Karl Rove, the GOP master-spinmeister and mega-fundraiser, is at the heart of the current Republican blame game. What went wrong for the GOP, and why? The result of this internal analysis and the soul-searching remains to be seen. One could say that the state of the GOP simply compares to a big rotten stinking fish, but such an image would probably not look very good on a Powerpoint presentation. One could also say that the pure fact that "Bush's Brain", as Karl Rove used to be called, is still in charge of the GOP, should be seen as a major problem in itself. But it is rather unlikely that Karl Rove would agree with such an assertion.
We have some news: In a speech in Wichita on November 28, 2012, Karl Rove now claimed that he raised money for the GOP with his "Crossroads" groups as a "volunteer." Rove said in the speech that this was the "worst volunteer job" he ever had. He also mentioned that he was "sick and tired of spending money" on races where the infighting between "moderates and conservatives" who had gone at each other "made victory impossible." Karl Rove also asks for more "tolerance" within the GOP. In order to create such an environment, he calls for "leadership."
It is obvious that these remarks will add more fuel to the undeclared civil war in the GOP.
I uploaded this particular excerpt from Karl Rove's speech to youtube:
It seems rather doubtful that Karl Rove's remarks will find a happy audience in the GOP. After all, the bitter struggle between moderates (the "RINO's") and the conservatives is in full swing. It is apparent that the GOP has no idea whether it should become more moderate or more conservative, more right-wing. Even the remark by Karl Rove that he worked as a "volunteer" set off the conservative side immediately. On MSNBC's "Hardball", conservative Republican advisor Rick Tyler who is connected to Todd Akin immediately shot back at Karl Rove and said that he "does not believe" that Karl Rove received no salary for his work for American Crossroads (watch the video).
It is worth to take a closer look at Karl Rove's activities for "American Crossroads." Many rather peculiar details have not been widely reported, or at least never found the audience they deserve. As most of you will know, there are actually two groups for which Karl Rove was volunteering in his very own selfless way:
- The Super-PAC "American Crossroads", a Republican 527 Organisation
- The group "Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (Crossroads GPS)", a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation
The speciality was that donors could donate to the "spin-off" Crossroads GPS anonymously (while "American Crossroads" donors need to be disclosed) - which was supposed to open the GOP-floodgates for the highly desirable "dark money" from presumably super-rich donors who do not want the public to know that they are trying to buy an election. The election campaign finance rules are lax and almost never cause any difficulties, and it seemed that Karl Rove found the perfect way to circumvent existing restrictions.
Here is a very good report about these two groups from July 2012, produced by "Democracy Now!":
However, Rove's creation "Crossroads GPS" is now under attack from two different directions.
On August 31, 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek published an exclusive and potentially explosive story, which unsurprisingly was widely ignored in the media (campaign finance issues are apparently just not glamorous enough). In what was actually Karl Rove's very own "47 percent moment", Bloomberg reporter Sheelah Kolhatkar gained access "by accident" to a confidential fundraiser for the two Crossroads-groups and listened to a secret, unscripted speech by Karl Rove.
There, the Bloomberg-reporter made a few fascinating discoveries: First, there really was no difference between the two groups. During the event she "accidentally" visited, which was held for both groups together, donors were simply given a choice: The attendees could donate with their full name to "American Crossroads" - or anonymously to "Crossraods GPS." The two groups presented themselves in this confidential meeting as virtually the same organization, according to Sheelah Kolhatkar. The necessary forms from both groups, having virtually identical letterheads, were helpfully provided. No real difference was apparent. Even the staff and the management seemed to be the same.
But unfortunately, this important fact did not really come across very well in her Bloomberg article. But Sheelah Kolhatkar explained the proceedings during the event in great detail in her much more interesting and extensive interview with "Democracy Now!", which is well worth watching:
Bloomberg also published their own short TV-report - with additional revelations about Karl Rove's strategy:
From Sheelah Kohatkar's article about the event at Bloomberg Businessweek:
The morning began with an address about the urgency of defeating Obama by Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Crossroads Chief Executive Officer Steven Law followed and introduced some of the super PAC’s staff, referring to general counsel Tom Josefiak as “the guy who keeps us from ever having to wear orange jumpsuits.”
Then came the main event: Rove, joined by former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, laid out his strategy for winning the White House. “The people we’ve got to win in this election, by and large, voted for Barack Obama,” Rove said, in a soothing, professorial tone, explaining why the campaign hadn’t launched more pointed attacks on the president’s character. Rove explained that Crossroads had conducted extensive focus groups and shared polling and focus group data with “all the major groups that are playing” in the election. “As many of you know, one of the most important things about Crossroads is: We don’t try and do this alone. We have partners,” he said. “The Kochs—you name it.”
