14 November 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment - Epilogue

Gentle Reader:

This is the last "official" post of the Howard Rich series. I've been trying to post it for the past 24 hours, but Blogger has a new "Beta" version that's made it impossible for me to post it with formatting. Perhaps in the next week or so they'll clear it up. (Insert a long string of blue *$*& invectives here).

Since July, I have chronicled the shadowy interests commonly termed "Howard Rich" in ballot measures and elections all over the country. This post-election summary concludes that project.

Hart Williams

At the end - as with most political races - it became frantic: everything moved into a Red Queen’s haze of just trying to keep up, and - as we all now know - another American sea change was underway.

I remember Watergate, and the massive Republican losses in the off-year election of 1974. And I remember the tidal shift that took place in 1994, when the Republicans and their “Contract With America” was swept into power. So, perhaps, with 2006, the country was merely two years late.

So it’s fitting that, having come of political age during the sea change that the election of Reagan began, and having begun their “term limits” campaigns around the time of the ascension of Newt Gingrich - indeed, congressional term limits was one of the planks of the “Contract With America” - that Howard Rich & Friends would suffer the same fate as the Republicans had.

Indeed, so intimate are the old ties to the “inside the Beltway” political press machine that, on the DAY of the election (too late to influence anything in the election, save the post-electoral spin), the Wall Street Journal reported this:

How Mr. Rich Spreads The Republican Word
Millionaire Investor Who Leans Libertarian Pushes Conservative Ballot Initiatives in 14 States
November 7, 2006; Page A4

WASHINGTON -- This may turn out to be a bad year for Republicans. But perhaps not for some of the conservative causes they support, thanks in part to a New York real-estate investor who has directed millions of dollars toward ballot initiatives to expand private-property rights, cut state budget growth, and impose term limits on judges.

The millionaire behind many ballot measures this year is Howard Rich, a publicity-shy, libertarian-leaning businessman who has become the go-to man for supporters of conservative ballot initiatives. The group Mr. Rich chairs, Americans for Limited Government, as well as a handful of other organizations that he fully controls or bankrolls, have put more than $15
million this election season into ballot campaigns in 14 states, public records show.

Mr. Rich and his supporters have sustained a number of setbacks, as many of his initiatives were kept from ballots because of vague wording or signature-gathering irregularities. But in nine states where the measures have survived, recent polling shows some chance of victory today.

On ballots in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Washington state, Mr. Rich's proposals seek to prevent governments from imposing land-use measures on private property. In Oregon, Maine, and Nebraska, the measures he backs would restrict a state's ability to raise taxes or increase spending. In Colorado, his proposal would impose retroactive term limits on judges.

Over the years, Mr. Rich has granted few interviews and has become an almost mythic figure in certain political circles. He sits on the boards of the Cato Institute and the Club for Growth, and controls other groups such as U.S. Term Limits and Fund for Democracy, which in turn funnels millions of dollars into other organizations, such as America at Its Best.

Mr. Rich, after writing that he would "gladly answer questions via email" for this article, didn't respond to a subsequent set of queries sent to his email address....

The timing of the piece -- good reporting, by the by, and not particularly ideologically slanted -- seems curious. Rich is “libertarian-leaning” and at the same time a “Republican Businessman.” About as mainstream as you can get in WSJ circles. And what a delightful day to be featured in a friendly publication. A press agent’s dream: have your ‘leader’ featured in the Wall Street Journal on election day. And I mean that “friendly” part literally:

After all, John Fund of the Wall Street JOURNAL was a speaker at the ALG “Action Conference” in Chicago, and even moderated a panel:
Friday, August 18

4:15 p.m.
Thinking Outside the Big Government Box:
Keeping the Parties Accountable

Moderator: John Fund, The Wall Street Journal

Panelists: John Berthoud, National Taxpayers Union
Kathryn English, Pennsylvania Club for Growth
Chris Kleismet, Citizens
for Responsible Government
And the friendliness doesn’t stop there. Heather Wilhelm, the ALG Communications Director freelances mostly through the Wall Street Journal and the National Review Online, often combining her dual roles as a freelance reporter for the WSJ and NRO, with her position as official spinmeister/spokesperson for Americans for Limited Government (ALG) -- as in this article that kicked this whole drive towards “Eminent Domain” initiatives off at the beginning of the year:

January 17, 2006, 9:26 a.m.
Unholy Land Grab In the spirit of Kelo
By Heather Wilhelm

For seven years, Reverend Roosevelt Gildon has reached the gospel at the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. His congregation, around 50 strong, is like a small family. The elderly members, and those without cars, often walk to Sunday services.

