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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Documents Found in Meth House Show the Inner Workings of a Dark Money Group Linked to 23 Conservative Candidates

Election 2012  

The documents offer a rare glimpse into the world of dark money, showing how Western Tradition Partnership appealed to donors, interacted with candidates and helped shape their election efforts.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
This post was co-published with PBS' Frontline.

The boxes landed in the office of Montana investigators in March 2011.
Found in a meth house in Colorado, they were somewhat of a mystery, holding files on 23 conservative candidates in state races in Montana. They were filled with candidate surveys and mailers that said they were paid for by campaigns, and fliers and bank records from outside spending groups. One folder was labeled "Montana $ Bomb."

The documents pointed to one outside group pulling the candidates' strings: a social welfare nonprofit called Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP.

Altogether, the records added up to possible illegal "coordination" between the nonprofit and candidates for office in 2008 and 2010, said a Montana investigator and a former Federal Election Commission chairman who reviewed the material. Outside groups are allowed to spend money on political campaigns, but not to coordinate with candidates.

"My opinion, for what it's worth, is that WTP was running a lot of these campaigns," said investigator Julie Steab of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, who initially received the boxes from Colorado.

The boxes were examined by Frontline and ProPublica as part of an investigation into the growing influence on elections of dark money groups, tax-exempt organizations that can accept unlimited contributions and do not have to identify their donors. The documents offer a rare glimpse into the world of dark money, showing how Western Tradition Partnership appealed to donors, interacted with candidates and helped shape their election efforts.

Though WTP's spending has been at the state level, it's best-known nationally for bringing a lawsuit that successfully challenged Montana's ban on corporate spending in elections, extending the provisions of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision to all states.

The tax code allows nonprofits like WTP to engage in some political activity, but they are supposed to have social welfare as their primary purpose. As reported previously by ProPublica and Frontline, when WTP applied for recognition of its tax-exempt status, it told the IRS under penalty of perjury that it would not directly or indirectly attempt to influence elections — even though it already had.
The group is now locked in an ongoing dispute with Montana authorities, who ruled in October 2010 that the nonprofit should have registered as a political committee and should have to disclose its donors. WTP sued. A hearing is set for March.

In the meantime, the group has changed its name to American Tradition Partnership, reflecting its larger ambitions. This month, it sent Montana voters a mailer in the form of a newspaper called the Montana Statesman that claimed to be the state's "largest & most trusted news source."

The front page accused the Democratic gubernatorial candidate of being soft on sex offenders.

Donny Ferguson, American Tradition Partnership's spokesman and executive director, did not specifically address the documents found in Colorado or allegations of coordination made against WTP.

"American Tradition Partnership always obeys every letter of every applicable law," he wrote in an emailed response to questions. "ATP does not, and never will, endorse candidates or urge voters to vote for or against candidates. ... These false allegations are old hat."

On its website, the group says its primary purpose is issue advocacy and combating radical environmentalists, whom it sometimes calls "gang green." It describes itself as a grassroots group backed by a broad membership of small donors.

When asked about the documents found in Colorado, Jim Brown, a lawyer for the group, said he was unfamiliar with them.

After being shown some of the documents by Frontline, Brown, in a follow-up email, said his review indicated that they appeared to belong to a company called Direct Mail. Direct Mail and Communications is a print shop in Livingston, Mont., run by a one-time key player in WTP and his wife.
Brown urged Frontline to turn over the documents. "If the documents are purported to be what you say they are, then you may knowingly be in possession of stolen property," Brown wrote.

The records are in the hands of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, which considers them public and reviewable upon request.

* * *

In the anything-goes world of modern campaign finance, outside groups face one major restriction: They are not allowed to coordinate with candidates. That's because contributions to candidates and parties are still capped to limit donors' direct influence, while contributions to outside groups are unlimited.

The Federal Election Commission has a three-pronged test for proving coordination: Did an outside group pay for ads, phone calls or mailers? Did these materials tell people to vote for or against a candidate, or praise or criticize a candidate in the weeks before an election? Finally, did the candidate, or a representative, agree to the expenditure?

Many concerns have been raised about coordination in this election because of close ties between outside groups and campaigns. Super PACs supporting President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are run by their former staffers. Super PACs and campaigns have used the same consultants, who insist in interviews that they have firewalls.

Proving coordination is extremely difficult, however. Since 2007, the FEC has investigated 64 complaints of coordination, but found against candidates and groups only three times, fining them a total of $107,000, a review of FEC enforcement actions shows.

Montana, which has similar rules, also receives few complaints about such activity, Steab said.

The boxes from Colorado contained a mixture of documents from candidates and outside groups.

Folders labeled with the names of Montana candidates held drafts and final letters of support signed by candidates' wives and drafts and final copies of mailers marked as being paid for by the campaigns. The folders often appeared to have had an accounting of what had been sent and paid for scrawled on the front.

Several folders included copies of the signatures of candidates and their wives. "Use this one," someone wrote in red pen next to a cut-out rectangle on a page with five signatures from one candidate.

Steab, the Montana investigator, said she believed these cut-out signatures were then affixed to fliers from the candidates.

Besides material from the campaigns, the boxes also contained mailers on 2008 and 2010 races in Colorado and Montana from Western Tradition Partnership and six other groups. There were bank statements for several groups, including the Coalition for Energy and the Environment, the Alliance of Montana Taxpayers and the Conservative Victory Fund.

In all the documents, one name repeatedly popped up: Christian LeFer. Even though two Montana Republican politicians founded WTP, investigators determined that LeFer was the man behind the scenes.

LeFer, who is described as WTP's director of strategic programming in memos in 2009, said in an email that the documents "appear to be stolen property" and that, as he'd had no access to them, he couldn't respond to most of ProPublica's questions, "which seem to be based on an erroneous and fanciful interpretation of what they mean."

LeFer did not address whether WTP had coordinated with candidates. Although former employees and candidates said LeFer helped his wife run Direct Mail and Communications — the printing company that Brown, the lawyer, suggested was the owner of the boxes of documents found in Colorado — LeFer said he did not "run or direct the activities" there.

Direct Mail listed its principal office address in Montana filings as being the sameColorado address WTP initially used.

Two outside groups with documents in the boxes — the Montana Committee to Protect the Unborn and Montana Citizens for Right to Work — listed their addresses on bank statements as the same post-office box in Livingston used by LeFer and Direct Mail. LeFer was also the executive director of Montana Citizens for Right to Work, an anti-union group.

