01 September 2006

No More Tinfoil Hats

As of September 1, oddly enough, I'm no longer considered to be wearing a tinfoil hat. Without further comment, here is an editorial from the Omaha WORLD-HERALD. I would normally just provide the URL, but the registration process is kind of tedious, and you may have issues with giving out your email address, etc. (Note: Since there is no fiduciary consideration involved, and you probably wouldn't see this otherwise, I maintain that this constitutes Fair Use.)

Omaha World-Herald Editorial
Published Tuesday
August 29, 2006

The 'Not me' problem

Ballot measure's out-of-state backers answer little, trample the spirit of Nebraska's petition process.

Readers of the comic pages will likely be familiar with a running gag in "The Family Circus" comic strip. When one of the parents asks who was responsible for breaking a lamp or muddying the floor, the children respond, "Not me!" A mischievous prankster phantom, labeled "Not me," invariably is shown running away from the scene.

As World-Herald staff writers Nichole Aksamit and Paul Goodsell explained in an extensive article on Sunday, Nebraska's petition process is beset this year by a disturbing case of the "Not me" syndrome - the failure of key players to explain how a particular ballot measure, the "humane care" proposal, originated.

That ballot measure, also known as the "Terri Schiavo amendment," would forbid family members or physicians, without exception, from taking people in extreme physical disability off life-support systems.

When Aksamit and Goodsell asked how the measure originated and why Nebraska was chosen for it, neither the Omaha couple who filed the legal papers for it nor a host of out-of-state activists could supply the answers. When asked "Were you the one?" in regard to a range of key matters, all the players in this peculiar drama provided the same unsatisfactory response.

"Not me," said the two Omahans. "Not me," said the deep-pocketed backers in Chicago. "Not me," said the interest groups in New York and Virginia. "Not me," said the Michigan and California lawyers who drafted the ballot language. "Not me," said the Wisconsin woman who ran the petition-collection efforts. "Not me," said the activist who heads a Montana-based group that served as the financial conduit for the petition drive.

These individuals failed to explain crucial aspects of how this ballot measure was created and promoted. And in some instances, the accounts given by one person contradicted statements by others.

Then there is the matter involving a Chicago-based activist group, Americans for Limited Government, which is a key backer of the petition drive. A member of the group's board, Steven P. Baer, has made no secret that he enthusiastically backs the humane care proposal.

Yet when John Tillman, the president of the activist group, was asked about the ballot proposal by the World-Herald reporters, he responded: "We have no position on the humane care measure. I've not even read that amendment."

That statement is a curious one, given that Tillman's organization gave no less than $2.4 million to support the humane care measure - the largest donation by far from any group.

So, what is going on?

The answer is what more than a few Nebraskans have been saying this year: Outsiders are using big money and clandestine methods to try to abuse Nebraska's petition process. In promoting the humane care amendment, the efforts of these outsiders were so convoluted and secretive that even they could not keep up with who was doing what.

Such manipulations are a direct assault on the spirit of Nebraska law.

Nebraska's constitution envisions a bottom-up, home-grown process by which Nebraskans themselves draft ballot-measure proposals and then take the lead in promoting them. It is absurd to think that that power was incorporated into the constitution with the intention that Nebraskans should play second fiddle to the manipulations and ideological obsessions of Chicagoans and Montanans and well-monied groups from New York and Virginia.

It is irrelevant, by the way, whether the outside manipulators are right-wing or left-wing. The harm to Nebraska, through the trampling of the spirit of its initiative process, is the same no matter what the ideological persuasion of the outsiders.

When Nebraskans are asked if they can respect a ballot measure when it arises from such troubling origins, voters will be amply justified if they offer an emphatic response: "Not me."

More to come.


31 August 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment, Part XV: Oregon, Chicago, ALG and Al Capone

Warning: This column is about political incest. More impressionable readers might want to cover their eyes -- it's worked for most of the media so far.
We have seen the outline of the fall campaign from Howie Rich and friends.

