Unlimited Terms of Endearment: Part V, The Locusts
It seems as unimaginable as a biblical plague of locusts, as the petition contractors move their swarms from state to state, clashing with the locals, with accusations of scandal following in almost every case. Why haven't I heard of this? you're probably asking. Why doesn't the media cover this?
Well, they do. The problem is that in each state, the state media cover the story while it's hot in their state. They cover it -- generally in the spring or early summer, when petition-gathering is a visible story at the malls, the markets and the gatherings -- and then, as is happening now, when the petitions are turned in, the local media turn their attention back to fires and particularly gruesome car wrecks.
In the West, the paradigm is invariably one or two big newspapers in the big city, and then an army of marginal small-town papers and television stations, barely able to keep up with the farm news, the state fairs and the PTA meetings that form the bread and butter of their coverage.
But what happened in Oklahoma during the winter and early spring is a perfect example of what's going on here. What? you ask. Oklahoma? I hadn't heard of that.
Of course not. We remain a highly provincial nation. You might know who won your state's high school football or basketball championship. But it's doubtful you have any idea of what happened one state over. The same holds true for most state issues, as anyone who's ever been stuck in a motel room, waiting for the local weather report for tomorrow's journey can attest.
If you're driving on I-80 from the east in Iowa, you'll hear about "the Quad-Cities." In southwest Washington state, it's the "Tri-cities." In Southern California, they talk about "the Inland Empire," in Texas, events often happen in "the Metroplex." To an outsider, it is perplexing. (You won't find any of them on a map, so don't bother.)
So, when these locusts appear in the Quad Cities, or the Tri-Cities or the Inland Empire, the chances are that you'll hear as much -- and know as much -- as you do about the state championship in the next state. The story never gets the kind of national traction that cues the press into that sort of wild feeding frenzy that big stories get. There's no competition for the "scoop," no daily revelations, no investigative reporting, except for the occasional talented reporter who digs up the facts and the story gets a few days' play. Then, it's back to covering school board meetings and kiddie porn charges.
And that's what the friends of Howie Rich are counting on.
Oklahoma is a good example. There, the local bloggers, the political groups and the local media got on the story. And they did a pretty good job of uncovering the story. Much of what I've written so far was caught -- like the Capitol Weekly reporter quoted in Part III -- for OKLAHOMA.
In December, newspaper readers in Oklahoma were greeted by this story over their Cheerios:
Outside groups pay to influence Oklahoma taxes
By Ryan McNeill
Nearly all the money raised by an organization pushing a taxpayer bill of rights is from out-of-state groups, despite a grassroots direct mail plea for money.
Oklahomans in Action Inc. reported raising more than $350,000, most of it in large donations from groups such as the Colorado Club for Growth and the National Taxpayers Union.
When its next campaign finance report is filed today, Oklahomans in Action will likely report spending and raising about $500,000, the group's chairman said.
"The groups from out of state? Thank God for them," Oklahomans in Action Chairman Rick Carpenter said. "If someone wants to come in and help Oklahoma solve some of its governmental problems, then we'd be stupid not to take it."
"This is not a grassroots initiative in Oklahoma," said Gary Jones, president of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association....
This sounds eerily familiar. Compare to the Montana story:
$230K spent on ballot petitions
By MIKE DENNISON - Billings Gazette State Bureau - 06/15/06
HELENA - At least $230,000 has been paid to freelance signature-gatherers in the effort to qualify three initiatives for the November ballot in Montana, including the measure to place a constitutional limit on state spending.
The money has come almost entirely from a recently formed political education group that isn't revealing its donors, drawing criticism from opponents of the spending-limit measure.
"You see how the money is doled out, but you don't know where it came from," said Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, the state's largest employee union. "I think the public ought to know that."
The campaign coordinator for the three proposed ballot measures, Winifred rancher and political activist Trevis Butcher, said Wednesday he's confident the initiatives will get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot this fall .... "We need to bring in (outside groups) to help coordinate our local people," Butcher said. "If we're going to have to go against their national effort to try to block this, we certainly need to be prepared to do what it takes to accomplish our goals and objectives."
Compare it to the Nebraska story:
Petition drive to limit spending gets $100,000 donation (G.I. Independent, 6-02-06)
Associated Press Writer
LINCOLN, Neb. - Almost all of a $100,000 donation to a petition drive aimed at capping state spending is being spent on gathering the signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot.
