, says: “It’s a game changer. And the last thing we need is for major corporations and nonprofits to have unlimited access to buy their members of Congress.” The New York Times writes: “It is expected to unleash a torrent of attack advertisements from outside groups aiming to sway voters, without any candidate having to take the criticism for dirty campaigning. The biggest beneficiaries might be well-placed incumbents whose favor companies and interests groups are eager to court. It could also have a big impact on state and local governments, where a few million dollars can have more influence on elections.” The National Journal states: “Over the long run, the ruling is likely to favor GOPers more than it does Dems. While it does apply to unions and corporations equally, Elias said the presumption is that corporations have more money to spend.” Major corporations will not openly run their own advertising, Kelner says, but they will funnel millions into trade associations such as the Chamber of Commerce. “If people think that individual companies are going to go out and buy ads, there may be some of that, but for the most part companies are going to flow this money through trade groups and other outside groups,” Kelner says. “This will open the floodgates for money flowing through groups like the US Chamber of Commerce and other associations [that] spend money on political advertising.… There was always a cloud of doubt around outside groups and trade associations, and this lifts those clouds of doubt and leaves behind clear skies.” Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) general counsel Joe Sandler says the ruling may open the door for more attacks on incumbents by corporate and other entities eager to spend money to ease them out. “You will see more sharp-edged, candidate-specific ads on the air closer to the election,” Sandler says. “That could make it more difficult for incumbents to take tough votes in an election year.” [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010] Think Progress, the liberal news Web site affiliated with the Center for American Progress, writes, “The ruling is a giant win for the US Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations, which tend to donate heavily to Republicans.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2010]
Citizens the Real Losers? - Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center calls the ruling a complete loss for citizens, saying: “[T]he Supreme Court majority declared that corporate speech trumps the rights of American voters to government free of corporate corruption. The Court has nominally upheld campaign finance disclosure requirements applicable to corporations, but I think time will prove that those disclosure requirements are largely ineffective when dealing with contributions.” Brad Ashwell of the Florida Public Interest Research Group calls the ruling a “shocking burst of judicial activism.” Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls the ruling “a terrible mistake,” and says the Court “chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.” Feingold and other Congressional Democrats want to pass legislation that would curb the decision as soon as feasible. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010; New York Times, 1/21/2010]
Republicans Celebrate Victory for Free Speech, Say Decision Will 'Level Out' Spending - But Marco Rubio (R-FL), running for Florida’s open Senate seat, says, “Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a victory for those who truly value the freedoms outlined in our First Amendment.” And Republican consultant Ed Brookover, who represents Republican House candidate Allen West (R-FL), says he believes spending from liberal groups such as MoveOn.org will equal spending by corporations, and “level out” spending for the two parties. [Palm Beach Post, 1/21/2010; National Journal, 1/21/2010]
President Critical of Decision - President Obama speaks out against the decision (see January 21, 2010).
Entity Tags: Joseph Sandler, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, US Supreme Court, Ed Brookover, Brad Ashwell, Ben Ginsberg, Barack Obama, Think Progress (.org), Russell D. Feingold, US Chamber of Commerce, Robert Kelner, Robert Watson, New York Times, Marc Elias, Lawrence M. Noble, Republican Party, Marco Rubio, National Journal, Paul S. Ryan
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Wall Street Journal celebrates the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) as a victory for “free speech” (see January 21, 2010). In an unsigned editorial, the Journal celebrates the decision by stating that the Court used the Constitution to “rescue” the political system from “marauding government” elements, particularly a “reckless Congress.” The Journal claims that the Citizens United case rested on the Federal Election Commission (FEC)‘s refusal to allow the airing of a 90-minute political attack documentary on presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) because the film was “less than complimentary” of her. In reality, the FEC considered the film “electioneering” by the organization that released the film, Citizens United, and prohibited it from being shown on pay-per-view cable access (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court rejected campaign finance law’s limitation on corporate spending, prompting the Journal to state, “Corporations are entitled to the same right that individuals have to spend money on political speech for or against a candidate.” Any other state of affairs, the Journal writes, constitutes censorship. The Journal criticizes President Obama for speaking out against the decision (see January 21, 2010), saying that Obama put “on his new populist facade to call it ‘a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies,’ and other ‘special interests.’ Mr. Obama didn’t mention his union friends as one of those interests, but their political spending will also be protected by the logic of this ruling. The reality is that free speech is no one’s special interest.” The Journal dismisses promises by Congressional Democrats to pass legislation or even bring forth a constitutional amendment limiting corporate donations by stating, “Liberalism’s bullying tendencies are never more on display than when its denizens are at war with the speech rights of its opponents.” The Journal concludes by advocating that the Court overturn its 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision (see January 30, 1976) that placed modest limits on corporate spending, in essence advocating the complete deregulation of campaign financing. “The Court did yesterday uphold disclosure rules, so a sensible step now would be for Congress to remove all campaign-finance limits subject only to immediate disclosure on the Internet,” the Journal states. “Citizens United is in any event a bracing declaration that Congress’s long and misbegotten campaign-finance crusade has reached a constitutional dead end.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/22/2010]
In his weekly radio and Internet address, President Obama denounces the recent Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that lets corporations and labor unions spend unlimited amounts on political campaign activities (see January 21, 2010). “This ruling strikes at our democracy itself,” he says. “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest. The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington, or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.… This ruling opens the floodgates for an unlimited amount of special interest money into our democracy. It gives the special interest lobbyists new leverage to spend millions on advertising to persuade elected officials to vote their way—or to punish those who don’t.… The last thing we need to do is hand more influence to the lobbyists in Washington or more power to the special interests to tip the outcome of elections.” The decision, Obama says, will make it harder to enact financial reform, close tax loopholes, promote energy independence, and protect patients from health insurance abuses. “We don’t need to give any more voice to the powerful interests that already drown out the voices of everyday Americans,” Obama says. “And we don’t intend to.” He says he is asking Congress to work with the White House to “fight for the American people” and develop a “forceful bipartisan response” to the decision. “It will be a priority for us until we repair the damage that has been done.” Norm Eisen, Obama’s special counsel for ethics and government reform, has already met with Democratic Congressional leaders Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) to begin talks on how Congress might respond. [New York Times, 1/24/2010; Associated Press, 1/25/2010]
James Bopp Jr. [Source: Associated Press / Politico]A former lawyer for Citizens United (CU), James Bopp Jr., confirms that the organization had a “10-year plan” that culminated in the recent Citizens United ruling that overturned most of US campaign finance law (see January 21, 2010). Bopp has been battling government restrictions on abortion (see November 1980 and After) and campaign finance (see Mid-2004 and After, January 10-16, 2008, and March 24, 2008) for much of his 35-year career. He calls his opponents, including President Obama, “socialists,” and justifies his views by citing the First Amendment. Bopp did not argue the case before the Supreme Court; Citizens United replaced him with what the New York Times calls “a less ideological and more experienced Washington lawyer” (see March 15, 2009). But Bopp is the lawyer who advised CU to use its documentary about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY—see January 10-16, 2008) as a test case to push the limits of corporate spending. He says his strategy continues, with the ultimate goal of deregulating campaign finance completely. “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down,” Bopp says. “And if we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law.… We have been awfully successful, and we are not done yet.” Law professor and campaign finance law expert Richard Hasen says the CU case “was really Jim’s brainchild.” Hasen explains: “He has manufactured these cases to present certain questions to the Supreme Court in a certain order and achieve a certain result. He is a litigation machine.” Bopp has other cases on appeal with various courts, all designed to do what the Times says “chip away at some of the disclosure laws left intact by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case.” One of Bopp’s main goals is to end the ban on direct donations by corporations to candidates, a goal law professor Nathaniel Persily says is logical in light of Bopp’s earlier efforts: “If you cannot ban corporate spending on ads, how is it that you are allowed to ban corporate contributions to candidates? That is the next shoe to drop.” He also wants to end all disclosure requirements, explaining, “Groups have to be relieved of reporting their donors if lifting the prohibition on their political speech is going to have any meaning.” Forcing groups who buy political commercials to disclose their donors is nearly as punitive, he says, “as an outright criminal go-to-jail-time prohibition.” Bopp says he harbors no ill will towards CU from replacing him with another lawyer to argue the case before the Court. “I understand that law is art,” he says. “Picasso, Van Gogh, Michelangelo—they are all very different, but all create masterpieces.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010]
Jan Witold Baran. [Source: Metropolitan Corporate Counsel]Author and law professor Jan Witold Baran cheers the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court that allows virtually unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions in political campaigns (see January 21, 2010). Baran, who alerts readers that he filed an amicus curiae brief with the Court in favor of plaintiff Citizens United, characterizes the ruling as allowing “corporations and unions [to] spend money on political advertising that urges the election or defeat of a candidate for public office.” He cites President Obama’s warning that the decision will unleash a “stampede of special-interest money in our politics” (see January 24, 2010), and derides that warning. He reminds readers that the decision retains the ban on direct contributions by corporations and unions, and that corporations and unions may not “spend money in cahoots with political parties,” but must remain “independent” and not coordinate with candidates or their campaigns. He also tells readers that the decision mandates disclosure, saying that the ruling “upheld the laws that require any corporate or union spender to file reports with the Federal Election Commission within 24 hours of spending the first dime.” Because of these retentions, Baran writes, there will be no “stampede of special-interest money.” The ruling will put an end to so-called “issue ads,” Baran predicts (see March 27, 1990 and June 25, 2007), the ads that either support or attack an issue and then urge the viewer to contact their congressperson. Because of the new ruling, the ads can now exhort viewers to vote for one candidate or against another because of the issues. Baran goes on to write, “There is also no factual basis to predict that there will be a ‘stampede’ of additional spending.” Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting some corporate and union spending, he says, and notes: “There have been no stampedes in those states’ elections. Having a constitutional right is not the same as requiring one to exercise it, and there are many reasons businesses and unions may not spend much more on politics than they already do. As such, the effect of Citizens United on the 2010 campaigns is debatable.” He says that the ruling is primarily a blowback against Congress’s meddlesome penchant to restrict “campaign speech.… Congress interpreted its power to regulate campaigns as a license to limit, restrict, burden, and confuse anyone who wished to engage in political campaigns.” Now, he says, the Court has reminded Congress that the First Amendment trumps its ability to regulate (see January 21, 2010 and January 22, 2010). The ruling is “a breath of fresh air” for everyone except Washington lawyers, Baran says, and concludes: “The history of campaign finance reform is the history of incumbent politicians seeking to muzzle speakers, any speakers, particularly those who might publicly criticize them and their legislation. It is a lot easier to legislate against unions, gun owners, ‘fat cat’ bankers, health insurance companies, and any other industry or ‘special interest’ group when they can’t talk back.” [New York Times, 1/25/2010; Wiley Rein LLP, 2012] Many observers besides Obama predict dire consequences as a result of the Court ruling (see January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21, 2010, January 21-22, 2010, January 21, 2010, and January 26, 2010). And unfortunately for Baran’s predictions, a March 2010 appeals court verdict (see March 26, 2010) will join with the Citizens United ruling, particularly a loophole in the ruling (see February 27, 2010), to unleash just the kind of corporate spending that Baran says would never happen.
During a conference at Georgetown University Law Center, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is “obliquely” critical of the recent Citizens United decision allowing corporations and labor unions to fund political activities without spending limits (see January 21, 2010), in the words of New York Times reporter Adam Liptak. Liptak describes O’Connor as “not sound[ing] happy” about the decision, but notes that instead of giving a pointed critique of the ruling, she advises her audience to see the McConnell decision she co-wrote banning corporate spending in political campaigns (see December 10, 2003)). Of the current Court’s ruling, she says, “Gosh, I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen.” Since her retirement from the Court, she has become a vocal advocate for doing away with judicial elections in the states; she says that the Citizens United ruling will likely create “an increasing problem for maintaining an independent judiciary.… In invalidating some of the existing checks on campaign spending, the majority in Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon.” She says that with the combination of unlimited corporate and union spending, and the practice of electing state judges, “We can anticipate that labor unions and trial lawyers, for instance, might have the financial means to win one particular state judicial election. And maybe tobacco firms and energy companies have enough to win the next one. And if both sides unleash their campaign spending monies without restrictions, then I think mutually-assured destruction is the most likely outcome.” [New York Times, 1/26/2012] Days after the Times reports on O’Connor’s remarks, Times editorial writer Dorothy Samuels will agree, writing that “[t]he Citizens United ruling promises to make that problem worse, possibly much worse.” The title of her editorial is “Hanging a ‘For Sale’ Sign Over the Judiciary.” [New York Times, 1/29/2012]
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito listens to President Obama’s State of the Union address. [Source: Renovo Media]President Obama sharply criticizes the recent Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, giving corporations and unions the right to give unlimited and anonymous donations to organizations supporting or opposing political candidates (see January 21, 2010), during the annual State of the Union address. Obama gives the address to a joint session of Congress, with three Supreme Court members in attendance. “With all due deference to the separation of powers,” Obama says, “last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.” Democrats in the chamber applaud Obama’s remarks, while Republicans do not. In his response, Justice Samuel Alito, one of the five conservatives on the Court who joined in the majority decision, shakes his head and mouths, “Not true, not true” (some lip readers will later claim that Alito says, “That’s not true”). It is highly unusual for a president to so directly criticize a Supreme Court ruling, especially in a State of the Union address. The next day, Vice President Joe Biden defends Obama’s remarks in an appearance on Good Morning America. Biden says: “The president didn’t question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it. I think [the ruling] was dead wrong and we have to correct it.” Supreme Court expert Lucas A. Powe says, “I can’t ever recall a president taking a swipe at the Supreme Court like that.” Experts say that the closest precedent they can find is President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 criticism of the Court in his address to Congress. Yale law professor Jack Balkin says, “The important thing to me is that the president thinks the Citizens United decision is important enough that he would include it.” Reactions are split along ideological lines. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) calls Obama “rude” to criticize the Court’s verdict. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) calls Alito’s reaction “inappropriate.” Legal expert Barbara A. Perry of Sweet Briar College says both Obama and Alito were in the wrong, calling the interaction “an unfortunate display for both branches.” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton says: “One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and in private. This is one of those cases.” Alito refuses to comment. Alito and Obama have a contentious history. As a senator, Obama was one of the most outspoken voices against Alito’s confirmation as a Supreme Court justice (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006), saying then of Alito, “[W]hen you look at his record—when it comes to his understanding of the Constitution, I have found that in almost every case, he consistently sides on behalf of the powerful against the powerless; on behalf of a strong government or corporation against upholding American’s individual rights.” For his part, Alito snubbed the formal visit paid by Obama and Biden to the Court. [New York Daily News, 1/28/2010; Washington Post, 1/28/2010] Months later, Obama’s warning will be proven to be correct, as a media investigation will show the US Chamber of Commerce using foreign monies to fund attack ads and other political activities under the cloak of the Citizens United decision (see October 2010).
