27 August 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment Part XIV: The Hoop Snake

One of this blog's readers anonymously posted a comment this morning. It was an excerpt from today's Omaha World Herald article on the Howie Rich gang.

Full disclosure here: I spent a couple of hours on the phone with one of the Omaha WORLD-HERALD writers who broke today's news story, entitled "Petition's origins tied to at least nine states."

In its essential points, and independently, the OWH investigative reporters have confirmed what was reported in this blog on August 3rd, in Part VIII, America At Its Worst.

Here is the article. To see the original, go to http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=1673&u_sid=2231099&u_rnd=9793930

Warning, you will have to register (valid email address, basically: if you're paranoid, set up a Yahoo, Google, or Hotmail address), to access the article.

CHICAGO - Who's behind a proposed Nebraska amendment requiring patients to receive food and water until death?

The trail leads to activists and attorneys in at least nine states and swirls through an office suite three blocks from the Sears Tower.

An Omaha couple filed the paperwork. Lawyers in Michigan and California helped draft the amendment.

An Idaho man funneled money to the campaign from interest groups in Illinois, New York and Virginia. A Wisconsin woman's company was paid $1.4 million to gather signatures on the humane care petition as well as another proposal to limit state spending, known as Stop Over Spending Nebraska.

None say they know why Nebraska was chosen for the humane care petition drive or who initiated it. No one has identified where the money originated.

But most have some connection to Americans for Limited Government (ALG), a Chicago-based group whose members have backed petition drives in the United States since the early 1990s.

ALG made the single largest donation to America at Its Best, the group that funneled all $835,000 contributed so far to the humane care petition drive.

But ALG is taking no credit for that effort, despite its financial stake and the active involvement of at least one of its board members.

"We have no position on the humane care measure," said John Tillman, president of ALG. "I've not even read that amendment."

The proposal would amend the Nebraska Constitution by requiring caregivers to provide food and water by any means to patients, unless they have an advance directive or living will that says otherwise. The petition drive came about a year after the family dispute over the wishes of a brain-injured Florida woman, Terri Schiavo, sparked a national debate over feeding tubes and end-of-life care.

The Nebraska secretary of state has yet to rule on whether the petition has qualified for the Nov. 7 ballot.

The humane care amendment was created and funded in a way that makes it hard to sort out its backers.

That's a problem, said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Democracy Project at New York University School of Law's Brennan Center.

She asked: "Don't you have a right to know who's funding policy initiatives in your state?"

The World-Herald traced the measure's origins to the following states:


The public face of the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee is Thomas and Alexis "Lexi" Mann of Omaha. They are identified in campaign filings as treasurer and coordinator of the committee.

Thomas Mann is an attorney who runs Legal Software Consulting. Lexi Mann runs a business that arranges travel for the disabled. Thomas Mann said she recently left the campaign to tend to her business.

Mann said he met the organizers of the campaign after the petition language was drafted, but declined to name them. His contact, he said, was Steven P. Baer, who is a Chicago-area businessman.

The Manns have received $14,408 from the campaign so far for contractual services, according to campaign disclosure reports.

Michigan, California

Mann said the amendment was drafted by Steven J. Safranek, an attorney who was raised in Omaha and who teaches at Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Wesley J. Smith, a California attorney who has written books on euthanasia and medical ethics.

Safranek and Smith said they worked on the amendment via e-mail and conference calls, but that it wasn't their idea and they don't know whose it was. They said they weren't involved in funding or running the petition drive and didn't select Nebraska as the target state.

Safranek said there had been talk of a humane care amendment percolating in pro-life circles since the spring of 2005, when Schiavo's feeding tube was removed. He said he wasn't sure how he became part of an e-mail group drafting it.

He said he was paid $1,000 or less but doesn't recall who wrote the check.

"Americans for Limited Care maybe? Or Nebraskans for Limited Care?" he said. "I mean, I'm sorry, Nebraskans for Humane Care might have been it."

Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee has not reported any payment to Safranek.

Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that supports the intelligent design theory of human origin, said he wasn't paid for his work. He said his initial contact was Baer, the Chicago businessman, sometime early this year.


Safranek said he didn't know anything about Americans for Limited Government, the group that indirectly funded the Nebraska petition drives from its downtown Chicago headquarters.

He expressed surprise when told ALG and U.S. Term Limits share several of the same leaders. Safranek was a paid consultant for U.S. Term Limits in 1997.

Baer sits on the boards of both groups.

He ran for the Republican nomination for Illinois governor in 1990 and attempted to start a tax and term limits party in 1994. He was financed in those efforts partly by Chicago industrialist Barre Seid. Baer has served on the board of Seid's foundation, which has contributed to U.S. Term Limits, religious organizations and conservative causes.

Through an exchange of e-mails, Baer said he is a self-employed consultant, real estate investor and father of 10. He said he has worried for years about unethical withdrawals of food and water. He described his role in the humane care campaign as "cheerleader."

Montana, Idaho

If Baer is the cheerleader, that might make Laird Maxwell the quarterback.

Maxwell, of Boise, Idaho, heads America at Its Best, the Montana group through which money for the humane care and spending measures flowed.

"I kinda got a knack for petitions," said the white-bearded, bolo tie-wearing activist.

Maxwell and his wife, Lori Klein, also are involved with campaigns this year to limit land-use planning and government taking of private property in Idaho and Arizona.

Maxwell said he didn't come up with the humane care amendment. He said he could not recall why Nebraska was selected. He said he thought someone on his board pitched the humane care idea to him.

He said he signed off on it because it fits his philosophy.

"I don't think property rights are limited to dirt," Maxwell said. "Your right to work, your right to breathe, your body - those are yours, too."

When in doubt about what a person wants, he said, caregivers should err on the side of life.

Asked how he learned of Thomas Mann, Maxwell said: "Thomas Mann? Who's he?"

Reminded of Mann's position with the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee, Maxwell said he recalled speaking with Mann and his wife once on a conference call.

As for who ultimately funded the effort, Maxwell said: "People from all over the nation. I don't really know. It's a national movement. I send donors to ALG. They send donations and donors to me."

During the keynote address at ALG's inaugural conference in Chicago this month, Eric O'Keefe said he, New York real estate investor Howard Rich and like-minded friends fueled the national term limits movement of the 1990s.

Their work continues today in ALG and similar groups. O'Keefe, chairman of ALG's executive committee, said they support citizens in taking back their government.

"It's a question of: Are we subjects or sovereign citizens?"

A recent report by the Oregonian newspaper estimated that ALG-affiliated groups have pumped more than $7.3 million into ballot initiatives this year. Those measures include spending caps, eminent domain, term limits for judges and school vouchers in at least 13 states.

ALG gave money to Maxwell's group, which in turn was used for the two Nebraska petitions. ALG board member Baer was clearly involved. But other ALG leaders publicly embrace only the spending measure.

The decision to spend money on humane care, they said, was up to Maxwell.

"We haven't done anything on (humane care)," O'Keefe said.

But his wife has.


Leslie Graves, who is married to O'Keefe, started Renewal Voter Outreach, the company that was paid $1.4 million to gather signatures on the Nebraska petitions.

Graves is no stranger to petition drives. The Spring Green, Wis., woman ran signature-collecting efforts to put third-party candidates on the ballot in the 1970s and 1980s, including Libertarian Ed Clark for president in Nebraska.

But she said the humane care petition was the first she's really cared about. Once she decided to do humane care, she was asked to circulate the spending petition as well.

Graves works for Rachel's Vineyard, a Wisconsin-based organization that holds retreats for women recovering from abortions.

Graves said she's been active in pro-life causes for more than seven years and feels strongly that the humane care measure is needed. But she said it wasn't her idea and she wasn't involved in funding it. She said she heard about the amendment from Safranek, whom she said she had known for years.

Safranek, however, said he doesn't know Graves and didn't inform her about the measure.

