Twice in the past month I've gotten inquiries -- one from a correspondent in Utah and one from apparently outside Utah -- asking whether or not I thought it's possible that Howie Rich of New York City was channeling rivers of filthy lucre into that state. My first reaction to these inquiries has been surprise, as I would have thought that Howie had absorbed enough of the lessons of 2006 that he'd go back to investing in rental properties and plumbing. Losing upwards of $15 million on unpopular, failed ballot initiatives might do that to a man.
Every time non-Southerners import their ideologies to the South, native Southerners get hurt. There was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who burned a trail sixty to 100 miles wide from Atlanta to Savannah and north through the length of South Carolina. A century after Sherman’s march, Richard Nixon inaugurated a "Southern strategy" that exploited race as a wedge issue and has thus wrought more havoc on the South than Sherman could have imagined. But Sherman and Nixon operated in the light of day to deliver their destruction. The most recent importer of foreign ideology, Howie Rich of New York City, employs a different modus operandi, preferring to work in the shadows, but his handiwork is found nonetheless in Georgia and South Carolina this very day.
Boy, has this turned out to be a ride. What began as an interesting little exercise to catch similarities between Howie Rich’s Americans for Limited Government and Dick DeVos’s All Children Matter has left me feeling like Alice sliding down the rabbit hole. At every turn there’s something to catch the eye: a State House Speaker with ties to ACM jailed for wrongdoing, a husband-and-wife team serving as DeVos’s right-hand man (and woman) in all sorts of political intrigue, and electoral games stretching almost coast-to-coast. With the exception of a jail sentence for a politician caught in wrongdoing – unless something has happened that I didn’t catch – this sounds a lot like ALG back in the old days, before half of its number jumped ship. And it looks like the blogosphere in Wisconsin has been tracking the ACM saga for some time. Taking hold of one aspect of the story is like pulling a loose end of yarn from the sleeve of an old sweater: Pull hard enough and it leads you all the way to the other sleeve, leaving a mound of stringy mess behind.
Last night, as I reported here http://www.dailykos.com/... the Center for Public Integrity pulled back the curtain on Howie Rich’s Americans for Limited Government to reveal that 99 percent of ALG’s funding in 2005 came from only three major donors. A reporter covering CPI’s announcement noted that this fact refuted the well-documented stream of ALG propaganda claiming that "thousands" of supporters across the nation funded Rich’s committee. Of course, I’ve read and written a good deal about how that (and more) funding was used in 2006, bouncing from ALG in New York to handful of paper organizations in the states, to pay for petition circulators and campaigns for Rich’s ballot initiatives. And it hit me –again – that I’ve read about the exact same thing happening in Wisconsin: money from anonymous donors funneled back and forth between states and paper organizations to be used in politics. Only this time, the organization is called All Children Matter.
One wonders what dinner conversation must be like nowadays between Howie Rich of New York City and William Wilson, one of the few Americans for Limited Government still waving the flag from Washington, D.C. Do they recount those halcyon days when the rising tide elevated Newt and the Hammer to power, before the U.S. Supreme Court snatched their term-limit victories from them? Or do they, Chardonnay spent, mourn the absence of lost friends, those who lately jumped the sinking ship, who paddled away on the flotsam and jetsam of so many exploded ballot initiatives? Whither Eric O’Keefe and Leslie Graves? Whither John Tillman? Whither Paul Jacob? And worse, whither the patron saint Milton? Might they harmonize in their cups, "Where have you gone, Milton Friedman? A movement turns its lonely eyes to you..."?
Christmas has come early to Spring Street in New York City, and it’s safe to say real estate investor and Libertarian go-to guy Howie Rich didn’t get what he wanted. I’m not talking about the spate of ballot initiative defeats – defeats literally from coast to coast, of his so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights and his bait-and-switch eminent domain/ "regulatory takings" measure. No, I mean the holiday greetings delivered recently from the state of Illinois, essentially giving him the bum’s rush from the entire state. It seems that Rich and his front group, Americans for Limited Government, have been hiding behind their status as a charitable organization under Illinois law while behaving very uncharitably indeed. And, appropriately, the Center for Public Integrity is all over this story. But that’s not all; Rich’s acolytes in Montana and his ideological kin in Maine are enduring all manner of stress and strain for his sake. Seems the only new friend Rich can find is a retired congressman from Georgia. O holy night.
In the real estate investment business, I’m told, it’s smart strategy to acquire buildings in disrepair, give them some basic cosmetic refurbishment, and market the newly-gussied-up building to the least-suspecting buyer for a pretty penny. Fractured ethics aside, there’s nothing wrong with it, I suppose: Caveat emptor and all that. While I have never had the benefit of advice from Howie Rich of New York City, a real estate investor – nay, mogul! – I might imagine that he knows the tricks of the investment trade as well as any other, which is why I’ve been entertained in recent days by the efforts being expended to rehabilitate his public persona. If most middle-America readers haven’t noticed, there’s a good reason for it: The refurbishment comes first tricklingly through the bought-and-paid-for right-wing media, then to the mainstream-pretending right-wing media, which means that a front-page coronation by the Wall Street Journal cannot be far behind. But a pretty new façade may not compensate for the foundation of facts erected during the 2006 campaign season.
Constant reader, don’t shed too many tears for Howie Rich of New York City. Despite the shellacking he collected from voters who rejected his so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights and all but one of his "regulatory takings" ballot measures, Rich racked up one significant and costly victory at the expense of a veteran judge in Missouri. Yes, it sounds odd to me too, but the trail is there and I’m obliged to share it with you. If you know anyone in the American Bar Association, you may want to forward this one to him or her. And, thanks to an eagle-eyed correspondent in Wisconsin, I have a few more notes to add to our passing glance at Chris Kliesmet, the Rich team’s designated email-reader, and another shared a Wisconsin comparison to what happened to the South Carolina representative targeted by Rich’s disciples down South. Keep those cards and letters coming, friends.
Three weeks after American voters lowered the boom on Howie Rich’s so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights and almost all of his ballot measures for “regulatory takings,” he’s still getting press coverage, and it’s not positive. His man in Montana, Trevis Butcher, has resorted to filing a federal lawsuit to protect the guilty – er, to avoid exposing the names of those fundings his, ahem, Montanans in Action. Looks like his brethren at the Maine Heritage Policy Center may face the same dilemma thanks to one dogged Mainer. Without the use of Eric O’Keefe as his Wisconsin connection, Rich has apparently set up shop of his own in that state but hasn’t received given a business license yet. And a state representative targeted and defeated by Rich’s ideological kinfolk in South Carolina has signed on to help the state superintendent who beat the Rich machine’s pro-voucher candidate. How’s that for poetry? Even folks in New Jersey are using him as a bad example. Poor Howie.
Gentle reader, two months ago I paused to review our progress and collated the first 34 editions of our work into a single document, making it all the easier for the casual visitor to get an overview and to delve as deeply as he chooses. That first volume may be found here http://www.dailykos.com/... and I encourage your attendance there, if only to see the scope of our journey. In the same spirit of collecting all those markers in one location, I offer a second volume to our anthology.
Again, happy reading!
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