Entity Tags: Jack Balkin, Barbara A. Perry, Barack Obama, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US Congress, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Orrin Hatch, Lucas A. (“Scot”) Powe, Joseph Biden, US Chamber of Commerce, Russell D. Feingold, Bill Burton
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A number of conservative media outlets accuse President Obama of engaging in “demagoguery” in his recent comments that warned the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) could open the door for foreign corporations to contribute money for use in American elections (see January 27-29, 2010). [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] National Review editor Ramesh Ponnuru writes, “The most demagogic moment (so far!) came when the president claimed, falsely, that the Supreme Court had given a green light to foreign corporations to run political ads.” [National Review, 1/27/2010] Law professor and former Federal Elections Commission member Bradley A. Smith echoes Ponnuru’s accusation, writing that Obama “engaged in demagoguery of the worst kind.… The president’s statement is false.… This is either blithering ignorance of the law or demagoguery of the worst kind.” [National Review, 1/27/2010] Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the vice-presidential candidate on the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008, says on Fox News that Obama’s criticism “may not be true,” and accuses Obama of “embarrassing our Supreme Court.” She says: “This is why people are disenchanted and are becoming more and more disengaged really from what their government is doing, because when we see an issue like this—words spoken that may not be true coming from our president and embarrassing our Supreme Court and not respecting the separation of powers—we have a problem. And that’s illustrated there by that justice mouthing those words, ‘not true.’ Now, one or the other is being disingenuous here—either our president in what he just claimed, or the Supreme Court justice.” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough calls Obama’s warning “just not the truth,” saying that Obama’s statements were “not based in fact [or] the law.… So the president was not served well last night; he went out and said something that just wasn’t the truth. And I’m sure that that was very difficult for the Supreme Court to sit there and have the president tell America and the world these jokers on the front row just opened up American campaigns to foreign entities when that in fact is just not the truth.” [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “It’s clear the president didn’t know what he was talking about or he was just out-and-out lying because he knows he’s not going to be fact-checked on matters like that by most in the state-controlled media.” [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] Prominent conservative blogger “Allahpundit” accuses Obama of “demagoguing the First Amendment” [HotAir (.com), 1/27/2010] , an accusation echoed by conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, who responds to Allahpundit’s post by writing that Obama’s “demagoguery [will turn] into a negative for him.” [Glenn Reynolds, 1/27/2010] The next day, the Wall Street Journal will demand that Obama “get his facts straight” about the issue (see January 29, 2010). The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Obama’s concerns were echoed by the four dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the Citizens United decision, as noted in the dissent by Justice John Paul Stevens and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The majority decision, Stevens wrote, “would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans.” Cornell law professor Michael Dorf agreed with Stevens, telling a reporter that “[i]t is a plausible inference from the court’s opinion that [foreign] money can’t be restricted.” Dorf’s position is echoed by campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer and the leaders of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, Media Matters notes. [Media Matters, 1/28/2010] And the day after the decision was rendered, Smith, who accused Obama of either “blithering ignorance… or demagoguery,” told a reporter that though the law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing money to groups involved in election politics, “To the extent that there may be some foreign corporations that don’t fall under the category of foreign nationals [and could contribute to election organizations], that might be something Congress can deal with.” [Washington Independent, 1/22/2010]
Entity Tags: Fred Wertheimer, “Allahpundit”, John Paul Stevens, Barack Obama, Campaign Legal Center, Glenn Reynolds, Bradley A. (“Brad”) Smith, US Supreme Court, Wall Street Journal, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Media Matters, Joseph Scarborough, Ramesh Ponnuru, Michael Dorf, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Obama meets with House Republicans in a meeting designed to bridge something of the gap between the two sides. During the meeting, Obama advises the House Republicans to put an end to the bitter partisan attacks they routinely launch at him and his administration if they are serious about wanting to work with the White House on health care reform. “If you were to listen to the debate, and frankly how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this was some Bolshevik plot,” he says. He continues: “If the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me. I mean, the fact of the matter is that many of you—if you voted with the administration on something—are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion. Because, what you’ve been telling your constituents is: this guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that is going to destroy America.” Obama calls the legislation to reform American health care “pretty centrist” and notes that it incorporates many aspects of Republican proposals (see April 21-May 12, 2009, August 20, 2009, September 12, 2009 and After, and September 16-17, 2009). He reminds the Republicans that they will need to negotiate with Democrats to incorporate some of what they want into the final legislation. “Most independent observers would say” it is “similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton,” Obama adds; many of the ideas in the legislation were first suggested in 1994 by then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS). Obama tells the assemblage that their proposals on health care are largely comprised of “political assertions that aren’t substantiated”; he reads from a summary GOP ideas booklet, and says that most of the claims of how Republican health care reforms would work are “not true.” Mike Pence (R-IN) counters that the ideas in the booklet are “backed up precisely by the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months.” Obama says several times that he has read Republican proposals, but cannot find evidence supporting their efficacy. Citing a GOP counter-proposal for the economic stimulus bill passed in 2009, he says, “I couldn’t find credible economists who could back up the claims.” Tom Price (R-GA) later tells a Daily Caller reporter that Obama is only listening to “leftist” economists. Amid the accusations, several Republicans, such as Peter Roskam (R-IL), complain that the Republicans have “really been stiff-armed by Speaker Pelosi… there really is this dynamic of frankly being shut out.” Obama concludes the meeting by saying: “What I can do maybe to help is to try to bring Republican and Democratic leadership together on a more regular basis with me. That’s, I think, a failure on my part, is to try to foster better communications even if there’s disagreement. And I will try to see if we can do more of that this year.” The meeting is described as “contentious” by the conservative news blog Daily Caller, with Republicans flinging accusations at Obama, and Obama answering them and returning accusations and admonishments of his own. After the meeting, Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) says, “I give the president an enormous amount of credit, because I’m sure that there wasn’t a person in the room that’s been elected that hasn’t had to go in to an adversarial setting, and be heavily outnumbered and yet stay that long and take those questions.” Price says that many of his colleagues laughed when Obama told them he was not an ideologue, “because I don’t think the American people believe that.” [Think Progress, 1/29/2010; Daily Caller, 1/29/2010]
In an unsigned editorial, the Wall Street Journal lambasts President Obama for his recent comments that warned the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) could open the door for foreign corporations to contribute money for use in American elections (see January 27-29, 2010). “[C]ould a graduate of Harvard Law School at least get his facts right?” the editorial asks. The Journal accuses Obama of reciting a number of falsehoods in his comments on the decision, and accuses him of using the term “foreign” in “a conscious attempt to inflame public and Congressional opinion against the Court. Coming from a president who fancies himself a citizen of the world, and who has gone so far as [to] foreswear American exceptionalism, this leap into talk-show nativism is certainly illuminating. What will they think of that one in the cafes of Berlin?” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2010] The day before the editorial, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters noted that Obama’s concerns were echoed by the four dissenting Supreme Court Justices in the decision, as well as by a number of legal experts (see January 27-28, 2010).
Richard Mack speaks to a tea party rally in Post Falls, Idaho, in November 2009. [Source: Rajah Bose / New York Times]The New York Times publishes a large front-page story on America’s “tea party” movement. The report is written by staff reporter David Barstow, who researched the story for five months, first joining a bus tour by the Tea Party Express (see August 28, 2009) and then staying for the month of October in and around Spokane, Washington, to interview tea party members and others, such as white supremacist militia members, who have some affiliation with tea party organizations. The first person he mentions is a retiree named Pam Stout, who once worked for federal housing programs and is now aghast at the government’s handling of the economic crisis. She told Barstow that one day “she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated—even manufactured—by both parties to grab power.” She went to a tea party rally, then a meeting of the Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, where she surprised herself by nominating herself for president. Under her leadership, the Sandpoint group joined a coalition, Friends for Liberty, that includes representatives from Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project (see March 13, 2009 and After), the extremist, anti-Communist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), and the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), a far-right militia organization. Stout told Barstow that her family worries that she has become enmeshed in a group of conspiracy theorists and ad hoc revolutionaries, but she said she has never felt more engaged. [New York Times, 2/15/2010; Columbia Journalism Review, 2/18/2010]
Increasing Tilt towards Anti-Government Militia Ideology - Barstow writes that many tea party members are like Stout, with an inclination to conservative anti-government politics, but also with a fear of eventual government tyranny that has driven them to join the movement. “These people are part of a significant undercurrent within the tea party movement that has less in common with the Republican Party than with the Patriot movement,” he writes, “a brand of politics historically associated with libertarians, militia groups, anti-immigration advocates, and those who argue for the abolition of the Federal Reserve. Urged on by conservative commentators, waves of newly minted activists are turning to once-obscure books and Web sites and discovering a set of ideas long dismissed as the preserve of conspiracy theorists, interviews conducted across the country over several months show.” Many tea partiers hold former President Bush and President Obama in equal contempt, holding them jointly responsible for deliberately undermining the Constitution and the free market system “for the benefit of a shadowy international network of wealthy elites” (see February 4-8, 2010). Coalition groups like Friends of Liberty are “forming hybrid entities of tea parties and groups rooted in the Patriot ethos. A fear of government tyranny is one of the most common ideological threads running through virtually all tea party organizations.”
Targeting Republicans as Well as Democrats - Barstow continues: “These coalitions are not content with simply making the Republican Party more conservative. They have a larger goal—a political reordering that would drastically shrink the federal government and sweep away not just Mr. Obama, but much of the Republican establishment, starting with Senator John McCain” and other Republicans whom they consider part of the “government conspiracy” to destroy democracy. While tea parties routinely target Democrats in elections, they are also targeting more moderate Republicans, especially those who support ideas or legislation that they feel is part of the “conspiracy.” Republicans who supported the government bailouts of large corporations are being targeted, as are those who support global warming legislation or who have shown any impetus to work with the White House or with Congressional Democrats (see January 29, 2010). Barstow notes that the tea party movement is anything but homogenous and rigidly organized: “It is an amorphous, factionalized uprising with no clear leadership and no centralized structure.” Some groups are “essentially appendages of the local Republican Party,” but many are not. However, many of the beliefs espoused by individual tea partiers tend to be reflected in most groups. Not all believe that Obama wants to impose a dictatorship, with or without McCain’s help, but many do. The frustration expressed by Stout in the economy and the government’s response to it is echoed throughout tea party groups in every state.
Turning to Radical Ideologies and Conspiracy Theorists - One of the tea partiers’ favorite thinkers is Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 29, 2009). Beck’s often-revisionist, often-inaccurate opinions led many tea partiers to read the Federalist Papers (or, more often, right-wing blogs about the Federalist Papers), conspiracist “exposes” of the Federal Reserve, and the novels of Ayn Rand and George Orwell. Online resources tailored for tea party organizations provide a wealth of what Barstow calls “radical critiques of Washington.” Two of the primary sites are ResistNet.com and InfoWars, both of which combine far-right ideology with a plethora of conspiracy theories covering everything from 9/11 and the Federal Reserve to the New World Order (see September 11, 1990). Some tea partiers are joining with militia groups, or forming their own, and making stockpiles of food, gold, and weaponry to prepare for the end of civilization. Many tea party leaders say they believe that a return to a strict adherence to constitutional law would solve most of the nation’s problems, but many of them espouse a radical view of the Constitution, such as that delineated by radical Constitutional revisionist W. Cleon Skousen (first popularized among the tea party community by Beck—see 1963). Many want to completely do away with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the federal income tax, and most government agencies, all of which they say violate the Constitution. Some go even farther, advocating secession, states “nullfying” federal laws, and the formation of citizen militias. The tea parties in the Pacific Northwest, Barstow writes, have been shaped by influences such as libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and by the sometimes-violent anti-government activism of northern Idaho (see Early 1970s, 1980-1982, 1983-1995, and February 15, 1995). The 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992), which occurred in nearby Idaho, is a touchstone for many tea partiers, just as it was for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see August 21-31, 1992). Many, but not all, tea party members and groups embrace the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not a natural American citizen. A favorite news blog, WorldNetDaily, routinely electrifies the movement by warning of new White House plans to build massive internment camps and stuff them with tea party members, or of plans to send waves of United Nations troops throughout the nation to confiscate Americans’ guns. ResistNet regularly warns that Obama is trying to convert Interpol, the international police organization, into his own personal police force, and advises tea partiers to “grab their guns.” Tea partiers like Mary Johnson of New Mexico points to the Bush-era wiretapping scandal as proof that the government can, and is, preparing to bring democracy to an end. As the groups’ fear and contempt for the federal government grows, Barstow writes, they turn more frequently to “fringe” groups such as white supremacist, anti-government militias. In Indiana, a militia coalition called Defenders of Liberty is networking with tea party groups and other “Patriot” organizations throughout the state. Darin Stevens, the leader of the Spokane 9/12 project, told Barstow that before tuning in to Beck’s show, he had paid almost no attention to politics. After the recession hit and his personal financial structure started to collapse, he began watching Beck. “I had no clue that my country was being taken from me,” he explains. He began the Spokane chapter of Beck’s 9/12 project, and was astounded that 110 people attended the first meeting. Stevens now belongs to the Oath Keepers as well as the 9/12 Project. Spokane tea partier Leah Southwell became a convert after stumbling on Paul’s speeches on YouTube. Southwell turned from being a successful Mary Kay makeup sales representative to being a self-described member of “the uprising.” Southwell, through Paul, is now fully supportive of the Patriot ideology, and holds as evident truth a number of conspiracy theories involving the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations. “The more you know, the madder you are,” she told Barstow. “I mean when you finally learn what the Federal Reserve is!” Southwell is now a local official with the John Birch Society. She says that the affiliation between organizations like the JBS and the tea parties will continue to grow: “Most of these people [tea partiers] are just waking up.” Former car salesman Richard Mack, a longtime militia supporter who co-wrote Ruby Ridge survivor Randy Weaver’s memoirs, is a favorite speaker at tea party events. “People just do not trust any of this,” Mack told Barstow. “It’s not just the fringe people anymore. These are just ordinary people—teachers, bankers, housewives.”
Amorphous Structure - Local tea party groups often join, in one degree or another, one of several competing national tea party organizations such as ResistNet or the Tea Party Express, most of which are organized, staffed, and funded by conservative lobbying groups such as 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) or Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After). Some tea party groups have been joined by, or in some cases overrun by, other groups, from “birthers” to militias, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, pro-gun groups, and the sovereign states movement. Many coalitions such as Friends of Liberty were formed in opposition to what leaders called the endless “hijack attempts” by state and county Republican Parties. Dann Selle of the Official Tea Party of Spokane told Barstow, “We had to stand our ground, I’ll be blunt.”
