Inside The Dark-Money Consortium Backing Hillary Clinton

Inside The Dark-Money Consortium Backing Hillary Clinton

A cabal of Democrat-run organizations is pushing both Hillary Clinton for president and limits on the kind of campaign spending they gleefully employ.
Paul Jossey

Revelations then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had “home brewed” her official emails caught even the most cynical political operatives off guard. The audacious disclosure-evasion plan impugned her already shaky performance at State and produced another black eye for the self-professed “most transparent administration in history.” One can only imagine how her newly announced presidential campaign will evade discussing this and other Clinton-style shenanigans.

Yet Clinton-backed dark ops designed to shield the public from larger political goals is nothing new. For a decade, a secret cabal of ultra-wealthy leftists, high-level Democrat officeholders, and progressive operatives—many with deep Clinton ties—has plotted to reshape American society at ritzy, clandestine biannual meetings.

The Democracy Alliance—“the DA,” as their contributing members, or “partners,” know it—has to date delivered more than $500 million in undisclosed cash to an array of political, agitprop, and partisan policy shops to sway public opinion and boost progressive candidates. The DA strives to keep its activities secret. It staffs its invitation-only confabs with private security who, along with attendees, receives pictures of reporters who might poke around. No one speaks to the press, and enterprising journalists who get too close are physically escorted out.

Elect Hillary Clinton, Push America Left

The DA minimizes its paper trail by forgoing nonprofit status and having partners funnel money directly to DA-vetted groups. Top-tier recipients can have their entire annual budget funded at a DA conference, although most receive much less. No matter their take, however, all are forbidden from discussing the meetings. And conference VIP’s, including Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Elizabeth Warren, keep low profiles.

In its years of relative obscurity, the DA has built an infrastructure well on its way to accomplishing its goals.

Despite these precautions, dogged reporters, particularly Ken Vogel and Lachlan Markay, have pieced together the DA’s inner workings with the help of leaked documents. The emerged portrait reveals an organization often in disarray and racked with internal bickering. Nevertheless, the DA’s short- and long-term goals are decipherable: elect presumptive Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton, and push her leftward; and transform the American political system by eliminating or severely restricting private campaign funding through austere spending limits and public financing.

With good reason, the DA believes the rest of its progressive agenda will face little interference once it achieves these goals. Their end-game can already be seen in both Canada and the United Kingdom, which have adopted versions of reforms DA-funded groups seek. The results aren’t pretty: afterthought elections; a listless, subdued polity; and governments run by progressive elites, regardless of the party nominally in charge. In its years of relative obscurity, the DA has built an infrastructure well on its way to accomplishing its goals.

The Democracy Alliance’s Origins and Network

Wealthy progressives conceived the DA shortly after unsuccessfully spending millions to defeat George W. Bush in 2004. Clinton backer George Soros, insurance magnate Peter Lewis, Taco Bell heir Rob McKay, and others concluded that lasting electoral success would be impossible without the think tanks, policy shops, other intellectual ammunition the Right had cultivated since the 1970s. They tapped Clinton operative Rob Stein, who had spent years studying the conservative policy infrastructure, to develop the blueprint and pitch it to wealthy leftists. In April 2005, Stein gave a confidential presentation to about 80 progressive millionaires; most pledged a million dollars over five years, and the DA was born.

For 2016, a coterie of DA-approved political and agitprop shops with deep ties to the Clintons will receive millions in dark dollars to boost Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy.

Although originally conceived as a policy incubator, the DA intermittently lurched into electoral politics, causing dissension and occasional defections (discord exists even about Mrs. Clinton, with some partners clamoring for a more progressive choice). In 2012, the DA bestowed coveted elite status to Obama Super PAC Priorities USA. And in 2014, DA-approved groups in the “progressive infrastructure map” accounted for more than one-third of all Super PAC spending.

For 2016, a coterie of DA-approved political and agitprop shops with deep ties to the Clintons will receive millions in dark dollars to boost Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy. Most politically prominent is Catalist. The DA seeded this progressive voter data company in 2005; it has received DA support ever since.

Former Clinton Deputy Chief of Staff and current DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee member Harold Ickes created the nominally for-profit concern. It subsequently became a one-stop-shop for the DNC and Democrat candidates, from Barack Obama to scores of congressional candidates. DA subsidies help it operate with little anxiety about profits. In fact, a recent Federal Election Commission complaint asserts Catalist may supply its services at below-market rates, which would constitute illegal corporate in-kind contributions to federal candidates. The complaint also alleges illegal coordination between its federal-candidate clients and outside progressive groups that support them through the “common vendor” prohibition. Catalist will no doubt be Hillary Clinton’s data shop.

