As David Corn at Mother Jones recently wrote, "The current presidential contest promises to be more cacophonous and mud strewn than any in recent history, with a record number of down-and-dirty ads financed on the sly by big-money interests." But the big money and dirty tricks aren't confined to presidential politics this year.
American Future Fund (AFF) is running ads in support of Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) while Iowa Future Fund (IFF)is running ads against Governor Chet Culver (D-Iowa) and there has been speculation in the media as to who is behind AFF and IFF. The other day, Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker posted about it as have the Des Moines Register and Minnesota Public Radio, among others.
Last week, Minnesota Democrats filed an FEC complaint against American Future Fund.
I reviewed AFF and IFF documents filed with the Iowa Secretary of State on 8/7/07 and the incorporator is Jessica Young at 98 Alexandria Pike, Ste 53, in Warrenton, VA. That is the address of Holtzman Vogel, a law firm owned by two very influential and well-known Republican operatives, Alex N. Vogel and his wife, Jill Holtzman Vogel.
Although AFF and IFF were registered as non-profits in Iowa and have been referred to as 501(c)(4)s, neither corporation is listed in the IRS non-profit database. As 501(c)(4)s, AFF and IFF would not be required to disclose donor names and would only file annual 990s with the IRS.
On 2/7/08, an Eric Peterson filed a fictitious name resolution in order for Iowa Future Fund to do business as "IFF". Peterson listed himself as IFF president, secretary and director but no address or phone number was provided.
Jessica Young as IFF incorporator has the power to appoint directors so I assume she appointed Eric Peterson. But Young isn't talking. I called her at Holtzman Vogel and was referred instead to an attorney named Teresa who told me that it was the firm's policy to keep client matters confidential. When I pointed out that HV seemed to be the client, she refused to comment.
Alex and Jill Holtzman Vogel along with Mark "Thor" Hearne, were behind American Center For Voting Rights, another GOP front set up for the despicable purpose of disenfranchising poor and minority voters. After reviewing the 990s filed with the IRS by ACVR, I realized that the law firms and consultants were the big winners. Holtzman Vogel, Lathrop Gage, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, Squire Sanders & Dempsey and Jim Dyke & Associates all took in big fat fees.
According to Stu Rothenberg at the Rothenberg Report, Republican operatives Ben Ginsberg and Edward T. Tobin III are also involved in IFF and AFF. Ginsberg, former counsel to the Bush-Cheney campaign, is a partner in Patton Boggs's public policy and lobbying group. Tobin, former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, is a partner in Wilmer Hale's fairly new Public Policy and Strategy Group.
David Kochel has acknowledged that he is an IFF advisor but refuses to say anything more. Kochel, a former Iowa Republican Party director, was most recently an advisor to the ill-fated Romney campaign and he advised Lamar Alexander in 2000. Kochel, along with Jennifer Dean, owns JDK Marketing and Public Affairs.
Who is Eric Peterson, Iowa Future Fund president, secretary and director? One guess is that he is Eric Peterson, Summit Farms business manager. A 2007 Iowa State U. grad, Peterson donated $2k to Rudy Giuliani in December as did other Summit Farms employees along with Peterson's employer, wealthy Iowan businessman, Bruce Rastetter.
Bruce Rastetter, a big Republican donor, owns Hawkeye Renewables which owns and operates four ethanol plants in Iowa. Last September, the Washington Post ran a story, "Corn Farms Prosper But Subsidies Still Flow" which mentioned Rastetter and his well-attended summer bash:
On a once quiet highway west of Iowa Falls, a constant stream of tractor-trailers pound the road, hauling corn to the Hawkeye Renewables ethanol refinery and soybeans to Cargill Inc.'s biodiesel plant.
To celebrate a banner year, Hawkeye founder and chief executive Bruce Rastetter pulled out the stops for his annual midsummer bash. Several hundred politicians, businessmen and farmers mingled at his richly landscaped hilltop estate, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) made his entrance in a wagon pulled by Rastetter's team of Percheron draft horses.
Rastetter himself is politically ambitious and considered running against Senator Tom Harkin this year.