Support from Elected Politicians - Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and a possible 2012 Republican candidate for president, has joined with Texas tea parties in supporting the state’s secession from the United States. Nevada Republican Joe Heck, who ran for Congress in 2008, attacked both parties for moving the nation towards “socialist tyranny” and solicited tea party support at a rally in Las Vegas. Indiana Republican Richard Behney, running for the US Senate, told tea party supporters that if the 2010 elections did not turn out to his liking: “I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too.” [New York Times, 2/15/2010]
Entity Tags: ResistNet, Richard Behney, Richard Mack, Republican Party, Ron Paul, US Federal Reserve, Tea Party Express, WorldNetDaily, Sandpoint Tea Party Patriots, W. Cleon Skousen, Timothy James McVeigh, Pam Stout, Oath Keepers, New York Times, Mary Johnson, Defenders of Liberty, 9/12 Project, Americans for Prosperity, Barack Obama, Dann Selle, Fox News, FreedomWorks, Friends for Liberty, Glenn Beck, Leah Southwell, John McCain, Darin Stevens, John Birch Society, James Richard (“Rick”) Perry, InfoWars, Joe Heck, David Barstow
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican candidate for vice president, tells a crowd of Republican activists and tea party members in Little Rock, Arkansas, that the tea party movement must choose between the Republican and Democratic parties if it is to survive as a political force that elects its members to public office. “Now the smart thing will be for independents who are such a part of this tea party movement to, I guess, kind of start picking a party,” she says. “Which party reflects how that smaller, smarter government steps to be taken? Which party will best fit you? And then because the tea party movement is not a party, and we have a two-party system, they’re going to have to pick a party and run one or the other: ‘R’ or ‘D.’” Palin recommends that tea partiers choose the Republicans, though she notes that her husband Todd Palin is not a registered Republican and the movement should be open to including independents. (Both Palins have been affiliated with the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party—see March 2008 and October 15, 2008). Much of her speech is drawn from her 2008 campaign speeches. Much of the 18,000-seat Verizon Arena is empty, with the entire upper level closed off and the bottom level less than half full. In the hours before the event, the Arkansas Republican Party slashed prices on tickets to the speech to $20. The dining tables on the arena’s floor are crowded with donors who paid $175 for a ringside seat. Palin’s recommendation for the tea partiers to join the GOP draws mixed results from influential bloggers. “Allahpundit” at HotAir says Palin is correct in her statement about embracing the GOP over running Quixotic third-party races that are doomed to fail, and such races will just put more Democrats in office. Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice says the tea party is through as an independent movement if it follows Palin’s advice; many tea partiers are equally critical of both parties, and joining one to battle the other is just more politics as usual. And John Tomasic of the Colorado Independent says Palin’s recommendation is essentially moot, as the tea party has always been “a subsection of the Republican Party.” [CBS News, 2/17/2010; The Week, 2/18/2010]
Photo of a rock included on his blog post by Mike Vanderboegh. The meaning of the Roman numeral III is unclear. [Source: Mike Vanderboegh]Mike Vanderboegh, the former head of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, writes a blog post urging his readers to show their displeasure over the Democrats’ health care reform bill by breaking the windows of Democratic legislative offices. “To all modern Sons of Liberty,” he writes on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars,” “THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.” Vanderboegh, who lives on government disability payments, writes of what he calls “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act”: “So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows. Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM.” [Mike Vanderboegh, 3/19/2010; Kansas City Star, 3/22/2010; Think Progress, 3/23/2010; Daily Beast, 3/24/2010; Washington Post, 3/25/2010; Salon, 3/26/2010]
Vandalism, Death Threats against Lawmakers and Children in Three States - In the days that follow, windows and glass door panels are shattered in Democratic Party offices and Democrats’ district legislative offices in Arizona, Kansas, and New York. At least 10 Democratic legislators report receiving death threats, harassment, and vandalism at their offices. In the Niagara Falls, New York, office of Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a voice mail message is left threatening to send snipers to “assassinate… the children of lawmakers who voted yes” on health care reform. [Kansas City Star, 3/22/2010; Think Progress, 3/23/2010; Politico, 3/24/2010; Washington Post, 3/25/2010] Mike Troxel, an organizer for the Lynchburg, Virginia, Tea Party, publishes what he believes to be the home address of Representative Thomas Perriello (D-VA), and urges angry voters to “drop by” for a “good face-to-face chat.” (The address is that of Bo Perriello, the brother of Thomas. Troxel refuses to take it down from his blog, but says he would be happy to amend his post with Perriello’s own address. Within days of Troxel’s post, someone cuts Bo Perriello’s propane gas line, an act that could lead to a fire.) Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), whose last-minute compromise on abortion (see March 24, 2010) guaranteed passage of the health care bill, reports receiving multiple death threats on his home and office answering machines, including one that said, “You’re dead; we know where you live; we’ll get you.” Stupak tells a reporter, “My wife still can’t answer the phone.” The messages are “full of obscenities if she leaves it plugged in. In my office, we can’t get a phone out. It’s just bombarded.” [Politico, 3/24/2010; Right Wing Watch, 3/24/2010]
Prediction of 'Civil War' over Health Care, Taxation - Though Democratic Party officials in New York call for Vanderboegh’s arrest, believing he is behind an incident of vandalism in Rochester, he has not as yet been interviewed by law enforcement authorities. Vanderboegh tells Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker that he has no regrets over his call for vandalism and violence, and says that throwing bricks through windows sends a clear message to Democrats that “the health care reform legislation they passed Sunday has caused so much unrest that it could result in a civil war.” Vanderboegh, Rucker writes, has “a complicated theory that IRS agents will go after people who refuse to buy insurance or pay the fines,” and the result of that action will be “civil war.” Vanderboegh says: “The central fact of the health care bill is this, and we find it tyrannical and unconstitutional on its face. The federal government now demands all Americans to pay and play in this system, and if we refuse, we will be fined, and if we refuse to pay the fine, they will come to arrest us, and if we resist arrest… then we will be killed. The bill certainly doesn’t say that, but that’s exactly and precisely what is behind every bill like this.” Throwing bricks through windows, he says, is “both good manners and it’s also a moral duty to try to warn people.” Vanderboegh describes himself as a “Christian libertarian” and a gun rights advocate who once belonged to two Alabama militia organizations. Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that tracks extremist and hate groups, says the SPLC has been aware of Vanderboegh “forever,” and says: “He hasn’t been involved in any kind of violence that we know of ourselves, but these causes that he’s involved in led to a lot of violence. The ideas that Vanderboegh’s militia groups were pushing were the same extreme anti-government ideas that inspired [Timothy] McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). [Washington Post, 3/25/2010; Salon, 3/26/2010] One of Vanderboegh’s blog commentators asks, “Is this our Fort Sumter?” referring to the opening battle of the Civil War. [Mike Vanderboegh, 3/19/2010] Reporter John Avlon writes that the comparison to 1938’s “Kristallnacht,” the Nazis’ “Night of Broken Glass,” are “inevitable.” He notes that Vanderboegh’s home page warns, “All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war.” [Daily Beast, 3/24/2010]
Prediction of 'Race War' - Vanderboegh tells Avnel that he believes President Obama’s election will spark a “race war,” saying: “Now we have a gangster culture in the middle of the cities. We’ve imported into this country over the last 20 years a significant subculture that comes from south of the border [presumably Mexico] that also has not bought in and identified with the larger culture. Our fear is that any breakdown in this country of law and order will turn into a three-sided race war, and I can’t think of anything that’s more calculated to bring long-term tyranny and chaos than something like that.” [Daily Beast, 3/24/2010]
Republican Leadership Should 'Stop' Incendiary Rhetoric - Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says: “The real problem is the people who are calling and talking about a revolution and overthrowing government. They can be angry. We’re all for that. But when they talk about taking over the government, the leadership has to do its part to stop that.” [Politico, 3/24/2010]
Problem for 'Tea Parties'? - Progressive columnist David Weigel predicts that Vanderboegh’s “off the rails” post “will end up making a lot of trouble for Tea Parties… calling, many times over, for violence against members of Congress. Vanderboegh basically courts controversy—his blog profile tells readers how to send him anthrax and death threats—but as Democrats make hay from attacks on Congressional offices, this blog post might become a sort of Rosetta Stone of wingnuttery.” [Washington Independent, 3/25/2010]
Entity Tags: Louise Slaughter, Mike Vanderboegh, Philip Rucker, John Avlon, Southern Poverty Law Center, Heidi Beirich, Bart Stupak, C.A. Ruppersberger, Alabama Constitutional Militia, David Weigel, Barack Obama, Thomas Perriello, Mike Troxel, Bo Perriello
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously holds that provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) violate the First Amendment in the case of a nonprofit, unincorporated organization called SpeechNow.org. SpeechNow collects contributions from individuals, but not corporations, and attempted to collect contributions in excess of what FECA allows. In late 2007, SpeechNow asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) if its fundraising plans would require it to register as a political committee, and the FEC responded that the law would require such registration, thus placing SpeechNow under federal guidelines for operation and fundraising. In February 2008, SpeechNow challenged that ruling in court, claiming that the restrictions under FECA were unconstitutional. FECA should not restrict the amount of money individuals can donate to the organization, it argued, and thusly should not face spending requirements. It also argued that the reporting limits under FECA are unduly burdensome. The district court ruled against SpeechNow, using two Supreme Court decisions as its precedents (see January 30, 1976 and December 10, 2003), and ruled that “nominally independent” organizations such as SpeechNow are “uniquely positioned to serve as conduits for corruption both in terms of the sale of access and the circumvention of the soft money ban.” SpeechNow appealed that decision. The appeals court reverses the decision, stating that the contribution limits under FECA are unconstitutional as applied to individuals. The reporting and organizational requirements under FECA are constitutionally valid, the court rules. The appeals court uses the recent Citizens United ruling as justification for its findings on contribution limits (see January 21, 2010). [New York Times, 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission, 2012; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] The FEC argued that large contributions to groups that made independent expenditures could “lead to preferential access for donors and undue influence over officeholders,” but Chief Judge David Sentelle, writing for the court, retorts that such arguments “plainly have no merit after Citizens United.” Stephen M. Hoersting, who represents SpeechNow, says the ruling is a logical and welcome extension of the Citizens United ruling, stating, “The court affirmed that groups of passionate individuals, like billionaires—and corporations and unions after Citizens United—have the right to spend without limit to independently advocate for or against federal candidates.” [New York Times, 3/28/2010] Taken along with another court ruling, the SpeechNow case opens the way for the formation of so-called “super PACs,” “independent expenditure” entities that can be run by corporations or labor unions with monies directly from their treasuries, actions that have been banned for over 60 years (see 1925 and June 25, 1943). The New York Times will later define a super PAC as “a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections, and which can take unlimited amounts of money, outside of federal contribution limits, from rich people, unions, and corporations, pool it all together, and spend it to advocate for a candidate—as long as they are independent and not coordinated with the candidate.” Super PACs are not required by law to disclose who their donors are, how much money they have raised, and how much they spend. CNN will later write, “The high court’s decision allowed super PACs to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan organization that monitors campaign finance practices, later writes that the laws underwriting Super PACs “prevent… voters from understanding who is truly behind many political messages.” [New York Times, 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission, 2012; OpenSecrets (.org), 2012; CNN, 3/26/2012; New York Times, 5/22/2012]
Some of the armed militia members gathering in support of Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul. The two depicted are wearing pro-Paul stickers. [Source: Think Progress (.org)]US Senate candidate Rand Paul (R-KY) is a featured speaker at an “open carry” rally held in Frankfort. “Open carry” advocates claim the right to openly carry firearms in public places. The rally includes groups like the Ohio Valley Freedom Fighters, an organization that has openly worked with and defended the Michigan-based Hutaree militia (see March 27-30, 2010). During his address to the rally, Paul calls the armed attendees, many of whom are wearing “I’m A Rand Fan” stickers, his “private security detail.” [Joe Sonka, 3/29/2010; Think Progress, 5/17/2010] (Note: progressive news Web site Think Progress misidentifies the militia organization at the Paul rally as the “Ohio Valley Freedom Fights.”) [Think Progress, 5/17/2010]
Attorney Karl Crow, one of the leaders of the Themis project. [Source: Little Sis (.org)]Charles and David Koch, the oil billionaires who are behind the conservative tea party movement (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011 and October 4, 2011), begin to build a huge, nationwide database of conservative voters that they intend to use to drive conservative votes in elections, beginning with the 2012 Republican primaries and on to the November 2012 general presidential election. The database is nicknamed “Themis,” after the Greek goddess of divine law and order who imposes order on human affairs. According to The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, “the Koch brothers are close to launching a nationwide database connecting millions of Americans who share their anti-government and libertarian views, a move that will further enhance the tycoons’ political influence and that could prove significant in next year’s presidential election.” Pilkington writes that Themis will bring together “the vast network of alliances” the brothers have formed over the last 20 years. [Politico, 10/10/2011; Guardian, 11/7/2011] Patrick Glennon of In These Times writes: “Email lists, phone numbers, and other contact information from disperse sources will merge into a comprehensive and streamlined political weapon. Purportedly, the database will also include extensive information relating to occupation and income levels, useful details for targeted fundraising initiatives.” [Politico, 10/10/2011] The database begins in April 2010, and is expected to be completed and functional by the end of 2011. Few details of the project are known; development leader Karl Crow, a Washington lawyer and longtime Koch advisor, refuses to speak about it, as do media representatives of Koch Industries. A member of a Koch affiliate organization who specializes in the political uses of new technology says in November 2011 that the project is almost ready to go live: “They are doing a lot of analysis and testing. Finally they’re getting Themis off the ground.” The project is intended to, Pilkington writes, “bring together information from a plethora of right-wing groups, tea party organizations, and conservative-leaning thinktanks. Each one has valuable data on their membership—including personal email addresses and phone numbers, as well as more general information useful to political campaign strategists such as occupation, income bracket, and so on. By pooling the information, the hope is to create a data resource that is far more potent than the sum of its parts. Themis will in effect become an electoral roll of right-wing America, allowing the Koch brothers to further enhance their power base in a way that is sympathetic to, but wholly independent of, the Republican Party.” The specialist tells Pilkington, “This will take time to fully realize, but it has the potential to become a very powerful tool in 2012 and beyond.” Themis is modeled in part on a project called Catalyst, a voter list that compiled and shared data about progressive groups and campaigns (see Late 2004 and After) and helped Democrats regain momentum after the 2004 defeat of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). [Politico, 10/10/2011; Guardian, 11/7/2011; In These Times, 11/8/2011] The 2008 Obama campaign used social media outreach techniques to augment Catalyst’s database. Themis apparently incorporates many of those social-media and other interactive features in its construction. [The Kernel, 12/19/2011] Josh Hendler, the former director of technology of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), tells Pilkington that Themis could do for the GOP what Catalyst helped do for the Democrats. “This increases the Koch brothers’ reach,” he says. “It will allow them to become even greater coordinators than they are already—with this resource they become a natural center of gravity for conservatives.” Mary Boyle of the political watchdog group Common Cause says of the reclusive brothers, “What makes them unique is that they are not just campaign contributors; they are a vast political network in their own right.” Themis will only deepen the Koch brothers’ control of American right-wing politics, Pilkington observes. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel writes that the Kochs intend to spend at least $200 million in 2012 on the Republican presidential campaign and other related activities. Pilkington writes: “Their potential to sway the electorate through the sheer scale of their spending has been greatly enhanced by Citizens United, last year’s controversial ruling by the US Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate donations in political campaigns. The ruling allows companies to throw unlimited sums to back their chosen candidates, without having to disclose their spending. That makes 2012 the first Citizens United presidential election, and in turn offers rich pickings to the Koch brothers.” Themis will help the Kochs “micro-target” voters and potential fundraisers. Pilkington writes that it is reasonable to assume that Koch-funded lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are part of Themis, as are Koch-funded think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. “Between them, they have tentacles that extend to millions of voters,” Pilkington writes. Liberal reporter and blogger Lee Fang says the impact of Themis and the Koch funding on the 2012 presidential campaign will be immense: “This will be the first major election where most of the data and the organizing will be done outside the party nexus. The Kochs have the potential to outspend and out-perform the Republican Party and even the successful Republican candidate.” [Politico, 10/10/2011; Guardian, 11/7/2011; In These Times, 11/8/2011]
Entity Tags: Charles Koch, 2008 Obama presidential election campaign, Ed Pilkington, Americans for Prosperity, Catalyst, David Koch, Themis, Republican Party, Karl Crow, Josh Hendler, Patrick Glennon, Kenneth Vogel, Lee Fang, Mary Boyle, John Kerry, FreedomWorks
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
On NBC’s Today show, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), widely expected to mount a presidential bid in 2012, tells an NBC audience that “tea party” leaders “understand that in the end their job is to help defeat Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.” Gingrich tells interviewer Matt Lauer that it would be a “disaster” if the “tea party” movement split the base of the Republican party in the November elections, and would “guarantee… the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as speaker.” Pelosi (D-CA) and Reid (D-NV) are the leaders of Democrats in the House and Senate, respectively. [Media Matters, 4/6/2010] Gingrich has not hesitated to vilify Pelosi in the media (see May 15, 2009).