“Rosey,” as his friends call him, figured he’d go on preaching in the tidy steel structure for years to come. That was, until the government told him they were taking his church away.

Since the Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision last summer, eminent domain has entered a new frontier.

[... omitted: the teary tale of how the Rev. returned from marching in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade to learn of bulldozing, etc. Except that it never happened. ]

In December, Reverend Gildon joined up with Americans for Limited Government and our partner group, Oklahomans in Action, to gather signatures for the "Protect Our Homes" initiative, which will go on the ballot in November 2006. Protect our Homes is a measure designed to
stop eminent-domain abuse. Right now, Americans for Limited Government is working with citizens in Michigan, Montana, Missouri, and several other states to do the same....

Heather Wilhelm is a Phillips Foundation fellow and serves as the director of communications for Americans for Limited Government.
Howard Rich, REPUBLICAN.

Listen to that WSJ hook again:

“This may turn out to be a bad year for Republicans. But perhaps not for some of the conservative causes they support, thanks in part to a New York real-estate investor who has directed millions of dollars toward ballot initiatives to expand private-property rights, cut state budget growth, and impose term limits on judges....”
Howard Rich, Republican hero. Nice piece in the ol’ WSJ to quote in future fundraising websites, etcetera. Certainly couldn’t have any effect on the election. Still, what a plum and prime date to have a nice write up in the Wall Street Journal: Howard Rich, good Republican (with libertarian leanings).

I can rightfully claim my place in the WSJ piece, as a member of “a cottage industry among opponents of [Howard Rich’s] ideas, who have rooted through public records in a dozen states seeking clues about the groups he controls and the money those groups dispense to state-ballot efforts.”

But, if I might offer a factual correction to the WSJ: I have never indicated or taken a position on the “ideas.” I have questioned the means by which those ideas have been set forth. There is a profound difference. Nothing in this series (that I am aware of) speaks to the issues of Eminent Domain, Term Limits, or Constitutional Spending Caps.

I have endeavored to report in a non-partisan manner on a non-partisan undertaking by Howard Rich and friends. If they would like to suddenly be embraced as Republican Martyrs of 2006, that’s their business. But in order to be embraced as a martyr, you have to lose and lose big. And that they did.

There has been very little in the media to track how Howard Rich did in that disastrous (to Republicans) election. There was a minor coda from the national AP writer in the post-election coverage:
Losses on ballot measures jolt religious right

Associated Press

... One election subplot was a campaign led by New York City real estate investor Howard Rich to promote ballot measures in numerous states seeking to rein in state and local government.

Of nine Rich-supported measures, only one succeeded - a property-rights measure in Arizona that would require state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lower the value of their property.
Let’s just focus on property rights a moment. Here is what ALG’s website claims:

Private Property Rights

Measures like the Protect Our Homes initiative and others will stop eminent domain abuse once and for all—and it will also stop the government from devaluing property in other ways.

