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Vol. 1 No. 6                       December 9, 2004 

Oregon's Karl Rove
an investigative report
by Hart Williams

This is the part of the story that you know: Julia Butterfly Hill came to national prominence by sitting in a 200-foot-tall ancient redwood tree that she named Luna, to try and stop logging by the Pacific Lumber Company, in Humboldt County, California. Her treesit focused national attention on the company, recently acquired by MAXXAM.

According to SF Bay Indymedia: “Pacific Lumber Company has a rap sheet that would impress Al Capone. PL [PALCO] has racked up more than 600 violations of the Forest Practice Rules, 220 Water Quality violations, and has been convicted of fraud in the past ... PL paid out millions of dollars in damages for the landslide that buried Stafford, [CA] and the death of forest activist David Chain. Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky both served time in prison due in part to their roles in the MAXXAM takeover of PL.”

Hill’s treesit north of Stafford, from December 10, 1997 to December 18, 1999, resulted in a settlement with “The Pacific Lumber Company, which agreed to save the area in exchange for her exit from the tree and $50,000 -- which will go towards university science research. She also called attention to what she says is a poorly-crafted deal to protect part of the nearby Headwaters Forest, the largest privately-owned remnant of ancient redwood forest,” according to Ottermedia.com.

This is the part of the story that you might know: In 2002, Paul Gallegos, a 40-year old Democrat, relocated from Southern California, ran for and won election to the post of District Attorney for Humboldt County.

Gallegos took office, and within two months filed a business fraud lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Company. This didn’t sit well with PALCO. Immediately, talk of a recall surfaced, and, perhaps emboldened by the recent recall of Gov. Gray Davis, fueled by PALCO money, recall was placed on the ballot. The LOS ANGELES TIMES reported: “Pacific Lumber and its corporate parent, Maxxam Inc., based in Houston, paid $8 a signature to help fill out petitions needed to qualify the recall for the ballot.”

Michael Donnelly in CounterPunch: "These acts of logging resulted in major landslides causing destruction to ancient redwoods, serious harm to Humboldt Bay and serious harm to streams, bridges, roads, homes and property rights of the people of Humboldt County," the suit reads. Gallegos noted, "Ultimately, this is lying for profit. It's greed. It's greed over the interests of the people of this community."

The Sacramento BEE reported: “The company, which denied the wrongdoing alleged in the Gallegos suit, said it was not behind the recall at first. But PALCO later began contributing, a spokeswoman said, because of mounting concerns over Gallegos' handling of various criminal cases. Gallegos openly called that stance a lie. He said he had been targeted for removal simply because of the lawsuit and his effort to rally voters to his side by painting the company as trying to run Humboldt County.”

PALCO eventually contributed over $250,000 -- over 90% -- to the recall effort, in what became the most expensive election in Humboldt County history.

It was a particularly ugly campaign: Gallegos claimed that the recall campaign had illegally obtained emails from the DA’s computers. His home, he alleged, was broken into twice -- once while his family was at church -- on February 14 and 22. On the final day of the campaign, huge logging trucks circled Gallegos’ campaign office with signs inscribed “Recall Gallegos.”

But the original recall campaign effort didn’t go smoothly at first, and a Sacramento political consultant was called in. “In February, Recall Paul, the committee to recall Gallegos, changed its name and hired a Sacramento-based campaign consultant Rob Flanigan,” wrote the Eureka REPORTER. Meantime, on February 15, Gallegos addressed a meeting of the Democratic party, at which key local office holders came out unequivocally against the recall.

The San Francisco CHRONICLE reported: “Despite its claim not to be orchestrating the recall, Pacific Lumber helped hire a consultant affiliated with its Sacramento lobbying firm to manage the final weeks of the recall effort the company is largely financing. Using office space provided by Pacific Lumber, the consultant has mapped out an aggressive campaign featuring crime victims groups, peace officers and television ads to buttress the claim Gallegos is a wimp on crime.”  

Donnelly: “After bringing in slick, high-priced downstate PR flacks, the name quickly changed to ‘Safety Yes! Recall Gallegos’.”

This is the part of the story you don’t know: Political Consultant Michael Grossman of Seattle and Phoenix -- in addition to doing some pricey polling for the campaign -- designed ads: “[PALCO], which is being sued by Gallegos, put nearly $85,000 into the recall effort in February. More than half the money was used to pay Fifty Plus One, an Arizona company that has been conducting polls on behalf of the recall committee” according to James Tressler, writing in The [Eureka, CA] TIMES-STANDARD.