Lawyer and “birther” activist Orly Taitz (see November 12, 2008 and After, March 13, 2009, July 8-16, 2009, August 1-4, 2009, September 16-21, 2009, October 13-16, 2009, October 29, 2009, April 16, 2010, July 7 - August 16, 2010, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011) is “disinvited” to an upcoming Tax Day Tea Party rally in Pleasanton, California. Several Republican political candidates, including Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, are scheduled to speak at the rally, but after they complain about Taitz’s inclusion, she is removed from the slate of speakers. Bridget Melson, founder and president of the Pleasanton Tea Party, says the organization had been “getting calls from candidates like crazy.” She explains: “It’s not worth it. She’s too controversial. This is not what the tea party is about at this point.” Taitz herself is running for California secretary of state, a position that would presumably give her the power to block President Obama from being on the ballot in 2012 if she were to win the post. Fiorina, along with a representative of Senate candidate Chuck DeVore, and several congressional and state legislative candidates are scheduled to speak at the Pleasanton rally. Josh Trevino, a DeVore spokesperson, says, “I can say emphatically that the Chuck DeVore campaign and Chuck DeVore himself strongly disapproves of Orly Taitz and the crazy theories she continues to advance.” Fiorina spokeswoman Julie Soderlund says, “President Obama is absolutely eligible for the presidency and is a natural-born United States citizen.” She notes that Fiorina staunchly opposes most of Obama’s policies. At least one scheduled speaker, House candidate John Dennis, told organizers that if Taitz were retained on the slate, he would withdraw entirely. “The presence of a discredited publicity seeker on the same platform with patriotic Americans distorts the focus of our movement, distracts from our common message, and gives ammunition to those who continue to question our legitimacy,” Dennis told organizers. At least one rally attendee, Tom Del Beccaro of the California Republican Party, says Taitz’s questions about Obama’s citizenship may be valid: “I certainly don’t have enough information to decide that (see June 13, 2008). I’ve never seen yay or nay either way, so how could I know?” Taitz has caused controversy in her current race for secretary of state, questioning the legitimacy of her Republican primary opponent, real estate entrepreneur Damon Dunn, and accusing Republicans of supporting Dunn over her solely because he is African-American. [Los Angeles Times, 4/13/2010]
Entity Tags: Josh Trevino, Bridget Melson, Barack Obama, Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore, Julie Soderlund, Orly Taitz, John Dennis, Pleasanton Tea Party, Tom Del Beccaro, Damon Dunn
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the 18 percent of Americans identifying themselves as tea party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public. They tend to be Republican, white, male, married, and older than 45. They tend to be more conservative than “mainstream” Republicans, and describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.” Most Republicans term themselves as “dissatisfied” with Washington, but tea party supporters tend to classify themselves as “angry.” Most tea partiers tend to describe their individual or household tax burden as “fair,” though they tend to dislike taxation in general. Most send their children to public schools. Most support Medicare and Social Security, though they support the idea of smaller government. Where they tend to diverge from the general public is in their deep pessimism about the direction of the country, and their conviction that the Obama administration is bent on helping the poor at the expense of the middle class and the wealthy. The vast majority of tea party supporters say Obama does not share American values and knows little about the problems of people like themselves. A quarter of the responding supporters say that Obama favors blacks over whites, as opposed to 11 percent of the general public, and they are more likely than the general public to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” Three things primarily fuel their anger at Washington: health care reform, government spending, and their feeling that Washington lawmakers ignore their concerns. Retired Florida lawyer Elwin Thrasher says in an interview: “The only way they will stop the spending is to have a revolt on their hands. I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.” Over 90 percent of tea party supporters believe the country is heading down the wrong path, as contrasted with some 60 percent of the general population, and almost 90 percent say Obama is doing a poor job heading the country. That same percentage say he has mishandled health care, the economy, and the federal deficit. Ninety-two percent say Obama wants to make the US a socialist state. Retired medical transcriber Kathy Mayhugh says: “I just feel he’s getting away from what America is. He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, January 11, 2008, January 22-24, 2008, April 18, 2008, June 27, 2008, October 10-11, 2008, September 24, 2010, and April 27, 2011). While most Americans blame the Bush administration or Wall Street for the current economic status, a majority of tea party supporters blame Congress, focusing much of that blame on Congressional Democrats. They vote almost unanimously Republican. Fifty-seven percent of tea party supporters say they hold a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, while almost the same percentage of the general public see Bush unfavorably. Most tea party supporters say they want to focus on economic issues ahead of social issues such as gay rights and abortion restrictions, and say the movement should focus first on shrinking the federal government, ahead of reducing the deficit or lowering taxes. Almost 75 percent of tea party supporters say domestic program spending should be reduced, though most do not want Medicare or Social Security cut. California tea party supporter Jodine White, 62, says of her view on federal spending: “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.… I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.” [New York Times, 4/14/2010]
Dave Schwartz, the Maryland state director for the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), which funds and directs many tea party organizations, writes an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun praising the tea party movement for its successes and calling for it to eschew the conspiracy theories (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 2010, October 19, 2010, and August 17, 2011) that have often characterized it up to this point. “We must distance ourselves from ‘birthers,’ ‘truthers,’ and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes,” he writes, referring to two popular theories: that President Obama is not an American citizen, and that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by members of the Bush administration or others in the federal government. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States and was elected by a majority of voters. He is a father and a husband, and he has reached the pinnacle of his career through hard work and determination. We simply have a philosophical disagreement with him about the role of government in society. The tea party should fight the president’s and governor’s big-government policies with thoughtful solutions, not personal attacks.” He concludes by advising readers that “[f]or this movement to be a lasting political force, we must remain independent,” apparently referring to calls by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich for the tea party movement to join the GOP (see February 16, 2010 and April 21, 2010). [Baltimore Sun, 4/15/2010]
Author Amity Shlaes is one of 13 people interviewed by the New York Times about their perceptions of the tea party movement. [Source: National Review]The New York Times, in light of a recent poll showing American tea party supporters to be whiter, wealthier, and more conservative than average Americans (see April 14, 2010), interviews a number of prominent historians, journalists, and political analysts about their views on the tea party.
Tea Party Very Similar to Anti-Liberal Organizations of Generations Past - Rick Perlstein, the biographer of former president Richard Nixon and former Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), writes of his “frustration” at “watching the rise of the tea party movement,” calling it “ugly” and in opposition to “so many of the values I hold dear.” He notes the “overwhelming historical myopia” of the news media’s coverage of the tea party, saying that the current movement is comprised of “the same angry, ill-informed, overwhelmingly white, crypto-corporate paranoiacs that accompany every ascendancy of liberalism within US government” (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, September 2010, and August 17, 2011). Perlstein quotes conservative activist Brent Bozell asking, “When was the last time you saw such a spontaneous eruption of conservative grass-roots anger, coast to coast?” and responds: “The answer, of course, is: in 1993. And 1977. And 1961. And so on. And so yet much of the commentariat takes Bozell at his word, reading what is happening as striking and new.” Perlstein writes that the parallels between the current tea party movement and the previous movements opposing the Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton administrations “are uncanny.… The only thing that changes is the name of the enemy within.” In 1963, accusations flew that President Kennedy was “in bed” with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to bring socialism to America; today, the accusations are that the “Muslim terrorist” President Obama wants to bring socialism to America, perhaps with the aid of Islamist terror groups. Perlstein says that in years past, the media was far more unflinching at labeling the reactionaries as “fringe” elements. “[B]ack then, they covered the story with much more moral courage and civic wisdom.” Now, Perlstein writes, the media fawns over tea party leaders and the right-wing commentators who promote them (see August 11, 2009).
'Sullen, Defensive Mobilization' of Wealthier Americans who Fear the Poor - Author Michael Lind, the policy director of the centrist New America Foundation, advises Republicans and Democrats both to “ignore this faux populist base of the GOP and focus instead on the genuine swing voters.” Tea partiers, Lind writes, are not “[p]itchfork-wielding populists,” but are closer to “the affluent members of the Liberty League who vilified President Roosevelt in the 1930s (see August 23, 1934 and After)—a sullen, defensive mobilization of the Have-Somes who dread the Have-Nots. The tea partiers put the ‘petty’ in petty bourgeoisie. They are disgruntled conservative Fox Republicans.”
Tea Parties Focusing on Constitutional Issues - Author Steven F. Hayward, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, lauds the tea parties as primarily focused on economic and constitutional issues (see May 2010), and more supportive of gay rights, abortion rights, and limited gun restrictions than the media may admit. Hayward writes that he is surprised that most tea partiers are “more economically secure than the general population” and better-educated than the average American: “[T]he narrative that the tea partiers are a bunch of pitchfork populist rubes becomes harder to maintain.” Racism does not permeate the tea parties, Hayward argues (see February 27, 2009, April 2009, July 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 2009, September 14, 2009, October 15, 2009 and After, January 14, 2010, February 2010, March 20, 2010, March 25, 2010, March 26, 2010, May 14, 2010, July 13, 2010, July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, July 17-18, 2010, August 6, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 11, 2010, September 12, 2010, October 10, 2010, October 19, 2010, April 15, 2011, April 16, 2011, May 5, 2011, July 29, 2011 and After, August 22-30, 2011, and December 10, 2011), “though there is some evidence of polarization that is a problem for the tea party as a movement.” Hayward opines that such racism that can be documented in tea party members “is likely an aspect of party politics today.” He also states that tea party supporters do not believe the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not an American citizen any more than the average American, a statement at odds with many other analyses of tea party ideologies (see October 2008, January 8, 2009, June 4, 2009, February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, September 2010, April 13-15, 2011, and July 1-2, 2011), even though the poll shows that only 41 percent of the tea party supporters believe that Obama is a “natural-born citizen.” The driving factor behind so many Americans with no previous history of political involvement is, he writes, the fact that most tea party members “are moderates who are simply shocked by Obama’s great leap forward in the size of government,” and he compares the tea parties to the third-party backers of presidential candidate H. Ross Perot in 1992. He concludes, “The real promise of the tea party movement is that it may lead to a reinvigoration of the idea of constitutional limits on government—an idea liberals may find quaint if not hopelessly obsolete.”
Long-Discredited 'Radical Right' Views Propelling Tea Parties - Author and university professor Alan Wolfe, a self-described liberal, derides the tea parties as little more than a repackaged version of the “radical right” which has long been a part of America’s body politic. The tea party movement, Wolfe writes, has given “American intellectuals whose views have been out of fashion for some time” a new platform with which to express their ideas. The same ideas that drove the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s are driving the tea parties today, Wolfe writes, and points to the increasing involvement of organizations such as the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961) in the tea party movement (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010). Like the people who support the JBS both now and in the 1950s, tea partiers are driven “not so much to their economic circumstances as to their status anxieties.” They fear the changing, increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan society around them, and dislike, or sometimes even hate, the seeming “encroachment” of minorities and lower-class Americans on their lives. Wolfe says that the idea that tea party members do not embrace racist values any more than other Americans is specious; their poll responses can be explained, he writes, by noting that “people who respond to them have learned to hide their true feelings.” He concludes: “At the risk of sounding condescending, these people have lost all perspective. They know how to kvetch. They know nothing about what makes their country great. Instead of watching Glenn Beck, I would urge them to learn more about their country’s history—or to go and see a shrink.”
Using Coded Appeals to Race - Law professor Paul Butler writes that while most tea partiers are “more uber-Republicans than Klansmen,” the organizations are very good at using racist “code words” to appeal to racist whites while maintaining plausible deniability about their inherent appeal to racist politics. “The tea party is smart enough not to frame its agenda around white supremacy, but the code words are there,” he writes “[T]he most virulent anti-Obama force in the country is smart enough not to frame its agenda around white supremacy—at least not explicitly.” While most tea partiers were clever enough not to indicate that they were bluntly racist in the poll results, the fact that a strong majority of them “believe that too much has been made of the problems that African-Americans face, and that the administration favors blacks over whites,” is quite telling, Butler writes. “Overwhelmingly they believe that Barack Obama doesn’t share the needs and problems of people like them, or the values of ‘most Americans.’ These code words have been around long enough, everybody gets them.”
Poll Does Not Support Idea that Tea Partiers Embrace Bigotry - Author and columnist Amity Shlaes writes that the poll numbers do not support the “media stereotype” that tea party supporters “are racist or intolerant. The media depicts tea partiers as bigots who look down on minorities, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.” Similarly, she argues, the poll results do not support the idea that tea party supporters believe Obama is a Muslim any more than average Americans do. As the tea party organizers claim, the movement is largely about economics, Shales writes.
Fear of Loss of Control - History professor and author Alan Brinkley calls the tea party “the party of me,” and compares its members demographically to the Americans who supported the McCarthyite “Red scare” inquisitions and the Clinton-era Whitewater investigations—predominantly white males, significantly wealthier than the average American, far more conservative than the mainstream, and fearful of the prospect that conservative white males might not continue to exert control over American society. “[W]hat seems to motivate them the most is a fear of a reduction in their own status—economically and socially,” Brinkley writes. As for their economic worries, he writes, “[T]heir concern is not the state of the economy as a whole, but their own economic conditions.” Brinkley concludes: “The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer ‘theirs,’ that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.”
Unrealistic Belief that Government Can Exist without Taxation - Author and former political science professor Lorenzo Morris writes that the tea party’s position on taxes is extremist: “The tea party supporters seem to think that government can exist without taxes.” The American experiment with the Articles of Confederation, which provided no real tax income at all, proves that idea to be wrong, Morris writes, but “[w]ith enough time and historical romanticism, however, bad ideas come back around.” He writes that the current appearance of the tea parties has become less “vitriolic and menacing” than their image from the summer of 2009, when their vociferous and sometimes-violent protesting of health care reform painted them as frightening and bigoted (see July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009). The tea parties have begun to win the approval of right-wing Republican figures, including many of those who intend a presidential run in 2012. But, he concludes, their rigid disapproval of taxes as a concept, and taxation as a reality, means that they will inevitably “repeat the folly of those early Americans who thought there could be government with no taxes.”
Anger without Willingness to Make Real Change - Law professor Susan Estrich notes that the poll indicates a large reservoir of approval for former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the 2008 vice-presidential nominee for the Republican Party, but a strong doubt that she is competent to lead the nation. “Tea party types may be mad,” Estrich writes, “but they aren’t buying President Palin. And if they aren’t, who would?” Estrich goes on to note that tea party supporters, “like most of us… want to have it both ways: they want their Social Security and smaller government, want major cuts but not in Medicare, which is a little like having your cake and eating it, too. If you want to really reduce the size of government, that means cutting defense and entitlements. If you’re not willing to do that, what you get is big talk and no action, which is ultimately a recipe for anger.” She concludes by calling the racial element “lurking in the polls” “troubling.”
Motivated by Racial Concerns - Author and Democratic activist Bob Moser writes of his familiarity with tea parties in Texas, “where the movement has flared up hotter than just about anywhere else,” and his lack of surprise at the demographics: white, conservative, male, and relatively affluent. The concern about the nation’s economic tribulations, and the anger directed at Obama, is understandable, he writes. However, “[w]hat strikes me is how often America’s great and terrible obsession, race, slithers around the poll numbers.” The poll numbers may not directly bear out the racism and bigotry that exists in the ranks of the tea partiers, Moser writes, “[b]ut it’s impossible to shrug off the collective impressions left by the data. Why, exactly, do 73 percent of tea partiers say that the president does not understand ‘the needs and problems of people like yourself’?” The movement works hard to marginalize Americans who disagree with them, particularly Obama, as un-American, not a member of “we the people.” Moser notes that almost three-quarters of the tea party supporters “say that black and white people have an ‘equal’ chance of ‘getting ahead in today’s society.’ If that’s not colorblindness, it’s certainly some kind of blindness.” Moser concludes by writing that the tea party movement is achieving both goals set by “its corporate Republican conjurers,” both “becoming the political expression of a white-resistance movement being spurred by anxieties over the economy, the black ‘socialist’ president, and the coming end of majority-white America… [and] leaning, at least in 2010, strongly Republican in attitude.”
Healthy Expression of Populism - Political analyst David Gergen writes that the perception of the tea parties as angry, bitter, and divisive is untrue. He describes the latest rally he attended as “festive and friendly.” While many protest higher taxes and bigger government, Gergen writes, their claims that opposing Obama does not entail a racist viewpoint are true. “[M]any feel stung by what they see as misrepresentations in the press,” he writes. Gergen compares the 2010 tea partiers to the Ross Perot voters of 1992: “Those who supported Mr. Perot were mostly white, a little better educated than the general population and much more concerned about government deficits than government peeking into bedrooms. They were also more from the West and South but had pockets of support scattered around the country.” He notes that 18 percent of Americans identify themselves as tea party supporters; in 1992, 19 percent of voters cast their votes for Perot. He calls them a healthy expression of American populism and concludes: “Many of these tea partiers are fearful of how the country is changing. Some circles look down upon them; it would be far wiser to listen, understand and find ways to heal.”
Heralding GOP Success for 2010, Problems Farther On - Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center and a political polls expert, says the poll numbers “augur well for the Republicans in November’s midterm elections: the politically energized supra conservatives—the 1 in 5 who are universally disaffected with national conditions, and with Barack Obama and with his policies—are likely to be a strong advantage in the midterms, where typically fewer than 4 of 10 eligible citizens vote.” The Republicans’ biggest challenge is to keep the tea party supporters’ votes while simultaneously attracting independents and moderates. And a move by the GOP to the right, to further embrace the tea partiers, “may not bode well for the party in the longer run, given the new primacy of independent voters, a power that was on full display in 2008.” Moreover, the tea parties may well co-opt the GOP, going from “the tail that wags the dog” to becoming “the dog itself.” Kohut writes: “Looking ahead, our polling suggests that the Republican party needs unifying themes and leadership. A tea party-led GOP may not be the prescription for that.”