Former state Rep. Ed Butcher said LeFer and Western Tradition Partnership aided candidates with no experience.

"They'll come in, if candidates want some help, they'll come in and help them," said Butcher, who described LeFer as "a Karl Rove type political strategist" who "stays in the background."

Butcher's file in the Colorado boxes was labeled "Butcher Primary '08 mail samples." It included an email from LeFer to Butcher with a survey about unions. There was a campaign donation form, and drafts of fliers and a letter from Butcher's campaign.

A "wife questionnaire" for Butcher's wife Pam said she met her husband "on a blind date arranged by his buddy that neither of us wanted." The questionnaire listed her children's names and that she had been taking care of her disabled mother for five years.

A letter on pink paper from Pam Butcher was in a file marked "wife letters." The letter, which contained much of the information in the questionnaire, was marked as being paid for by Butcher's campaign.

Butcher said his wife might have run her letter past LeFer. "He may have asked, 'Do you need any help?' and she said, 'Yeah, I need to get this family letter out,'" said Butcher, who won the Republican primary in 2008 by 20 votes.

A folder for another successful candidate, Mike Miller, included a fax cover sheet from Miller to LeFer, forwarding Miller's filled-out Montana candidate surveys for two outside groups, the National Gun Owners Alliance and the National League of Taxpayers. It also held a candidate survey asking Miller if he had any research about his opponent, including "any recent scandals."
Miller confirmed to Frontline that LeFer was an unpaid adviser on his campaign, but would not elaborate further.

Trevor Potter, a former federal election commissioner who now runs the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group that advocates for more restrictions on money in politics, reviewed the documents found in the boxes.

"This is the sort of information that is, in fact, campaign strategy, campaign plans that candidates cannot share with an outside group without making it coordinated," Potter said.

"You need to know more, but certainly if I were back in my FEC days as a commissioner, I would say we had grounds to proceed with an investigation and put people under oath and show them these documents, and ask where they came from and where they were."

* * *

After the 2008 election, Montana started investigating whether WTP should have disclosed its donors.

The inquiry progressed slowly until 2010, when a former WTP contractor handed over internal fundraising records, saying she was worried about what the group was doing.

The documents showed that the group raised money specifically by telling people and corporations that they could give unlimited amounts in secret.
"The only thing we plan on reporting is our success to contributors like you who can see the benefits of a program like this," said one document, a 2010 election briefing to read to potential donors. "You can just sit back on election night and see what a difference you've made."

target list of potential donors included an executive at a talc mine, the Montana representative of an international mining group and a Colorado executive for a global gold-mining company.

One note about a potential donor advised: "Married rich, hard to get a hold of. Have a beer with him." Another said: "Owns big ranch, signed a hit piece I wrote on cty cmms'r last year (don't mention), should give $$ $10,000 ask."
Other notes suggested that solicitors "See Christian" or "Talk to Christian," apparently references to LeFer.

The documents cited the group's success in 2008, saying in a confidential grassroots membership development proposal that 28 Montana state legislators "rode into office in 100% support of WTP's responsible development agenda."
By 2010, the partnership was active in state races in Montana and Colorado.
That October, Montana authorities said Western Tradition Partnership had violated campaign-finance law and should be fined. They said the group's purpose in 2008 was "not to discuss issues, but to directly influence candidate elections through surreptitious means."

The Montana investigation also said the evidence was overwhelming that WTP had established the Coalition for Energy and the Environment, known as CEE, as a "sham organization" to act as a front for expenditures actually made by WTP.

But the investigation also found that "sufficient evidence has not been disclosed to establish coordination between WTP/CEE and any candidate. Concern and healthy skepticism is warranted, however."

That was before the boxes from Colorado turned up.
A convicted felon named Mark Siebel said he stumbled on them inside a known meth house near Denver at some point in late 2010.

It's not clear how they got there. Siebel said a friend found them in a stolen car. After reading through some of the documents, he reached out to people he thought might be interested in them — primarily Colorado candidates attacked by Western Tradition Partnership. A lawyer married to one of the candidates shipped the boxes off to Montana investigators.

By that time, however, the Montana probe into the group's activities in the 2008 election was over. Steab also said that there was no way to determine for certain where the documents were from and who owned them. There was no whistleblower, and no information about how the records ended up in Colorado.
Despite this, Steab said, she found the documents very telling.

"It looks to me that there was a lot of coordination — but I don't know that it's coordination that everyone is aware of in all cases," she said. She said she spoke to one candidate who told her he was upset about all the negative mailers against his opponent.

This year, American Tradition Partnership is as active as ever. It's suing to try to overturn contribution limits in Montana, so far unsuccessfully. The group sent out mailers attacking candidates before the June primary in Montana, reporting none of them to the state as political expenditures. It later put out a press release saying that 12 of the 14 candidates it backed had won.

For the general election, the group appears to be targeting Montana's attorney general, Steve Bullock, the Democratic candidate for governor. As attorney general, Bullock fought the partnership's lawsuits against the state, including the one that ended up in the Supreme Court.

The first issue of the partnership's Montana Statesman newspaper, dated Oct. 7, which agroup press release said was sent to 180,000 voters, featured four photographs on thefront page: Three of registered sex offenders, and one of Bullock, accusing him of allowing one in four sex offenders to go unregistered. "Bullock admits failure," the headline announced. A full-page ad accused Bullock of taking illegal corporate contributions and of "criminal hypocrisy."

The Statesman's editor and publisher is none other than Ferguson, the partnership's executive director, described as an "award-winning newspaper veteran" who has been "commended by other newspapers for his 'honest, intelligent and issue-oriented' approach."

Ferguson didn't respond to a question about his journalism credentials.
"Conservative group American Tradition Partnership now one of nation's biggest media outlets," said a press release on the group's website, adding that the newspaper would publish "several" editions through Election Day and into 2013.
Kim just finished her term as the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where she studied, wrote and lectured on Pakistan and Afghanistan and U.S. policy. She was the South Asia bureau chief for the Tribune from 2004 to 2009 and was based in New Delhi and Islamabad.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Romney Tests the Limits on Lying


Romney Tests the Limits on Lying

October 11, 2012
Americans may see themselves as worldly cynics when it comes to political lying, observing that all politicians do it. But Mitt Romney is testing the limits with his ever-shifting positions and outright lies, notes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Mitt Romney might be the most brazen political liar since James Polk, who served as the 11th U.S. president (1845-1849) and lied through his teeth – to Congress, to his cabinet, to the newspapers – to get the country into a war with Mexico.