The conflicting stories highlight the fuzzy origins of the humane care effort.

Goldberg, the campaign finance expert at the Brennan center, said the public needs to know who is pushing an issue onto the ballot.

"If you know who's behind it," she said, "you have a better sense of knowing what it's about."

World-Herald researcher Jeanne Hauser contributed to this report.
There's a nifty chart as well. The only organization not DIRECTLY linked to Howie Rich is the National Taxpayer's Union -- which, it turns out, has a LOT of connections to Rich & Friends. But that's a story for another day.

Obviously, for a daily newspaper, trying to make sense of this byzantine conspiracy is tough, and details have to be glossed over in the interests of space. They did a crackerjack job and I applaud them for it. But the story glossed over the following points:

I was in error when I published that all of the funding for "America At Its Best" came from Americans for Limited Government. The online document was in error. The actual documents produced the totals reported above. Howard Rich groups, as a result, merely provided the vast majority of AAIB cash, with the NTU kicking in the rest.

Laird Maxwell and his new bride, Lori Klein met at an NTU convention in 2005. They were married in early August in Idaho, near Yellowstone National Park, after having worked (romantically) together to get Arizona's "Don't Take My House" KELO initiative -- I might not be exactly correct on that ballot title, but it's close enough -- on the ballot. Lori has been a "tax activist" agitator in Arizona for a long time. Then, Maxwell came back to Idaho and put the "This House Is MY House" initiative on the Idaho ballot --the title is exactly correct.

During that time, Maxwell directed Duncan Scott in Montana to send $1.7 million to Nebraska. He then sent $650,000 to Missouri for their "Stop OverSpending Missouri" ballot measure, while Duncan Scott sent $170,000 to Laird Maxwell's "Idahoans for Tax Reform" which, coincidentally is located in the same office as AAIB in Idaho, which sent ... well, let the KANSAS CITY STAR try to explain it:
Posted on Sat, Jun. 03, 2006

Petitions backer sues secretary of state
The Kansas City Star's Jefferson City correspondent

... Despite its name, Missourians in Charge has few ties to Missouri. Most of its funding - $1.36 million - came from the Fund for Democracy, a New York organization bankrolled by developer Howard Rich. An additional $190,000 came from America at its Best, a group listing an address in Boise, Idaho.

Tuohey said the two groups also are paying for his legal appeal.

America at its Best shares an address with Idahoans for Tax Reform, which has been funded by another group called America at its Best based in Kalispell, Mont.

America at its Best and Fund for Democracy have paid for similar initiative proposals this year in other states.

Fund for Democracy donated $230,000 to support an initiative in Idaho that would force governments to pay property owners who claim their property value was damaged by zoning or other laws that limit use of the property. America at its Best donated $100,000 to the same effort.

America at its Best also donated $100,000 this year to support a spending limitation initiative in Nebraska....
The latest Nebraska figure is now $800,000.

The latest figure was revealed, in August, to be $650,000 to Missouri from Laird Maxwell's AAIB Idaho office.

Now you can, hopefully, appreciate how difficult it is to 'simplify' this Gordian knot of interconnections and money laundering. Money laundering is the precise term, although I explicitly DO NOT make accusations of any criminality. That the money for two ALG spending initiatives in Missouri and Nebraska would be supplemented or exclusively funded from ALG monies after passing through AAIB in Montana and Idaho is clearly an attempt to 'launder' money to at least keep the ultimate funders' identity secret. The motivations for this seeming-fetish for secrecy and pseudonymity seen in all the Howie Rich related groups remains obscure, whatever educated guesses might be made.

The group that Leslie Graves (Eric O'Keefe's wife in Spring Green, Wisconsin) works with, Rachel's Vineyard, is overseen by Father Frank Pavone. You will recall Pavone as the "Schiavo family spokesman" when Terri Schiavo's sad drama was played out on television in early 2005. Fr. Pavone is both the ministerial overseer AND the Chairman of the Board of the Rachel's Vineyard Foundation, which handles the money.

