CALL A SPECIAL PROSECUTOR.
According to the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, the United Methodist Church is in a virtual conspiracy with Hitler’s Germany. The conspiracy works like this: Greg Craig was President Clinton’s attorney for his impeachment trial. Fidel Castro hired Craig to return Elián González to totalitarian Cuba. Juan González, Elián’s father, clearly doesn’t have the know-how to hire a U.S. lawyer, so the United Methodist Church must be paying Craig’s fees through donations. Hillary Clinton has worked with the Methodist Church before on her health care and social programs. The Clintons must be those sneaky donors that are paying Greg Craig’s fees. Ergo, the Clintons are obviously working with Fidel Castro to make sure as many children as possible grow up in totalitarian countries. Q.E.D.
Forewarn the people of New York: a vote for Senator Hillary Clinton is ipso facto a vote for communism. As for the Methodist Church, N.F.R.A. president Steve Frank wonders, “How much money has Hillary raised for Craig? Did Bill recommend Craig to Castro? Why is a Church working to send a child back to an aetheistic, authoritarian State? Would the United Methodist Church have hired an attorney to send children back to Hitler’s Germany?”
With these questions, the N.F.R.A. challenges the Methodist Church to make public the names of donors who are paying for Fidel Castro’s attorney. Political Intelligence can only surmise that the Methodist Church is just too busy sending fugitive children back to totalitarian countries to respond.
DeLAY’S SKINS GAME.
The editors at Roll Call hired a tax accountant and consulted industry and academic authorities. Yet no one could figure why a “grassroots lobbying” political action committee linked to Tom DeLay has raised $1.3 million from only five donors – then spent the money to buy a D.C. townhouse and a truck, and to lease a skybox at the Redskins stadium for fifteen years. Roll Call describes U.S. Family Network as one of a “web of interlocking groups revolving around DeLay and Ed Buckham, his former chief of staff and top political advisor.” U.S. Family’s president, Robert Mills, was DeLay’s campaign manager in 1996. U.S. Family paid him a salary of $23,000 in 1997 and $28,500 in 1998. Buckham’s wife was paid a $59,000 salary. The truck the 501(c)4 non-profit purchased is registered at Buckham’s residence. U.S. Family’s Capitol Hill townhouse houses Alexander Strategies, a for-profit consulting firm operated by Buckham, and DeLay’s leadership PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority. The fifteen-year lease on the skybox suggests that the group is doing a different kind of grassroots lobbying. Frances Hill, a University of Pennsylvania professor, who studies the political activities of tax-exempt groups, seemed bewildered by the group’s lobbying. “What I can’t figure out is what type of lobbying they are doing,” Hill said. “Usually a (c)4 is going to do expertise-type lobbying, which includes studies, reports and press conferences and publicly disseminating information.… They may have invented a way to turn lobbying into an entertainment activity, rather than an information activity. Have they really found a way to make direct lobbying a means to maintain what looks like a slush fund?”
Hill also questioned the amount of money U.S. Family spent on fundraising: $665,863 in expenses in 1998, with 60 percent of it going to fundraising and consulting. In 1998 Buckham told Roll Call that he held the fundraising contract and raised money all over the country for U.S. Family. But fundraising in 1998 should not have been so labor-intensive and costly. One donor gave the group $1 million, and other large contributions included a $150,000, a $100,000, and two gifts of $50,000 – not the sort of contributions that require a big investment in mass mail and phone banks. “They’re not mailing,” Hill said. “They are going to the skybox. And one assumes that ordinary citizens are not going there.” (The PAC withholds the names of its donors.) The PAC’s mission statement on its tax return is the “Promotion of social welfare for American Families” and funding projects to “promote sound family values legislation.” The skybox, according to Thomas Susman, a lobbying law expert consulted by Roll Call, “wouldn’t be grassroots.”
FOR GOD, COUNTRY, AND TAX SHELTERS.
Eliminating the so-called marriage tax isn’t the only bipartisan slam dunk in D.C. this season. Gun control and health care reform languish in political limbo, but legislators trumpet anything that they can all agree upon. So it was no surprise when in late March the Social Security Earnings Test for those over sixty-five was repealed by unanimous vote in both houses of Congress.
The earnings test dates back to the New Deal: anyone between the ages of sixty-five and sixty-nine defers one dollar of Social Security payments for every three dollars earned over and above $17,000 annually. In 2002, this number was scheduled to rise to $30,000, but that won’t be necessary after President Clinton signed the bill eliminating the earnings test. Sunsetting the earnings test has unanimous support because of this perception: people believe that they are losing Social Security benefits because of the earnings test. The fact is, no one loses money; he or she is simply deferring a portion of benefits until full retirement.