Of course, other presidents have lied to a similar end, for instance President Lyndon Johnson on the Vietnam War and President George W. Bush on the Iraq War. But Polk operated with the same audacious “lying is part of what I do” disposition that Mitt Romney does.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney with a new campaign slogan, "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!" (Photo credit: mittromney.com)

If one has any doubt about Mitt Romney’s mendacious temperament, the first presidential debate should have put it to rest. According to one analyst, Romney let loose with “27 myths in 38 minutes,”  finishing with a big grin after most of these prevarications. He produced trumped-up assertions, false statistics and wild exaggerations about taxes, energy independence, job creation, the deficit, Medicare, “Obamacare,” and military spending.

If the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri came back to life today and produced an updated list of lost souls for the “Inferno” section of his Divine Comedy, Romney would certainly earn a spot in the 8th rung of hell. That is where Dante placed, among others, the “falsifiers, those who attempted to alter things through lies or alchemy.” Their punishment was “based on horrible … diseases such as rashes, dropsy, leprosy and consumption.”

By the way, there seems to be a suspicion that Romney  also cheated during the first debate. The debate rules say that the candidates cannot use “prepared notes.” However, a video of the debate shows that he had put what looks like a white piece of paper down on his podium, or maybe it was just his handkerchief. But who could believe that Romney might cheat?

Some Specifics

The second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 16, will be partially about foreign policy. As a run-up to the moment, Romney gave a speech on foreign affairs. It should be kept in mind that between Oct. 8th and Oct. 16 he might completely change his positions. The man has such a flip-flop record that this is quite possible.

However, assuming he doesn’t do that, let’s take a look at just how truthful are his foreign policy statements:

As Robert Parry points out in Consortium News, Romney lied when he said Obama “has not signed one new free trade agreement in the past four years.” Obama has in fact signed three (South Korea, Panama and Columbia). Romney also lied when he said that Obama was “silent” during the suppression of demonstrations in Iran after the reelection of President Amadinejad. Obama spoke out on multiple occasions.

By the way, one might not approve of NAFTA-style trade agreements. I certainly don’t. But that does not make Romney’s lies about Obama’s actions acceptable.
Parry goes on to detail how Romney’s accusation that Obama’s foreign policy is “weak” is  groundless. After all, he is talking about the man who wages war in Afghanistan, helped bring down the dictatorship in Libya, and took down Osama bin Laden. Parry explains that Romney credits a lot of this to the U.S. military as if Obama had nothing to do with it.

Once more, Obama’s foreign policy has much about it that can be criticized. So, why do it through sheer falsehoods?  Perhaps because Romney actually has no problem with Obama’s actions, but does not want the public to associate them with the president.

Then there is Romney’s sudden embracing of a Palestinian state when just a few months ago he described such a goal as “almost unthinkable to accomplish.” At that time the reason he gave for his position was that Palestinians are not interested in peace. That was an outrageous lie.

It is hard to believe that he has now changed his mind. More likely he is attempting to preclude any charge that he has abandoned the search for peace, even as he asserts that Obama has not displayed leadership toward that same end.

When it comes to the Arab Spring, Obama allegedly missed “an historic opportunity to win new friends and share our values in the Middle East.” Who would these friends be? Those fighting against “evil tyrants and angry mobs who seek to harm us.”

This is so much gobbledygook. Most of the evil tyrants are our longstanding old friends and the angry mobs are the only hope for any governmental improvement.

Parry points out that the real difference between Romney and Obama is that Romney is much more the militarist. He has embraced neocon advisers, given carte blanche to Israel and verbally attacked Russia as “without question, our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

All of this suggests that between Obama (who is certainly no saint and has plenty of blood on his own hands) and Romney, it is the latter who is more likely to get the nation into yet another war. As Juan Cole has observed, “wars and lots of other conflicts are not a foreign policy vision, they are a nightmare.”

Does Lying Work?

So, does this serial falsification work? Can it actually help get a mythomanic elected president? It seems that the answer is yes.

According to a Pew Research Center poll taken after the first Obama-Romney debate,  “It’s official. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney…erased President Barack Obama’s lead.” According to a graph of the poll results Romney’s picked up five percentage points to come even with Obama. Sixty-four percent of voters “thought that Romney was more informative than President Obama.”

The liar is more informative!? How is that possible? Well, you start with a lot of ignorance. The ignorance is not a function of lack of intelligence, but a function of lack of accurate contextual knowledge.

As a consequence the level of understanding of the average American about government policy on national issues such as  health care, energy independence, job creation, the deficit, military spending and even taxes is considerably lower than their average IQ. It is even worse when we get to foreign policy and its formulation.

Into the resulting knowledge vacuum come the misleading statements and assertions of politicians, so-called experts, and media spokesman of all descriptions. Fox News has made millions of dollars selling advertising that accompanies biased opinion passed off as fact.

In the end what the majority of Americans think they know about both domestic and foreign policy is based on media hear-say. Romney’s assertive and stylized lying fits well into this scenario. And his style also passes for strength and self-confidence.

Is it Pathological?

Romney’s lying is so pervasive, so ever-present, that one starts to wonder if it is pathological. There is a mental illness characterized by habitual lying. It goes by the name of Pseudologia Fantastica. Here are some of the characteristics of this ailment:

a. The lies told “are not entirely improbable” and “upon confrontation, the teller can admit them to be untrue, even if unwillingly.” In other words, the liar is aware that he or she is lying.

b. The lies told cast the teller in a favorable light.

c. The tendency to lie is a long-lasting one and not the product of the moment. It reflects an innate trait of the personality.

Well, Romney fits this pattern when it comes to the first two traits. It is hard to tell about the third. We will have to await the in-depth biographies that are certain to hit the market in short order. However, there is no doubt that the man has an easy facility for lying. One doubts if it keeps him up at night.

When the powerful lie it is a problem for all of us. That is because we do not usually act on the basis of what is true. Rather we act on the basis of what we think is true. When it comes to foreign policy, what the powerful and the media tell us is what most of us accept as true.

This distinction between what is true and what we think is true is critically important. If what we believe is true approximates the reality outside of us, then our plans and actions usually work out. If, however, what we think is true is off the mark, we can end up walking right off a cliff.

In the last 50 years Americans have been walking off cliffs quite regularly, with the result that millions have been killed and maimed. They have done so in large part because they have a hard time knowing when they are being lied to, especially about foreign policy.