Thus the self-described good-government group has been eerily silent on the Clinton email scandal.

Another organization born of DA largess is Media Matters. David Brock, the Clinton antagonizer-turned-votarist—whose spin on the homebrew email scandal was too much even for MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski—runs the “media accountability” watchdog. Media Matters is adept at driving sympathetic media coverage for its “clients.” One source for a Daily Caller expose stated, “We were pretty much writing [MSNBC’s] prime time. . . But then virtually all the mainstream media was using our stuff.” According to another source, Media Matters conducted weekly strategy calls with the White House, including then-Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki, of State Department infamy.

Besides Media Matters, Brock runs an array of DA-supported pro-Clinton “accountability” and political operations. He founded opposition research Super PAC American Bridge, chaired by former DNC communications flack Brad Woodhouse. He also runs American Democracy Legal Fund (not DA-supported), which exists to create Republican legal headaches. Brock’s biggest coup was acquiring Citizens for Responsibility in Washington (CREW). His takeover meant the ethics watchdog would be more partisan and, by default, more pro-Clinton. Thus the self-described good-government group has been eerily silent on the Clinton email scandal. A search for “Hillary Clinton” on CREW’s website, however, does reveal a demand she release her tax records—from 2008. Finally, Brock runs, an 18-person operation that focuses solely on rapid response to unfavorable media coverage about the former First Lady.

DA dark money supplies a sizeable percentage of Brock’s approximate $30 million combined annual budget. Most of this money, either directly or indirectly, will likely go toward boosting Clinton’s candidacy. Most will be done under the guise of “good-government accountability” while gratuitously lamenting the corrosive effects of dark political money.

Long-Term Political Dominance Requires Controlling Money in Politics

Beyond the DA’s immediate political goals, the group’s executive director, Gara LaMarche, has forcefully articulated its long-term vison: “Dealing with the distorting effect of money on our politics is a prerequisite to every other advance we seek.” A leaked document from the DA’s Spring 2014 meeting echoes that sentiment:

[P]rogressives’ long-term success hinges on our ability to fundamentally change our current political system – including large questions about who can vote, the role money should play in politics, and what our courts look like. ACS, the Brennan Center, and Fund for the Republic are all tackling these larger democracy reform issues and will play a central role in the ongoing efforts to broaden the coalition of reformers, helping to provide the intellectual and financial firepower to reshape our democracy.

This view of campaign-finance reform as a necessary precursor to Progressive utopia is commonplace in reform circles. Larry Lessig, a leading Progressive reformer and Harvard law professor, who runs or lends his name to several reform groups, including his pet “Mayday PAC,” regularly espouses this view.

DA favorite Brennan Center for Justice has led the reformer charge with scholarship supporting its two most-discussed policy planks: public campaign financing and strict limits on campaign spending. It also ironically argues against “dark political money.”

The political scientist bluntly told the grant-maker he would scuttle the research if it didn’t aid the cause.

The group’s controversial research played a substantive role defending legal challenges that dogged the last successful campaign finance reform bill, McCain-Feingold in 2002. But a Brennan Center grant-seeking proposal revealed its work to be outcome-driven to the point of being, according to The Weekly Standard, “deliberately faked.” The proposal stated: “[t]he purpose of our acquiring the data set is not simply to advance knowledge for its own sake, but to fuel a continuous multi-faceted campaign to propel campaign reform forward.” The political scientist bluntly told the grant-maker he would scuttle the research if it didn’t aid the cause: “Whether we proceed to phase two will depend on the judgment of whether the data provide a sufficiently powerful boost to the reform movement.”

After McCain-Feingold’s passage, the Brennan Center triumphantly boasted of its role: “The Congressional Record was rife with references to our data and our analyses at every step of the way. So was the popular press. From the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, journalists and editorial boards consistently turned to us both for legal comment and empirical support.” The problem was, the “empirical support” was highly questionable and, according to internal communications, Brennan Center bigwigs knew it. Despite damning evidence, the media mostly yawned, and McCain-Feingold survived its first Supreme Court challenge, although subsequent decisions have dismantled major aspects of the law, including that supported by the controversial Brennan Center research. In the intervening years, questions about the about intellectual honesty of Brennan’s work remains, as does their DA support.

