26 July 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment, Part VI: Media Hash

Well, the story broke yesterday, state wide. Our crack investigative journalists pored over the Contributions and Expenditures reports filed in Salem (the state capitol) Monday, and came up with not exactly stunning revelations.

The Portland Oregonian (our 'big' state paper) reported:
Out-of-state cash fuels petitions

Nov. 7 [Election] - Illinois groups spend more than $1 million on initiatives to limit Oregon spending and legislative terms

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Two groups based in Illinois have poured more than $1 million into Oregon this year in an attempt to win passage of two initiatives that would limit state spending and reimpose legislative term limits, campaign finance reports showed Monday.

Supporters of the spending limit initiative have spent $671,705 in their drive to qualify the measure for the Nov. 7 ballot, and all but $100,000 of that came from Americans for Limited Government of Glenview in suburban Chicago.

Another Glenview-based organization, U.S. Term Limits, contributed $510,000 to the Oregon term limits initiative, nearly all the money spent so far by that campaign .... Headed by Chairman Howard Rich, who lives in New York City, Americans for Limited Government emphasizes the use of initiative campaigns to achieve objectives such as reducing taxes and government spending and protecting property rights. An entrepreneur in real estate and business since 1965, Rich founded U.S. Term Limits in 1992. The term limits group is reportedly moving from Illinois to New York ...
Frankly, I think they pulled that last little revelation straight out of their ... er, uh, the ether. Either that, or they talked to Heather Wilhelm, their Illinois "spokesperson" -- about whom more later.

For those who've read this series thus far, we know that U.S. Term Limits wasn't exactly 'founded' in 1992. It was bought by Rich: a group called "Citizens for Congressional Reform." The purchase seems to have basically been a mailing list and some office furniture. Present at the birth were Paul Jacob, who is Howard Rich's brother-in-law (he married Rich's sister) and Paul R. Farago, Yale, '78, both of whom figure prominently in media coverage around these parts: Farago is the "spokesperson" for the Term Limits initiative, and Jacob, who Farago quotes a lot -- and who quotes Farago a lot in his "Common Sense" radio commentaries and column, which is produced out of Rich's OTHER organization "Americans for Limited Government." According to their websites, Jacob is syndicated on about 130 radio stations nation wide, and his column is carried by -- among others -- the Mother of all Conservative websites, TownHall.com.

But "reportedly moving from Illinois to New York"? I'd love to know where they got that one.

If you've been following along, you already know that "Chairman" Rich lives in New York, and the "president" of ALG, John Tillman, lives in Glenview, Illinois. Jacob lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and, oddly enough, checks from USTL and ALG show up from all three addresses, according to where one lives.

In order to form such an organization, all you really need is an attorney, some filing fees, a bank account and a mail drop. As long as you file your forms regularly (financials and C&Es), everything's jake.

The fact of the matter, as seen in the Nebraska filing document (at CLICK HERE) is that Americans for Limited Government/U.S. Term Limits/etc. sends checks from Howard Rich's townhouse at 73 Spring Street, NY, NY 10012. And from the Chicago ALG office at 20 Wacker Drive. And from the other office in the Chicago exurb of Glenview, Illinois. And from Alexandria, Virginia from the same building that the National Taxpayers Union is located.

[In Idaho, South Carolina and California -- among others -- it's the "Fund for Democracy" which seems to donate from Rich's home in New York City, but the same ballot measures get funded.]

ALG/USTL/et al have had an actual office at 20 Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois. We know this because Oklahoma and Arizona news stories have identified this address for their cites of ALG "media spokesperson" Heather Wilhelm.

[Wilhelm is a young woman, a couple of years out of college -- her email address ends with alumni.uchicago.edu -- and is trying to make a name for herself on the conservative media circuit, with a number of pieces in the Wall Street Journal Online and another publication called something like the "Wall Street Journal for Women." Michelle Malkin helped her get her first 15 minutes of fame, but that's another story for another day.]

Now, this rather confusing collection of barely corporeal (but quite corporate) entities have an office in Glenview, Illinois. That is what is reported, and that is generally where it ends.

I've looked at it on a satellite photo, and it looks pretty clearly like a standard, nondescript office building. Given the size of the parking lot, I'd guess it's a two-storey building, with perhaps retail on the first floor and non-descript offices on the second. There is some sort of institution right next to it, looking like, perhaps, a very nice little private college, or maybe a ritzy high school. There are train tracks a couple blocks to the east, and on the other side, a golf course. (Try it yourself. Plug the address below into Google Maps and take a gander.)