Grossman and his alter-ego political consulting firm, Fifty Plus One, is deeply embedded in Lane County and Oregon Democratic politics, as we shall see, but in early 2004, Grossman was working for PALCO to politically assassinate the “good guy” District Attorney, Democrat Paul Gallegos in last March’s election.

In addition to polling, Grossman produced TV spots for the campaign, which ran into trouble almost immediately. Two local couples filed a complaint alleging the committee had violated California election law, stating that ”PALCO donated more than $50,000 ... every advertisement is supposed to clarify that PALCO is sponsoring it, according to the California Political Reform Act of 1996, section 84503 disclosure; advertisement for or against ballot measure, subsection A,” Christina Benson wrote in the Eureka REPORTER.

The ads were hastily changed. Later, after the election, Grossman would be so proud of his TV spots that he would self-nominate them for “Pollys” the American Association of Political Consultants’ “preeminent” awards: The political professionals’ version of the “Oscars.”

This wasn’t the first time that winter that Michael Grossman/Fifty Plus One worked on a campaign aimed at savaging a Democratic politician, though. In the waning months of 2003, in his current “hometown” of Seattle, Grossman ran a precedent-shatteringly expensive campaign for a mild-mannered United Way worker that some characterized as the dirtiest and costliest city council campaign that Seattle had ever seen.

The incumbent, Heidi Wells, was characterized as “a young, rising Democratic Party star and the best-funded candidate in Seattle history.”  Wells was also a staunch environmentalist, even by “green” Seattle standards. But Wells didn’t have “Michael Grossman, Della's political consultant and the principal architect of his cutthroat campaign,” noted Erica C. Barnett in Seattle’s large circulation alternative newspaper THE STRANGER.

Grossman’s client, David Della, wrote the Seattle POST-INTELLIGENCER, “turned his attention to Councilwoman Heidi Wills, unleashing a bare-knuckles campaign that includes billboards showing people screaming as they read their utility bills.”

To be fair, Wills had troubles of her own, involving a local media firestorm called “Strippergate” wherein several City Council members admitted breaking rules in rezoning “Rick’s” strip club for eight additional parking spaces, and accepting campaign contributions from the club’s owner. On August 11, the chastened council reversed itself and unzoned the menacing parking spaces, but the media clamor continued. Seattle was in high moral dudgeon.

But, Della/Grossman’s strategy -- aside from “Strippergate” -- was primarily to saddle Wills with the unappealing sobriquet “Rate Hike Heidi” and blame her for the spiraling electric rates following the Enron/et al energy deregulation debacle that occurred while Wells was Chair of Seattle’s local “City Light” public utilities oversight body.

An infamous billboard appeared, along with mailings, showing a woman looking at her electric bill and screaming. The caption read something like “Blame Rate Hike Heidi!”

This correspondent traveled to Seattle to talk to reporters who covered the campaign. According to the Seattle WEEKLY’s political editor, George Howland, Jr. “My sense? Della: A nice quiet guy. I thought, this is Michael [Grossman]!” Howland denies the charge of a dirty campaign: the billboard campaign had a “kind of a comic, almost cartoonish-style presentation,” he says. “It was kind of funny, and splashy.” Howland has never met Grossman, but talks to him “on the phone a lot.”

He characterizes Grossman as a “smart, hyper, I would say, moderate Democrat. He’s a little different from some consultants in that he tends to take on fewer clients and focus on them heavily.”

A reporter for one of Seattle’s largest media outlets, speaking on condition of anonymity is less charitable. Grossman is “sort of a wiseass. He thinks he’s really funny.”

While the reporter didn’t feel the campaign was “terribly dirty,” the “Rate Hike Heidi,” tag “was not really fair.” The deregulation price gouging wasn’t anything that City Light had much control over. Howland agrees: the “city got hammered and had to raise rates.”

The source recalls that Grossman ran the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of City Attorney Mark Sidran four years earlier. Grossman briefed the Seattle media, showing a new “kinder, gentler” ad that the campaign was unveiling, while mentioning not a word about a negative attack ad that would run at the same time. “I was completely infuriated,” the reporter says, “I’ve never trusted him since.” But, the reporter admits, Grossman is “a good tactician who does pretty good mailings.”