Economic Concerns Drive Tea Party Success - Political consultant Douglas Schoen says the fact that almost 1 in 5 Americans support the tea party “extraordinary, given that the movement is not active in half of America and that its name recognition is not universal.” Schoen gives no credence to “what appear to be the class-based or race-based attitudes of the tea party movement,” and writes that the movement is instead propelled by economic concerns. Schoen says that statistics aside, he believes the tea party movement to be far more diverse than the polls indicate (see September 2010). Almost half its supporters identify themselves as non-Republicans, and a quarter of them claim to have voted for Obama in 2008, he says. [New York Times, 4/15/2010]
Entity Tags: Bob Moser, Barack Obama, Amity Shlaes, Alan Wolfe, Alan Brinkley, Susan Estrich, Andrew Kohut, Steven F. Hayward, Paul Butler, Michael Lind, Douglas Schoen, Lorenzo Morris, Brent Bozell, David Gergen, Rick Perlstein, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Pastor Stan Craig. [Source: Choice Hills Baptist Church]A “tea party” rally in Greenville, South Carolina, features a great deal of rhetorical violence, with one speaker telling the crowd he is ready to launch an armed assault on Washington, DC. The event is hosted by the Upcountry Conservative Coalition. The keynote speaker is former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO—see September 9, 2006), who tells the assemblage that Americans are “going to have to pray that we can hold on to this country.” Of President Obama, he says, “If his wife says Kenya is his homeland, why don’t we just send him back?” Tancredo is referring to widespread beliefs among the right that Obama is of Kenyan birth. It is unclear what Tancredo is referring to regarding Obama’s wife. Pastor Stan Craig of the Choice Hills Baptist Church, a Vietnam veteran, tells the crowd that he “was trained to defend the liberties of this nation,” and, apparently referring to his choice to participate in an armed insurrection, says he is ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” Dan Gonzales of Florida’s Constitution Party seems to agree with Craig, saying “this is the end of America right here,” and if the tea partiers “don’t get to work we’re going to be fighting in the streets.” Gonzales seems to have little love for the Republican Party either, claiming it is owned by the Rockefeller family. Speaker William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALIPAC) continues his assertions that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is being blackmailed by the Obama administration because he is gay (see April 20, 2010), saying: “I’m a tolerant person. I don’t care about your private life, Lindsey, but as our US senator I need to figure out why you’re trying to sell out your own countrymen, and I need to make sure you being gay isn’t it.” Gheen later releases a statement reading: “US Senator Lindsey Graham is gay and while many people in South Carolina and Washington, DC, know that, the general public and Graham’s constituents do not. I personally do not care about Graham’s private life, but in this situation his desire to keep this a secret may explain why he is doing a lot of political dirty work for others who have the power to reveal his secrets. Senator Graham needs to come out of the closet inside that log cabin so the public can rest assured he is not being manipulated with his secret.” [The State, 4/18/2010; TPM LiveWire, 4/19/2010] Other speakers at the event include longshot Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson (R-NM) and “birther” author Jerome Corsi (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). [The Conservatist, 4/12/2010]
This year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is co-sponsored by the far-right, openly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). CPAC spokesman Ian Walters says this is the first time the JBS has sponsored the conference. In the 1960s, influential conservative pundit William F. Buckley denounced the society and its founder Robert Welch as “idiotic” and “paranoid.” Buckley’s condemnation effectively exiled the group from mainstream conservatism for half a century. Welch had accused then-President Dwight Eisenhower of being a “conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy” and said the government was “under operational control of the Communist Party.” Buckley argued that such paranoid rantings had no place in the conservative movement or the Republican Party. Lisa Depasquale, CPAC’s director for the American Conservative Union, which runs the conference, explains why the JBS is now a sponsor, saying: “They’re a conservative organization. Beyond that I have no comment.” [ABC News, 4/19/2010]
Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the former House Speaker whom many expect to run for president in 2012, tells an audience that he expects the “tea party” movement to evolve into what he calls “the militant wing of the Republican Party” rather than an independent or third party (see April 6, 2010). Gingrich speaks to an audience at an event sponsored by the Manufacturer’s Association of South Central Pennsylvania; the speech is covered by a regional newspaper, the York Dispatch. Gingrich calls the tea partiers’ rage towards Washington politics a “natural expression of frustration with Republicans and anger at Democrats.” The Dispatch reports that while many in the audience seem to agree with his conclusions, a smaller number do not seem to agree with Gingrich’s characterization of the “tea party” movement as “militant.” Gingrich also calls US public high schools an expensive “baby sitting service,” and says that students who desire to abandon their education “should be allowed to enter the work force”; he says that “[l]ast year’s extension of unemployment benefits was like a bribe to people to tolerate legislators’ incompetence,” and adds he has not yet decided whether to run for president. [Huffington Post, 4/22/2010]
Tim Wise. [Source: James Coreas / Wikimedia]Author and activist Tim Wise, an expert on white supremacism, writes a “thought experiment” titled “Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black.” He begins by writing, “Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure—the ones who are driving the action—we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.”
Armed 'Black Protesters' Descend on Capitol - His first example is a scenario where “hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters—the black protesters—spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters—these black protesters with guns—be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans?” Wise is referring to a recent rally of white gun rights enthusiasts that “descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.”
Congress Members Accosted by 'Thousands of Angry Black People' - His second example: what if white Congress members were accosted by “thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob?” Wise is referring to a recent tea party rally in which a white protester spat on a black lawmaker (see March 20, 2010).
Rap Artist Issues Crude Insults to President - His third scenario: “Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: ‘He’s a piece of sh_t and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Wise is referring to comments made by white conservative musician Ted Nugent about President Obama (see August 21-24, 2007).
Mainstream Black Political Commentator Employs 'Overt Bigot' as Senior Official - Fourth scenario: a prominent mainstream black political commentator employs “an overt bigot as Executive Director of his organization…” This person had frequently taken part in black separatist conferences, and had once assaulted a white person while using racial slurs. What if that prominent black commentator and his sister, also an employee of the organization, “defended the bigot as as a good guy who was misunderstood and ‘going through a tough time in his life’.” Wise asks if anyone would accept the situation, and would the commentator still have a place on a mainstream network? He is referring to a recent situation involving the white conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, an MSNBC employee who until recently employed an overt racist as the executive director of his organization The American Cause (see June 20, 2009).
Black Talk Show Host Makes Variety of Racially Charged Statements - What if a black radio host told his audience that the only way to get promoted in a white president’s administration is by “hating black people,” or that a prominent white person had endorsed a white presidential candidate due to “racial bonding,” or blamed a white president for a school-bus fight involving black and white students, or told his listeners that he does not want to kill all conservatives, but would leave a few as “living fossils… “so we will never forget what these people stood for.” These are things that white conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has said about President Obama and political liberals.
Black Pastor Threatens Armed Insurrection - What if a black pastor and former soldier said that as part of his opposition to a white president’s policies that he was ready to “suit up, get my gun, go to Washington, and do what they trained me to do.” Tea party leader Stan Craig, a South Carolina pastor, said this at a recent rally (see April 17-18, 2010).
Black Radio Host Promises Revolt, Calls for Blacks to 'Hang' Conservatives - What if a black radio host told his audience that blacks would revolt if the government continues to be dominated by the rich whites who are “destroying” America, called Christians and Jews non-humans, and suggested that the best thing to do with conservatives was to “hang ‘em high?” Radio host Michael Savage has made these comments about Muslims, liberals and the Obama administration.
Black Bloggers Smear First Family with Racial Slurs - What if a black liberal Web site called the daughter of a white president “typical redneck trash” and a “whore” whose mother entertains her by “making monkey sounds?” This is what posters at FreeRepublic.com said about President Obama’s young daughter Malia—except they called her “ghetto trash.” What if black protesters called for the lynching of their congressional enemies? White conservatives did this in recent months, Wise claims.
Conclusion - Wise concludes: “In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color? To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark ‘other’ does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic.… [This] is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the sh_t [whites] do, on a daily basis.” [San Francisco Sentinel, 4/25/2010]
The American Jewish Coalition logo. [Source: The New Jew (.com)]The American Jewish Coalition (AJC) urges the Republican Party leadership to condemn former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA)‘s assertion that the Obama administration’s policy agenda is as “great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” Gingrich, a paid Fox News commentator, made the statement in a recently published book, To Save America; in interviews promoting the book, he has called the Obama administration a “secular socialist machine” similar in fashion and beliefs to the Nazi and Soviet regimes. The AJC’s executive director, David Harris, says: “By invoking the current administration in the same breath as two murderous totalitarian states, Newt Gingrich has drawn a foolish and dangerous analogy. Gingrich’s linkage not only diminishes the horror of the Holocaust, it also licenses the use of extremist language in contemporary America.” Gingrich has said he is not drawing moral distinctions, but has gone on to say that because of the Obama initiatives, “we are going to be in a country which no longer resembles America.” Harris says: “It is vital that the Republican leadership say clearly that such analogies are unacceptable. Unfortunately, as the recent controversy over the new immigration law in Arizona also demonstrates, demonizing political opponents as Nazis is becoming all too common in American political debate.” [Media Matters, 5/16/2010; American Jewish Coalition, 5/19/2010] On Fox News, Chris Wallace asks Gingrich if his claim isn’t “wildly over the top.” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, calls Gingrich’s comments “sick,” “shameful,” and “so over the top,” and adds, “I hope you apologize.” [Media Matters, 5/16/2010; Media Matters, 5/20/2010; Media Matters, 5/20/2010]
The Social Democratic party (CSSD) wins the most seats in elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament. However, due to a lack of viable coalition partners it will probably not be able to form a government. The CSSD wins 56 seats, but the other left-wing party, the Communists (KSCM), only wins 28, giving them a total of 82 out of 200 available seats even if they did manage to work together. In contrast, the three center-right parties that get into parliament obtain a total of 118 seats, with the Civic Democratic Party taking 53, TOP 09 taking 41, and Public Affairs (VV) 24. Therefore, it appears most likely that the three center-right parties will form a government. [Lidove noviny, 5/29/2010]
Screenshot from ‘The Real Sharron Angle,’ a Web site containing information from Angle’s previous site and hosted by the Nevada Democratic Party. [Source: CNN]Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle (see January 2010 and June 30, 2010) “relaunches” her campaign Web site after winning the Nevada Republican primary. Before the June 8 victory, Angle’s Web site contained a great deal of information about her far-right views, including her intention to, as an elected senator, dismantle Social Security and the Department of Education, cut funds for child support organizations, further deregulate the mortgage and lending industries, repeal health care reform and deregulate the health care industry, relaunch the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, and advocate armed insurrection against the US Congress under Democratic leadership. After the primary victory, Angle’s campaign scrubbed the Web site of almost all its content. Now the site is far more moderate, containing little of the information it contained while Angle was working to secure the GOP nomination. The campaign of her opponent, Harry Reid (D-NV), will post the information from Angle’s “old” site on Reid’s campaign site, leading the Angle campaign to issue a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Reid remove the material. Reid’s campaign will do so, and the Nevada Democratic Party will launch its own Web site, “Sharron’s Underground Bunker,” featuring synopses of the material on Angle’s previous campaign site. Reid’s campaign spokesman Jon Summers says: “These are Sharron Angle’s positions in Sharron’s own words from Sharron’s own Web site. What was good enough for Nevada voters to read during the primary should be good enough for them now. Sharron has long believed in killing Social Security, eliminating the Departments of Education and Energy, and shipping nuclear waste to Nevada. We’ve always heard that Sharron Angle is an unapologetic conservative. It has to be embarrassing for her to have her handlers trying to hide who she really is.” Reid campaign deputy communications director Zac Petkanas says, “Sharron Angle is hiding her views from Nevada voters.” [Nevada Democratic Party, 7/2010; Mitchell, 7/2/2010; TPMDC, 7/5/2010]
One of many images produced to protest Target’s perceived anti-gay donations. [Source: Village Voice]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.” [Associated Press, 7/27/2010; Think Progress, 7/27/2010; Washington Post, 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.” [TPMDC, 7/30/2010; Washington Post, 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.” [Associated Press, 7/27/2010; TPMDC, 7/30/2010] MN Forward continues to garner significant corporate donations even after the Target backlash. [Minnesota Public Radio, 8/5/2010; Minnesota Independent, 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.” [Minnesota Public Radio, 8/5/2010; Washington Post, 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. [Think Progress, 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. [Los Angeles Times, 2/19/2011]
Entity Tags: Allison R. Hayward, Laura Hedlund, Gregg Steinhafel, Twin Cities Pride, Best Buy Co., David Schultz, Brian McClung, Federal Election Commission, Human Rights Campaign, Tim Smith, Tom Emmer, TargetCitizens, Monica Meyer, MN Forward, Lena Michaud, Tim Pawlenty, OutFront Minnesota, MoveOn (.org), Randi Reitan, Paul Finkelstein, Target Corporation, Susan Busch Nehring
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Since winning the Nevada Republican nomination for Senate against incumbent Harry Reid (D-NV), far-right conservative candidate Sharron Angle has refused to comment on recent reports that she said she hoped someone would “take him out” (meaning Reid), and advocated launching an armed insurrection to overthrow Congress using “Second Amendment remedies” (see January 2010). Today, Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein posts an audio clip of an interview Angle gave radio host Bill Manders during the primary campaign which reiterated her recomendation of “Second Amendment remedies” to be used not only against Congress, but against Reid in particular. The undated audio clip has Angle saying: “I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical.… Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.” Angle also hinted that she may be carrying a concealed weapon—a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29—during the interview. Manders said, “Whoa, you’re not carrying that today, are you, in here?” Angle replied: “Well, you know, as part of your test, they always say, ‘Don’t ever tell anybody if you’re carrying because the bad guys don’t need to know if you’re carrying.’ That’s what makes that [sic] concealed carries effective.” [Huffington Post, 6/16/2010]
News Corporation logo. [Source: Blogging Stocks (.com)]News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post, donates $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA). The News Corp. donation is accompanied by a $500,000 donation to the RGA from WellPoint, the US’s largest health insurer, and a “seven-figure donation” from oil billionaire David Koch (see 1981-2010). Organizations such as the RGA can accept unlimited donations from corporations, unlike political parties and federal candidates. [Business Week, 8/16/2010; Politico, 8/16/2010; TPMDC, 8/17/2010; Huffington Post, 8/17/2010] News Corp. spokesman Jack Horner tells a reporter, “News Corporation believes in the power of free markets, and the RGA’s pro-business agenda supports our priorities at this most critical time for our economy.” [Politico, 8/16/2010] Others are less sanguine about the donation. Hari Sevugan of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) says: “Any pretense that may have existed about the ties between Fox News and the Republican Party has been ripped violently away. Any Republican that appears on Fox should now have a disclaimer that they are financially supported by the network and any coverage of the elections this fall on Fox should be reported with disclaimer for what it is—partisan propaganda.” Nathan Daschle of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) says: “For a media company—particularly one whose slogan is ‘fair and balanced’ (see 1995)—to be injecting themselves into the outcome of races is stunning. The people owning Fox News have made a decision that they want to see Democratic governors go down to defeat. It’s a jaw-dropping violation of the boundary between the media and corporate realm.” Daschle acknowledges that other media companies such as Disney and CBS have given much smaller donations to both Republicans and Democrats, but says: “The Fox contribution is in a completely different league. Other media firms’ donations are generally small and about equal to the many committees that receive money.” Until this donation, News Corp. had contributed almost equally to both Democrats and Republicans. Horner says, “It’s patently false that a corporate donation would have any bearing on our news-gathering activities at Fox News or any other of our properties.” Fox refuses to allow Daschle to appear on its network to discuss the donation, stating: “We understand Nathan’s desire to get face time on the most watched news network. And when he can offer insight on a legitimate news story instead of concocting a dishonest publicity stunt, we will consider having him on as a guest.” Communications professor Tobe Berkovitz says of the donation: “The way the rules are written, [News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch] is playing by the rules. This just reinforces for liberals how evil and manipulative Fox and Rupert Murdoch are. For the civilians out there, I don’t think they’re going to see this as particularly relevant or particularly important.” [Washington Post, 8/18/2010] The progressive news Web site Think Progress determines that News Corp. may have violated its own policies by making the donation. According to the corporation’s “Standards of Business Conduct”: “No payment shall be made to, or for the benefit of, any public official in order to induce or entice such official to: enact, defeat, or violate any law or regulation for the company’s benefit; influence any official act; or obtain any favorable action by a governmental agency or official on behalf of the company.… No gifts in the form of cash, stock, or other similar consideration shall be given, regardless of amount.” [Think Progress, 8/17/2010]
Entity Tags: New York Post, Hari Sevugan, Fox News, David Koch, Nathan Daschle, WellPoint, Wall Street Journal, Republican Party, Rupert Murdoch, Tobe Berkovitz, Jack Horner, Republican Governors Association, News Corporation
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The exterior of the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. [Source: Real Aspen (.com)]The reclusive but highly influential Charles Koch, of the Koch brothers oil empire (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, and July 3-4, 2010), holds a private meeting with some 200 wealthy financial and political figures at the exclusive St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. The meeting is designed to bring the participants together to combat what Koch calls “the threats posed to American freedom and prosperity” by Democrats and the Obama administration. To that end, many of the sessions in the two-day event target methods and plans to influence and manipulate the upcoming 2010 midterm elections. The meeting is highly secretive, with participants warned not to discuss the proceedings with anyone, especially members of the media, but in August, the liberal news Web site Think Progress will obtain a copy of a September 2010 memo from Koch that contains the June 2010 event program. The various events include:
a seminar on “The Bankrupting of America”;
a seminar on the “regulatory assault” on environmental concerns and how to further business goals by defeating environmental regulations;
a seminar on how to influence universities and colleges to “advance liberty”;
a seminar on how to “micro-target” the electorate in order to win elections for conservative Republican candidates;
a seminar on “The Threats to American Freedom and Prosperity” conducted by Koch himself;
“Understanding the Threats We Face,” a seminar moderated by Wall Street Journal reporter Stephen Moore (see May 6, 2006), Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review, Phil Kerpen of Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), and Peter Wallinson of the far-right American Enterprise Institute (AEI);
a seminar on “An Integrated Strategy to Face These Threats,” moderated by Koch’s senior assistant Richard Fink;
an evening address, “Is America On the Road to Serfdom?” by former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck;
a seminar, “We’re Spending Too Much,” on how to lower government spending, conducted by Russ Roberts of the far-right libertarian Mercatus Center;
a seminar, “Understanding This Year’s Electorate,” by journalist and AEI fellow Michael Barone;
a follow-up seminar on how to “Fram[e] the Debate on Spending” for the elections, moderated by members of AEI and the Mercatus Center;
a seminar, “Mobilizing Citizens for November,” featuring Tim Phillips, the head of AFP (see August 6, 2009) and Karl Crow, the head of Themis, the Koch-funded computer database being used in “micro-targeting” voters (see April 2010 and After);
a seminar hosted by Arthur Brooks of AEI on how to frame the “fight” as one between “free enterprise and Big Government”;
a seminar on how best to target participants’ philanthropic gifting;
a seminar on “reforming” K-12 public and charter schools;
a seminar on impacting judicial elections in several key states;
a seminar on transitioning from the 2010 elections to the 2012 presidential elections and how “supporters of economic freedom” can “start planning today” for that election;
a final evening address, “What’s Ahead for America?” by noted neoconservative columnist and Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer.