States: Arizona, California, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Washington.
And this is what I tracked:
  • In Maine, a TABOR/SOS spending cap measure was soundly defeated 55-45%
  • In South Carolina, only 507 votes separate Democratic candidate Jim Rex from Howard Rich-backed Karen Floyd in the Superintendent of Public Education race, and a mandatory recount looms. Rex is currently ahead.
  • In Florida, the Howard Rich-opposed initiative to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution by initiative passed 59-41% As per usual, pigs figured prominently in the media campaign.
  • In Nebraska, the Spending Cap initiative failed overwhelmingly 71-29%
  • In Colorado, Judicial Term Limits failed 59-41%. The Howard Rich connection was not discovered by the state’s media until the week before the election.
  • In Arizona, the Howard Rich “Arizona HOPE” eminent domain measure passed by a wide margin, 65-35%
  • In Nevada, the Howard Rich PISTOL eminent domain measure also passed, by a 63-37% margin, but only the eminent domain portion had been allowed on the ballot, and not the “takings clause.” The Rich lawyers had asked that the entire measure be thrown out, but the Nevada Supreme Court refused.
  • In Washington State, i-933, the eminent domain measure was defeated 55-45%
  • In Idaho, the eminent domain measure went down by an astonishing 74-26% or nearly three in four.
  • In California, Proposition 90, another eminent domain measure went down to defeat by a narrow 52-48% margin.

And, finally, in Oregon, three Howard Rich measures were on the ballot. (I repeat the ratios as reported by the Portland Oregonian in their quaint manner)

  • Measure 48 a constitutional spending cap -- named “The Rainy Day Measure” in traditional Orwellian -- was defeated 2-1
  • Measure 45, term limits, was defeated 3-2, and
  • Measure 39, eminent domain, was passed 2-1. There are two odd wrinkles to this one. First, that none of the state media seemed to quite spot 39 on the radar, and secondly that there is a very high probability of invalidation by the Oregon Supreme Court on the grounds of multiple issues in one ballot measure. This has happened with campaign finance reform, and law enforcement/prisons initiatives in recent memory, here.
  • The judicial race in Missouri (reported here last week) can be considered a “win” for Howard Rich, as well: Judge Brown was defeated for reelection. The ALG money that poured into the race was channeled into a huge negative campaign.

Worst of all was Idaho, where the “This House is MY Home” measure ought to have passed overwhelmingly. Instead, three out of four voters said, “NO!”

To those totals, we can add three initiatives bounced by the Montana Supreme Court, one by the Missouri Supremes, one by the Michigan Supremes, one by the Oklahoma Supremes, and the “Humane Care” initiative in Nebraska that came up short. A very poor win/loss ratio, all in all.

By almost any standard whatsoever, the election was a major defeat for the forces of Howard Rich: a sound thrashing, a drubbing, a hammering, a pasting, trouncing, licking, shellacking.

But on the morning of November 8th, Wednesday after the Tuesday election, the following press releases were entered at PR Newswire http://www.prnewswire.com :

Releases displayed in EST time Nov 8, 2006

12:26 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in Florida

12:23 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in Oregon

12:09 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in Georgia

12:06 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in North Dakota

12:00 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in Michigan

11:50 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in South Carolina

11:48 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in Nevada

11:29 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in New Hampshire

11:12 Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victory in Arizona

Virtually identical, the press releases trumpet glorious victories. Indeed, the pieces for the individual states are identical, with only the name changed to protect ...

To protect whom?

And here is “Howie” s post election statement (leading the whole Press Release parade):


Americans for Limited Government Wins Major Victories Across the Nation
Initiatives put property rights back in taxpayers' hands

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Voters in 9 states across the nation struck a blow for liberty today by supporting an initiative to stop eminent domain abuse. Americans for Limited Government (ALG), a major force in galvanizing support and promoting the state initiatives, is thrilled to see so many hard-fought battles won.

"This is an amazing first step in the long walk away from big government," said Americans for Limited Government Executive Director Bill Wilson. "For an upstart campaign to enjoy this level of success is truly gratifying and we look forward to using our momentum to achieve great victories in the future."

Voters in Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Michigan, North Dakota, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia and Nevada supported proposals to prevent the government from imposing land-use measures on private property.

In a statement today, ALG Chairman Howie Rich said, "I'm proud of the work that ALG and its state partners and allies have done in promoting the ideals of liberty. Our efforts have successfully raised voters' awareness about the need for fiscal restraint in the face of unchecked government spending and land grabs. We have helped lay the foundation for real advocacy on behalf of small landowners and taxpayers across the country, and our movement will only get stronger as more Americans awaken to the fact that state and local governments nationwide are out of control."