The donation from a group called America at its Best was reported in filings made Thursday with the state Accountability and Disclosure Commission.
The petition drive, working under the name Stop Over Spending Nebraska, seeks a constitutional amendment that would tie state spending to cost of living and population changes.
America at its Best is listed as having a Boise, Idaho, address that happens to be the same address as a group called Idahoans for Tax Reform. The chairman of that group, Laird Maxwell, could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.
His group received money for an effort it was spearheading in Idaho from an America at its Best organization based in the Kalispell, Mont. law office of former Republican state Sen. Duncan Scott from New Mexico ....
Sponsors of the petition drive are listed as Mike Groene of North Platte and Americans for Limited Government of Glenview, Ill. Groene, who is with the Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association and one of the leaders of the effort, said Friday that the group supporting the petition drive consists of term limits backers.
As the term limits movement matured, they began supporting efforts to control state spending, Groene said.
He defended outside money being used to fund the Nebraska effort.
"It's no different than the ACLU coming in," Groene said ....
Or the Idaho story:
Idaho's Measure, New York's Money
BY SHEA ANDERSEN
Boise Weekly JULY 5, 2006
Laird Maxwell disdains taxes. But he apparently welcomes out of state money.
The proponent of the newly-certified ballot measure against property takings in Idaho used a healthy chunk of out-of-state cash to get his brainchild on the ballot. In a nutshell, the measure would require Idaho state government to pay any Idaho landowner for any impact to their property value created by a new land-use law.
Except for $50 donated by Maxwell, the entire budget for This House is My House came from out of state, according to reports from the Idaho Secretary of State. $100,000 came from Montana-based America At Its Best. Another $237,000 came from the New York-based Fund for Democracy, headed by Howard Rich, a libertarian activist and major donor.
Maxwell paid $322,834 to Kennedy Enterprises, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based signature-gathering group, which fanned out across the state to get the necessary signatures to get on the ballot.
Or the Oregon story:
Initiative would put 14-year cap on total service for legislators
February 7, 2006
Oregon voters may get a chance to reinstate term limits for members of the Oregon Legislature.
Two national conservative groups provided a combined $100,000 to pay for signature-gathering for a term-limits initiative on Oregon's November ballot, campaign-finance reports filed Monday show.
"I think that the voters deserve another opportunity to vote on this," said Ted Berthelote, a retired dentist from Bend who was recruited by term-limits supporters to serve as the measure's sponsor ... "It's important because the problems in the Legislature are largely due to the effect of incumbency," he said ....
Berthelote, who moved to Oregon four years ago, said he was approached by term-limits backers who read a guest opinion column that he wrote for The Bulletin in Bend. He declined to say who would run the campaign or identify the backers.
"I guess you'll just have to find out," he said.
Campaign-finance reports revealed that $60,000 came from U.S. Term Limits, an Illinois group that has provided the financial muscle for many other state term-limits measures. An additional $40,000 came from Americans for Tax Reform, a group led by Grover Norquist that has supported past Oregon tax-limitation measures.
Patty Wentz, a spokeswoman for Our Oregon, a labor-backed group involved in initiative campaigns, said Norquist's involvement is troubling.
"This is the corrupt right-wing D.C. political machine moving their political agenda in Oregon," Wentz said.
Berthelote said voters should be concerned with what the measure will accomplish.
"It's not important as to who is backing this," he said.
Does this sound eerily like an echo-chamber? With minor variations the story runs as follows:
Out of state interests (either unidentified or merely labeled without analysis) are backing a petition drive. The petition gatherers come from out of state. So does all the money. a qualified opposing spokesperson says: "This isn't a [state name goes here] grassroots movement."
The local cranky All-American front man pooh-poohs the charges: "It doesn't matter where the money comes from. This is important to the citizens of [state name goes here]."
And there the story ends. Again and again and again and again. The story ends at the petition filing date, and at the state line. And now that state's citizens are left with an exhausting fight and a vote on something they'd never realized they wanted to fight about.
And the locusts move on.
But another friends of Howie Rich organization makes this revealing statement on their website "Parents in Charge":
["The Parents in Charge Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research organization dedicated to the study of choice in education. Founded in March 2001 by Howard Rich, Eric O'Keefe and Bill Wilson ..."]