Piecing together the Chicago pep rally that the so-called "Americans for Limited Government" held a fortnight ago has taken some time. With the barest minimum of reporters from the "MSM" ('Main Stream Media,' you know, that liberal-controlled news media that has become the whipping boy of right-wing rhetoric and doesn't actually exist as such -- else why the savaging of Clinton by the same press that meekly whimpers and rolls over for Bush to pat its furry little belly?), the 'news story' was given over to "alternate media" like the Heritage Foundation, American Spectator Magazine (owned by Tom Phillips, from whom ALG's "Communications Director" Heather Wilhelm's niggardly $7500 Phillips Foundation Fellowship was received by Ms. Wilhelm last year) and Human Events Magazine. (ditto)

But don't take my word for it. Listen to the former Executive Director of the California Republican Party from 1999 to 2001 flogging his weblog FlashReport on his weblog:
FR profiled in Human Events
by Jon Fleischman - Publisher (bio)

3-9-2006 11:53 am

I have been a subscriber to Human Events Magazine for years. Frankly, it is one of the few 'paper' subscriptions that I still maintain. HE gives the perspective on what is really going on inside of the Beltway, from a conservative point of view. The publication is owned by FR friend Tom Phillips, a great conservative leader. You can always check out HE Online via our Websites menu above....
Also much in evidence were the "reporters" for "The Center for Union Facts."

HUMAN EVENTS reporter Ivy J. Sellers wrote,
"The conference attracted big names such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.), John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and Mike Krempasky of RedState.com. Representatives from organizations including the CATO Institute, Citizens for Responsible Government, and the National Taxpayers Union participated. Campaign strategists and grassroots activists from across the country attended the conference and reporters from all spectrums gave it coverage....
Which is, when you think of it, absolutely accurate, if the spectrum one is referring to is the grayscale. There were (according to the two MSM reporters in attendance) two MSM reporters in attendance, period. Everyone else was a Right Wing faux news reporter. But perhaps the spectrum Sellers meant was the gamut from hard-core Fundamentalist to Mormon to Agnostic. Perhaps she chose the wrong word. She's just starting out in journalism, after all.

"Ivy J. Sellers" graduated from BYU last year with a degree in journalism. I say this only because Sellers, a staff reporter for "The Daily Universe" -- the modestly-entitled BYU school newspaper -- published her last piece for the BYU paper about the new Harry Potter book, "The Half-Blood Prince" on July 15, 2005, and then she is interviewed by the same school paper on July 5, 2006 in a piece entitled "Can a Latter-day Saint become president?
... "There are jokes that Mormons and Christians can't be friends and there is a strong evangelical following that listens to their leaders," said Ivy Sellers, a reporter for Human Events, a national conservative weekly publication. "They [evangelicals] make up the strongest voting bloc in the Republican party."
Consider her official HUMAN EVENTS Bio (preceded by this personals ad for media incest:
About the Editors
If you would like one of our editors to appear on your television or radio show, please contact Patricia Jackson at (202) 216-0600 or pjackson@eaglepub.com ....

Ivy J. Sellers
News Producer, Human Events Online

Before becoming the news producer for Human Events Online, Miss Sellers studied communications and print journalism at Brigham Young University. During her years as an undergrad, Miss Sellers worked as a reporter and editor for the Daily Universe, BYU's award-winning student newspaper. Previous to her current employment, she contributed to Human Events as an intern through the National Journalism Center, covering political events and press conferences taking place in Washington.
The National Journalism Center http://www.njc.yaf.org/ [Nice picture of Robert Novak, suitable for frightening young children witless] is a subsidiary of Young America's Foundation, which, as we reported in part VII :

"Ronald E. Robinson is President of Young America's Foundation, of which [Tom] Phillips is a Board member." Robinson is, conveniently enough, a Board member of The Phillips Foundation. So: Phillips "charitably" donates and serves on the board of the YAF, whose National Media Center checks out new BYU interns who, if they make the cut, go to work for Tom Phillips-owned magazines, like Human Events and the American Spectator. And, of course, when a Phillips Foundation Fellow, like Heather Wilhelm, sets up a "massive" pep rally for the newly-active friends of Howie Rich group, ALG, Tom Phillips' editors are more than happy to send a reporter to "cover" it for HUMAN EVENTS magazine.

[Note: again, if media incest is troubling to your political sensibilities, please stop reading now.]