If the Pew poll cited above is any predictor, nothing is going to change any time soon. Elect Mitt Romney and that walk toward the cliff might turn into a run. Reelect Obama, and the cliff will probably remain our self-destructive destination, but perhaps the pace will be more measured.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Reagan-Bush Legacy of Political Abuse

Independent Investigative Journalism Since 1995

Reagan-Bush Legacy of Political Abuse

By Michael Winship
January 28, 2011 

Editor’s Note: The Reagan-Bush legacy to the United States includes a politicized Judiciary and a blatant disregard for laws restricting the powers of the Executive – all done while knowing that the national political-media structure would do nothing to demand accountability.

With Reagan-Bush political descendants again wielding substantial power, the country is faced with the dilemma of what to do when such a group holds itself above the law and the traditional checks on that power no longer work, as Michael Winship notes in this guest essay:

The Detroit Tigers are retiring the great baseball manager Sparky Anderson's number 11 this season. "It's a wonderful gesture," Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg wrote. "I just wish Sparky could see it." 

Anderson won three World Series -- one managing the Tigers, two with the Cincinnati Reds -- and passed away this past November. Rosenberg said, "Retiring his number now is the baseball version of waiting until a relative dies to say thank you."

That's because it comes 16 years after Anderson left the Tigers in a bitter feud with owner Mike Ilitch. Yet as Sparky once said, "I've got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There's no future in it."

I wish I could say the same, let bygones be bygones and the rest, but when it comes to two other baseball devotees, the Presidents Bush, it's tough. Father and especially son left behind a heap of wreckage.

I hear some of you say forget it, time to move on. Maybe, but theirs is not a legacy that simply fades in the distance and leaves us in peace. What they did continues to impact our lives in deleterious ways, notably when it comes to the full speed, head-on collision of partisan politics with American justice.

Just this week, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) released a long overdue, 118-page report concluding that George Jr.'s White House used government agencies for Republican pep rallies and sent officials off on electioneering trips using taxpayer money, especially in the lead-up to the 2006 midterm elections.
These are violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities in the workplace and forbids the use of tax revenues for political purposes.

According to the OSC's findings the abuses were "a systemic misuse of federal resources." 

As the website Talking Points Memo reported, "The Office of Political Affairs (OPA) in Bush's White House, overseen by Karl Rove, dispatched cabinet officials to campaign for Republican candidates on the federal dime and forced federal political appointees to attend political meetings during work time."

One memo, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, read, "This meeting is mandatory. It will essentially be the same large meeting that we had last year about this time. So, please clear your schedule, put your pom-poms on, and let's go!!!"

There won't be any punishment for the cheerleaders -- unless you count Democrats taking back the House and Senate in 2006, despite Rove and the GOP pulling out all the stops with their White House boiler room operation. 

No request has been made asking the Justice Department to file charges; Rove and any other miscreants fled the scene of the crime before Inauguration Day 2009 and can no longer be prosecuted. The Obama White House, however, has moved its Office of Political Affairs to Democratic National Committee HQ and the presidential re-election effort to Chicago. What could possibly go wrong in Chicago?

Attempting to rectify another Bush injustice this week, the Obama administration named two new commissioners to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which currently has an imbalance of four Republicans (two claim to be "independents") to three Democrats (one commissioner's reappointment by House Speaker Boehner will even things up -- it's a little complicated).
Talking Points Memo: "The Bush administration stacked the commission with conservatives by having two of the commissioners switch their affiliation from Republican to independent. The move, said the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, was legal. 

“But it was also, as former Commission Chairman Gerald Reynolds (a Republican appointee) acknowledged, intended to 'game' the system. The scheme unfolded in 2004, and the panel has since focused on racism against white people and claimed that measures intended to aid minority groups are discriminatory."

Meanwhile, the Bush family's Supreme Court appointees -- along with that mossback relic of the Reagan era, Antonin Scalia -- habitually thumb their noses at the very notion of an independent and impartial judiciary. 

Last week, the citizen's lobby Common Cause formally requested that the Justice Department investigate whether Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas (Bush Sr.'s notorious appointee) should have been disqualified from hearing the Citizens United case, last year's landmark ruling that lifted restrictions on corporate political contributions, allowing huge amounts of secret cash to pour into our elections.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Common Cause President and CEO Bob Edgar wrote, "It appears both justices have participated in political strategy sessions, perhaps while the case was pending, with corporate leaders whose political aims were advanced by the decision. 

“With respect to Justice Thomas, there may also be an undisclosed financial conflict of interest due to his wife's role as CEO of Liberty Central, a 501(c)(4) organization that stood to benefit from the decision and played an active role in the 2010 elections."

Justice Thomas dismissed his failure to report his wife's income -- not only from the right-wing Liberty Central but also the conservative Heritage Foundation -- as a "misunderstanding of the filing instructions." 

As for those "political strategy sessions," Thomas and Scalia attended secretive, invitation-only desert retreats, fundraisers held by billionaire Charles Koch, who, with his brother David, owns the energy giant Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the United States, and bankrolls the right wing, including elements of the Tea Party movement.

At those sessions, discussions may have been held about Citizens United while the case was under consideration; certainly, many of those in attendance have taken full advantage of the ruling and poured millions into the campaigns of conservative candidates -- Common Cause reports that Koch Industries' political action committee spent $2.6 million on last year's elections, in addition to tens of millions contributed by Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing group founded by the two brothers. 

(The 2011 Koch retreat takes place this weekend; thousands plan to gather in nearby Rancho Mirage, California, to protest.)

This isn't the first time Justices Scalia and Thomas have hobnobbed with corporate bigwigs and right-wing muck-a-mucks. Scalia is a regular headliner at the right-wing Federalist Society. In 2009, Thomas was featured at the Heritage Foundation's annual fundraiser and in 2008 delivered the Wriston Lecture at the conservative Manhattan Institute, an event that costs $5,000 to $25,000 to attend. 

Conservative court colleague and George W. Bush appointee Samuel Alito has also given the Wriston Lecture and attended fundraisers for The American Spectator magazine and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the wonderful folks who gave us ACORN hoaxster James O'Keefe.

(Thanks for this information to the progressive ThinkProgress website. And yes, I know liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has allowed the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund to name a lectureship after her; that's an issue, too.)

"The Supreme Court is the guardian of its own integrity," The Boston Globe editorialized on Thursday. "That means staying above politics and maintaining an air of dispassionate consideration of constitutional issues. 