Discussing ALG's post-election plans, Mr. Rich had this to say: "Where we have succeeded, you can be sure that we'll continue to build on that success. Where the initiatives to limit spending and protect homes and churches have come up short, you can be sure that we'll be back, stronger than before. This is a movement that will continue to grow."

Americans for Limited Government Foundation is committed to promoting individual liberty, free markets, and the principles of the U.S. Constitution. We empower voters and grassroots groups with the knowledge they need to make real political change happen across the country.

SOURCE Americans for Limited Government

Already, a few media sources have begun to reprint the press release, edited and un. Here’s the WASHINGTON TIMES (Google “news” for “Americans for Limited Government” and you’ll see what I mean):


Nine states limit eminent domain

By Eric Pfeiffer
November 10, 2006

Voters in nine states this week passed measures to limit governments' ability to use eminent-domain property seizures for private development, displaying extreme distaste for the concept supported by a Supreme Court ruling last year.

"After the Kelo decision, there was a huge explosion of anger by voters," said Bill Wilson, executive director of Americans for Limited Government, a group opposed to the court's eminent-domain ruling.

"Many of the states then tried to address the issue themselves. Unfortunately, what came out from the state legislatures in most cases was very weak and wasn't very effective."

Voters in Arizona, Florida, Oregon, Michigan, North Dakota, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Georgia and Nevada passed measures limiting the scope of the court's decision....

And yes, I hadn’t heard of them, either. And, as noted above, the ALG website doesn’t overlap very well with the alleged “victories.” Sandlapper, at DailyKos has tracked down the Georgia finance documents, and reports (with link) that Howie Rich/ALG DID NOT finance the Georgia eminant domain measure, and doesn't even find any contributions. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/11/13/22246/964

But this is the fog in which they operate: constantly shifting identities, a shifting of arguments, facts and “truth” with a speed that would do old Proteus proud. And there is the constant shuffle of personalities and spokespersons.

For instance, Bill Wilson is suddenly the ALG spokesman. What happened to John Tillman? And a Rachel Maxam (*evidently an undergraduate student at George Mason University) and a Washington D.C. cell phone are listed as the press contact for interviews, etc. on every one of those press releases. What happened to Heather Wilhelm? And how did Howard Rich from the ALG website morph into “Howie Rich” in that final ALG statement?

Remember Howard Rich’s statement, “you can be sure that we'll be back, stronger than before”?

For 2008, they’ve already started an astroturf organization in North Dakota -- C-RED http://www.c-red.org/index.html . And there’s one just started up in the last couple weeks of the election in South Carolina: Coalition Against Unlimited Spending (CAUS) http://www.caussc.org/ (They LOVE these dopey acronyms: H.O.P.E. in Arizona, P.I.S.T.O.L in Nevada, S.O.S. in Michigan, Oklahoma, Nebraska, etc.) And add the Sam Adams Alliance, also formed at the end of the campaign, but evidently cooked up or finalized at the ALG action Conference http://www.samadamsalliance.org/index.html (Today, it says: “ARRIVING ON THE WEB IN JANUARY 2007” On November 8, it stated “Arriving on the web in 68 Days”)

To that, you can add the push from the Center for Union Facts, represented at the ALG “Action Conference,” the Wall Street Journal (John Fund hosted a panel at the conference), Chris Kliesmet, Madison, Wisconsin political hitman who was not only at the conference, but who registered the CitizenFOIA website, and is the point man on the project. And don’t forget Duncan Scott and the National Right To Work Committee. And Betsy DeVos’ “All Children Matter.” And Father Frank Pavone’s “Nebraska Humane Care Initiative” which rolled over their 2006 petition signatures to 2008 (lawful in Nebraska).

So, they’ll be back. Unless, of course, the people who invested the $20 million or so that was lost in this election with little result decide that Howie Rich’s initiative machine just doesn’t get the job done anymore. Still, one thing seems clear:

Somebody needs to stop the money laundering machine for a moment. The spin cycle sounds like it’s carrying an unbalanced load.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

bravo, hart. well done.

11/14/2006 05:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. You spent all this time putting this little series together which basically exposes nothing and says nothing.

10/28/2007 08:22:00 PM  

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