The event features David Chavern, a senior official at the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the entities contributing the most funding to conservative political organizations (see August 2, 2010, September 13-16, 2010, and October 2010). Think Progress’s Lee Fang will write: “In an election season with the most undisclosed secret corporate giving since the Watergate-era, the memo sheds light on the symbiotic relationship between extremely profitable, multi-billion dollar corporations and much of the conservative infrastructure. The memo describes the prospective corporate donors as ‘investors,’ and it makes clear that many of the Republican operatives managing shadowy, undisclosed fronts running attack ads against Democrats were involved in the Koch’s election-planning event.” Many of the “investors” listed as attending or participating in the events include executives from health care corporations; executives from fast-food and other food-industry executives who have fought against providing health insurance to their employees; an array of banking and financial executives; and a number of energy industry executives. Fred Malek, who serves as the top fundraiser for a $56 million attack ad campaign against Democrats (see Mid-October 2010), attends, as does Heather Higgins of the Independent Women’s Forum, another organization that has spent millions opposing health-care reform. Many of the election-focused seminars address how to take advantage of the Citizens United ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate election spending (see January 21, 2010). The Aspen meeting, as with earlier meetings, is managed by Kevin Gentry, a Koch Industries executive and Washington lobbyist. [Think Progress, 8/23/2010; Koch, 9/24/2010 ]
Entity Tags: David Chavern, Tim Phillips, Stephen Moore, St. Regis Resort, Glenn Beck, Charles Koch, Arthur Brooks, Fred Malek, Charles Krauthammer, Russ Roberts, Think Progress (.org), Ramesh Ponnuru, Kevin Gentry, Richard Fink, Heather Higgins, Lee Fang, Karl Crow, Obama administration, Phil Kerpen, Michael Barone, Peter Wallinson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, running as a Republican against Democrat Harry Reid, retracts her statement that Reid should be “take[n] out” by “Second Amendment remedies”—i.e. through the use of firearms. Angle made the statement in January as part of a larger statement in favor of conservatives mounting an armed insurrection against Congress (see January 2010). After Angle won the June 8 primary, reporters began writing about her earlier statements. She now says her words about “tak[ing] out” Reid were “a little strong,” and says she no longer uses that phrase (see June 16, 2010). However, she refuses to apologize for her words. “I meant take him out of office, and taking him out of office is a little different,” Angle says. “I changed my rhetoric.” Angle routinely speaks with conservative radio hosts, but almost never with actual members of the press. In withdrawing her January statement, she gives a rare interview to Nevada’s KVBC. In the interview, she declares her intention as a senator to dismantle Social Security, repeal abortion in nearly all instances (including rape and incest), and claims that the Constitution has no provision for the separation of church and state (see September 17, 2010). Reid’s campaign has stated that Angle believes such church-state separation is unconstitutional, leading Angle spokesman Jerry Stacy to accuse Reid of finding “ways to twist a larger historical statement Angle was making about the origins of separation of church and state.” Stacy explains that Reid is “terrified of having a real discussion about jobs and the economy.” Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers says Reid stands by his campaign’s position, and adds that he believes Angle meant exactly what she said when she recommended that Reid be “take[n] out” by force. “It wasn’t a gaffe, it is a philosophy,” he says. “She has repeated that language many times.” [Las Vegas Sun, 6/8/2010; Associated Press, 6/30/2010]
The Minnesota Majority Legal Defense Fund logo. It is not known if the misspelling of “defend” is deliberate. [Source: Minnesota Majority / WePay (.com)]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.” [Fox News, 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; KARE-11, 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).
Entity Tags: Mark Ritchie, Dan McGrath, County of Ramsey (Minnesota), County of Hennepin (Minnesota), Al Franken, David Schultz, John Fund, Tim Pawlenty, John Croman, Pat Diamond, Norm Coleman, Minnesota Majority, Phil Carruthers
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda
Supporters of Joe Miller march while carrying assault weapons. [Source: Bob Moore / TPMDC]Supporters of Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK), who has the support of former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and the Tea Party Express against Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), march in the streets of Anchorage brandishing assault weapons. Miller later explains the event on ABC News: “You know, guns are a pretty big thing up here in Alaska. In fact, per capita, we probably have the highest rate of gun ownership in the nation. The Second Amendment’s very important to people up here in Alaska. So you know, it’s not unusual to walk into a Wal-Mart, or to walk into a gas station, and see people carrying guns. Frankly, I wasn’t in that Hummer [the large SUV accompanying the marchers]. I was out there walking, shaking hands. But you know, it’s not unusual in political rallies, it’s not unusual in parades, to see that type of thing. Probably though, in the lower 48, it does raise some eyebrows.” [TPMDC, 7/19/2010; ABC News, 7/19/2010] The supporters shown in a video of the march are later identified as members of the Anchorage Second Amendment Task Force, a gun rights group. The organization endorsed Miller after he showed up at a forum over the summer that Murkowski declined to attend. Task Force leader Chuck Green later tells a reporter that his members “like[d] Miller’s straight forward answers to questions.… [S]ome of the guys in the forum decided to attend the parade supporting Miller. It’s… as simple as that.” [Salon, 7/23/2010] Miller says that he welcomes the support of the Tea Party Express even after its spokesman, Mark Williams, was ejected from the National Tea Party Federation for making explicitly racist comments (see July 17-18, 2010 and July 19-23, 2010). Miller says his campaign does not endorse such views: “I think it’s appropriate for us to make an unequivocal statement that this campaign is not, in any way, racist,” he says. “In fact, we judge people by their character, rather than the color of their skin. We have a number of minorities that are assisting us in this campaign. My perspective of it is that we will embrace, though, the help that’s brought to this campaign by those that are really supportive of constitutional limited government. And I think that’s the direction this country’s gotta go to rescue it from the financial insolvency that it’s in right now.” [ABC News, 7/19/2010] Miller will later be shown to have extensive ties to Alaska’s right-wing militia movement (see July 23, 2010 and October 18, 2010). Many of those militia organizations espouse racist beliefs.
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. [Salon, 7/19/2010]
Mark Williams, a conservative talk radio host in Sacramento and a prominent spokesman for the nationally based Tea Party Express (TPE), announces he is stepping down as the head of the TPE. Williams says his decision is impelled by his interest in stopping the construction of Cordoba House (later renamed Park51), a Muslim community center to be built near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, and his attempt to secure a position on the Sacramento City Council and to lead a recall effort of some council members. “What I’m doing is thinking globally and acting locally,” he says. He says he will continue to function as TPE’s spokesman and a featured speaker, but will no longer be involved in day-to-day managerial duties. “I’ll still be shooting my mouth off and appearing on TV,” Williams says. “I just won’t be as critical in strategy which is fine by me.” Williams denies that he is stepping down because of the controversy generated by recent statements he has made about the NAACP which many have decried as racist (see July 14, 2010 and July 15, 2010), and his recent expulsion from the National Tea Party Federation (see July 17-18, 2010). [CNN, 7/19/2010] Shortly thereafter, Williams sends a letter to TPE officials that announces he is resigning from the group entirely. In the letter, he says he needs to part ways with the group so “the media and our domestic enemies” will move past the racist controversy. “We are in a war for the future of this country and the left and their allies in the news media have decided to use my personal comments and views as a weapon to injure the tea party movement and conservative activists. I will simply not allow them to do this.… I am going to continue to fight on the side of liberty but it is clear that doing so with any affiliation with the Tea Party Express is not the best way to do so.” [Associated Press, 7/23/2010; CNN, 7/23/2010] In the past, Williams has called President Obama the “racist in chief” (see September 14, 2009) and “our half white, racist president” (see September 2009). He has called Muslims “animals” who worship a “monkey god” (see May 14, 2010).
Joe Miller. [Source: Mad As Hell And ... (.com)]Salon reporter and columnist Justin Elliot warns that if Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller (R-AK) is elected, the militia movement in that state will have a staunch supporter in the US Senate. Elliot writes his column shortly after a controversial video of a recent Miller rally makes national news, showing Miller supporters openly brandishing assault rifles during a march (see July 19, 2010). Norm Olson of the Alaska Citizens Militia (see April 1994, March 25 - April 1, 1996, and Summer 1996 - June 1997) tells Elliot: “It’s safe to say that Joe Miller is a friend of patriots. His beliefs and platform favor Second Amendment rights as well as the power of nullification when the federal government intrudes into the private lives of Alaskans.” Olson claims his Alaska Militia has several hundred members and supporters; the organization accuses the federal government of committing 17 “acts of war” against the US population, including “firearms restrictions or other disarmament,” “mandatory medical anything,” “federal patrols,” “taking control of children under duress or threat,” “federalization of law enforcement,” and “surrender powers to a corporation or foreign government.” Miller advocates interpreting the Tenth Amendment to “get the government out of our lives,” an interpretation classed by critics as “tentherism,” which many on the right, including militia organizations, say should be used to force the federal government to cede vast powers to the states and even local authorities. The “tenthers” often focus on dissolving Social Security and other federal “safety net” programs, and ending all controls on gun ownership. Elliot writes: “This is the centerpiece of Miller’s political identity. He asserts that there is no constitutional authority for the health care reform law or proposed cap and trade legislation. He advocates a state takeover of federally controlled land in Alaska such as Denali National Park. These are the kinds of positions that are creating buzz in the militia world.” Olson’s colleague, Ray Southwell, who accompanied Olson to Alaska after both were ejected from the Michigan Militia for their extremist views (see April 1994, March 25 - April 1, 1996, and Summer 1996 - June 1997), has written emails and Web posts in support of Miller in recent weeks. One email reads in part, “We need leaders here to stand against the feds.” Another militia member wrote: “Joe Miller is an strong Constitution following patriot, he does not play games.… If we want to make sure Joe Miller keeps on the straight and narrow, WE, ALL OF US, have to make damn sure he and his entire family are safe and sound, because that is a common way to get at a man go for the soft spot family [sic].” Elliot notes that the Alaska militias are not unified in support of Miller, and some, like Schaeffer Cox of the Alaska Peacemakers Militia, say, “He’s going to try to run things in a more conservative way, but he’s still trying to run things—so he has the same fundamental problem of all the other politicians.” [Salon, 7/23/2010] The online news site Alaska Dispatch will note that Cox also founded and leads the Second Amendment Task Force, the group that turned out to display its assault weapons during the recent Miller rally. It also will note that Olson recently attempted to run for lieutenant governor on the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP) ticket (see September 6-7, 2008). The AIP is one of the largest and most well-known secessionist organizations in Alaska, and once listed Todd Palin, the husband of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), as a member. [KTUU-TV, 9/6/2010; Alaska Dispatch, 9/23/2010] Miller claims to know nothing of AIP’s agenda or views, but according to the Alaska Dispatch and the liberal blog Progressive Nation, AIP’s statements of beliefs are virtually identical to those espoused by AIP. It’s unlikely Miller is unaware of AIP, the blog claims, and asks, “If you like the Tea Party, you gotta love the Alaskan Independence Party, so why has it been shunned even by Alaska politicians?” It goes on to note that when Palin ran for vice president in 2008, the McCain-Palin campaign called attempts to call attention to her family’s ties to AIP a “smear.” AIP itself has written on its Web site, “No longer a fringe party, the AIP is a viable third party with a serious mission and qualified candidates for elected offices,” and boasts the inclusion of former Governor Wally Hickel (AIP-AK) as a member. The blog notes that former AIP member Todd Palin is involved in Miller’s campaign. [Progressive Nation, 7/11/2010; Alaska Dispatch, 9/8/2010] Miller will later be shown to employ security guards with militia ties (see October 17, 2010).
Entity Tags: Ray Southwell, Joseph Wayne (“Joe”) Miller, Alaska Peacemakers Militia, Alaska Dispatch, Alaska Citizens Militia, Justin Elliot, Progressive Nation, Todd Palin, Second Amendment Task Force, Sarah Palin, Schaeffer Cox, Wally Hickel, Norman (“Norm”) Olson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
US Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) falsely claims that the Democratically backed DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would have imposed some disclosure regulations on corporate and union campaign financiers (see July 26-27, 2010), was passed into law. Angle is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The previous day, Angle posted on Twitter that the DISCLOSE Act’s defeat was “a great victory for the first amendment.” But today, Angle joins conservative talk radio host Heidi Harris to claim that the act is actually in effect and she opposes it. Asked about her position on campaign finance, Angle says: “Well I think that the Supreme Court has really made their decision on this, they found that we have a First Amendment right across the board that was violated by the McCain-Feingold act (see March 27, 2002 and January 21, 2010). And that’s what they threw out, was those violations. The McCain-Feingold Act is still in place. The DISCLOSE Act is still in place. It’s just that certain provisions within that they found to be definitely violating the First Amendment. If we didn’t have the DISCLOSE Act there would be a lot of different things that people wouldn’t be able to find out. And certainly you can go to FEC.gov and see where Harry Reid is getting most of his money from special interests.” [Las Vegas Sun, 7/28/2010; TPMDC, 7/28/2010]
Democrats are aghast at the amount of corporate spending they expect to be used against them in the 2010 elections, according to media reports. The US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010) projects that it will spend $75 million this year, over double its spending of $35 million in 2008, to oppose Democrats running for federal and state office. USCoC officials say that spending could go even higher. Other organizations, such as American Crossroads, a right-wing political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010 and February 21, 2012), are on track to raise and spend tens of millions, again to fund political activities designed to prevent Democrats from being elected. A report circulating among Democratic Congressional leaders says that some $300 million has been raised for the 2010 campaign, all coming from 15 conservative tax-exempt organizations. Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics says: “A commitment of $300 million from just 15 organizations is a huge amount, putting them in record territory for groups on the right or left. With control of Congress hanging in the balance, this kind of spending could have a major impact.” Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), says the amount of corporate funding for Republican political activities is “raising the alarm bell.” The DCCC spent $177 million in all of 2008’s Congressional races. Labor unions and other groups allied with Democrats plan heavy spending of their own, but nothing to compare to conservative corporate funding. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for example, plans to spend $44 million on election-related spending this year. Political scientist Anthony J. Corrado Jr. says: “What we are seeing is that major businesses and industries are taking advantage of the recent court ruling and favorable political environment. They are already committing substantially more money than they have in any previous election cycles.” Corrado is referring to the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that has overturned almost a century’s worth of campaign spending limitations. USCoC officials also point to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on political issue advertising by corporations and labor unions close to an election (see June 25, 2007). The Los Angeles Times reports that the heavy corporate fundraising for Republican political interests is driven largely by corporate opposition to the Democrats’ focus on health care reform, and a bill passed in July that established stricter government monitoring and regulation of the financial system. Roger Nicholson of the International Coal Group, a mining company, recently wrote to fellow executives urging them to contribute money to defeat the “fiercely anti-coal Democrats” in Washington, specifically targeting a number of Democrats in Kentucky and West Virginia. Five of the largest health insurers, including Aetna, Cigna, and United HealthCare, are banding together to create and fund a new nonprofit group to help influence elections. The group has not yet been formed, but reports say that it will spend some $20 million to defeat Democrats. [Los Angeles Times, 8/2/2010]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., American Crossroads, Aetna, Chris Van Hollen, International Coal Group, Service Employees International Union, US Supreme Court, Los Angeles Times, Roger Nicholson, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, US Chamber of Commerce, Sheila Krumholz
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2010 Elections
Citizens Reclaiming Constitutional Liberties PAC logo. [Source: Citizens Reclaiming Constitutional Liberties PAC]Mark Williams, a conservative talk radio host in Sacramento, announces his return to tea party activism. He recently resigned as the chairman and spokesman for the Tea Party Express after facing withering criticism for a spate of racist, inflammatory comments (see July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010), July 17-18, 2010, and July 19-23, 2010). Williams also criticizes many in the tea party movement for being, he says, unwilling to move beyond “the cheerleading stage.” Williams tells a CNN reporter that he is forming a political action committee (PAC) called the “Citizens Reclaiming Constitutional Liberties PAC” (TPM Muckraker calls it the “Citizens for Constitutional Liberty PAC”) that, he says, will channel “tea party passion” into electing conservative candidates. “We’ll be looking for… conservative young people who have something to offer, something to say and don’t identify, in some cases, with either party,” he says. “You don’t elect anybody to the White House in [the year] 2030 unless you elect… a dog catcher in 2010. We’re fielding conservative candidates outside of the Republican Party structure because the Republican Party can’t be trusted.… Both parties, frankly, have just become so corrupt with special interests that we need new blood.” Of the current tea party status, he says: “What we’re looking to do is channel all of this into something more constructive than standing around at rallies and yelling and just cheerleading. You know the tea party thing… the feeling a lot of us had was that the thing had stalled at the cheerleading stage. And we were being bombarded with people asking us, ‘Ok, we’re worked up, we believe you, we’re informed—now what do we do?’” TPE official Levi Russell says he is not surprised that Williams is restarting his political activities. “We didn’t really feel that he ever left the tea party movement,” Russell says. “I think there is plenty of room, ample room in the conservative movement for new groups to form.” A colleague of Williams’s in the new PAC, Mandy Morello, says in a statement: “While I find many of his comments distasteful and do not condone those sorts of messages, it is not my right to take away his free speech guaranteed by our First Amendment. After all, the tea party is not to pick and choose one’s interpretation of these amendments to suit one’s personal opinion.” Morello writes that Williams is “not a racist,” but is aware of the potential ramifications of working with Williams. She writes that whatever Williams may say or do in the future, she does not have “the right to apologize for his actions or have the authority to ‘kick him out’ for any other reason than something that is illegal.… I am not under the illusion that Mark will stop being Mark just because we are partners in this fight.” Another group founder, who is not named in press reports, calls the allegations of racism against Williams “garbage” and says: “They want to throw the word racism out there these days. It’s overused.” [CNN, 8/6/2010; TPM Muckraker, 8/6/2010] In the past, Williams has called President Obama the “racist in chief” (see September 14, 2009) and “our half white, racist president” (see September 2009). He has called Muslims “animals” who worship a “monkey god” (see May 14, 2010).