She's a "News Producer?" Well, if they mean it in the sense of "oil producer" or "sugar beet production" Ivy Sellers is certainly that. I have been in print and publication for almost thirty years now (thirty-three, if you count the stuff I wrote for my college newspaper, THE DAILY SKIFF) and I have never seen the term "news producer" applied to print journalism. It is a TeeVee term, for the person who makes sure that the edited video is ready for broadcast. It is not a term of letters or of literature.

But that's the problem with our "New Media": they are in such a hurry to push the Agenda that there isn't time to learn properly. The editors at HUMAN EVENTS came up with that odd title. And, googling "Ivy J. Sellers" produces about 50 articles cranked out for HUMAN EVENTS this year. But listen to the "New Media" producer writing about the ALG and the old and new media:
"Panels were held on a variety of topics including "Does Anyone Really Care About Limited Government Anymore" (The conclusion: Big business, President Bush and Congress sure don't.) and "Getting the Word Out: Creative Media Strategies" (The conclusion: While old media lends a voice of authority, new media is easier to access and can be just as, if not more, effective.)" [Human Events article]
But poor Ms. Sellers is just a tad overworked here. Her summation of the ALG's "new media" strategy leaves something to be desired. According to one source who was at a different panel entitled "Understanding The Opposition":
I also caught the Q and A, during which -- in context of a discussion about using cameras as a violence- or scare-deterring measure when "union thugs" are blocking petition circulators -- [panelist Mike Flynn* from The Center for Union Facts] made a comment something to the effect of: "You can get more with a smile, a kind word and a gun than you can with a smile and a kind word. It's time for us to have the gun." And in the context of "earned media," he said Union Facts does ads with the media as a target -- so that the media will notice the ads and then do a story on the issues they raise. "The important thing," he said, "is for you to set the terms of the debate."
[* According to Mike Hall writing on the AFLCIO blog, the founder of the Center for Union Facts, Rick Berman, was there as well: "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." I am unable, however, to find said report, although others have noted that he sent staffers to the ALG event, which has been doubly confirmed by two in attendance. - HW]

The irony of using Al Capone's quote in Chicago may have been intentional, or it might have been reflexive, just as the characterization "thugs" was probably projection -- like the sudden Bush Administration fetish with calling their military enemies "fascists."

The actual quote is: "You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone, from his MySpace friends page

Capone also said: "This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it" which one thinks would have also gone over big at the ALG pep rally in Chicago.

At any event, the plan is to attack.

It seems odd to me that the MSM has been so easily flummoxed by these "grassroots" organizations that spring up around the friends of Howie Rich overnight, like mushrooms.

The reporters of the MSM keep getting caught up in geography, when this has nothing to do with geography, and everything to do with, what Howie Rich told an Oregonian reporter at the ALG pep rally, even as he danced away from her:
Monday, August 21, 2006
The Oregonian

... This much, I glean quickly: Rich drinks red wine. He smiles easily, as do those around him. He gestures when he talks, puts his hand on somebody's shoulder and leads the person aside. An inexperienced state activist gets as much attention as a think-tank veteran. Rich is beloved by followers, who describe him as a visionary and a savvy businessman. And he detests journalists.

At a cocktail reception, Rich stops at my table to introduce himself. He is all smiles and handshakes -- until he realizes I'm a reporter. He tenses.

"You seem very nice and all," Rich says. "But I'm going to try not to talk to you very much."

That's too bad, I say. I want to explain why these issues interest him.

Rich says he'll tell me one thing. When I reach for my notebook, he waves his hand in protest.

I remember his words anyway. "It's all about the ideology."

Rich almost dances away to the next table....
But consider the Honey mushroom [from Wikipedia:]
Armillaria ostoyae is the binomial name for one species of fungus commonly known as a "Honey mushroom", and sometimes called "Shoestring Rot" ... quite common on both hardwood and conifer wood in forests west of the Cascade crest. The mycelium attacks the sapwood and is able to travel great distances under the bark or between trees in the form of black rhizomorphs ("shoestrings").

