12 July 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment: Part III, Under A Western Sky

There used to be a commercial that enjoyed quite a lot of success here in the West: A group of cowboys is hunkered down around a campfire, eating chili, and someone pulls out his jar of salsa. The most grizzled old cowpoke tells the cowboy to read the label. "New York City," the cowboy reads.

And all the cowboys exclaim in horror: "NEW YORK CITY!!?!"

What that image has to do with the story to follow will shortly become clear.

PART III, Under A Western Sky

What does a lawyer's office in Kalispell, Montana have to do with two ballot petitions in Nebraska? And what does a rancher in Winifred, Montana have to do with a $600,000 donation to the Proposition 90 Campaign in California, a "protect our homes" initiative? And what does a fired former director of the National Libertarian Party have to do with a school voucher campaign in South Carolina?


It has been a brutal petitioning season in Nebraska. All the state's major papers have reported hot tempers and incidents aimed at paid out-of-state petitioners, getting paid $2.50 per signature to qualify two initiatives for the Nebraska ballot: A state spending cap, styled after Colorado's voter-repealed TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) law, and a "Must Feed" law based on the Terri Schiavo case in Florida.

The state's media have generally ignored the puzzling fact that all of the funding for the signature gathering campaigns has come from out of state. Specifically, a mysterious group calling itself by the Orwellian moniker "America At Its Best" contributed virtually the entire (and substantial) funding for the campaign.

Nebraska StatePaper.com reported on July 05, 2006:
It was also learned that an organization from outside Nebraska put up $380,000 and is paying virtually all the costs to gather signatures on a controversial petition to limit state spending. That fact flew in the face of earlier statements by Mike Groene of North Platte who spearheads the drive. During a joint radio appearance last month with Democratic candidate for governor Dave Hahn, Groene said most of the money for the petition drive would come from within the state; in fact, only some $2,000 has been raised within the state.
In an interview with another paper, Groene admitted that the people behind the campaign were term limits activists. According to papers filed with the Nebraska Secretary of State, the co-petitioner (with Groene) is an Illinois group called "Americans for Limited Government." But ALG didn't make any contributions -- at least that are apparent. All of the money came from "America At Its Best," a mysterious group headquartered in an Attorney's office in Kalispell, Montana, in the shade of Glacier National Park.

Montana newspapers picked up this story last week, as did Nebraska papers, and even the Sioux Falls, South Dakota paper -- all too late to affect the outcome of the signature drive. The initiatives appear headed to the November ballot, assisted by glowing editorials in the Omaha World-Herald, the Kearney Daily Hub and others.

(Stop OverSpending Nebraska -- "SOS Nebraska" -- 'supporters' include: Committee for State Stewardship, Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association, Nebraskan Taxpayers for Freedom, and Pete Ricketts, Republican nominee for U.S. Senate -- which must have been easy, since they didn't have to pony up a dime.)

It's too bad that the Associated Press reporter who dug up the story didn't dig just a little deeper.

The oxymoronically entitled America At Its Best is run by an Idahoan, Laird Maxwell, who also runs a group called "Idahoans for Tax Reform" who are ALSO placing a TABOR-style initiative on the Idaho ballot, ALSO with six figures of cash from an out-of-state benefactor.

Luckily, for the diligent researcher, Nebraska has a disclosure form that states:

List all persons from whom contributions totaling more than $200 were received by the major out of state contributor during the period covered by the report and all persons who have a cumulative total over $200 for the calendar year.

I'm not going to keep you in suspense. The SOLE contributor to America At Its Best (and also a mystery to Idaho newspapers) is listed as follows:

(click here to see the Nebraska filing document)

$ 2,030,000.00


$ 400,000.00




Isn't that odd? Americans for Limited Government is the co-sponsor of the bill. Why would ALG want to hide their financial largesse by laundering their contributions through a Montana law office?

