Rachel Maddow, SwiftBoat Networks, Public Relations Campaigns And Republicans

A year ago I wrote about conservatives' plan to create what I call "swiftboat networks". They are not astroturf, because no grassroots donors may give money to them. They can only be funded by one person, and specifically a person who hides

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A year ago I wrote about conservatives' plan to create what I call "swiftboat networks". They are not astroturf, because no grassroots donors may give money to them. They can only be funded by one person, and specifically a person who hides behind the shield of another organization or entity like a LLC. This plan was hatched pre-Citizens United, but builds on the premise that corporations are persons with the right to free speech.

Their goal was to coordinate independent expenditures to attack specific targets, by hiring a PR firm as an intermediary to take care of media buys on behalf of their 'group clients'. Because they are independent expenditure entities, there is no requirement to report the individuals or "persons" behind the funding.

Last Thursday, Maddow turned her sights on one such group pouring money into Democratic representative Pet DeFazio's district. They operate under the name "Concerned Taxpayers of America", and as Rachel points out, they do not have any way to accept donations or memberships. This is because they are not a coalition or even a legitimate 501(c)(4) group. They are really "concerned taxpayer" of America, and they're a classic model for what I discovered last year when they submitted their plan to the FEC.

In her report, she really couldn't shed any light on who this group is. I'm not sure I can shed a laser light on it, but I've been able to find a few facts and am now turning to you, our Crooks and Liars community, to see if you can find any more. Here's what I discovered about our "Concerned Taxpayers".

Their mailing address on their FEC form is the same mailing address that houses a non-profit organization called Choose Responsibility. Choose Responsibility, according to their website, advocates for a lower drinking age and responsible alcohol education as a way to mitigate alcohol-poisoning deaths among college students. It is a somewhat libertarian organization with quite a small budget in 2007. In fact, between 2007 and 2008, a number of things changed at Choose Responsibility.

Changes at Choose Responsibility between 2007-2008:

  • Budget: In 2007, total grants and gifts received were $336,971. In 2008, total grants and gifts received were $1,373,333. No donors were disclosed.
  • Directors: In 2007, the board of directors for Choose Responsibility consisted of the original four directors: John M. McCardell, Jr, William Goodell, H. Scott Swartzwelder, and Barrett Seaman. In 2008, there is a new executive director: Michael Guiliani (no relation to Rudy). Two new directors have also been added to the board. They are Amy Weinberg, wife of Goldman-Sachs VP Michael S. Weinberg (who is the son of the former head of Goldman-Sachs), and Col. Michael B. Smith of Tallahassee, Florida. In 2009, Ann O. Scott joined the board and Niecy Chambers became the organization's secretary.

Who is Michael Guiliani?

Michael Guiliani has an interesting background. According to his bio on Choose Responsibility:

Prior to his appointment as Executive Director, Mike served as Chief of Staff to a Member of Congress, a position he held for six years. As Chief of Staff, he was key strategist and policy advisor as well as director of three offices and a $2.3 million campaign budget and $1.3 million Congressional budget. Mike also founded the Majority Accountability Project, a news website that offered original reporting and political commentary. Earlier in his career, he held leadership roles with the Health Insurance Association of America, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and with former Senator Alfonse D’Amato’s office.

Digging down a bit further reveals that the "Member of Congress" was Representative Sue Kelly, a conservative, pro-life, pro-war Republican. The antithesis, in fact, of Peter DeFazio. They served together on the House Transportation and Aviation Infrastructure Subcommittee until Kelly was defeated in 2006. Here's his current LinkedIn profile with more detail.

What about the Majority Accountability Project?

Guiliani and his friend Mike Brady started it in 2007 as sort of a counter-Media Matters project, but accessible only via paid subscription ($212 per year, according to their last video here). The Majority Accountability Project is a client of the David All Group, a PR firm specializing in "grass roots armies" and social media leverage for campaigns.

The David All Group is a PR firm used by the RNC and the College Republicans for consulting and voter registration efforts. (Pg. 2234 of RNC 6/30/2010 FEC report: $11,000 pd for "Analysis-Voter Registration, Pg. 292-293 of College Republicans' IRS 527 12/2009 report $33,844 total for "Consulting", $402 for "travel")

And then there's Jason Miller

Jason Miller is listed as the treasurer of Concerned Taxpayers of America on their FEC filing. Who is he? Well, Jason Miller is an Executive Vice President of Jamestown Associates, as Rachel Maddow notes in her report. But before he was with Jamestown Associates, he was the National Deputy Communications Director for Rudy Giuliani. Here's more:

Jason brings more than a decade of national political and press experience to Jamestown, having managed campaigns and shaped messages for successful House, Senate, and gubernatorial races in California, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Florida. He also has worked as a staffer in both chambers of Capitol Hill, most recently as Chief of Staff to former Florida Congressman Ric Keller.

In the 2008 election cycle, Jason served as National Deputy Communications Director on the presidential campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, where he oversaw the campaign’s rapid response and surrogate speaker efforts.

and still more:

Most recently, Jason served as a Senior Vice President for a nationally recognized high-stakes communications firm, where he specialized in counseling companies, trade associations, and prominent individuals facing crisis and extreme scrutiny. He also helped clients design and implement successful high-stakes public affairs campaigns at both the state and federal levels.

What was that "nationally recognized high-stakes communications firm"? Dezenhall Resources, another PR firm. Perhaps you recall this article in the New York Times, where Eric Dezenhall criticized the handling of the Toyota, Goldman Sachs and BP PR (and real) disasters. Dezenhall's resume includes a stint in the Reagan White House, by the way.

Are we any closer to knowing who, specifically, is mounting this campaign against Rep. DeFazio, or who Concerned Taxpayers for America is?

Yes. And no. This is where I need your help. If you take the recipe I've laid out here, what you have is Republican soup. The common ingredients are PR firms, Republican operatives, and former Congressmen. There's no question in my mind that the non-profit group Choose Responsibility probably does do advocacy and education work about alcohol poisonings at universities, but there's also no question they're lending their address to a SwiftBoat network after the wife of a Goldman Sachs executive joins their board of directors.

There's no question that Jamestown Associates is the hub of the PR wheel turning Concerned Taxpayers of America, but we're probably at the end of what we can do. We can conclude that they are Republican operatives, connected to Republican PR organizations who are connected to other operatives with their toes in the corporate world.

That's where I hit the wall. Anyone want to take a shot at pointing me in the direction of the next step?

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