“The court is not an elected body, and shouldn't function like one. This is especially important because, unlike with an elected body, there are few external constraints on the justices: They set their own rules, and the need for comity on the court largely prevents them from policing each other. Their shared commitment to maintaining judicial decorum is all that binds them."

No one is above the law, it's said, but Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito certainly behave like they are.

None of them attended Tuesday's State of the Union address -- certainly not the first time that's happened, but still symbolically disrespectful. Sadly, unlike baseball legend Sparky Anderson's, their numbers are unlikely to be retired any time soon. 

Michael Winship was senior writer at Bill Moyers Journal on PBS and is president of the Writers Guild of America, East.     

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Far Right Says "Our Speech is Freer than Yours!"

Wing nuts insist on their right to spew hate -- but demand that those who criticize them be "held accountable".

This story was originally published at Salon.

A month ago, when an armed man attacked the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., conservatives blamed the fact that the organization had been labeled a “hate group” for inciting the attack. Never mind that the hate group label was intended to condemn the sort of violence that the Family Research Council’s extreme homophobic vitriol encourages. Tony Perkins, head of the FRC, said that groups that labeled his organization a hate group should be “held accountable for their reckless use of terminology.”

But now, when an offensive anti-Islam film promoted by a right-wing Christian preacher is clearly to blame for violent riots spreading thought the Middle East and appeared to have played a role in the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, the far right in America is defending extremist rhetoric against Islam and attacking the Obama administration for condemning the inflammatory film. Blind to the diplomatic urgency of quelling violence, let alone their own hypocrisy, conservatives joined Mitt Romney in accusing the president of not standing up for free speech.

The only way to square this circle is to understand that conservatives in America are not free speech absolutists but rather apply the notion of “American exceptionalism” to their own tribal superiority. In their minds, blaspheming the religion of a billion of the world’s people and sparking violent outrage is permissible free speech because, well, these conservatives believe that Islam is an inferior and evil religion. As Michelle Malkin tweeted in an exchange we had on the day after the Libya and Egypt attacks, “What part of the centuries-old rallying cry “BEHEAD THOSE WHO INSULT ISLAM” don’t you understand?” (the caps are hers). Malkin then pointed me to a book by Bruce Bawer that argues that when we do crazy things like contextualize the violence of a fringe few in the broader sea of a billion peaceful Muslims who are horrified by such violence, we are “appeasing” radical Islam and therefore surrendering our values, especially freedom of speech.

But such “American exceptionalism” applies extra special to fundamentalist Christians within our own borders. Presumably these most exceptional of the exceptional should feel free to call gay people criminals and child molesters who should all be deported, and their right to free speech trumps the rights of others to label this speech hateful. Those spewing the hate are simply “expressing their beliefs” but those responding are being “reckless.” It doesn’t seem to matter that, for instance, on this issue, the vast majority of Americans oppose the extreme anti-gay rhetoric of the radical Christian right. Attempting to restrict universal freedoms to select subsets of a national community is about self-righteousness, not what’s right.

To be clear, the violence perpetrated in the name of this video, or for any other reason, is utterly unjustified and unacceptable. And the filmmakers behind this film are not guilty of directly inciting such violence. Yet to ignore the role of provocation in uprisings such as these is not only to ignore basic facts but to dangerously abdicate any role we might play, as individuals or as a nation, in choosing to either enable such violence or end it. It is not impinging on free speech to suggest we use our speech wisely and with attention to its impact.

Incidentally, for those of you wondering about our other deeply held American values, such as freedom of religion, the far right applies exceptionalism there, too. They have been on a mission in recent years to cast the men who created a secular government that explicitly separates Church and State as deeply activist Christians who were mortified by Islam and would presumably be more so now. In other words, our values may be deeply held but they are not widely applied.
American extremists wear our nation’s values like body armor to protect
themselves but wield America’s values like weapons when attacking their enemies. To any sane observer, such inequitable application of our nation’s traditions would seem as irresponsible as actively fanning the flames of anti-Islamic hatred while American lives and the lives of innocent people around the globe are clearly at stake. But the far right in America increasingly views itself as a nation unto itself, a chosen few within a chosen nation, able to rationalize all sorts of hatred and ugliness while condemning the same behaviors in others — which is dangerously akin to a holy war, not one that the American right is fighting against but actually starting themselves.

Sally Kohn, Chief Agitation Officer of the Movement Vision Lab, is a community organizer, writer and political commentator. You can read more about her work at: http://movementvision.org.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

6 Right-Wing Zealots That Would Blow Up the World for Political Gain


AlterNet / By Joshua Holland

6 Right-Wing Zealots That Would Blow Up the World for Political Gain

Toxic right-wingers and their fanatical followers are desperate to ignite a "clash of civilizations."

Photo Credit: Associated Press
Step back from the news cycle a moment and what you see is a week in which toxic, wildly irresponsible right-wingers have been trying to set a series of fires around the world, stoking their mythical "clash of civilizations" out of religious bigotry or for political gain, or a little bit of both.

That's the context in which Mitt Romney has had a couple of very rocky days, although as we’ll soon see, he is far from alone.

The Romney-Ryan campaign achieved a new low on September 11. In the morning, Romney promised reporters that he has detailed foreign policy plans, but refused to offer any details. But before the day was out, his campaign was spreading a blatant falsehood about a series of riots in Egypt and Libya that had left four Americans dead, including ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Romney shamelessly claimed that Obama's “first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” He was referring to a statement issued by the embassy in Cairo before the deadly attacks, condemning a ridiculous anti-Islam film that was believed to have sparked the riots.

Then, on Wednesday morning, Romney scheduled a press conference a half-hour before Obama was scheduled to address the nation from the White House. Romney doubled-down on his claim, saying, “It's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.” As if Terry Jones' overheated religious bigotry isn't in fact antithetical to our values. (Romney, ever the opportunist, had condemned Jones' Islamophobic provocation in 2010, and in typical form, he did in fact condemn the movie later on Wednesday, just as the Egyptian embassy had the previous night.)

Hours later, it got worse when the New York Times reported that there may not have been a direct connection between the film and the deadly attacks in Benghazi. While “initial accounts of the assault in Benghazi were attributed to popular anger over what was described as an American-made video that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad,” reported Peter Baker, David Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell, “administration officials in Washington said the attack in Libya may have been plotted in advance.”
While the protesters in Cairo appeared to be genuinely outraged over the anti-Islam video, the attackers in Benghazi were armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Officials said it was possible that an organized group had either been waiting for an opportunity to exploit like the protests over the video or perhaps even generated the protests as a cover for their attack.
CNN reported that “the attack immediately followed a call from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for revenge for the death in June of a senior Libyan member of the terror group Abu Yahya al-Libi,” and was likely perpetrated by a pro-Al Qaeda group known as the “Imprisoned Omar Abdul Rahman Brigades.”