But the earnings test was an easy target for elected officials who want to make it seem like they’re doing everyone a favor, blowing smoke across the complicated issue of Social Security without actually doing much of anything. Congressmen dutifully lined up in droves to speak in favor of this bill, grandstanding on C-SPAN to an empty chamber.
In particular, Texas’ own Sudden Sam Johnson distinguished himself by brilliantly connecting Cold War foreign policy with contemporary domestic demagoguery. According to the Distinguished Republican from the north Dallas burbs, “I fought for freedom in two wars, Korea and Vietnam. I believe that freedom entitles our seniors the ability to work without penalty. America’s seniors want, need, and deserve a repeal of this penalty.”
Curious about previously overlooked connections between the Viet Cong and the Social Security Administration, Political Intelligence called Johnson’s office several times, to no avail. Nancy Johnson, a spokesperson for the American Association of Retired Persons, also declined to comment on Johnson’s motivations. It’s a safe bet, though, that no AARP lobbyist planted the seed for Johnson’s connection between Vietnam and the earnings test. That one was all his own.
BACK BEHIND THE WHEEL.
In mid-April, Governor Bush named Fred Meyer to chair the Republican National Committee’s Victory 2000 Committee. It was a moment of vindication for the former state party chair ousted by Christian conservatives six years ago. In 1994, as Bush was beginning his first gubernatorial race, the Christians who had seized the machinery of the party wanted Meyer’s resignation. Meyer, a longtime servant of the party and fundraiser for W. and his father, went quietly, and the Washington Establishment proposed Ennis Congressman Joe Barton – but anointed Christian Right candidate Tom Pauken defeated Barton.
Meyer loyalists gave him a race car for his years of service to the party. (Seated in the small car and wearing a crash helmet on the floor of the Tarrant County Convention Center, Meyer looked every bit as ridiculous as did Michael Dukakis in the cockpit of a Fort Hood tank in 1988.) Two years later, Meyer couldn’t even get an honorary delegate’s badge for the state convention.
Meyer has now been now fully rehabilitated by Bush. Inside the Beltway Republicans expected Haley Barbour or Charlie Black to be called in to direct Bush’s Washington office. Instead, Bush has his old team back in place. It was Meyer who talked Bush press secretary Karen Hughes into leaving TV journalism. And Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove worked for various Republican statewide candidates, including Bush, his father, and Phil Gramm. In bringing Meyer in – as co-chairman with Washington campaign operative Maria Cino – Bush keeps Texas rather than D.C. operatives in almost every key position. (Pauken, meanwhile, is in Dallas and out of public life. When Pauken announced he was going to run for attorney general, Rove recruited John Cornyn, who defeated Pauken in the primary and won the general election.)
FREE THE AVALANCHE THREE!
Longtime Observer contributor Bill Adler is at the center of a political sandstorm in Alpine, where two employees of the Alpine Avalanche pushed the envelope on the state’s voter registration law, illegally casting their votes in the April 11 Democratic party runoff minutes after registering to vote. (Texas law requires voters to register thirty days before voting.) Avalanche managing editor Ian Talley also voted on the same day he registered, but unlike copy editor Adler and reporter Kenny Laird, Talley was not testing the voting law. He later wrote that he “cast his vote in ignorance of the law.” Adler said he and Laird were testing the “integrity of the election procedures” in Brewster County. The three votes would not have been a big deal had Talley not written about them in the Avalanche – and had Marfa Attorney Steve Spurgin not defeated Alpine attorney Frank Brown by a microscopic 2,448 to 2,447 count to win the Democratic nomination for district attorney.
Should Brown call for a recount, a state district judge could rule on whether to adjust the vote to include only legally registered voters. (It is not clear that voting law provides a procedure for determining who an illegally registered voter cast his votes for.) Talley wrote that the Avalanche decided to test Brewster County’s voting procedure, and that the journalistic exercise “has apparently caused some violations of the election rules.” According to Associated Press coverage of the incident, it is a third degree felony to vote illegally. It is a misdemeanor for an election judge to allow an ineligible person to vote. And it is a misdemeanor to register with intention to commit fraud. Election Judge Gerald Raun said Talley, Adler, and Laird presented handwritten registration forms and were allowed to vote.