By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog
MADISON, Wis. — There’s a term among stalwart conservatives for lightweight Republicans: RINO — Republican In Name Only.
The same could be said for a fledgling organization by the name of Conservative Lighthouse, conservative in name only, according to right-minded critics of the nonprofit in progress.
Creators of the organization say their mission is to bring Republicans into the quest to reform a broken campaign finance system.
“I have spoken with many conservatives who, like me, believe that our system of funding campaigns is completely out of whack and that our politics today are dominated by crony capitalism where public policy outcomes are not based on merit or representational principles but on who can buy influence,” Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and president and board member of Conservative Lighthouse, told Watchdog.org in an email.
But a Watchdog.org investigation finds the nascent organization’s backers are heavily funded by some of the most prominent players in left-leaning initiatives, and fund some very liberal initiatives.
CO-OPTING CONSERVATIVES: A fledgling nonprofit billed as Conservative Lighthouse hopes to bring conservatives to the cause of campaign finance reform. But a Watchdog investigation finds there’s a lot of liberal money backing the Conservative Lighthouse’s backers.
Their goal, critics contend, is to cut out the tongue of right-leaning political speech.
“It should be called, ‘Conservative Slaughterhouse,’ because the ultimate intent of these liberal funders is to wreck conservatives on the shoals,” Christopher C. Hull, longtime conservative strategist and current chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told Watchdog.
“This is one of the left’s many attempts to try to hide behind a front organization and to manipulate the public discourse with people who are ostensibly conservative,” he said.
Hull sids the funders, using Atlanta headhunter, the Dubrof Group LLC, reached out to him as a potential candidate for executive director of Conservative Lighthouse.
In an inquiry letter to Hull, Cydnee Dubrof, managing director of the executive search firm, wrote that the Fund for the Republic and the Campaign Legal Center are “helping to incubate a new organization … that will provide conservative leadership and direction with regard to money in politics.”
But the two incubating organizations operate with the assistance of a lot of left-leaning money.
The Campaign Legal Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is an ardent advocate of campaign finance reform, viewing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling that expanded political speech and eroded McCain-Feingold as a mortal sin.
The organization has joined the left-leaning Democracy 21 in rallying the Internal Revenue Service to change the laws governing the eligibility of 501(c)(4), or social welfare groups. Perhaps preemptively, the IRS, as has been well documented, has targeted mostly conservative 501(c)(4) organizations and applicants, singling them out for additional scrutiny and delays.
A big chunk of CLC’s money comes from groups funded by George Soros, the multibillionaire sugar daddy of liberal causes.
Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society, has contributed at least nearly $1 million to the center since 2009, according to a Watchdog.org review of 990 forms. A portion of that money went to provide legal resources for community organizations for redistricting fights in 2010.
Soros’ Open Society Institute chipped in another $100,000 in 2003, and $150,000 in 2005.
CLC took in $1,606,217 in grants and contributions in 2012, the most recent year for which data is fully available.
The left-leaning Joyce Foundation has written more than $1 million in checks to the Campaign Legal Center since 2003. In 2013, the foundation contributed $100,000 for a CLC initiative to “engage in a broad-based litigation strategy to hold the line on existing reasonable campaign finance laws, while at the same time employing the above-described strategy to develop a new jurisprudence based on equal participation.”
BY GEORGE: Liberal foundations supported by billionaire George Soros have dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the organizations fronting the Conservative Lighthouse.
The Joyce Foundation, a vocal part of the “climate change” agenda, spends a lot of money each year on initiatives aimed at strengthening and expanding gun-control laws and pushing for tighter regulations on free enterprise. Its Democracy Program takes aim at the “overwhelming influence of big money on political campaigns,” at least corporate money, and the foundation is fond of suing and supporting “activist judges to promote left-wing agendas that cannot be advanced via the legislative process,” according to DiscovertheNetworks.org, an online database that tracks the political left.
The Campaign Legal Center is led by Trevor Potter, founding president and general counsel of the organization. Potter is the attorney who defended the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, the so-called McCain-Feingold law, before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court has since struck down portions of the BCRA.
J. Gerald Hebert, an attorney who specializes in election law and redistricting, serves as the center’s executive director and director of litigation. From 1999 to 2002, Hebert served as general counsel to IMPAC 2000, the National Redistricting Project for congressional Democrats.
Hebert wrote a scathing piece for Huffington Post blasting a Texas court of appeals ruling overturning the conviction of former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who had been found guilty of illegally funneling corporate cash to Texas politicians.