Ending Private Campaign Funding Means Left-Wing Dominance

More shamelessly, the DA substantially funds an organization called Fund for the Republic. FFR tries to project bipartisan consensus while attempting to astroturf a conservative campaign finance reform movement. It hired Mayday PAC co-founder and former George W. Bush advisor Mark McKinnon and current Jeb Bush supporter Juleanna Glover. McKinnon seems to have found a niche as a token “conservative” campaign-finance reformer, recently co-founding yet another outfit with the same mission. His conservative credentials are questionable, however, having also co-founded the centrist “No Labels,” and worked with Lessig on a number of projects, including FFR.

In the battle of ideas, private campaign funding counters Left-dominated cultural institutions like traditional news media, academia, Hollywood, network and cable television, and the government bureaucracy itself.

Although these groups, and others the DA funds, couch their rhetoric in terms of fighting corruption and promoting political equality, LaMarche and Lessig give away the game. In the battle of ideas, private campaign funding counters Left-dominated cultural institutions like traditional news media, academia, Hollywood, network and cable television, and the government bureaucracy itself. Removing this political impediment severely attenuates the Right’s ability to counter progressive messaging and will pave the way for their hoped for dominance of American politics.

If the claim seems outlandish, the politics of culturally similar countries—the UK and Canada—that have enacted these reforms is sobering.

Although the UK eschews contribution limits to candidates and parties, the government strictly regulates how much they can spend during election periods. The government also bans paid political advertising; parties receive a public subsidy in the form of some free air time. The Electoral Commission’s micromanaging of political speech can seem absurd. For instance, one regulation states, “Candidates at parliamentary elections are entitled to one election communication (weighing up to 6 oz.) delivered by post without charge to every elector or address within a constituency.”

No one gets to speak more than the rest, no voices get ‘drowned out’; the lowest common denominator prevails.

Outside groups may “apply” to be “recognized” by the government. If they are, they may spend a small amount talking to the electorate through tightly controlled means. UK money spent on political speech amounts to a U.S. rounding error. These controls are all designed to serve the Progressive god, “equality.” No one gets to speak more than the rest, no voices get “drowned out”; the lowest common denominator prevails.

Canada’s approach is even more restrictive. The government stringently limits not only how much people can contribute but also how much campaigns and parties can spend. Corporations can’t participate, and outside political groups are virtually muzzled. Like the UK, political spending is tiny a fraction of the comparatively huge sums Americans privately spend electing their leaders. In the 2011 Canadian election, expenses for candidates topped out in the very low six figures and national parties spent in the $20 million range. Moreover, candidates can get more than 60 percent of their expenses reimbursed from the public trough, and political contributors get a weighted tax credit. The government phased out an additional party subsidy only this year.

Restricting Campaign Spending Increases Corruption

So have these limits, controls, and public subsidies produced the responsive-to-the-people, corruption-free government campaign finance reformers promise? No. Nine out of ten people say the UK government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interests. A 2006 non-government organization report stated, “Trust in politics and politicians is low and the UK political establishment is perceived by the public to be the most corrupt of any UK institution.” Additionally, two-thirds of people there believed the political parties are corrupt. Recent polls put trust in government at just 42 percent. The citizens know of what they speak. One in 20 admitted to bribing public-service officials. One in five paid a bribe in the judicial system and one in ten to the police.

Nine out of ten people say the UK government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interests.

It’s no different for our northern neighbors. An October 2014 survey found only 13 percent of adult Canadians trust politicians. An October-December 2013 poll found that only 24 percent of Canadians think government does the right thing most of the time, the lowest percentage in the past 20 years. And despite tax incentives, only 165,000 people out of total population of 31 million contributed to a federal political party.

But for all the public dissatisfaction in the UK and Canada, native progressives have exactly what they want: a staid, subdued public, apathetic to the affairs of state, listlessly ruled by detached elites who play by a separate set of rules. Government leaders, whether liberal or conservative, mostly tow the Progressive line in policy matters, from immigration to national healthcare to global warming, no matter how disastrous for ordinary citizens or lacking in firm scientific basis. Those who cherish free enterprise, individualism, limited government, or the rule of law are on the fringe, if they exist at all.

A recent National Public Radio story described the British people’s lackluster interest in the national elections that were then less than two months away. Most citizens seemed either to not know or care; there were no big rallies, no television advertisements, no independent advocacy groups to speak of. Party leaders may not even directly debate.

“If you don’t watch the news you could ignore the election altogether,” stated a political scientist. The head of a “good government” watchdog remarked, “We wouldn’t interpret freedom of speech to mean an unlimited ability to spend, spend, spend.” Nobody spends, nobody cares, and the elites go on dictating to the genuflected hoi polloi. English tea parties are notoriously docile affairs. If the DA gets its way, that will be another tradition we borrow from the Brits.

Paul H. Jossey is a campaign finance attorney who is on Twitter @paulhjossey.

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