Conservative Christian evangelist Franklin Graham says that the “problem” with President Obama is that he was born a Muslim. Graham acknowledges that Obama has long since converted to Christianity. CNN interviewer John King asks Graham if he has doubts about Obama’s Christian faith. Graham replies that much of the “birther” controversy about Obama’s heritage (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, April 18, 2008, and April 29, 2009) comes from Obama’s supposed birth into the Muslim faith. Graham says that Obama was born a Muslim because his father was a Muslim. “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim,” he says. “The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name.” Obama’s father named him after himself; Obama has written that while his father was raised Muslim, he was a practicing atheist. “The confusion is, is because his father was a Muslim, he was born a Muslim. The Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs. That’s why [Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi] calls him ‘my son.’ They see him as a Muslim. But of course the president says he is a Christian, and we just have to accept it as that.… Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That is what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.… [Y]ou can be born a Muslim, you can be born a Jew, but you can’t be born a Christian. The only way you can become a Christian is by confessing your sins to God, asking his forgiveness, and by receiving Jesus Christ by faith into your heart, that Christ died for your sins, shed his blood on Calvary’s Cross, and that God raised him to life. If you’re willing to accept that and believe that, and let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life, God will forgive your sins, he will heal your heart, and that’s the only way you can become a Christian. And so if the president has done that, then I would say he’s a Christian, if that’s what he has done.” Graham has issued denunciations and criticisms of Islam before, many of which have drawn sharp responses. Obama has prayed with Graham and his father, the noted evangelist Billy Graham, at the Grahams’ mountain home in North Carolina. [CNN, 8/19/2010; TPM LiveWire, 8/20/2010]
Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights logo. [Source: IREHR / Facebook]The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR) issues a comprehensive, multi-part report on the American “tea party” movement. The report is written by IREHR vice president Devin Burghart and IREHR president Leonard Zeskind, both accomplished authors and researchers. The report examines six national organizational networks which Burghart and Zeskind say are “at the core of the tea party movement.” These six include: the FreedomWorks Tea Party; the 1776 Tea Party (“TeaParty.org”); Tea Party Nation; Tea Party Patriots; ResistNet; and the Tea Party Express. The report examines their origins, structures, leadership, policies, funding, membership, and relations with one another. [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010]
Data Collection Methodology - The authors provide details of their data collection methodology in a separate section of the report. [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 10/19/2010]
Racism, Anti-Semitism Rampant in Many (Not All) Tea Party Organizations - The report explicitly notes that “[i]t would be a mistake to claim that all tea partiers are nativist vigilantes or racists of one stripe or another.” It shows that while tea party organizations, and many media outlets, paint tea partiers as concentrated primarily on “budget deficits, taxes, and the power of the federal government,” in reality many tea party organizations are very focused on racial, nationalist, and other social issues (see January 14, 2010). The report finds: “In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a ‘real American.’ Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many tea partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the 14th Amendment.” Many (not all) tea party organizations open their ranks “to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots,” the report finds, and in many of those organizations, the racists and bigots have leadership positions. And, it finds, white supremacist organizations routinely attend and even present at tea party rallies, “looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protesters towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy.” The report notes that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke is trying to find money and support among tea party organizations to launch a 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The leaders of the 1776 Tea Party organization “were imported directly from the anti-immigrant vigilante organization, the Minuteman Project,” the report notes. Tea Party Nation has attracted a large contingent of so-called “birthers,” Christian nationalists, and nativists, many of whom display openly racist sentiments; some other tea party organizations have now distanced themselves from that particular group. ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots, the two largest “umbrella” organizations or networks, are also rife with anti-immigrant nativists and racists; the Tea Party Patriots have openly embraced the idea of the repeal of the 17th Amendment (see April 8, 2010). At least one group, the Washington DC-based FreedomWorks Tea Party, has made some efforts to focus its actions solely on economic issues and eschew social or religious issues; those efforts have largely failed. There is a large and disparate “schema” of racist organizations and belief systems in America, the report notes, from Nazi sympathizers to “America-first isolationists,” “scientific” racists, nativists, “paleoconservatives,” and others. Generally, the more mainstream and less extremist racist movements and persons gravitate to tea party organizations. “[T]he white nationalist movement is divided between two strategic orientations: the go-it-alone vanguardists and the mainstreamers who seek to win a majority following among white people. It is decidedly the mainstreamers, such as the Council of Conservative Citizens… who seek to influence and recruit among the tea partiers.” The same can be said of militia groups: the more mainstream of these organizations are the ones taking part in, and recruiting at, tea party events. The two—racist and militia groups—have, of course, a heavy overlap in membership and belief structures. Tea party leaders and members tend to strongly dispute evidence that their fellows espouse racist beliefs. [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010; Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 10/19/2010]
Economic Beliefs Tied to Anger at Immigrants, 'Undeserving Poor' - The tea parties are most often characterized as anti-tax economic conservatives who oppose government spending; however, the report finds, “there is no observable statistical link between tea party membership and unemployment levels.… And their storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated on an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the ‘undeserving poor.’” Many tea party members and organizations, including some of the movement’s most visible political leaders, are openly anti-immigrant. The House’s Tea Party Caucus, led by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN), has a significant overlap with the members of the House Immigration Reform Caucus, led by tea party supporter Brian Bilbray (R-CA). The Immigration Reform Caucus has introduced legislation that would end the Constitution’s principle of “birthright citizenship.” The racist and anti-immigrant themes at play in many tea party organizations have dovetailed in these organizations’ attacks on President Obama as being a “non-American.” The report observes: “The permutations go on from there: Islamic terrorist, socialist, African witch doctor, lying African, etc. If he is not properly American, then he becomes the ‘other’ that is not ‘us.’ Five of the six national factions have these ‘birthers’ in their leadership; the only exception being FreedomWorks.”
'Nationalism' of Tea Parties - Most tea party organizations hark back to the Revolutionary War era and the Founding Fathers as their forebears, sometimes even dressing in 18th-century costumes, waving the Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and claiming that the US Constitution as written should be the touchstone of all legislative policies. However, the report notes that their “American nationalism” is hardly inclusive: “[T]heirs is an American nationalism that does not always include all Americans. It is a nationalism that excludes those deemed not to be ‘real Americans’; including the native-born children of undocumented immigrants (often despised as ‘anchor babies’), socialists, Moslems, and those not deemed to fit within a ‘Christian nation.’” The report connects the tea parties’ concept of nationalism (see October 19, 2010) back to the “America First” ideology of Father Charles Coughlin, a vocal anti-Semite and supporter of Nazism (see October 3, 1926 - 1942). The report notes: “As the Confederate battle flags, witch doctor caricatures, and demeaning discourse suggest, a bright white line of racism threads through this nationalism. Yet, it is not a full-fledged variety of white nationalism. It is as inchoate as it is super-patriotic. It is possibly an embryo of what it might yet become.”
Multi-Million Dollar Complex Heavily Funded by Right-Wing Foundations - The tea party movement presents itself as a loose confederation of ground-up, grassroots groups and organizations put together by principled citizens driven by their political and social concerns. However, the reality is that many tea party organizations are for-profit corporations and/or political action committees, with some equally well-funded non-profit corporations included in the mix. Collectively, they have succeeded at trumping the Democrats’ advantage in Web-based mobilization and fundraising.
Resurrection of 'Ultra-Conservative Wing of American Political Life' - The report finds that the tea party organizations “have resuscitated the ultra-conservative wing of American political life, created a stiff pole of opinion within Republican Party ranks, and they have had a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.” The report finds: “The tea party movement has unleashed a still inchoate political movement by angry middle class (overwhelmingly) white people who believe their country, their nation, has been taken from them. And they want it back.” Whom they apparently “want it back” from is from non-white Americans. The report notes that the tea party slogan, “Take It Back, Take Your Country Back” is “an explicitly nationalist refrain. It is sometimes coupled with the assertion that there are ‘real Americans,’ as opposed to others who they believe are driving the country into a socialist ditch.”
Three Levels of Structure - As with most entities of this nature, there are three fundamental levels to the “tea party structure.” Some 16 to 18 percent of Americans say they have some sympathy with tea party ideals—these citizens, numbering in the tens of millions, form the outer ring of the structure. The next ring as an ill-defined group of perhaps two million activists who go to meetings and rallies, and buy literature. The core is composed of some 250,000 heavily involved members who take part in the Web-directed activities of the tea party organizations. The report focuses on this group as the hub of what it calls “tea party nationalists.” As time goes on, the tea parties continue to add members to their ranks. The Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet are, at this time, experiencing the fastest rate of growth; the report notes, “This would tend to indicate a larger movement less susceptible to central control, and more likely to attract racist and nativist elements at the local level.” The tea parties as a whole will continue to wield their influence on American political and social debates, though the tea parties may begin to splinter as some members move into the more structured Republican Party apparatus and others move towards the more extremist white nationalist organizations. The report does not include local groups not affiliated with one or the other of the national networks, and the ancillary organizations that have worked alongside the tea parties since their inception. The report notes some of these ancillary organizations as Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty (see August 4, 2008), Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), the National Precinct Alliance, and the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011). The report also notes the existence of the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After), but does not count that as a separate network, and goes on to note that after the 2009 9-12 rally in Washington (see September 12, 2009), many 9-12 groups joined a tea party organization. [Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, 8/24/2010]
Response - Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, responds to the release of the IREHR report by saying: “Here we go again. This is typical of this liberal group’s smear tactics.” Phillips does not cite examples of the report’s “smear tactics.” [Kansas City Star, 10/19/2010]
Entity Tags: National Precinct Alliance, ResistNet, Tea Party Express, US House of Representatives Immigration Reform Caucus, Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Nation, Minuteman Project, US House of Representatives Tea Party Caucus, Michele Bachmann, Leonard Zeskind, Judson Phillips, 1776 Tea Party, Americans for Prosperity, Barack Obama, Brian Bilbray, Council of Conservative Citizens, Charles Edward Coughlin, Devin Burghart, John Birch Society, Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, FreedomWorks Tea Party, Campaign for Liberty, David Duke
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich writes an op-ed focusing on the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, and October 4, 2011), the oil magnates who are the driving force behind the tea party movement. Rich writes that “even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.” Rich, using information from historian Kim Phillips-Fein’s book Invisible Hands, notes that the Kochs are the latest in a long line of behind-the-scenes corporate manipulators “who have financed the far right (see September 2010 and August 17, 2011) ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down” the Roosevelt administration (see August 23, 1934 and After). “You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal ‘socialism’ of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on [the Kennedy administration] and Medicare (see 1962 and November 1963) to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our ‘socialist’ president,” Rich writes. “Only the fat cats change—not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government ‘handouts’ to the poor, unemployed, ill, and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred (see 1940 and After), was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of ‘a takeover’ of America in which Communists would ‘infiltrate the highest offices of government in the US until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.’ That rant could be delivered as is at any tea party rally today.” Rich also focuses on FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011), one of the two “major sponsor[s]” of the tea party movement, along with Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, January 2009 and After, February 16, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 8, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, October 2, 2009, November 2009, February 15, 2010, April 15, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 20, 2010 and August 17, 2011). Both FreedomWorks and AFP are heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Rich writes: “Tea partiers may share the Kochs’ detestation of taxes, big government, and [President] Obama. But there’s a difference between mainstream conservatism and a fringe agenda that tilts completely toward big business, whether on Wall Street or in the Gulf of Mexico, while dismantling fundamental government safety nets designed to protect the unemployed, public health, workplace safety, and the subsistence of the elderly.” Rich writes that the Koch brothers’ agenda is “inexorably… morphing into the GOP agenda,” and points to Republican luminaries such as incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-MO) and tea party candidates such as Rand Paul (see March 27, 2010, May 17, 2010, October 25, 2010 and After, October 26, 2010 and November 10, 2010), Sharron Angle (see January 2010, Mid-May, 2010, Mid-June 2010, June 16, 2010 and September 18, 2010), and Joe Miller (see July 19, 2010, July 23, 2010, October 17, 2010, October 17, 2010 and October 18, 2010). “The Koch brothers must be laughing all the way to the bank knowing that working Americans are aiding and abetting their selfish interests,” Rich concludes. [New York Times, 8/28/2010]
Entity Tags: Rand Paul, Koch Industries, Sharron Angle, Joseph Wayne (“Joe”) Miller, Kim Phillips-Fein, John Birch Society, Barack Obama, Americans for Prosperity, American Liberty League, Charles Koch, John Boehner, David Koch, Fred Koch, FreedomWorks, Frank Rich
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Delaware Republican Party chairman Tom Ross receives a death threat over his support for incumbent Mike Castle (R-DE) in the upcoming Delaware Senate primaries. Castle, a House member widely considered to be a moderate Republican (see June 30, 2009), is opposed by Christine O’Donnell, a hard-right Republican who has received the support of several area “tea party” organizations. Ross receives an email telling him that he deserves “a bullet in the head” for backing “political _ss-kissing RINO’s” [Republicans in name only]. The email continues: “It is one thing to have your country screwed over by socialists, it is far worse to be backstabbed by people pretending to be your friends. We will either rid the GOP of pieces of sh_t like you, or we will start a new ‘Common Sense Conservative’ party and render you all useless.” Ross leaves his home temporarily in fear for his life, and the US Department of Justice mounts an investigation. The email contains the name and address of the sender, though that information will not be made public. “It is just scary what is going on right now,” says a Delaware Republican Party official. “Tom is a loyal and dedicated Republican officer in Delaware… the position is unpaid and his job as party chairman is to defend and promote the candidates.… It is disgusting, it is amazing, and it has no place in our democracy.” In a statement, O’Donnell’s campaign condemns the threat, saying, “We hope Mr. Ross and his family are safe, as no one should have to go through personal attacks like this.” Reporter Sam Stein concludes: “Coming at the end of an emotional and hard-fought campaign, it’s difficult to gauge both the purpose and the fallout of the death threat. If confirmed as both serious and sincere, it provides yet another piece of evidence that recently politics has veered into something more troubling than previously seen. O’Donnell supporters, undoubtedly, will be skeptical of the story’s emergence at this late stage of the primary fight, noting that Castle is the primary beneficiary if her candidacy is seen as inspiring political intolerance, if not downright violence.” [Huffington Post, 9/13/2010; Politico, 9/14/2010] Ross has been highly critical of O’Donnell’s campaign, stating that Delaware voters “are laughing” at her (see November 15, 2007), and has said that if she wins the primary, she is almost certain to lose against her Democratic opponent, county executive Chris Coons, in the November elections. Tea Party Express chairwoman Amy Kremer, of Sacramento, California, says of Ross’s criticisms: “Can you imagine the mess Tom Ross will have created when he is Delaware Republican Party chairman on Tuesday night when Christine O’Donnell becomes the Republican nominee for US Senate? It’s unacceptable, and Tom Ross must quit or be fired immediately. He is a walking disaster.” Current polls show Castle and O’Donnell in a statistical dead heat. O’Donnell has the support of several right-wing conservative groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group founded by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). [Gannett News Service, 9/5/2010; Politico, 9/13/2010] Recent reports have shown that O’Donnell has raised little money within Delaware, but has benefited greatly from “tea party” and other fundraising on her behalf in other states. [Gannett News Service, 9/5/2010] O’Donnell will win the Delaware primary. Castle will call the campaign the most unpleasant of his career. [USA Today, 9/5/2010]