A mushroom in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon, USA was found to be the largest fungal colony in the world, spanning 8.9 kmĀ² (2200 acres) of area. This organism is estimated to be 2400 years old.
An apt, Oregonian metaphor. The "alternative media" present in Chicago are reminiscent of the Honey mushroom, all interconnected, and only seeming to be individual publications, as are the endless profusion of friends of Howie Rich Groups: ALG, US Term Limits (his original franchise), Club for Growth, State Action,; the Cato Institute, LEAD Foundation, Fund for Democracy, Parents in Charge and many others that, in turn, spawn still further groups: the newly-minted "Protect Our Homes and Churches," "America At Its Best," "Renewal Voter Outreach," "This House is MY House," and, perhaps not directly connected to the friends of Howie Rich, but eerily in harmonic, "The Center for Union Facts."

None of the newly-minted "grassroots" subgroups mentioned in the preceding paragraph EXISTED one year ago.

In the week following the ALG "Action Conference" Rick Berman's "Center for Union Facts" went on the attack -- here in Oregon, and across the West.

Sourcewatch reported:
In May 2006 the Center for Union Facts, launched its first TV ad campaign. The 30-second spot (http://www.unionfacts.com/ads/downloads/tv_unionBosses.wmv), running on Fox News and local markets, has "actors posing as workers" saying "sarcastically what they 'love' about unions," like paying dues, union leaders' "fat-cat lifestyles," and discrimination against minorities. The ad campaign cost $3 million, which was raised "from companies, foundations and individuals that Mr. Berman won't identify."* [* The Online Wall Street Journal URL]
And last week, following the ALG pep rally, the CUF (thank goodness they didn't name it the "Knowledge Center for Union Facts")attacked again. The OREGONIAN reported:
Anti-Union ads appear in media in Oregon election - The ads, sponsored by a Washington, D.C., group, are sharply critical of public employees

Friday, August 25, 2006
Dave Hogan

Just in time for election season, Oregonians are seeing TV and newspaper ads featuring grouchy public employees this week, thanks to a new Washington, D.C., group that doesn't name its donors.

The Center for Union Facts also is running similar ads in Michigan, Montana and Nevada. Like Measure 48 on Oregon's ballot this November, those states have similar initiatives that will ask voters to cap state government spending. While the ads don't refer to those measures, they contend that public employees have wrangled expensive compensation packages...
Weirdly, it's an "issue" ad without an issue. There is nothing on the Oregon ballot in the fall that has anything to do with public employees.

Another puzzling attack was reported in New West's (an online magazine) Missoula page:
Are Anti Union Ads a Push for Spending Cap Initiatives?
By Pete Talbot, 8-27-06

... anti-union ads that were launched this week in Montana. The TV, radio and newspaper campaign portrays department workers as overpaid, lazy and nasty ... Montana isn't the only targeted state. The advertising campaign is also running in Oregon, Nevada, and Michigan. Three of these four states have initiatives on the November ballot that cap state spending. The fourth state, Michigan, is in the process of certifying signatures for a similar ballot initiative.

The most active opponents of the initiatives are the unions that represent public employees. Others oppose the initiatives, including The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), but it's "more difficult to slam seniors," one union official [Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT] said ... He's not sure who exactly is paying for the ad campaign. "It's impossible to follow the money," he said, "but it's just too coincidental" that the ad campaign is running in states with spending cap initiatives on the November ballot ...

The organization behind the ad campaign is the Center for Union Facts. It is located in Washington, D.C., and its executive director is lobbyist Richard Berman. Berman has headed similar organizations that lobby for tobacco, alcohol and other industries, according to labor officials.

The organization's communications director, Sarah Longwell, said that the ads are an "educational campaign" and the advertising budget is $1 million. She called the ads "funny, edgy." "It was taken into consideration," [Longwell] noted, in placing the ad campaign in four states with spending cap initiatives, but it wasn't the main factor. The campaign "is not trying to influence people," she added, but to drive them to the Center for Union Facts' website ...
[Note: to be fair, "[Guest Columnist Pete Talbot] ... is a board member of Missoula's Sustainable Business Council and treasurer for Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT). Politically, Pete has served on the Montana Democratic Party Executive Board and was chairman of the Missoula County Democrats."]

But he soundly makes the point that doesn't require a partisan lens: The sudden appearance of CUF anti-union ads are a political attack, and probably to hobble the unions in organizing opposition to the SOS and "Rainy Day" spending caps and KELO/Eminent Domain stuff. Talbot only links the CUF attacks to spending caps.