The fact that the Nebraska initiative is PRECISELY Pavone's answer to the Schiavo case, and that Leslie Graves specifically 'incorporated' in Nebraska to handle the petition-gathering drives -- to the tune of $1.4 million as the OWH reports above -- raises more than a casual question about the causal connection between Graves and Pavone.

And Laird Maxwell of Idaho, President of the formed-this-year "America At Its Best" group (which only seems to have three actual members that we can definitively nail down: Laird Maxwell, of Boise, Idaho, Duncan Scott of Kalispell, Montana, and our old friend Bill Wilson of Fairfax, Virginia) has told the Boise Weekly that while he doesn't know "Howie Rich" personally, Shea Anderson reports:
"Maxwell said his pitch to wealthy Libertarian activist Howard Rich and other well-off conservative activists was simple: `You got the money, I got the time. We'll make this happen.'"
And, in Idaho, the BOISE WEEKLY also reported:
Except for $50... 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...
Bill Wilson, coincidentally, serves as Treasurer for America At Its Best, Americans for Limited Government, for U.S. Term Limits, for Club for Growth, State Action, and serves on the board of the Virginia Club for Growth; was a 2001 founder of "Parents In Charge" -- the Howie Rich, Eric O'Keefe and Bill Wilson-founded foundation that immediately garnered a $10 million donation from the Walton Family Foundation (Wal-Mart) to attack public education via vouchers, tax credits, etc., and which just handed its Presidency off from Eric O'Keefe to Betsy DeVos, whose husband is the GOP nominee for Governor of Michigan, and who was -- with O'Keefe -- the two largest individual donors to Michigan's 1992 Term Limits ballot initiative.

Sound familiar? It's because Howie Rich, Eric O'Keefe and the rest were behind THAT ballot measure, as well, bankrolling it well in excess of any other contributors through US Term Limits, and Americans for Term Limits PAC, of which, coincidentally, Bill Wilson has also been the treasurer.

Kind of makes you dizzy, doesn't it?

Finally, Sandlapper has, at Daily Kos, come up with the day's OTHER smoking gun:
DC-Based Anti-Worker Group Attacks Montana Public Employees

... [Richard] Berman's group, Union Facts, recently launched an anti-worker ad campaign in Montana, Oregon, Nevada and Michigan targeting public employees. Why those states? The folks at the Progressive States Network say its pretty obvious. All four have TABOR-like ballot initiatives that would restrict how states raise and spend money that would impact vital services such as law enforcement, fire protection, education and other public services...

Berman denied the ads were tied to the ballot initiatives. But the Associated Press reported Aug. 21 that Berman attended a weekend conference of the group Americans for Limited Government and made a presentation about the anti-union ads. The group is backing the Montana measure and those in the other states. According to a July report by the Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal the group has funneled some $561,000 to back an Oregon TABOR-like ballot measure and more than $1 million for efforts in Maine, Oklahoma, Arizona and Nevada.
Read Sandlapper's exceptional investigative report at:


Finally, there's poor Lexi Mann, who, having been paid $6000 by the NEBRASKANS FOR HUMANE CARE COMMITTEE to act as "COMMITTEE SPOKESPERSON, OFFICE CONTRACTUAL SERVICE" (according to the official Nebraska filing documents online) "recently left the campaign to tend to her business." [OWH article]

Nothing more is known of her story. Nor, likely, will there now be. But, Thomas Mann, her husband, is still the treasurer of record.

I guess that's what the friends of Howie Rich call "family values."



Blogger Blue Gal said...

What a tremendous amount of work for an under-covered story. Thank you. Glad this made the round up. Nice title for a blog too! Keep up the good work and keep the faith.

8/30/2006 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger dreamshade said...

I'm a Nebraska ex-pat and I still like to read the news at Omaha.com from time to time. Thanks for bringing up this issue, which I saw in the OWH before and was puzzling about myself.

8/30/2006 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger ed waldo said...

Thanks blue gal and dreamshade. Believe it or not, there's a lot more.

8/31/2006 01:49:00 AM  

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