But there's something that the Nebraska Ethics Commission didn't notice about those four listings. Two of the addresses aren't Chicago addresses. One, in particular, 73 SPRING STREET, #408, CHICAGO, IL 10012 is correct (minus the Chicago, IL designation). It is a New York City address. It is also the address of Howard Rich, chairman of ALG, Foundation for Democracy and US Term Limits.

The mystery money in Idaho comes from the same source. You might have noticed that ALG's contribution of $2,580,000.00 is quite a bit more than America At Its Best's $380,000 contribution to Nebraska's political process. Well, another nice chunk of that money went to Idaho.

According to reporter Gregory Hahn, in The Idaho Statesman, June 29-2006
Idaho voters have another question to answer in November.

An initiative to change the state's eminent domain and "regulatory takings" laws qualified for the ballot Wednesday with 49,053 signatures - more than the 47,881 required by law.

Pushed by conservative advocate Laird Maxwell of Boise, the initiative would restrict governments from making decisions that lower a property's value without "just compensation" to the landowner.

"We now are gearing up for the campaign to get it passed in November," Maxwell said.


Maxwell used $330,000 from two out-of-state groups to pay signature-gatherers to meet the state's requirements. The money came from New York term-limits and property rights supporter Howard Rich and from "America at its Best," a group based in the Montana law office of Duncan Scott, a former Republican state senator from New Mexico. Maxwell is the chairman of that group.
Except that Laird Maxwell is laundering ALG/Howard Rich money across the border to himself. The Statesman got the connection right, although the contribution is officially from Americans for Limited Government. And ALG handed "America At Its Best" $2.5 million dollars to play with. On a per capita basis, Idaho got even more cash to run its petition drive than Nebraska. Six-figures have been routinely dumped into nearly every state in the West from ALG, Fund for Democracy, and/or US Term Limits. Howard Rich is the chair of all three.

In Maine, where Maine petition-whiz Mary Adams ran a drive to qualify a TABOR initiative, but which prohibits professional signature gatherers, and a six-figure contribution would be noticed, ALG kicked in a mere $20,000, but, to be fair, a lot of Maine folks chipped in, too, utterly unlike what has happened here in the West. In both Arizona and California (eminent domain measures), the actual contribution FROM that state consisted of exactly $100, as we shall see.

But we can't leave Montana just yet. On the other side of the range from Kalispell, a "staunch conservative" farmer/rancher from Winifred, Montana, without any discernable office, staff or political accoutrements poured quite a bit of cash into three ballot measures, and sent $600,000 to California to help the Proposition 90 committee. And all without telling anyone where the money comes from.
$230K spent on ballot petitions
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....

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.
But the Butcher of Winifred did make one interesting revelation during his non-disclosure, to a reporter from The Great Falls Tribune:
Tribune Capitol Bureau

An Illinois-based group called Americans for Limited Government helps promote spending-cap measures around the country. Likewise, the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities works to oppose those measures.

Americans for Limited Government has already floated a loan to Montanans In Action, the group spearheading SOS, according to Trevis Butcher, the initiative's coordinator. He wouldn't give the amount.
Now, supposedly Howard Rich's ALG (and I'll explain about the "Illinois" office later) only "loaned" Butcher some money to get him started. Who knows? Perhaps the bulk of the funds came from America At Its Best over in Kalispell. Lord knows they ought to still have some of that $2.5 million that ALG gave them. But one can make an educated guess as to where the money for the ballot measures came from.

In Arizona it's cut and dried: One Arizonan contributed $100. All the rest came from either ALG or Fund for Democracy. In other words, and, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's online campaign reports, of the $186,600 contributed to the Arizona Home Owners Protection Effort (Arizona H.O.P.E. -- clever, ain't it? Just like SOS Nebraska and Montana), 2006 June 30 Report, of the $186,600.00 received so far, $186,500 came from Howard Rich chaired entitities.
Now, whether it is Rich's personal money or he's fronting for a consortium of cranky zillionaires, Rich controls the money, which is the same thing. Both are, as pointed out in part I of this report, 501(c)(4) entities, which means that their donors don't have to be disclosed.