Parents in Charge Foundation determined that Colorado was ripe for a full public debate over school choice in early 2002. The Foundation undertook grassroots education of the public on the key issues involved and engaged in all forms of media to involve the general public. As a result of the groundwork laid by Parents in Charge Foundation, legislators in Colorado enacted a school choice program in early 2003. Unfortunately, it is tied up in litigation on a state constitutional issue.
"Colorado was ripe ..."
That's not a concerned citizen talking. That's a locust speaking. But without national traction, without the ability of the lazy national press corps to hone in on the small cadre at the center of these endless astroturf groups, NOTHING further happens. Just the same story over and over and over again. And then it's back to covering the state fair, and the rancher who raised the prize bull.
Colorado was ripe indeed. Just for the sake of argument, let's presume for a moment that this website is playing it straight:
Not in Montana: Citizens Against CI-97
Pig in a poke
By Bob Bartholomew
April 20th, 2006
.... Newspaper reports from Oklahoma show that ALG has spent $150,000 to promote the SOS initiative in that state. ALG even hired out-of-staters to gather signatures putting SOS on Oklahoma's November 2006 ballot. ALG is also pushing an SOS initiative in Michigan.
The SOS initiative is modeled after Colorado's so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Colorado voters passed a TABOR initiative in 1992 and overturned it in 2005.TABOR caused so many problems in Colorado that the state's business community led the effort to roll it back. SOS and TABOR are twins with different names.
ALG and other national groups are also pushing TABOR proposals in Arizona, Missouri, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
This is a well-heeled, well-orchestrated national movement to underfund state services.
After TABOR passed in Colorado, that state went from being a middle-of-the-pack state to the bottom of the barrel in funding for public services. The state fell:
From 35th in the nation for school funding to 49th;
From 23rd in prenatal care to 48th;
From 24th in child vaccinations to 50th;
Roads and streets deteriorated;
Senior citizens lost important services;
Colorado was the only mountain state to lose jobs between March 2001 and November 2005 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. TABOR was a disaster in Colorado. Why would Montana want to repeat our neighbor's mistake?
My point is not to take sides on the TABOR question. Just for the sake of argument, however, we need to ask, if the aforesaid is true, did ANY of Howie Rich's friends suffer as a result of their "success"? The citizens of Colorado seem to have. Their babies, their children, their seniors all suffered. The roads suffered from potholes. Disease prevention (surely a "common interest" of the state's citizens) suffered.
Or perhaps they didn't. Some cranky All-American type spokesperson is sure to pooh-pooh these assertions. But, while the cranky all-American might have shared in the fortunes of the state, the friends of Howie Rich suffer no consequences from their (some would contend disastrous) agitation.
And there is something fundamentally anti-democratic, and anti-libertarian in all of this. If "no taxation without representation" is their battle cry, then how is it that they can meddle in the lives of literally millions of Americans in dozens of states without any personal liability, without having to face any consequences, should their ideological obsessions prove to have grievous consequences?
The luckless citizens of Colorado might beg to differ that their state is "ripe."
So, let's go back to Oklahoma, and take an early preview of the drama that's playing out across the country. Here's a quote, and then some websites to check.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Donors
TABOR-toothed tax activists embrace the holiday spirit.
by G.W. Schulz
The recent full-court press across Oklahoma to get a "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights" on the next statewide ballot has come at a price--but not a price national special-interest groups are unwilling to pay.
Complete with a giant pink, papier maché pig painted with the phrase "www.stopthepork.org" and transported on a truck trailer, TABOR activists are zigzagging the state holding regular press conferences and lobbying for the spending formula Colorado voters put on a five-year hold in early November.
Urban Tulsa Weekly reported last week that a group calling itself Oklahomans in Action had spearheaded Oklahoma's TABOR petition initiative that would allow voters to constitutionally limit annual spending by state lawmakers.
But changing Oklahoma's constitution is no short order, and OIA needed to hire a Tulsa-based group of professional petition circulators known as www.politicalactivists.org, which is contracting with a company called National Voter Outreach*, to meet a Dec. 17 deadline of 219,564 signatures.