Romney had, as Obama later said, shot first and aimed later. This was the moment that Mitt Romney lost the mainstream media entirely, and quite possibly the campaign. The problem wasn't just Romney's utter lack of class in politicizing a deadly attack on Americans abroad while that attack was ongoing, it was his facial expression – he wore a smug, self-satisfied smirk as he left the podium, and that image is likely to dog him in the coming days.

But it's worth pausing and considering the larger narrative on which the Romney camp is basing its claim that Obama is ultimately at fault for the riots in Egypt and Libya. According to a set of talking-points the Romney campaign issued to its supporters and surrogates, the underlying issue is this: “We have seen a foreign policy of weakness, indecision, and a decline in American influence and respect – and yesterday we saw the consequences.”

Ordinary people will find this assertion to be nothing less than bizarre. Obama, after all, escalated the conflict in Afghanistan, turned drone strikes from a military capability into an administration policy and ordered the assault that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. But Romney has surrounded himself with neoconservative extremists like John Bolton, who are heavily invested in the idea that there is a "clash of civilizations" dividing East and West. Reading between the lines, the problem is not Obama's concrete policy choices so much as his refusal to condemn Islam as a death-cult or indulge Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's apocalyptic view that Iran poses an existential threat to the state of Israel.

They are not alone. Right-wing religionists – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – all have a vested interest in making their imagined global conflict a reality. It was Osama bin Laden's goal, just as it's the goal of Pam Geller or those on the fringes of the Israeli settler movement.

And there are more. Here are some other actors that have recently tried to blow up the world in service of their perverse ideologically and theologically informed hatreds, damn the consequences.

Conservative Islamists in Libya and Egypt; Egyptian Right-Wing Media

A 13-minute trailer for a wildly provocative film called either The Innocence of Muslims or Mohammed, Prophet of the Muslims (but which could have been called The Chronicles of the Elders of Islam) was uploaded to YouTube in July and received little notice. According to the Daily Mail, the trouble started when someone translated the trailer into Arabic and uploaded it to YouTube. It was “since featured on Egyptian media reports for several days with ultraconservative clerics going on air to denounce it.”

While Muslims across the political spectrum were offended, according to multiple reports those who rioted in Cairo and Benghazi were “conservative Islamists,” whose thin skin and lack of tolerance led to the chaos.
It wasn't “Muslims,” writ large, who perpetrated the outrageous attacks. It was the Islamic religious right, which sees itself under siege from modern, secular society in much the same way our own Christian right sees itself as under constant siege by perfidious secular humanists.

On Wednesday, hundreds of residents of Benghazi took to the streets to condemn the attacks on the Embassy. Their message:

Whomever's Behind That Stupid, Bigoted Film

As the New York Times notes, the origins of the film are “shrouded in mystery.” Early reports suggested that the film was produced by an Israeli-American real estate developer named Sam Basile, but no such person could be tracked down. Some have suggested that “Sam Basile” is a pseudonym. But someone claiming to be Basile offered several interviews with media outlets, during which he “called Islam 'a cancer,' and said he had raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors” to fund the film.

Rumors of who was behind the film – all unconfirmed – abound. Some have suggested the usual suspects: Pam Geller or Robert Spencer or their fellow travelers. The one person who has publicly admitted to being involved with the film is a man named Steve Klein, whom Max Blumenthal describes as “a Hemet, California-based insurance salesman who claims to have led a 'hunter-killer team' in Vietnam.”
Klein is a right-wing extremist who emerged from the same axis of Islamophobia that produced Anders Behring Breivik and which takes inspiration from the writings of Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, and Daniel Pipes.
It appears Klein (or someone who shares his name and views) is an enthusiastic commenter on Geller’s website, Atlas Shrugged, where he recently complained about Mitt Romney’s “support for a Muslim state in Israel’s Heartland.” In July 2011, Spencer’s website, Jihad Watch, promoted a rally Klein organized alongside the anti-Muslim Coptic extremist Joseph Nasrallah to demand the firing of LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, whom they painted as a dupe for Hamas.
The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Stein, who said of the 15 or so people behind the film, “They're from Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, they're some that are from Egypt. Some are Copts but the vast majority are Evangelical." Copts are an Egyptian Christian sect that has long faced persecution in its own long-standing conflict with the country's Muslim majority.

The film was designed to provoke a reaction, to push their right-wing religionist counterparts to acts of hatred and stupidity. On Wednesday, a lot of confused people suggested that the embassy's statement condemning this trash somehow conflicts with our First Amendment right to free speech, which might make some sense if anyone, anywhere, had suggested the filmmakers weren't within their constitutional rights in producing the film. Or if the First Amendment was a guarantee that you could say whatever you wanted and not be criticized. Of course, just because you have the right to do awful things that you know are likely to lead to bloodshed doesn't mean you should do awful things that are likely to lead to bloodshed. Make no mistake: they got what they wanted in sparking those riots.

American Islamophobes Terry Jones, Morris Sadik

The New York Times reports that another “ultraconservative cleric,” Terry Jones, “began promoting the video along with his own proclamation of Sept. 11 as ‘International Judge Muhammad Day.’” Jones sparked deadly riots in 2010 when he threatened to burn a stack of Korans in a high-profile quest for attention (Defense Secretary Robert Gates reportedly talked him out of the stunt).

According to the Guardian, “The film clip was also spotted and promoted last week by Morris Sadik, an Egyptian Coptic Christian based in California who runs a small virulently Islamophobic group called the National American Coptic Assembly. It was later denounced by mainstream Copts in Egypt, but it was too late to stop it going viral.”

Extremists everywhere you look.


All of this happened just days after another far-right ideologue tried to use the high stakes of the presidential race to blackmail the United States into supporting a disastrous war in the Middle East.

Bibi Netanyahu is a secularist, but his administration is heavily influenced by Israel's religious right, and he has cast the conflict over Iran's nuclear enrichment as part of the clash of civilizations, saying again and again that it's an existential threat to Israel's existence.

