While this is a tad wide of our usual focus, the outcome of the November midterms has the potential to have significant economic implications. I ran into an old colleague, an investor and sufficiently serious Republican donor to have gotten invited to both Bush inaugurations. Surprisingly, he was not keen at all about the prospect of a Democratic rout. The reason? He believes the economy needs more stimulus right now and thought there were lots of useful targets.
While the outlook is deservedly poor for the Democratic party, and a lot of candidates up for reelection are distancing them from Obama, a big wild card for both parties is the Tea Party. One issue that has come into focus is the extent to which big corporate interests such as the Koch Brothers, are trying to harness this movement for their own ends.
Pat Caddell, the public opinion pollster (best known as Carter’s pollster), agreed to let me post this message on Sal Russo, which was prompted by a New York Times story over the weekend. First, an extract from the article:
Unlike many of the newly energized outsiders who have embraced Tea Party ideals, Mr. Russo, 63, is a longtime Republican operative who got his start as an aide toRonald Reagan and later raised money and managed media strategy for a string of other politicians, including former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York. His history and spending practices have prompted some former employees and other Tea Party activists to question whether he is committed to, or merely exploiting, their cause.
Mr. Russo’s group, based in California, is now the single biggest independent supporter of Tea Party candidates, raising more than $5.2 million in donations since January 2009, according to federal records. But at least $3 million of that total has since been paid to Mr. Russo’s political consulting firm or to one controlled by his wife, according to federal records.
While most of that money passed through the firms to cover advertising and other expenses, that kind of self-dealing raises red flags about possible lax oversight and excessive fees for the firms, campaign finance experts said.
“They are the classic top-down organization run by G.O.P. consultants, and it is the antithesis of what the Tea Party movement is about,” said Mark Meckler, a national spokesman for Tea Party Patriots, a coalition of grass-roots organizations that does not endorse or contribute to candidates.
I am quite familiar with Sal Russo in California where he cynically sabotaged the Republican Party to fatten his wallet. In 2002 he propelled Bill Simon into the governor’s race primary against former la mayor, Richard Riordan, fully knowing that Simon’s pending- but then generally unknown- legal problem’s with a failed savings & loan- made his candidacy untenable in a general election against the highly unpopular Democratic incumbent, Gray Davis.
All this effort was for the purpose of lining Russo’s purse with consulting needs. Simon did upset favorite Riordan and when on to lose to Davis having been fatally crippled by the predictable revelations of his ongoing problems. (for the record, Simon was eventually cleared- but long after he had lost and been publicly and politically damaged.)
The next year when the grass roots movement arose to recall Gray Davis, Sal Russo tried to horn himself into the recall effort as a leader of a rival group- and raise contributions from unsuspecting donors to again enrich himself.
Although Russo failed to achieve his goal in the recall effort, he has taken the same approach to the tea party movement- with more success apparently; and arguably with similar results to the cause he claims to champion. (It is not mere coincident that three of the candidates Russo’s group has pushed hardest-
Angle/Nevada, Miller/Alaska, & O’Donnell/Delaware are iffy if not problematical in states the GOP were fully expected to win at the outset of 2010)
Nor sadly, is he alone, particularly on the right, in utilizing this model of self enrichment to snooker honest, unsuspecting, passionate Americans.