But he doesn't ask two even more pertinent questions: Isn't it an ODD coincidence that the Center for Union Facts launches million dollar campaigns in the same four states that the ALG is pushing its spending cap initiatives in? And isn't it even odder that CUF manages to ALSO be funded by mysterious funders whose identity they ALSO won't reveal in Montana?

As union president Feaver notes: it is impossible to follow the snaking tendrils of this shoestring root. And yet, one asks oneself: Where have we seen THAT modus operandi before?

Here's the Oregon local angle: my ALG Chicago source writes: "Other panelists with Flynn were Patrick Tuohey, Missourians in Charge; Bob Adney, Nevada Tax and Spending Control Committee; and Don McIntire, Taxpayer Association of Oregon."

Don McIntyre is an interesting fellow. According to Wikipedia:
"The leaders of the tax revolt include Don McIntire, president of the Taxpayer Association of Oregon, and Bill Sizemore, leader of Oregon Taxpayers United. Much of the money spent to promote these anti-tax measures were provided by out-of-state backers including Americans for Tax Reform headed by Grover Norquist."
Norquist's ATR was the OTHER contributor to Howie Rich's "US Term Limits" term limits initiative on the Oregon ballot this November, just by the by.

[As I said, this is about political incest, so avert your eyes if you become too uncomfortable, Gentle Reader.]

According to the website of the organization that McIntyre runs:

We are the Taxpayer Association of Oregon (TAO). It was founded by Jason Williams and Don McIntire in the year 2000. Don McIntire is most commonly known as the father of Measure 5 (the 1990 property tax limitation measure) and many other taxpayer activities going back several decades. Jason Williams is best known for working with Oregonians In Action. TAO also has partner organizations and Political Action Committees to assist on various fronts; ballot measures, candidates, education, lobby, and research.
McIntyre also co-wrote Measure 37 in 2004, which has been seen as the inspiration for the KELO measures that ALG is pushing in several states ... including Oregon.

McIntyre was also, reportedly, the TAO master brought in by Howie Rich and friends to author their ALG measures. So, perhaps it is unsurprising that he was on an "ALG ACTION CONFERENCE" panel [valet parking at the hotel was $41 per day, according to the emailed information sent to registered attendees] called "Understanding The Opposition."

What IS surprising, however, is that McIntyre wasn't necessarily there to have CUF "defend" him. He was there as a member of the "new media," as well.

Their website brags that they are "Oregon's top Political Website: Our popular website, OregonWatchdog.com, is now ranked at the top of web searches involving 'Oregon political news' keywords." [ibid.]

And, the governor of Oregon challenged Howie Rich to a debate last week, Betsy Hammond of the Oregonian wrote on their political blog:
Monday, August 28, 2006

... The way {Governor of Oregon Ted Kulongoski sees it, Rich should have to explain why organizations he controls gave $571,000 toward the spending cap and another $510,000 to promote a term limits measure in Oregon. That is particularly important in the case of the spending cap, because its impact on Oregon would be so huge, Kulongoski says.

"If you are willing to pour millions into our state as a social experiment, the least you can do is come here and explain in person to Oregon voters why the face of our future is so important to you," Kulongoski wrote in a letter he sent to Rich - and copied to reporters - Monday.
Hammond goes on to note Rich's refusal to be interviewed:
"Rich shuns media attention. At the recent Americans for Limited Government conference in Chicago, Rich networked with supporters but did not make speeches or grant interviews. He said he has nothing personal to gain from supporting ballot measures in Oregon and refused to talk futher, saying, "I'm not a media guy. That's not what I do."
Except wasn't that an "interview" that he gave in offering his standard Lady MacBeth line? No: he doesn't submit to interviews. That doesn't stop him from giving out precisely the sound bite he wants in the papers though.