That is the "Illinois organization" that the OREGONIAN (and a hundred other papers) gleefully reveal in that Pulitzer-prize-winning style of journalism that we're all coming to expect from the "legitimate" media.

And, perhaps, that is the point.

Are you confused?


It surely worked for U.S. Term Limits as far as the Oregon media goes. But there is a deeper nuance in all of this that even a newspaper reporter ought to be able to grasp.

Americans for Limited Government gave $570,000 in this election cycle to match U.S. Term Limits' earlier $60,000 contribution from the same office in Glenview, Illinois. The checks were probably -- with a probability approaching certainty -- written and signed on the very same desk in that office.

Here's another tidbit:

They publish the "Term Limits" newsletter out of the Glenview office (masthead of the March/April 06 issue):
Edited by Heather Wilhelm
Contributing Writer:
Nick Zahn
A Publication of

What is the nuance? Well, you will note that this is the U.S. Term Limits FOUNDATION, which has been set up as a separate entity from U.S. Term Limits (whose structure I'm hazy on), so it can handle the 501(c)4 money: not tax deductible, but ANONYMOUS to donors. This is slightly different than the CATO Institute [from their website]: "The Cato Institute is a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational foundation under Section 501(c) 3 of the Internal Revenue Code." So, for that matter, is the Heritage Foundation. You can contribute to further your various right wing agendas and write it off your taxes just like it was a donation to UNICEF or the United Way.

Now, as a funny bit of meaningless irony, Edward H. Crane III, sits on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Term Limits Foundation (the 501(c)4) Chaired by Howard Rich, just as Howard Rich sits on the Cato Institute's board (the 501(c)3) presided over by Edward H. Crane III.

Since they originally funded and have continued to fund the Cato Institute from its inception, the Koch brothers, Charles and David, have donated a lot of charitable money to Cato, but there is no way of knowing whether they've given a penny to the U.S. Term Limits Foundation.

Such is the advantage of differently structured organizations. But nothing in the world stops that office on 20 Wacker Drive in Chicago from moving to an office in Glenview, Illinois, or even to a closet in Paul Jacobs' den in the DC suburbs.

All that is needed are some bank accounts, some checkbooks, some files, and maybe a computer to store the mailing list data. You can cram as many foundations, PACs, corporations and shell entities as you want into a small closet. They are all "entities," but they need not resemble corporeal entities.

Becky, over at Preemptive Karma, has done an exceptional job of tracking down literally dozens of names, entities and aliases that this same anonymous group of monied interests -- with Howard Rich as the point man -- run. See it at: preemptivekarma.com.

But the catch is that you aren't anonymous, and 501(c)3s can't actively participate in political campaigns. Not only do they lose their tax-exempt status, but they lose it permanently. 501(c)4 contributions are not tax deductible, but you can fund them anonymously. (Pay attention, this will be important later.)

Are you confused yet?

Well, that's the whole point.

And, none of the reporters on this seemed to "get" that the $100 grand that was kicked in to jump start this process has now been seen and raised tenfold to a cool million. These people have some serious money to throw around.

Here's something that the state media forgot about:
The Citizens' Term Limits Restoration Act 2004
Leigh Anna Foxall, Paul R. Farago, Ted Piccolo, chief petitioners
US Term Limits (DC): $354,239 (97%); US Term Limits Foundation (IL): $5,000 (1%); US Term Limits (IL): $3,000 (<1%);>Gee. You don't suppose that U.S. Term Limits in DC was Paul Jacob, US Term Limits IL was the Wacker Drive office and US Term Limits Foundation was the Glenview, Illinois office, do you? And Paul Farago was right there then, too. (He has been a petitioner or co-petitioner every time this comes up, going back to 1992, when he was a founding Board Member of USTL).

Total in 2004: $364,155

Are you confused yet?

That confusion reigns in the local coverage. Here's what the AP had to say (in part) yesterday:
Illinois groups spend heavily for Oregon initiatives
7/25/2006, 12:04 a.m. PT
The Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A Chicago suburb is playing a prominent role in Oregon politics this year.

Two groups based in Glenview, Ill., have spent more than $1 million in an attempt to win passage of initiatives that would reimpose term limits and limit state spending.

According to new campaign finance reports, an organization called U.S. Term Limits contributed $510,000 to the Oregon term limits initiative, almost all the money spent so far by that campaign.

Supporters of the spending limit initiative have spent $671,705 in their drive to qualify the measure for the Nov. 7 ballot. All but $100,000 of that came from Americans for Limited Government - another group from Glenview. ... Headed by Libertarian Howard Rich, Americans for Limited Government emphasizes the use of initiative campaigns to achieve objectives such as reducing taxes and government spending. He founded U.S. Term Limits in 1992.