Still, the Della campaign was mostly negative, “all about how Heidi was bad. Not much about Della.”

One other campaign came to light. In 2003, Grossman was a consultant to president of Everett Shipyard, Kevin Quigley, a Democrat in the Snohomish County Executive race. The Quigley campaign was notable for some allegedly dirty mailings, accusing State Senator Aaron Reardon of all manner of things in the Democratic primary. According to NBC affiliate KING-5 news, “Quigley admits he may have gone too far. Even his fellow Democrats held a press conference denouncing him. ‘The Democratic Party in Snohomish County will not tolerate this kind of sleazy campaign tactic,’ said Paul Berendt, Washington Democratic Party chair.”

 Several prominent Democrats withdrew their endorsements -- almost unheard-of in polite Washington races. “This was,” according to the anonymous reporter “just too nasty.” Grossman was asked point-blank about the mailings, but “he said someone else did it: I didn’t believe him.”

In the final accounting, Heidi Wills lost the primary to David Della, who was then elected to the Seattle City Council. Kevin Quigley was trounced by Aaron Reardon, who is serving his first term as Snohomish County Executive.

And, in Humboldt County, California, Paul Gallegos won a stunning victory. “With all precincts reporting, voters decided to retain Dist. Atty. Paul Gallegos, 61% to 39%, despite an intensive campaign of radio, television and direct mail advertisements that portrayed Gallegos as soft on crime and a friend of illegal tree-sitters, rapists and pot growers,” said the Los Angeles TIMES.

This is the part of the story that they might not want you to know: Having seen mixed success in Seattle and in California, Michael Grossman arrived in Eugene, Oregon in March of 2004 to act as consultant in Paul Holvey’s contested primary campaign for the Oregon House.

This wasn’t Grossman/Fifty Plus One’s first penetration of the Lane County political “market.” In 2002, Grossman consulted on Rep. Terry Beyer’s Springfield House primary and general campaigns, as he would her unopposed campaigns in 2004. In 2000 and again in 2002, he would act as consultant to Vicki Walker’s House and Senate campaigns.

Meantime, George Howland wanted to profile Grossman in the WEEKLY’s “Best of Seattle” as “Best Political Makeover Artist” for his transformation of soft-spoken David Della into the Tiger of the Seattle City Council. Grossman declined. “He seems publicity shy,” says Howland, but Grossman confided that he’d “won some kind of award. A political consultants’ version of the Emmy.”

Michael Grossman had won the “Pollie.”

"The Pollie Awards are the preeminent marketing awards program for the political and public affairs professions," said Nancy Todd Tyner, [American Association of Political Consultants] President. On their website, the 2004 Awards are listed, and under “Television Advertisements” number 44. Local Initiative/Referendum lists

[commercial] "Tree Sitter"
[campaign] Safety Yes! Recall Gallegos
Fifty Plus One
Michael Grossman, Fifty Plus One
First Place


"Arresting Officer"
Safety Yes! Recall Gallegos
Fifty Plus One
Michael Grossman, Fifty Plus One
Second Place

A signal honor, even if the commercials had come from a losing campaign. Still, since Grossman got paid no matter the outcome, it was quite a feather in his professional cap.

There is some irony, of course, in that, for a Democratic political consultant, Michael Grossman had just finished running three rather vicious campaigns aimed at destroying Democratic opponents. Paul Gallegos, Heidi Wills and Aaron Reardon.

But he had done much the same to Democratic Representative Al King in Lane County, Oregon, when King and fellow Democratic Rep. Phil Barnhart were redistricted into the same House District in 2002.

The Barnhart campaign targeted South Eugene households with a mailer painting Al King as anti-environmental and pointing to a 100% rating for Rep. Barnhart from a conservation group. King not only lost, but became a virtual recluse from Lane County Democratic politics.

On his fiftyplusone.com website State Senator Vicki Walker’s picture is featured on his “initiatives” page, and his design for her “green” mailing is featured on the sample campaign literature page.

Still, it is not difficult to understand why Grossman would shun the spotlight. A northern Oregon politician whose campaign Grossman ran prior to 2004 spoke with this reporter on condition of anonymity, stating that Grossman “said he didn’t want to take credit for anything positive or negative.” Grossman was, he told the candidate, “an idea man.”