ALL’s ‘Deadly Dozen’ poster. [Source: Pro Ecclesia (.com)]The anti-abortion advocacy organization American Life League (ALL) releases another in a series of “Deadly Dozen” ad campaigns. The first, in 1995, targeted a dozen abortion and health care providers, and was subsequently blamed for a spate of deadly violence against those named in the ads (see 1995 and After). In 2003, ALL launched a second “Deadly Dozen” campaign, this time targeting US senators (see January - April 2003). The current round of ads features a poster listing a dozen Catholic lawmakers, including members of Congress and of the Obama administration. The list includes Vice President Joseph Biden (D-DE); Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); and Representatives Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rosa DeLaurio (D-CT), and Mike Castle (R-DE). As with ALL’s 2003 campaign, the current campaign calls on the named lawmakers’ community bishops to deny them communion. The ad concludes with the slogan, “You can’t be Catholic and pro-abortion!” A blogger in Delaware reports seeing the poster in the vestibule of his church. [Jay Anderson, 9/13/2010]
Entity Tags: Mike Castle, Hilda Solis, Ginny Brown-Waite, Barbara Mikulski, American Life League, John Kerry, Mary L. Landrieu, Joseph Biden, Rosa DeLaurio, Nancy Pelosi, Ken Salazar, Obama administration, Susan Collins, Kathleen Sebelius
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
Research from the media analysis firm Borrell Associates and other sources shows that spending for the 2010 midterm elections will outstrip the record-breaking spending of the 2008 elections, which centered around a presidential contest. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations. It is unprecedented for midterm elections to involve more spending than presidential-year elections. Kip Cassino, vice president of research at Borrell Associates, says the Citizens United decision is directly responsible for the massive upswing in spending. “Unlike a lot of industries in the United States right now, which are seeing some downturns, political spending is absolutely a growth industry,” Cassino says. Corporate money is behind the surge, accounting for what he says is at least a 10 percent jump in advertising. Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, says: “The unwritten charter of these [anonymously funded political] groups is to really be disruptive and try to go in there and turn a race on its head—or put a candidate on the defense. And by that nature, most of those ads that they’re gonna run this fall are gonna be negative ads.” Labor unions account for some of the surge in spending, but most of it comes from corporate donors, from conservative organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010), Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, May 29, 2009, November 2009, and July 3-4, 2010), and American Crossroads, a nonprofit political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010, February 21, 2012, Late March 2012, and Late May 2012). Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says, “While each of our campaigns has the resources they need to be competitive, we now face shadow groups putting their thumbs on the scale with undisclosed, unlimited, and unregulated donations.” However, national groups are not all of the important players in the spending surge. Tracey says: “We have a lot of little individual state-type groups that are starting to show up in some of the bigger races. And I think they’re going to play a much larger role in the fall.” One group cited in the research is a Nevada-based group called Americans for New Leadership, which has targeted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for defeat in a barrage of advertisements aired recently throughout the state. The group says it has spent $300,000 in ads attacking Reid and is prepared to spend more, but has not disclosed from whom that money comes. Senate and House races are seeing more involvement by heavily-funded groups placing ads in local markets for Republican candidates, or attacking Democrats, particularly from AFP, which has already spent some $1.5 million on House races. Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen says: “In 2004 and 2006, literally 100 percent of the groups were fully complying with the disclosure laws. Today, most groups do not disclose where they’re getting their money from.” The New York Times reports, “The situation raises the possibility that a relatively small cadre of deep-pocketed donors, unknown to the general public, is shaping the battle for Congress in the early going.” Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics observes: “Corporate interests are buying the elections? Oh no, it’s much worse than that. We don’t know who’s buying the election.” [New York Times, 9/13/2010; National Public Radio, 9/16/2010; Think Progress, 9/17/2010]
Entity Tags: Evan Tracey, Americans for New Leadership, American Crossroads, Americans for Prosperity, Craig Holman, Robert Menendez, Borrell Associates, US Chamber of Commerce, Kip Cassino, Karl C. Rove, Sheila Krumholz, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2010 Elections
Christine O’Donnell. [Source: Fox News]Republican pundit Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, discusses the recent primary victory of US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE—see September 13, 2010) with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Palin advises O’Donnell to use Fox News, and only Fox, to get her message out. O’Reilly notes that GOP strategist Karl Rove, who has been critical of O’Donnell’s candidacy, has said O’Donnell is unprepared to talk to moderate voters about her often-extremist positions, and thusly, her staff has been reluctant to appear on news programs such as his O’Reilly Factor. Palin says this is the wrong course, and compares O’Donnell’s campaign to her own 2008 campaign for vice president when her advisers told her to stay away from the media. “She’s going to have to learn very quickly to dismiss what her handlers want,” Palin says. “Go with her gut, get out there speak to the American people, speak through Fox News.” [Wilmington News Journal, 9/16/2010] Shortly thereafter, O’Donnell cancels a scheduled appearance on the September 19 edition of CBS’s Face the Nation, with no explanation. “They just emailed us and said she needed to cancel,” says the show’s executive producer, Mary Hager. Politico’s Ben Smith speculates that O’Donnell “may now be heeding the advice bestowed earlier this week by Sarah Palin: ‘Speak through Fox.’” Smith also notes that O’Donnell has drawn fire for her extreme comments on a variety of subjects, from condom use to her stated belief that scientists have inserted human brains into mice (see November 15, 2007). [Politico, 9/16/2010]
Glen Urquhart. [Source: Glen Urquhart for Congress]The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) releases a video showing Delaware Republican primary winner Glen Urquhart (R-DE) comparing believers in the separation of church and state to Nazis. Urquhart is running for the House seat vacated by moderate Republican Mike Castle (R-DE), who lost a contentious Delaware Senate primary to right-wing candidate Christine O’Donnell (see September 13, 2010). Both O’Donnell and Urquhart are backed by state and national “tea party” organizations. The DCCC is attempting to portray O’Donnell, Urquhart, and others as right-wing extremists. The video shows Urquhart speaking directly to the cameras, saying that the idea of the separation of church and state originated not with the Founding Fathers, but with Adolf Hitler: “Do you know, where does this phrase separation of church and state come from? Does anybody know?… Actually, that’s exactly, it was not in [Thomas] Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. He was reassuring that the federal government wouldn’t trample on their religion. The exact phrase ‘separation of church and state’ came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state ask them why they’re Nazis.” Urquhart’s spokesman David Anderson says the candidate has repeatedly apologized for the remarks, and says Urquhart “believes 100 percent in religious freedom for all Americans.” He was merely speaking out against what he calls the “oppression of religious freedom in the name of separation of church and state.… The phrase he used was unfortunate, and he apologized for it.” [The Hill, 9/17/2010; CBS News, 9/17/2010] CBS News notes that Jefferson indeed used the phrase “separation of church and state” in his letter to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association, writing, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church & state.” [CBS News, 9/17/2010; Jefferson, 9/17/2010]
Nevada Republican Sharron Angle, running for the US Senate against Harry Reid (D-NV), urges her supporters in Utah to “take out” Reid. In January, Angle told a conservative radio host that someone should “take him [Reid] out” by “Second Amendment remedies,” which most observers took to mean by the use of firearms (see January 2010). Angle later withdrew her statement and said she meant “take him out of office” (see June 30, 2010). She said she had “changed her rhetoric” and would not use the term again. Angle restates her comment to say she wants to “defeat” Reid in the November election: “In Nevada, we understand we have the opportunity to take out—to defeat,” she says, drawing laughter. “I really have had to find a whole new vocabulary since the primaries.… The first thing we need to do is to defeat Harry Reid. That defeat will send a shock wave through Congress. It will let them know that this train is coming. They can either get on board or get run over by it.” Angle’s speech is part of a larger conference called “Utah United” that draws some 400 conservatives from Utah and the surrounding area, many of whom are self-described “tea party” members. The conference is sponsored by, among others: the far-right extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), the Eagle Forum, the National Center for Constitutional Studies, and the Utah Farm Bureau. Angle is one of several hard-right GOP candidates at the conference. She has the support of the national Tea Party Express, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, and the Club for Growth, a conservative group credited with aiding the ouster of incumbent US Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) in last spring’s GOP primary. (Last summer, Angle said that Bennett had “outlived his usefulness” to the Republican Party.) Reid campaign spokesman Jon Summers says that Angle is “trolling for support anywhere she can get it because she’s not getting it from Nevadans. While she’s seeking every out-of-state endorsement she can get, Senator Reid has the support of more than 200 Nevada Republican leaders as well as law enforcement and business leaders, just to name a few. Nevadans are rejecting Sharron Angle because of her extreme agenda to kill Social Security, privatize the Veterans Administration, and ship 77,000 tons of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, just outside of Las Vegas.” Of Angle’s urging that someone “take out” Reid, Angle campaign spokeswoman Lee Rech says the statement “was just a slip.” Angle meant that she hoped to “retire” Reid from the Senate. [Salt Lake Tribune, 9/18/2010; Huffington Post, 9/19/2010]
Entity Tags: Utah Farm Bureau, Tea Party Express, Phyllis Schlafly, Robert F. (“Bob”) Bennett, Harry Reid, Eagle Forum, Club for Growth, John Birch Society, Sharron Angle, Jon Summers, National Center for Constitutional Studies
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
Former President Bill Clinton warns that the “tea party” movement is led, not by grassroots organizers and ordinary Americans, but by “people backing ultra right-wing corporate interests” who have been pushing the same agenda “for the last 30 years” (see May 16, 2008, August 2008, February 19, 2009, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 2009 and After, April 6-7, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 28, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, and August 30, 2010). Clinton has advised Democrats to “listen to the tea party” because many of its supporters are “people who feel the middle class has been hosed… by big business and government.… There are a lot of real people in this tea party movement that are saying something everyone should hear—which is: ‘Seems like everyone but average Americans are doing all right here. The people that caused the financial crisis are all back in great shape.’” Clinton expresses his “sympathy” for the members, but draws a sharp distinction between the “tea party” rank and file and its leadership. “The problem is that if you look at the financial energy behind the tea party movement, it’s not about restricting abuse of big public and private power,” Clinton says. “It’s about destroying the role of government in our life so that private centers of power will be untrammeled, and I don’t think that’s good for average Americans.” Democrats should listen to “tea party” members, but Clinton warns against letting their rhetoric “cloud their judgment.” If Republicans take back the House of Representatives in November 2010, Clinton warns that that body will spend most of its time launching pointless, politically-driven investigations into the White House. The nation will experience “two years of unrelenting investigations into the White House, staff, and cabinet,” he says. That is how President Obama will be “rewarded” by Republicans for not investigating alleged Bush administration wrongdoing, he adds. [Politico, 9/20/2010; Salon, 9/21/2010]
American Crossroads logo. [Source: American Crossroads]American Crossroads, a political advocacy group backed by former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove, is spending millions on attack advertisements targeting Democrats for the 2010 midterm elections. Ninety-one percent of the funding for American Crossroads comes from three right-wing billionaires. In August, American Crossroads raised $2,639,052. $2.4 million of that, or 91 percent of that total, comes from Trevor Rees-Jones, Robert Rowling, and Carl Linder. Rees-Jones is president of Chief Oil and Gas, a Dallas-based firm; he contributed $1 million in August to go with the $1 million he contributed earlier in the year. Rowling is CEO of TRT Holdings; like Rees-Jones, he gave $1 million in August to go with a previous $1 million contribution. Linder owns American Financial Group (AFG), a Cincinnati-based firm. Linder used to own Chiquita, the fruit corporation, and owns a partial stake in the Cincinnati Reds. AFG donated $400,000 in August. In July, billionaire Jerry Perenchio, who in 2008 chaired presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ)‘s national finance committee, gave $1 million to American Crossroads. American Crossroads has a partner group, American Crossroads GPS (for Grassroots Political Strategies), that is organized under a section of the tax code that does not require disclosure of donors. The group is raising millions of dollars, but refuses to identify the donors. The two groups were organized earlier in the year by Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie. Another political advocacy group, American Action Network, shares a downtown Washington office with the Crossroads group; both are working alongside other right-wing advocacy groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the US Chamber of Commerce. [Salon, 9/20/2010; Politico, 9/20/2010]
Entity Tags: Ed Gillespie, American Crossroads, American Action Network, American Crossroads GPS, Carl Linder, Robert Rowling, US Chamber of Commerce, A. Jerrold Perenchio, Karl C. Rove, Americans for Prosperity, Trevor Rees-Jones
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2010 Elections
Stephen Broden (R-TX), a candidate for the US Congress favored by area “tea parties,” tells an interviewer that he would not rule out the violent overthrow of the US government if the upcoming elections do not produce a change in leadership. Broden is referring to the upcoming midterm elections, which some predict will turn control of the House and/or Senate to the Republicans; he is challenging incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). Broden, a pastor from Dallas, responds to a question about a “tea party” event in Fort Worth in 2009 where he called the Obama administration “tyrannical.” He then said of the administration: “We have a constitutional remedy. And the Framers say if that don’t work, revolution.” Asked if he specifically meant the violent overthrow of the federal government, he says the way to deal with a repressive government is to “alter it or abolish it.” He then notes that the US was founded by an armed insurrection against the British government, and says: “If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary.… The option [of violent overthrow] is on the table. I don’t think that we should remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms. However, it is not the first option.” Dallas County GOP chairman Jonathan Neeman says Broden’s remarks are “inappropriate,” and calls them “a disappointing, isolated incident.” Dallas Tea Party organizer Ken Emanuelson, a Broden supporter, says he agrees with Broden’s statement in theory, but adds: “Do I see our government today anywhere close to that point? No, I don’t.” Broden also backpedals on claims he has previously made, including that the Obama administration “contrived” the economic crisis, and retreats from remarks characterizing Obama and other Democratic leaders as “enemies” who must be resisted in the same way that Jews should have resisted “walking into the furnaces” under the Nazi regime. Broden says his previous comparisons of Obama to Hitler, and the Obama administration to Nazis, were mistakes. [Dallas Morning News, 10/22/2010] Broden, an African-American with little name recognition outside the Dallas Republican Party, has strong ties to white conservatives, has ties to political organizations sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, and was recently endorsed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). According to an analysis of his statements by the Dallas Observer, “Broden preaches that all of the nation’s ills are the product of conspiratorial plotting by an evil ‘other,’ which he variously describes as Marxists, Fabian socialists, atheists, and ‘Darwin atheists.’” [Dallas Observer, 10/28/2010] Broden will lose the election to Johnson. [Dallas Examiner, 11/3/2010]
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