"It just shows that these measures don't have much local support," said Phil Donovan, the campaign manager for a coalition formed to defeat the spending limitation.

He said the measures appear to be a case of "national groups trying to move agendas in Oregon."

But Don McIntire, a conservative activist who co-wrote the spending lid, described donors to Americans for a Limited Government as "patriots" who believe in smaller government.

He said it's insignificant where the money comes from.

"The important thing is how many people sign it," he said. "And then you have a debate, and the important thing is how many people vote for it."
Naturally, the story slavishly follows the standard form that this story takes in EVERY state (as I sketched out in Part V.): Out of state money, group in Illinois, bonus points for identifying Howard Rich -- penalty points for identifying him as 'Libertarian' -- a spokesman for the opposition asking WHO THE HECK ARE THEY? and a local, quaint, picturesque, All-American 'spokesperson' saying: It's not important where the money comes from. It's only important what we're proposing.

You are getting sleepy. Sleepy. Sleeeepy. Watch our crusty homespun [insert state name here]ian spin. "It's about FREEDUM! It's about the PIPPLE!"

Bang. Standard story number 236, and now AP moves on.

But look what is missing: the original story was that Americans for Tax Reform (Grover Norquist's group -- this year, it should be noted, four of their board members were Norquist, ex-congressman Duke "Doing Federal Time" Cunningham, Ohio Secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Kenneth Blackwell, and millionaire ex-GOP presidential candidate Steve "Flat Tax" Forbes) and USTL had kicked in $100,000 (actually $110,000, but what's $10,000 among reporters?) to jump start the Term Limits initiative.

And now, USTL's doppelganger, secret identity or siamese twin 'Americans for Limited Government' has kicked in nearly a MILLION dollars more. That's impressive.

Moreover, if you look at California ($1.5 million through "Foundation for Democracy"), the Idaho/ Montana/ Nebraska/ California money machine called "America At Its Best" but running out of the Kalispell, Montana law office of Duncan Scott ($2.38 million) and that other $1 million plus that Howard Rich's groups have spent, we're already over $5 million. I don't think -- and interviews with Libertarian insiders suggest -- that Howard Rich's pockets are that deep. He's well to do, of course. Even a rich Rich. But I have a feeling that this money is coming from somewhere else: the contributions are a bit too rich for even Rich's blood.

It is all a shell game. And, as in any shell game, one cannot escape the sneaking feeling that it's a con game as well.

Remember, we are dealing with dozens of organizations floating multiple ballot measures in more Western states than not and other states all the way to Maine. And the harder you look at it, the more bewildering the labyrinthine interconnections become.

That cannot have transpired by accident. These people are hiding, and they're using some bad stage magic to do it. It's sleight-of-hand, but, often it's ham-handed sleight-of-hand.

As you can probably already tell from the news stories, it's working just fine with the local media.

Oh, and it's very important that you understand Howard Rich is not affiliated with the Libertarian Party (although Paul R. Farago here in Oregon seems to be). Ed Crane, Howard Rich and several other "Craniacs" left the Libertarian Party after the great hoo-haw at the 1983 Libertarian Party National Convention.

Remember: this is NOT ideological -- at least in any commonly-held sense of the term. These are NOT Republicans, although they might move in Republican circles. These are not Democrats. And, these are most assuredly not Libertarians. This is an electoral cabal fixed around one Howard S. "Howie" Rich of 73 Spring St. #408, New York, NY 10012, and it has been going at LEAST since 1992.

I only point this out because Libertarian Party members probably don't want to be tarred with the Howard Rich brush. The Libertarian Party is a legitimate political party who run legitimate candidates collecting legitimate donations in legitimate elections. They identify themselves as such, and conduct themselves in a more-or-less honest fashion (we ARE talking about politics, after all). To my knowledge, they have NOT:
  • Created dozens of astroturf groups to funnel money into elections surreptitiously.

  • Engaged in sub-rosa initiative and legislative campaigns in dozens of states -- none of which they seem to live in.

  • Recruited local "front" men to push their agendas, AS IF the ideas and issues originated from within the state.

  • Attempted to hide their money, their donors and their agenda.
But, so far, the deepest that anyone in the "legitimate" media seems to have penetrated this story (in state after state, Oregon is only an example) is: Howard Rich, a New York Libertarian is funding a bunch of petition drives. Oh, and: "The term limits group is reportedly moving from Illinois to New York."

Good grief.

No: this is an entirely different story than that.

The grass roots in these campaigns are to be found on neatly manicured fairways and putting greens.



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