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While my old consulting partner Jerome Armstrong handled most of the work we did for the Howard Dean campaign in 2003, I had occassion to visit Vermont several times on various projects. And there was nothing more unpleasent, in any of those trips, than when I'd find myself face-to-face with Dean's media consultant -- Steve McMahon.

In my four years in politics, I haven't met a bigger asshole, a more unsavory character than McMahon. When we met, his first words out of his mouth were literally, "If you get us more clients, we'll give you guys a percentage." No "hello", or "nice to meet you", or "Nice day, huh?" No, it was, "If you get us more clients, we'll give you guys a percentage." No person was more excited at the money raised by the Dean campaign than him -- not because he believed in Dean or the cause, but because he saw dollar signs from the percentages he was pocketting by handling Dean's media.

Lots of people hate Trippi for what they consider shitty Dean ads and the commission racket. And being so high-profile, Trippi got a lot of the flack whether deserved or otherwise. But Trippi split from McMahon as soon as the campaign was over. And in actuality, Trippi managed the campaign while McMahon and Squier (their other partner) handled the media.

Now remember a few months ago I asked if people knew of private investigators since I wanted to look into some consultant shady business? That never panned out (the deadlines were too tight). But the target was going to be McMahon. Good thing that Marc Ambinder dug up for the Hotline much of what we were trying to confirm:

It is an open secret in Washington that many big-name, partisan political strategy firms have affiliates that handle non-partisan, revenue-producing corporate accounts. But the work gets a little tricky for Democratic consultants, especially if they're affiliated with a party that favors populist crusades against big business [...]

Wal-Mart sympathizers are trying to discredit Wake Up Wal-Mart, a UFCW-affiliated group, by noting that Joe Trippi, a Wake-Up Wal-Mart consultant, once did work for the same ex-tobacco exec, Robert McAdam, that Wake Up Wal-Mart slammed the retail giant for hiring.

In 1992, Trippi and then-partner Steve McMahon worked with the Tobacco Institute to help the lobby oppose efforts to raise excise taxes on cigarettes. The Tobacco Institute argued that the taxes would disproportionately fall on minorities.

Trippi and McMahon provided political advice and media strategy to the institute, according to a contract drawn up by both parties. McAdam was their point of contact; McMahon was the lead on the account, according to two people familiar with the arrangements.

Associates of both Trippi and McMahon say that McMahon handled more of the corporate work than Trippi, who spent most of his time working for liberal candidates.

In an interview, Trippi said he's working for Wake Up Wal-Mart "on a near volunteer basis. "And Bob McAdam is working full-time for Wal-Mart. Bob McAdam knows full well that that was Steve McMahon's account and not mine. I would be lying if I said I didn't do some of the work. I did. It's also true that it's one of the major factors in my deciding to leave the firm." [...]

PhRMA contracted with McMahon's Issue and Image to help the lobby defeat California's Proposition 79 [in 2005], which would have forced drug companies to offer steep discounts on drugs to low-income residents. PhRMA used Issue and Image to help promote a competing proposition on the ballot that would have brought the industry's voluntary drug discount program to CA.

There are more "open secrets" that Ambinder didn't get into his story. For example, McMahon worked on independent expenditure ads on behalf of JEB BUSH in 2002 (bashing Democratic candidate Bill McBride) at the same time he was gearing up his work for Howard Dean's presidential bid.

When I talk about consulltants who are in the business to make money and could care less about winning or the cause or the movement, McMahon is Exhibit A. All hesitations I've ever had about Dean stem from the fact that he continues to associate himself closely with this guy -- a man so unprincipled that he has worked for big pharma against progressive principles and on behalf of Jeb Bush.

(Incidentally, my distaste for Steve McMahon doesn't necessarily extend to his brother Tom, who is now Executive Director of the DNC.)

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu Dec 22, 2005 at 11:34 AM PST.

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