Oregonian reporter Betsy Hammond reports from "Mr. Doesn't-Give-Interviews" the following email NON-interview:
"It sounds to me like the governor is afraid to debate local leaders like Don McIntire, or face up to the ... Oregon voters who signed the petition," Rich told The Oregonian via email. [August 28th]
Which is very odd, since this is almost precisely what "I Am Coyote" (whom I am reliably informed is one Ted Piccolo) wrote on the NW REPUBLICAN blog:

does-governor-nesbitt-have-cajoneys-to.html ('cojoneys' is sic)
Well aint (sic) that special..?? Is Kulongoski too afraid to debate the author of the measure Don McIntire? Doesn't Kulongski have enough to worry about? Well I thought so.
Coyote sneered the party line.

And so did Don McIntire, who is calling for a debate with the 'real Governor of Oregon.'

Note the date: August 28. Maybe the unconscious echoing of Howie Rich's email to the Oregonian isn't so odd, though, because Piccolo has worked with (or for) Rich (via US Term Limits) before, in 2004, when he and USTL founding board member Paul Farago were chief petitioners for a term limits petition drive that failed:

The Citizens' Term Limits Restoration Act, Petition #20

Petitioners: Leigh Anna Foxall, Paul R. Farago, Ted Piccolo

CONTRIBUTIONS: US Term Limits (DC): $354,239 (97%); US Term Limits Foundation (IL): $5,000 (1%); US Term Limits (IL): $3,000 (less than 1%); Taxpayer Association of OR: $1868; Paul Farago: $48.

TOTAL $364,155
[NOTE: Farago's "48 Bucks" -- you might recall -- gave the first installment of this series its title, as it was the only provably private Oregon donation made two years ago. You know, "grass roots." - HW]

And, on August 28th Don McIntyre simultaneously attacked with this press release (which immediately and coincidentally showed up in its entirety in Coyote's 'cojoney' blog column -- no coordination of 'new media' going on HERE, right?):

To Tim Nesbitt, AFL-CIO boss, and to his "yes" man, Governor Kulongoski:

Thank you for your letter, which offers yet another reason for Oregon voters to support the Rainy Day Amendment. It reveals, after all, the fact that Oregon's Governor has no clue as to what's going on in his own state...

We all know who pulls the strings here in Oregon, and forgive us, Governor, if we say publicly it's not you. Union bosses and special interests are openly running your campaign, so we, in turn, realize why you're doing their dirty work. You want to keep spending recklessly, and you want the taxpayers to just shut up...

Over 300 local donors have already given to the Rainy Day Amendment campaign, and that list continues to grow. We're thankful to Howard Rich for helping us get our campaign off the ground. Unions-as you well know, Governor-have a whole lot of money to splash around to keep the special interests in charge. Out of state unions have already given $2 million to try and defeat the Rainy Day Amendment. We're working to put the people back in charge. Just whose side are you on? Here's a tip, Governor-or should we address this to you, Mr. Nesbitt?-you might want to keep it a secret that you're against giving the people a say in state spending....
But this isn't enough for McIntyre. He concludes with this bit of politesse:
As a Chief Petitioner, I accept the challenge to debate the real leader of the government class in Oregon - Tim Nesbitt, recent President of the Oregon AFL-CIO. I will debate Mr. Nesbitt as many times as he would like between now and election day. Oregonians would be well served to find out more about the "power behind the throne" in our state. I suspect such a series of debates would reveal much about what's really wrong in Oregon. If Mr. Nesbitt is unavailable or unwilling, I'd even take on the second in command, Governor Kulongoski.
One finds it difficult to believe that the CUF attack ads aren't coordinated with McIntyre's "thankful" campaign. (And, one notes that "300 local donors" proves "grass roots" just as effectively as the 150 reported in attendance to hear the keynote address at the ALG pep rally in Chicago.)

And it's WEIRD to compare and contrast with Rick Berman's (founder/proprieter of CUF) stated philosophy:
Berman's Battle
Richard Berman claims to help the average consumer. In fact, he works for corporate America.

By Greg Sargent, The American Prospect
Web Exclusive: 01.03.05

... "Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger," [Rick Berman] once told Chain Leader Magazine, a trade publication for restaurant chains (whose readership presumably doesn't include too many ordinary consumers). "We've got to attack [activists'] credibility as spokespersons."
(for a more in-depth report on the link between Berman's CUF and the Richies, see Sandlapper's DailyKos diary: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/8/27/182257/896

All of which recalls another Al Capone quote:

"I have built my organization upon fear."


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."