[*Note: National Voter Outreach was also hired for Montana and Missouri SOS initiatives -- HW]
OIA filed its petition and incorporation papers in September with the Secretary of State's Office opening a 90-day window permitted by state law to gather the necessary signatures.
Funding Oklahoma's pro-TABOR effort, including, presumably, the cost of the giant pink, photogenic pig, are a number of national groups specializing in TABOR advocacy and supported by some of the nation's most vocal libertarian and fiscally conservative tax reformers.
State records obtained by UTW after deadline last week show OIA has been funded largely by five out-of-state organizations that each gave at least $50,000 to help with TABOR's move toward the next statewide ballot.
Colorado Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Limited Government and the Legislative Education Network made the contributions throughout September and October. Additional records show that OIA has so far spent $417,000 on its campaign and was $67,000 in debt by early November.
Likely the most notable contributor on OIA's donor list is D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform, which gave $50,000 in September, records show ....
Sadly, at this point, the obvious target of Grover Norquist becomes the focus. But if you've read thus far, you'll recognize the following friends of Howie Rich groups along with their oft-ally, the National Taxpayers Union:
LEAD (misidentified here as "Legislative Education Network") who we've seen in South Carolina; ALG, and the "Colorado Club for Growth." The National Taxpayers Union has cropped up several times as an ally of the friends of Howie Rich: in Oregon, Oklahoma, Washington state, Idaho and others.
The Club for Growth (www.clubforgrowth.com) is another friend of Howie Rich, and Rich has a heavy hand in it. Originally founded by CATO Institute senior fiscal analyst Stephen Moore*, there was a dustup last year, with the National Director fired. The charges flew that it was because he was gay.
[* Moore continued to draw a CATO salary even as he drew a $30k salary as Club for Growth President, according to financial disclosure statements filed before Moore moved on to found yet ANOTHER astroturf group, of which he serves, naturally, as President.]
Nothing could be further from the truth, Howard Rich said, in a rare interview.
NATIONAL NEWS washingtonblade.com
Anti-tax group drops gay affiliate president
Arizona conservatives criticize May's record as legislator
By JOE CREA
Sep. 26, 2003
PHOENIX Former U.S. Army Reserve lieutenant and ex-Arizona state legislator Steve May said a conservative anti-tax group dropped him as president of its first state affiliate because he is gay. The group denies the charge.
Some Arizona conservatives had criticized the Washington-based Club for Growth for selecting May to head the week-old Arizona affiliate.
May told the Associated Press that he received a voicemail from Club for Growth national president Stephen Moore saying the group "thinks we need to make a change in leadership to someone who is less objectionable and to someone who is not a lightning rod."
May, who was traveling at press time and unavailable for comment for the Blade, told the AP last week that he was denied his position with the Club for Growth because he is gay.
Howie Rich, a spokesperson for the Club for Growth, said that May was not dismissed because he is gay but rather for his lack of support for fiscal conservative policies.
"It's my fault," Rich said. "It turns out that he has not been solid on the free market economic issues that we care about. I knew zero about his record beforehand and it is my fault for not doing due diligence."
Rich said that as a legislator, May introduced a bill to repeal Arizona' school choice tax credit measure, sponsored an initiative to raise sales taxes and supported mandates for private employers.
The Washington-based Club for Growth is a national supply-side advocacy group that until now has sought only to influence the outcome of congressional races with donations and by running ads criticizing incumbents it opposes.
The AP reported that the Arizona affiliate was the group's first foray into state-level politics.
But it wasn't the last. The CFG has expanded into state politics in a big way in the past couple of years.
The Club for Growth are yet another of the friends of Howie Rich. From the internal evidence, Rich is more than just a heavy donor (the financials are available on-line from the FEC). He's in a 'hire and fire' position. Else, why would he blame himself? And why would he be a 'spokesperson'?
Here are some Oklahoma websites to look at. Of particular interest is the sign in the window telling workers that turning anything under four pages of signatures is "unacceptable." (Oh, and you can win a scooter, too!) It's picture number 4.
The use of the pig symbol seems to be a Howard Rich specialty. It was reported that a couple of years ago, he funded a large pig that was paraded around New York state in furtherance of yet another Rich agenda item.
But Howard S. Rich got it wrong. The symbol shouldn't have been a pig. A more appropriate symbol would have been a locust.