Sort of like "Montanans In Action," come to think of it. MIA, by the by, is listed as being one of the organizations in one of the states that ALG has a state campaign going in.

These states are in ALG's sights this fall (from their webpage):

The Arizona Home Owners Protection Effort (Arizona HOPE) plans to give hope to Arizona property owners facing eminent domain and regulatory abuse.


In California, citizens are fed up with eminent domain abuse, and we're teaming up with local activists to pass an initiative that will protect the property rights of all Californians.


In Idaho, we're working to protect property rights with an initiative that will appear on the November 2006 ballot.


Mary Adams and her crew are working to stop government waste and put the people in charge of state spending with a Taxpayer Bill of Rights.


The Michigan Stop OverSpending Committee has filed an initiative to put the people in charge of state spending. Additionally, the Protect Our Homes Committee is supporting Proposal 4, which will protect the property rights of homeowners across the state from eminent domain abuse.


Missourians in Charge has filed an initiative to secure property rights (Protect Our Homes) and empower voters to decide in matters of state spending (Stop Over Spending).


Montanans in Action has filed the Stop OverSpending initiative to give taxpayers control over state spending. Additionally, there is a Protect Our Homes initiative to protect property rights and a Citizens Right to Recall initiative to restore judicial accountability.


The Nevada Tax and Spending Control Committee is working to stop out-of-control spending in Nevada.


The Nebraka Stop OverSpending committee is working to give taxpayers a say in state spending this year.


Oklahomans in Action is working to stop eminent domain abuse and out-of-control spending this year.


Initiative 6, the Rainy Day Amendment measure, would put limits on state spending in Oregon. Initiative 49, the Neighborhood Protection Act, would prohibit condemnation of private property by governmental units intending to transfer the property to private parties.


In Washington state, Initiative 933, the Property Fairness Initiative, would require elected officials to avoid damaging the use or value of private property.

So far, we've only covered Oregon, Nebraska, Montana, Maine, Arizona and Idaho. There's a whole lot more where that came from.

In California, for Proposition 90 -- recipient of that mysterious $600,000 donation from Montanans in Action -- Arno Political Consultants of Sacramento (and subject of yesterday's report) was paid $651,236.30 to qualify the measure for the ballot. As in Arizona, exactly $100 came from California. The remainder of the $1,500,000.00 came from The Fund for Democracy of New York (FFD), according the California Secretary of State's online campaign finance reports. But there's little fillip in this one. The $100 was a "loan" from the KAL Group, which, to be charitable, one would presume to be Californian.

In Washington state, ALG has contributed over $200,000 thus far -- that we know of -- but you can't find it in the Washington state C&Es. It was given through the Washington Farm Bureau, which is the donor of record.

More money laundering? Certainly in Arizona, five donations are recorded, sequenced to look less suspicious perhaps. In California, FFD didn't even worry about it. In Washington state, the money is filtered through the Farm Bureau, and in Montana, the money appears and disappears as mysteriously as it does in Idaho and Nebraska.

on Friday, July 7, 2006, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported:
Property measure likely on ballot
Proponents deliver tractor load of voter signatures


... Nearly half the pro-933 cash contributions have come from Americans for Limited Government, a Chicago* organization founded by New York landlord Howard Rich, who also advocates for term limits and conservative issues. The group, which has contributed $200,000, is bankrolling ballot measures in 12 states.
[*There seems to be either two offices or one move involved with the Illinois ALG. There's the Wacker Drive address, and the suburban Glenview, Illinois office. The Glenview IL return address on a petition mailed to me last month was the oddity that first started my poking into these matters. What was an Illinois organization doing sending me an Oregon petition?]

But, really, the money comes from 73 Spring Street, New York City, 10012 USA.

In Nevada, Tax and Spending Control for Nevada (TASC), another TABOR-style bill, has a rocky history. But ...