Wanderindiana and I (actually mostly wanderindiana) came up with a list of donors who all contributed to Norm Coleman on 10/24/07. Bruce Rastetter contributed $2k as did his brother, Brent Rastetter and business partners J. D. Schlieman and Kent Krause. Robin Sampson and Todd Steen, Rastetter employees, also contributed to Coleman.
Iowan businessman, Roger Underwood and Iowa State Bank banker, Alan Rosendahl contributed to Coleman. So did Ken Mehlman, now at Akin Gump, and Ken's brother, Bruce Mehlman, at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti.
Senator Coleman is co-chair of the Senate Bio-Fuels Caucus, whose goal it is to promote and increase the use of biofuels in the U.S. The ethanol business is subsidized by the taxpayers to the tune of $3 billion annually and depends heavily on favorable government regulation.
Is Bruce Rastetter, a least in part, funding Iowa Future Fund and American Future Fund? It would certainly suit him politically to do so because he can keep the extent of his financial support of the Republican Party secret. Rastetter seems to be a practical guy in that he just made his first ever contribution to a Democrat, $25k to Gov. Culver. I doubt if Rastetter would want the governor to know he is funding ads criticizing him.
While the activities of American Future Fund and Iowa Future Fund have been limited to Iowa and Minnesota to date, there is every reason to think that AFF will expand its operations, given the big money names involved in it.
(Crossposted at TPM Cafe)
Link to a Politico story published last year about the ethanol industry and the presidential candidates which features Bruce Rastetter.
Link to a video of Rastetter's House testimony posted on youtube.
desmoinesdem at Bleeding Heartland asks Iowan Dems for help identifying Eric Peterson, president, secretary and director of Iowa Future Fund.
I posted about another Holtzman Vogel 501(c)(4)scam, the Progressive Policy Council, here.
After re-reading the FEC complaint filed by Minnesota Dems, I noticed that Nicole Schlinger is listed as the American Future Fund president. Schlinger is also the president of Capitol Resources, Inc. also dba as Campaign Headquarters, located in Brooklyn Iowa. Capital Resources raises money for Republican candidates.
According to a LinkedIn profile, Schlinger was the finance director of the Iowa Republican Party and most recently worked for the Romney campaign which paid her approximately $200k.
The Syracuse alumni newsletter has an article about Schlinger with a photo of her with a young George W. Bush (see p.10).
American Future Fund doesn't sound vey much like a social welfare organization.
The post office box listed in the FEC complaint (see above) against American Future Fund is the same one used by Iowan lobbyist, Nick Ryan. Ryan's sole client appears to have been Bruce Rastetter.
Ryan was Rep. Jim Nussle's long time campaign manager and he managed Nussle's failed gubernatorial campaign in 2006.
A few years ago, Nick Ryan donated to Jim Nussle and G W Bush as "Nick Ryan". Recently, he donated to Norm Coleman and Rudy Giuliani as "Nicholas Ryan". He also donated to Tom Latham as "Nicholas Ryan-Summit Capital Group executive". Summit Capital Group is one of Bruce Rastetter's companies.
Looks more and more likely that Eric Peterson, Summit Farms business manager, is Eric Peterson, Iowa Future Fund president. If that's the case, we know at least one major player in the ethanol industry is behind American Future Fund and Iowa Future Fund.
Cracking under the pressure applied by citizen92, wanderindiana and me, the Iowan Republicans have abandoned Iowa Future Fund and created the Iowa Progress Project. Republican operative, Dave Kochel, is the president.
From the 4/10/08 IPP press release:
President David Kochel said, "Iowa Progress Project is the direct result of the response thousands of Iowans have had to ads and issues highlighted by the Iowa Future Fund. While the Iowa Future Fund has been very effective at highlighting important issues in our state, what was also abundantly clear is that a grassroots-centered conservative issues organization is also needed in this state. IPP will provide citizens from all corners of Iowa a voice in their community and state."
Read more about Iowa Progress Project in my diary at Bleeding Heartland, an Iowan progressive blog.