In the past weeks, Netanyahu has insisted that the United States lay out specific “red lines” that Iran couldn't cross without inviting American military action, and added the implied threat that if no such statement was forthcoming, Israel might embroil the whole region in chaos with a unilateral strike.
Netanyahu was playing a weak hand because he sensed he had to play it now. He knows that his leverage decreases dramatically after the election – especially if Obama wins – and was trying to push for an “end-game” in the standoff over Iranian enrichment.

Time magazine's Joe Klein said of the blackmail attempt, “I don’t think I’ve ever, in the forty years I’ve been doing this – and I’m trying to search my mind through history – have heard of another example of an American ally trying to push us into war as blatantly, and trying to influence an American election as blatantly as Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud party in Israel is doing right now. I think it’s absolutely outrageous and disgusting. It’s not a way that friends treat each other. And it is cynical and it is brazen.”

Then, earlier this week, Likud officials tried to ratchet up the sense that it's in “conflict” with Washington by leaking a story that Netanyahu, who will be in New York for a United Nations conference, had requested a meeting with Obama and been turned down. National security reporter Laura Rozen first reported that a number of countries had been informed that Obama would not be available to meet on the sidelines of the UN confab, and that Israel was “the only one to raise [an] outcry.” She later noted that a National Security Council spokesperson denied that such a meeting had been requested in the first place.

...and the Iranians

But let's not give the Iranian regime a pass. There's no evidence to suggest Iran is seeking nuclear weapons -- and it does have a right to enrich nuclear materials for non-military purposes under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – but its stubborn refusal to definitively settle the question by giving international inspectors everything they've requested has led to crippling sanctions that have done an enormous amount of harm to the Iranian economy, and in turn to ordinary Iranians. In part, Iran is “standing on principle” so it can blame the West for its domestic problems, but in part it's because Iran too genuinely sees itself engaged in a clash of civilizations.

The Good News

These extremists are playing a very dangerous game. As Al-Monitor notes, “Pro-Western, secular forces in the Middle East are already in peril, and fragile new democratic governments cannot adequately police their frustrated and angry young constituents.”

But the good news is that these craven attempts to capitalize on people's fear of the "other” won't work. The Obama administration has pushed back forcefully on Netanyahu's strong-arm tactics, essentially calling his ill-advised bluff. Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. is “not setting deadlines,” and insisted that sanctions were the administration's tool of choice for pressuring Iran. Seventy percent of Americans agree with that approach, and Bibi only weakened himself with the gambit.

As for the religious fundamentalists -- here and abroad, Christian, Muslim and Jewish -- they've been trying to stoke a clash of civilizations for over a decade, and have only succeeded in persuading a small minority of mentally challenged people to follow their lead. They remain a danger – as we've seen time and time again – but they will continue to reside at the margins. Most people just want to rasie their kids in peace.

As for Romney, his antics on Tuesday and Wednesday may well be the end of his campaign. With even many of his Republican supporters running away from him as if he were on fire, the media establishment judged that the candidate had inserted his foot directly into his mouth in a very serious way. It was a desperate attempt to shift the dynamics of the race – a Hail-Mary pass by a candidate looking at a 7-point deficit in Gallup's tracking poll – and it didn't work.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He's the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

6 Right-Wing Zealots and the Crazy Ideas Behind the Most Outrageous Republican Platform Ever


They're breaking out the crazy down in Tampa.

Kris Kobach

The official 2012 Republican Party platform is a far-right fever dream, a compilation of pouting, posturing and policies to meet just about every demand from the overlapping Religious Right, Tea Party, corporate, and neo-conservative wings of the GOP. If moderates have any influence in today’s Republican Party, you wouldn’t know it by reading the platform. Efforts by a few delegates to insert language favoring civil unions, comprehensive sex education and voting rights for the District of Columbia, for example, were all shot down. Making the rounds of right-wing pre-convention events on Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann gushed about the platform’s right-wing tilt, telling fired-up Tea Partiers that “the Tea Party has been all over that platform.”

Given the Republican Party’s hard lurch to the right, which intensified after the election of Barack Obama, the “most conservative ever” platform is not terribly surprising. But it didn’t just happen on its own. Here are some of the people we can thank on the domestic policy front.

1. Bob McDonnell.

As platform committee chair, McDonnell made it clear he was not in the mood for any amendments to the draft language calling for a “Human Life Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution and legal recognition that the “unborn” are covered by the 14th Amendment (“personhood” by another name). McDonnell is in many ways the ideal right-wing governor: he ran as a fiscal conservative and governs like the Religious Right activist he has been since he laid out his own political platform in the guise of a master’s thesis at Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

His thesis argued that feminists and working women were detrimental to the family, and that public policy should favor married couples over “cohabitators, homosexuals, or fornicators.” When running for governor of Virginia, McDonnell disavowed his thesis, but as a state legislator he pushed hard to turn those positions into policy. As the Washington Post noted, “During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family. In 2001, he voted against a resolution in support of ending wage discrimination between men and women.” As governor, McDonnell signed the kind of mandatory ultrasound law that is praised in this year’s platform. When his name was floated as a potential V.P. pick, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood decried his “deeply troubling record on women’s health.”

2. Tony Perkins.

Perkins heads the Family Research Council, whose Values Voter Summit is the Religious Right’s most important annual conference, where activists rub shoulders with Republican officials and candidates. Perkins bragged in an email to his supporters how much influence he and his friend David Barton (see below) had on the platform. Perkins was an active member of the platform committee, proposing language to oppose school-based health clinics that provide referrals for contraception or abortion, and arguing for the strongest possible anti-marriage equality language. Perkins also introduced an amendment to the platform calling on the District of Columbia government to loosen its gun laws, which Perkins says still do not comply with recent Supreme Court rulings.

The media tends to treat Perkins, a telegenic former state legislator, as a reasonable voice of the Religious Right, but his record and his group’s positions prove otherwise. Perkins has been aggressively exploiting the recent shooting at FRC headquarters to divert attention from the group’s extremism by claiming that the Southern Poverty Law Center was irresponsible in calling FRC a hate group. Unfortunately for Perkins, the group’s record of promoting hatred toward LGBT people is well-documented. Perkins has even complained that the press and President Obama were being too hard on Uganda’s infamous “kill the gays” bill, which he described as an attempt to “uphold moral conduct.” It’s worth remembering that Perkins ran a 1996 campaign for Louisiana Senate candidate Woody Jenkins that paid $82,600 to David Duke for the Klan leader’s mailing list; the campaign was fined by the FEC for trying to cover it up.