“In yet another display of the Texas judiciary’s overt partisanship in the legal saga over Tom DeLay’s alleged money laundering scheme during the 2002 Texas elections, a court of appeals overturned DeLay’s conviction …” Herbert wrote in his blog post last September for the liberal Huffington Post.
Conservatives saw DeLay’s trial and conviction as a political witch hunt by the left, which despises corporate money in politics.
Meredith McGehee, the Campaign Legal Center’s policy director, previously served as president of the Alliance for Better Campaigns and as senior vice president and chief lobbyist for the liberal Common Cause.
Also chipping in with a big check, the Campaign Legal Center’s build-a-conservative nonprofit pal, Fund for the Republic, which donated $200,000 to CLC in 2004.
The fund is backed by Democracy Alliance, the “exclusive club of several hundred wealthy donors that funds an array of progressive causes,” according to liberal investigative publication, Mother Jones. As MJ put it, the organization has “adopted an unusual strategy to achieve its mission of ridding US politics of the corrupting influence of big money: raising and spending gobs of cash from undisclosed, wealthy political donors.”
Over the past decade, Fund for the Republic has written a lot of hefty checks to left-leaning causes, including Public Campaign, based in Washington, D.C., and New York-based Center for Working Families.
Fund for the Republic’s board of directors includes Julie Kohler, who serves as board secretary. Kohler is executive vice president of Democracy Alliance, described by the Washington Free Beacon as perhaps the “most powerful political operation you have never heard of.”
“The group, as one former member told the Washington Free Beacon, ‘is the brain trust of the progressive movement.’”
As the conservative news organization has reported, the “Alliance operates in the shadows and steers hundreds of millions of dollars to liberal behemoths. Democratic super PACs, including President Barack Obama’s Priorities USA, the Center for American Progress (CAP), and the corrupt voter group ACORN have all benefitted from its largesse.”
Whitney Hatch, chairman of Fund for the Republic’s board, spent more than a dozen years as an executive with Trust for Public Lands, an environmental organization with a hunger for private land and a strong aversion to commercial development, according to his bio on the fund’s website.
Board member Ruth Hennig is a climate change apostle. She also chairs the board of SmartPower, an organization “attempting to build markets for clean energy across the county, and was a founding advisory committee member of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund,” according to her bio.
Conservative Lighthouse funders have posted an ad for the executive position. The ideal candidate is expected to be a “superior and substantive (communicator) who can articulate complicated issues to both the academic elite and the voting masses.”
And the candidate should know how to speak conservative.
“S/he can speak authentically about why the issue of money and politics is relevant to conservative and establishment Republicans and can confidently address substantive constitutional issues,” the job posting states, noting the right candidate will have a “passion for campaign finance reform as central to the success of the Republican Party.”
Hull, who has built a lengthy conservative resume over the past 25 years, said he was asked if he might be interested in the position. He wasn’t.
What Conservative Lighthouse seeks to do, Hull said, is to lead conservatives to abandon their constitutional principles and forsake the long-held idea that political speech in particular, and the First Amendment in general, should remain free from the fetters of government regulation.
“If the government gets control of political speech, then the left gets control of the government, and that is their ultimate objective,” he said. “It’s political regulation, regulation of political speech, with the government strangling speech. It is wrong, facially it is unconstitutional.”
Conservative Lighthouse organizers point to a recent unnamed study indicating 65 percent of Republicans agree “politicians primarily respond to funders, and more than half of all Republicans believe special interests have more influence on politicians than the public good.”
McKinnon, the ubiquitous Republican on cable news networks, particularly MSNBC, is a cofounder of No Labels, a nonprofit “dedicated to bipartisanship, civil discourse, and problem solving in politics.”
McKinnon said he and his conservative friends want to “change the perception that Republicans are hostage to big money.”
“We refuse to cede fundamental constitutional and representational issues to liberals — conservatives have principals (sic) and policies of our own in this area beyond ‘sale to the highest bidder or special interest,’” he wrote. “There is one agenda, and one agenda only: to reduce the corrupting influence of money and advocate for changes to our system that make it more in keeping with the republican ideals of our founding leaders.”
But conservative critics like Hull see the agenda being driven by the left, and the money trail may support Hull’s assertion.
“I wish them all of the success they can achieve, while they are being outed for the Socialist-fronted organization that they are,” he said.