The Associated Press reported on Jul 7, 8:49 PM EDT,
Petition moves step closer to qualifying for Nevada ballot
Associated Press Writer

TASC supporters contracted with Arno Political Consulting to coordinate the signature-gathering effort. The Sacramento-based group has come under fire for similar irregularities in petition campaigns in Ohio, and has recently been criticized for paying employees per signature on a tax restraint measure in Oregon.

Firm principal Michael Arno said the allegations of fraud were "100 percent political and sour grapes on their part."
And who is funding the Nevada TASC? Anjeanette Damon reported in the RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL, 12/13/2005:
... Illinois-based Americans for Limited Government has promised to match all local dollars raised in the state. And Grover Norquist's group Americans for Tax Reform also has pledged support.

"What it basically does is put politicians on the same kind of budget that families and individuals have to live by in the real world," said Heather Wilhem, spokeswoman for Americans for Limited Government.
Of course, the ALG spokesman/petitioner in Nebraska said the same thing, and not a penny of Nebraska money showed up, so the last comment must be viewed with a healthy skepticism.

There is not time today to go into Michigan, Oklahoma, Missouri and South Carolina. And I haven't brought you back to Oregon, where this series started. But there is a clear pattern here: Recruit a "front" person for either a TABOR, a Term Limits, "eminent domain" or miscellaneous (Terry Schiavo, Judge removal) initiative. Fully fund the petition drive -- using paid petition-gatherers -- as far under the radar as possible. ("Launder" the money, if you have to.) And fully fund a campaign that the people of the state in question didn't realize that they were even upset about until the New York City money from Howard Rich's multiple astroturf organizations showed up.

But the crazy thing about it all is that this chicanery (that is at least an euphemistically accurate description) is being done by "Libertarians" in the name of "returning power to the people."

However, Howard Rich lives in New York City. His old Libertarian Party cronies (and USTL/ALG Board members) Eric O'Keefe and Paul Jacob live in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. respectively. What are they doing in Montana? Why are they stirring up fights in Nebraska? Nevada? Oregon? California? Oklahoma? (Et al)

This isn't a partisan scandal. It isn't about Democrats or Republicans (although Rich does tend to show up hand in hand with Grover Norquist quite a bit). This is about a self-appointed fellow named, appropriately enough, Rich, playing with the electoral processes of most of the Western states and several midwestern, eastern seaboard and southern states as a slightly sadistic boy plays with his plastic ant-farm.

Americans for Limited Government is misnamed: it would be more accurately called "Rich Americans for Unlimited Meddling." And the "Fund for Democracy"? And how can anyone in good conscience call themselves a "Term Limits" group, when they show zero interest in campaign contribution limits (as we shall see tomorrow)?

But any consideration of democratic process, or of "the people" by these misguided "libertarians" is sure hard to find. It seems the antithesis of Libertarianism.

Is it real democracy? Or should we, with those grizzled cowboys of the commercial recoil in horror, moaning "New York City?"

Tomorrow: The Old Libertarian connections, the Cato Institute and the sham campaign they're running in Oregon with a retired dentist and a lot of money. Virtually all from, well, NYC.



Anonymous ProgressiveVictory said...

The corruption of the initiative process in the very Western states where it took root a century ago reaks of the same cronyism and corruption now infecting D.C. The money-laundering and outright lies used to disguise it smack of Abramoff and Co. and his friend, Ralph Reed, now a GOP candidate for Ga. lt. gov. More critical coverage is deserved until the practitioners take responsibility. And policy-makers must enforce the ethics and disclosure laws to hold the scoundrels to public account.

7/13/2006 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger ed waldo said...

Dead on. And, you must be psychic, progressive victory: You've even anticipated the lead I wrote for today's column ... except, of course, the story took a turn I didn't expect. But the lead will remain, Disneyland and all.

7/13/2006 09:05:00 PM  

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