3. David Barton.

Texas Republican activist and disgraced Christian-nation “historian” Barton has had a tough year, but Tampa has been good to him. He was perhaps the most vocal member of the platform committee, and was a featured speaker at Sunday’s pre-convention “prayer rally.” During the platform committee’s final deliberations, Barton couldn’t seem to hear his own voice often enough. He was the know-it-all nitpicker, piping up with various language changes, such as deleting a reference to the family as the “school of democracy” because families are not democracies. He thought it was too passive to call Obamacare an “erosion of” the Constitution and thought it should be changed to an “attack on” the founding document. He called for stronger anti-public education language and asserted that large school districts employ one administrator for every teacher. He backed anti-abortion language, tossing out the claim that 127 medical studies over five decades say that abortion hurts women.

Progressives have been documenting Barton’s lies for years, but more recently conservative evangelical scholars have also been hammering his claims about American history. The critical chorus got so loud that Christian publishing powerhouse Thomas Nelson pulled Barton’s most recent book – which, ironically, purports to correct “lies” about Thomas Jefferson – from the shelves. Of course, Barton has had plenty of practice at this sort of thing, from producing bogus documentaries designed to turn African Americans against the Democratic Party to pushing his religious and political ideology into Texas textbooks. Barton’s right-wing friends like Glenn Beck have rallied around him. And nothing seems to tarnish Barton with the GOP allies for whom he has proven politically useful over the years.

4. Kris Kobach.

Kris Kobach wants to be your president one day; until now, he has gotten as far as Kansas Secretary of State. He may be best known as the brains behind Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, and he successfully pushed for anti-immigrant language in the platform, including a call for the federal government to deny funds to universities that allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition – a plank that puts Kobach and the platform at odds with Kansas law. Immigration is not Kobach’s only issue. He is an energizing force behind the Republican Party’s massive push for voter suppression laws around the country, and he led the effort to get language inserted into the platform calling on states to pass laws requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration.

He also pushed language aimed at the supposed threat to the Constitution and laws of the US from “Sharia law”; getting this language into the platform puts the GOP in the position of endorsing a ludicrous far-right conspiracy theory. Kobach hopes that will give activists a tool for pressuring more states to pass their own anti-Sharia laws. In the platform committee, he backed Perkins’ efforts to maintain the strongest language against marriage equality. Even an amendment to the marriage section saying that everyone should be treated “equally under the law” as long as they are not hurting anyone else, was shot down by Kobach. Kobach also claims he won support for a provision to oppose any effort to limit how many bullets can go into a gun’s magazine.

5. James Bopp.

James Bopp is a Republican lawyer and delegate from Indiana whose client list is a who’s-who of right-wing organizations, including National Right to Life and the National Organization for Marriage, which he has represented in its efforts to keep political donors secret. As legal advisor to Citizens United, Bopp has led legal attacks on campaign finance laws and played a huge role in the issue of unlimited right-wing cash flooding our elections. Bopp chaired this year’s platform subcommittee on “restoring constitutional government,” which helps explain its strong anti-campaign finance reform language.

Bopp is also an annoyingly petty partisan, having introduced a resolution in the Republican National Committee in 2009 urging the Democratic Party to change its name to the “Democrat Socialist Party.” In this year’s platform committee, Bopp successfully pushed for the removal of language suggesting that residents of the District of Columbia might deserve some representation in Congress short of statehood. His sneering comments, and his gloating fist-pump when the committee approved his resolution, have not won him any friends among DC residents – not that he cares. He also spoke out against a young delegate’s proposal that the party recognize civil unions, which Bopp denounced as “counterfeit marriage.” In spite of all these efforts, Bopp has been at the forefront of Romney campaign platform spin, arguing in the media that the platform language on abortion is not really a “no-exceptions” ban, in spite of its call for a Human Life Amendment and laws giving 14th Amendment protections to the “unborn.”

6. Dick Armey.

Former Republican insider Dick Armey now runs FreedomWorks, the Koch-backed, corporate-funded, Murdoch-promoted Tea Party astroturfing group – or, in its words, a “grassroots service center.” Armey has been a major force behind this year’s victories of Tea Party Senate challengers like Ted Cruz in Texas and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, both of whom knocked off “establishment” candidates. FreedomWorks also backed Rand Paul in Kentucky and Mike Lee in Utah in 2010. As Adele Stan has reported, FreedomWorks’ goal is to build a cadre of far-right senators to create a “power center around Jim DeMint,” the Senate’s reigning Tea Party-Religious Right hero.

To put Armey’s stamp on the platform, FreedomWorks created a “Freedom Platform” project, which enlisted Tea Party leaders to come up with proposed platform planks and encouraged activists to vote for them online. Then FreedomWorks pushed the party to include these planks in the official platform:
  • Repeal Obamacare; pursue patient-centered care
  • Stop the tax hikes
  • Reverse Obama’s spending increases
  • Scrap the tax code; replace with a flat tax
  • Pass a balanced budget amendment
  • Reject cap and trade
  • Rein in EPA
  • Unleash America’s vast energy potential
  • Eliminate the Department of Education
  • Reduce the bloated federal workforce
  • Curtail excessive federal regulation
  • Audit the fed
An Ohio Tea Party Group, Ohio Liberty Coalition, celebrated that 10 of 12 made it to the draft – everything but the flat tax and eliminating the Department of Defense. But FreedomWorks gave itself a more generous score, arguing for an 11.5 out of 12. FreedomWorks vice president Dean Clancy said the platform’s call for a “flatter” tax “opens the door to a flat tax” and said they considered the education section of the platform a “partial victory” because it includes “a very strong endorsement of school choice, including vouchers.”

Honorable mention: Mitt Romney.

This is his year, his party and his platform. The entire Republican primary was essentially an exercise in Romney moving to the right to try to overcome resistance to his nomination from activists who distrusted his ideological authenticity. The last thing the Romney campaign wanted was a fight with the base, like the one that happened in San Diego in 1996, when Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition delighted in publicly humiliating nominee Robert Dole over his suggestion that the GOP might temper its anti-abortion stance. Romney signaled his intention to avoid a similar conflict when he named Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to chair the platform committee.

Keeping Everybody Happy

The new GOP platform reflects Romney’s desire to placate every aspect of the party’s base. It also demonstrates both the continuing power of the Religious Right within the GOP, as well as ongoing efforts to erase any distinctions between social conservatives and anti-government zealots, as demonstrated by Ralph Reed welcoming Grover Norquist to his Faith and Freedom coalition leadership luncheon on Sunday.

Peter Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way Foundation.