What had emerged from that data is an “acute understanding of the nature of those undecided, persuadable” voters. “If you say he’s a socialist, they’ll go to defend him. If you call him a ‘far out left-winger,’ they’ll say, ‘no, no, he’s not.’” The proper strategy, Rove declared, was criticizing Obama without really criticizing him—by reminding voters of what the president said that he was going to do and comparing it to what he’s actually done. “If you keep it focused on the facts and adopt a respectful tone, then they’re gonna agree with you.”
In Rove’s estimation, things are going well. “Barack Obama unleashed hell on our candidate on May 15,” he said. “Between May 15 and July 31st, he spent $111 million on ads out of his campaign war chest, and there was about another $17, $18 million spent by outside groups. The day that this started, the Gallup poll was 45-45. On the 31st of July, it was 46-46.” “We spent—outside groups spent $110 million and Romney spent $42 million,” Rove continued. “So the bad guys [Democrats] spent $130 million and the good guys [Republicans] spent $152 million, and our money didn’t go as far as theirs because we couldn’t buy at the lowest unit rate. Really, it was sort of roughly equivalent, and we fought it to a draw.” And that, Rove pointed out, was after a brutal Republican primary. “We have to keep in mind whose vote we’re trying to get—it ain’t the delegate from Alaska. It’s not the alternate from Alabama. It’s some undecided voter in the battleground state who likes the president.”
The report about this secret fundraiser also had another result: Two weeks ago, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission, and a corresponding letter to the FBI.
The Washington Post reported:
Although the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling made clear the legality of unfettered interest group spending, advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics continue to press politically active organizations to disclose their donors.
The Crew complaint focuses on comments made by Rove at a secret fundraiser for Crossroads, as recounted by a Bloomberg News reporter in attendance. At the event, Rove was quoted as saying that a donor had provided $3 million for the Ohio Senate race out of affection for the Republican candidate, Josh Mandel.
Crossroads GPS is required to disclose sources of its money to the FEC if the donors earmarked their funds for specific advertisements. In this case, the difference may turn on whether the donor mentioned by Rove gave instructions for specific ads or whether he was only picking the race. At the fundraiser, several advertisements were shown to potential donors, according to Bloomberg.
“Karl Rove and Crossroads GPS didn’t just skirt around the edges of the law,” Melanie Sloan, Crew’s executvie director, said in a statement announcing the complaint. “This time it appears they jumped headlong into a criminal conspiracy.”
So it remains to be seen whether this complaint will be successful.
Also, it seems that the notoriously toothless Federal Election Commission (FEC) becomes more aggressive towards "Crossroads GPS" - but the organization is not afraid, as Bloomberg reported yesterday:
Crossroads GPS, the Republican non-profit group that spent more than $70 million in the 2012 election to directly advocate the election or defeat of federal candidates, has again said the Federal Election Commission made a “misstatement of law” when the agency directed it to disclose the donors who funded those independent expenditures.
Crossroads GPS, founded as a 501(c)(4) social-welfare group with help from Republican strategist Karl Rove, doesn’t have to disclose donors because none of their money was given “for the purpose of furthering” the independent expenditures, Crossroads GPS treasurer Caleb Crosby said in a letter yesterday to the FEC that reiterated the Republican group’s interpretation of a controversial 2007 FEC regulation.
“The emphasis is not on how an organization subsequently chooses to use a contribution, but whether the donor made the contribution ‘for the purpose of furthering the reported independent expenditure,’” Crosby wrote.
Because “no contributions accepted” by Crossroads GPS were “solicited or received” for that purpose, Crosby said, “no contributions were required to be reported under the regulations” that the FEC cited in an Oct. 25 letter that told Crossroads GPS to disclose contributors. The FEC made a “misstatement of law,” Crosby wrote.
Given this cocky attitude by Crossroads GPS, it is not very surprising to hear from Bloomberg-reporter Sheelah Kothatkar that she could hear "a lot of gallows humour" about the FEC-laws at the secret fundraiser (in the interview from 14:35).
But who will have the last laugh?
At the moment, the Democrats are the ones who can rejoice at Rove's expense. But the "man without fingerprints", the "volunteer" who is regarded by some as the secret boss of the GOP, won't disappear. Karl Rove lost the war of the TV-adverts this time, but it remains to be seen whether the GOP will be able to introduce more sophisticated strategies in the future. Karl Rove's dark money might then be put to better use than in the 2012 election, and therefore Karl Rove should not be discounted too quickly. We all need to continue to keep a watchful eye.