He had come to Grossman after calling Oregon’s Future PAC, the money arm of the House Democratic Leadership, who, increasingly control the money disbursed to candidates in a state in which only 4% of contributions in the 2004 primary campaign came from private donations, according to oregonfollowthemoney.org.

Future PAC steered the candidate to Michael Grossman.

“He is utterly amoral,” the candidate said. And he’s quite honest about his amorality. Grossman told the candidate he “wasn’t afraid to get down into the dirt.” He was up front about it. Unfortunately, said the candidate, Oregon Democratic politics is “a good old boys’ club.” And, unless one is an “insider” in that club, increasingly, there is little point in running.

There was one other aspect to Grossman’s business practices that came up in the Seattle interviews, which will come to bear here: According to Heidi Wills’ political consultant, John Wyble, Grossman “generally ran a great campaign, and he had luck on his side.” Mentioning “Strippergate,” Wyble said that Grossman “did a great job explaining the issues.” And, although he’s never met Grossman, Wyble is generally admiring. Still, he believes “there was one ethical issue where [Grossman] was over the line.” He didn’t report his expenditures at the end of the reporting cycle. “Ethically, you report, that’s just the way it’s done,” Wyble explains.

After the election, Grossman’s expenditures were amended, and, as a result, there were technically no violations, but Grossman did hide his expenditures from view, much as he had hidden the negative attack ad in the mayoral campaign from Seattle reporters.

In the 2002 Primary Election against Al King, Barnhart’s reporting on payments to Fifty Plus One showed five checks totaling $16,433.70 -- all written on May 21, the very day of the primary, and filed on June 19, 2002. Similarly, Bev Ficek’s final report, filed December 1 following the November 2 election lists two checks totaling $10,000 written on October 28.

This becomes even more intriguing when one notices that Future PAC donated to Ficek by paying Fifty Plus One, directly, $18,722.50 on October 26, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters followed suit, paying Fifty Plus One directly $8246.40 on October 27, as did Portland’s “Steve March for State Representative” ($500 on 10/28). On 10/27, “Mary Nolan for State Representative” (Portland) paid Fifty Plus One $1000. ALL to the Ficek campaign, and all “under the radar” as far as reporting is concerned. None of the payments would show up until well after the election. On 10/22, the Oregon Education Association paid Fifty Plus One $2000; “Diane Rosenbaum for State Representative” (Portland) paid $1000 on 10/25.

But it gets worse. On the same day, December 1, in the amendment to the second pre-election report filed Oct 20, the following reported donations were RECHARACTERIZED as being direct payments to Fifty Plus One: “Friends of Terry Beyer” (Springfield) $2500, 10/14; Philip Barnhart $2000, 10/14; Deborah Noble $2000, 10/14; Gilbert Avery $1000, 10/14; Anthony Biglan $1000, 10/14 (all Eugene), and the “Committee to Reelect Jeff Merkley” (Portland) $1000 10/14. (All the Portland PACs came from races in which the incumbent was running unopposed.)

One might conclude either that someone was trying to hide the Fifty Plus One expenditures, or else it was all just a phenomenal coincidence. Future PAC filed the same information on October 29, and again on December 1. Not much chance of anyone spotting the payments to Grossman before the election.

In that election on November 2, in four of the five Eugene/Springfield house legislative races, Grossman was political consultant: Barnhart, Ficek, Beyer and Holvey.

In March, Michael Grossman appeared at the Lane County Democratic Party. One by one, nearly every elected official in Lane County approached him to, seemingly, kiss his ring. He is of medium height and build, with a mop of curly hair, and wears a suit underneath his slightly rumpled trenchcoat; Michael Grossman seemingly gives the appearance and “aura” one would imagine of the “Toby Ziegler” character on NBC’s “The West Wing.” A cell phone, and an entourage are never far from him.

Deeply embedded in Lane County politics now, he will do anything, seemingly, to win. Bev Ficek, however, did not, even though Future PAC shoveled over $28,000 and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters another $18,000 into the effort. Of course Pacific Lumber spent $250,000 in vain in California, so nothing’s a sure thing.

But: the only Lane County politician that evening who did not make the pilgrimage to Grossman was one that Grossman made a point of walking over to in the back of Harris Hall. When he stood up, Grossman hugged the Chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, Jim Edmunson. Edmunson hugged back, warmly.


Hart Williams is a member of the National Writers Union