Dan is Mother Jones' deputy DC bureau chief. He is the New York Times best-selling author of Sons of Wichita(Grand Central Publishing), a biography of the Koch brothers that is now out in paperback. Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.
The New York Timesweighs in today on the GOP's push polling efforts in contested districts, noting this gem from a recent smear on Jon Tester, the Montana Democrat who's running against Conrad Burns: "Does the fact that Jon Tester says he would have voted against common-sense, pro-life judges like Samuel Alito and John Roberts, and Conrad Burns supported them, make you less favorable toward Jon Tester?"
According to the Times, ccAdvertising (a/k/a FreeEats.com), which I reported on recently, has been robo-calling on behalf of an attack group called Common Sense Ohio, which "was formed in July to run issue advertisements in the governor's race there, and it became involved in the Senate races in Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Tennessee, and in the abortion referendum in South Dakota." FreeEats, which is chaired by Donald Hodel, a Reagan-era cabinet official and the former president of both the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family, has also been working on behalf of the Economic Freedom Fund, a 527-committee bankrolled by Bob Perry (of Swift Boat Veterans fame).
The Times notes that "some experts question how much impact the calls will have amid the rest of the political fog, especially since some voters quickly get annoyed with the technique." Gabriel Joseph, the president of FreeEats, would beg to differ. As he told me, "When you make 3 ½ million phone calls a day, we generally talk to more people than watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper combined."
Secreted into a military authorization bill that was signed by the president two weeks ago is a provision that will shutter the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction effective October 1, 2007. The office, headed by former White House official Stuart W. Bowen Jr., was established in October 2004 to investigate the potential fraud and abuse of reconstruction funds. Since then it has filed one explosive report after another, revealing, most recently, that the military could not account for hundreds of thousands of weapons it provided to Iraqi security forces. Perhaps Bowen's agency did its job a little too well.
Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who followed the bill closely as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, says that she still does not know how the provision made its way into what is called the conference report, which reconciles differences between House and Senate versions of a bill.
Neither the House nor the Senate version contained such a termination clause before the conference, all involved agree.
"It's truly a mystery to me," Ms. Collins said.
It's no longer a mystery. According to the Times, the provision was placed in the bill by Congressional staffers working for Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (who recently announced he's running for president in 2008).
"I just can't see how one can look at this change without believing it's political," Rep. Henry Waxman told the Times.
"I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live," Socrates once said. So stands the crux of survival in today's Washington, where bribery and kickbacks, nepotism and self-dealing are the lifeblood of a durable political career. Despite the high-profile downfalls of congressmen Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, and the short-lived attention to ethics reform, corruption charges remain little more than a speed bump on the road to reelection. That the respected nonpartisan newspaper Congressional Quarterly predicts the following congressmen will win comfortably is a testament to the power of incumbency.
At the time, Lieutenant Josh Rushing didn't give much thought to the filmmakers who followed him around the Pentagon's Central Command press operation in Doha, Qatar, for a few weeks at the outset of the Iraq War. But then, back in the States a year later, the Marine public-affairs officer got an anonymous voice mail. "I just saw your movie at Sundance," the caller said. "I just wanted to say thanks."
"I Googled my name and Sundance," Rushing recalls, "and up came all these stories" on Control Room, a documentary about theArabic satellite news channel Al Jazeera. He was startled to notice that "a lot of them weren't just about the movie—they were about me." The film had captured the earnest 30-year-old, with striking blue eyes and the signature high-and-tight haircut favored by his fellow Marines, as he grappled with his feelings about the war and the gulf between how the Western and Arab media were portraying it. Though Rushing, now 34, never strayed from his official talking points, he remembers being troubled that American reporters "were buying into the government's message without challenging it." Some journalists would ask him prior to on-air interviews if there were "any messages you want to get across today."
What's in the Swift Boat crowd's bag of last-minute tricks? Nonstop robo-calls, for starters. Meet one of the nation's top GOP telemarketers.
Daniel SchulmanOct. 26, 2006 2:17 PM
You may have gotten a call from Gabriel Joseph III already. It starts with one of those cheery robo-voices asking if you'll participate in a 45-second survey. If you don't slam the phone down at that point, you'll soon get to a question like this one: "In America when a person dies, the IRS can take up to 55 percent of the inheritance left for family and friends. Do you want Congress to permanently eliminate this unfair tax?" Next, you'll be told that the Democrat running for Congress in your district "voted to keep the death tax in place and refused to vote to make permanent the tax cuts that have caused record economic growth in 2001." At that point, you'll know that you're dealing with a "push poll"—one of the dirtier, yet mostly legal, tricks in a political operative's bag of last-minute campaign tools.
Push pollsters operate behind the scenes: They don't advertise their services, don't go on TV, and often can't be tracked as they hide behind dozens of aliases. The push polling firm that placed calls to voters in the South Carolina GOP primary in 2000, suggesting that John McCain had an out-of-wedlock child who was black, was never identified, though the calls may well have cost McCain that election.
It was all the more remarkable, then, when Gabriel Joseph outed himself and his firm in a legal battle in Indiana recently. Joseph's company had been doing "surveys" for the Economic Freedom Fund, a group bankrolled by Bob Perry of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth fame. When the fund was sued by the Indiana Attorney General's Office for violating a state anti-robo-calling statute, Joseph countersued; a judge ruled against him October 25.