יום שלישי, 30 באוגוסט 2016

Trump campaign manager: Sad that Clinton allies have turned to name-calling

"They don’t have the issue set that favors them," Kellyanne Conway says of Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Donald Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway laced into David Plouffe on Tuesday, days after the former campaign adviser to Barack Obama called the GOP nominee a "psychopath."

Responding to that comment and Hillary Clinton's speech tying Trump to white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan last week, Conway had three words on Fox News Radio's "Kilmeade & Friends": "Shame on them."

"I mean, the name-calling has reached a fever pitch and it just tells ya, they got nothin’. They got no game," Conway told host Brian Kilmeade, suggesting that if Clinton "were really strong on the issues" and if Plouffe "was that proud of his boss Barack Obama’s Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, then he would go out there and he’d talk about that."

Rather than calling Trump a "psychopath," a notion against which "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd pushed back Sunday, Conway remarked that Plouffe would have said that Clinton's opponent "shouldn’t win, because Obamacare’s going so well, everybody’s so happy, United HealthCare and Aetna didn’t just realize billions of dollars in losses and pull out of 40-some exchanges."

"They can’t. They don’t have the issue set that favors them" and thus they resort to name-calling, Conway said. "And I have to say, look, politics is not a tea party. It’s rough and tumble. We all get that, Brian. But to go out there and do guilt by association and to accuse people of having malice in their heart towards other people with no evidence, and then to do exactly what the American Psychological Association has asked people not to do, which is to, which is to certify somebody as mentally unfit or a psychopath. It’s just beyond the pale, and nobody calls them on it."

Conway then thanked Kilmeade for calling out the issue, turning her ire to the media's recent coverage of Trump after he repeatedly proclaimed that Clinton is a "bigot" for her treatment of African-American and Hispanic voters.

"All week long, it’s that Donald Trump referred to Hillary Clinton with one word and everybody, you know, their hair is on fire. Donald Trump is called every name in the book plus, before he gets out of bed in the morning. And yet that’s justifiable, that’s acceptable," Conway remarked sarcastically. "Brian, look at these articles that are everywhere in the last week or two where mainstream media, so-called reporters, quote unquote, are outwardly saying that Donald Trump pushes their limits of objectivity, that they are challenging each other to cover him more aggressively because they believe he should not be president and commander in chief. Guess what, folks? That’s not their job. Their job is to report the news to you and not decide who should and who should not be president and then try to make that conclusion a reality.”

יום שני, 29 באוגוסט 2016

Meet Hillary Clinton's anger translator

In an interview  'Off Message' podcast, longtime Clinton confidante Neera Tanden sounds off on Bernie Sanders' attacks, the 2016 election coverage and Vladimir Putin.

Neera Tanden still feels the Bern, and — to her chagrin — so does Hillary Clinton.

Tanden, a longtime Clinton confidante and influential policy-politics-communications adviser, likes Sanders, respects his people (after dutifully detesting them in the primary) and helped broker the progressive policy deal that led to Bernie Sanders’ early summer surrender.

But even now, a month after the Vermont senator pledged his sincere if grumpy Philly fealty to the nominee, Tanden frets that the attacks Sanders made on Clinton during the primary have done irreparable damage by eroding trust and feeding Donald Trump’s Crooked Hillary crusade.

“I actually have to say, I think he brought a lot of really important issues to the floor, but Sen. Sanders was prosecuting a much tougher character attack” than Barack Obama waged in 2008, Tanden told me last week during an hourlong sit-down  MARCA POLíTICA “Off Message” podcast.

“He did do significant damage to Hillary's negatives,” she added. “I mean, he drove a lot of those negatives, and the truth of it, I mean, just to be candid — or honest about it, I think getting those kinds of attacks from another Democrat or another liberal or another progressive is much tougher for Hillary. … If you look at her trust numbers the last six months of that primary, it was much — those numbers took a much sharper dive and hard to recover from.”

Tanden, who succeeded Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta at the helm of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, has spent the better part of two decades at Clinton’s side — first as a White House aide, then as a top staffer in her Senate office, later as policy director of the 2008 campaign and now as a powerful outside adviser who will play a central role in the transition, if there is one.

But the 45-year-old Massachusetts native is more than that: She’s Clinton’s edgy public alter ego, whose stiletto-elbowed Twitter presence is said to closely echo the candidate’s own caustic private musings. And while Tanden respects Sanders and his staff (she helped negotiate the joint Clinton-Sanders college and health proposals and says “they were great”), she echoes Clinton’s own opinion that Sanders let the primary go on too long, too noisily and too nastily.

“This primary was much tougher [than 2008]. There were many more open attacks on being 'bought and paid for' and all that stuff,” said Tanden, who didn’t like it, not one little bit.

What she doesn’t mind, as one of the most progressive voices in Clinton’s inner circle, was the leftward-pushing impact of the Sanders candidacy overall, which allowed her former (and perhaps future) boss to public embrace a more outwardly liberal agenda. Tanden has always played that role internally: Like many of Clinton’s East Wing advisers (led by Clinton’s then-chief of staff Melanne Verveer) she opposed Bill Clinton’s welfare reform measure.

Tanden’s power in Hillaryland had always emanated from the wonk bond she developed with Clinton in the 1990s when the first lady favored headbands and Tanden was a star-struck 20-something Yale Law grad. Over the years, Clinton has, undeniably, tried to have it both ways when it comes to party ideology, portraying herself in 2008 as a responsible, middle-of-the-road Clintonian pragmatist, while suggesting she was always a behind-the-scenes liberal spur during this year’s battle against the socialist Sanders.

Tanden bearhugs the Prog Princess narrative. President Bill Clinton’s aides would “play hide the ball from Hillary” on issues ranging from guns to trade to keep her from messing with their centrist schemes, she said. And when I mentioned former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently told me that Clinton was the West’s last, best hope for centrist common sense, Tanden rolled her eyes. “I don't really think Tony Blair has the adequate sense of Hillary's views on every issue,” she quipped.

יום חמישי, 25 באוגוסט 2016

Texas elector threatens not to vote Trump

Another Republican member of the Electoral College wavers in his commitment to back the GOP nominee.

Firefighter Christopher Suprun, an Electoral College member from Texas, is warning he might not cast his electoral vote for the GOP standard-bearer.

Chris Suprun is a member of the Electoral College from Texas, a state the GOP can reliably count on to deliver votes every four years to the Republican presidential nominee.

But this year, with Donald Trump sitting atop the ticket, Suprun is warning he might not cast his electoral vote for the GOP standard-bearer. Indeed, he won’t rule out throwing his vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton if Trump doesn’t moderate his demeanor.

“I’m not a professional politician. I’ve got no training on this one,” said Suprun. “The nominee is … saying things that in an otherwise typical election year would have you disqualified.”

It’s a startling admission two months before an election, and another sign of the lingering discomfort among Republicans with Trump’s candidacy. Another Republican Texas elector, Art Sisneros, told MARCA POLITICA last month that he had initially considered casting a ballot for someone other than Trump, part of a larger plan to sow chaos, but decided against it when other collaborators failed to earn spots in the Electoral College. And when a Georgia Republican elector, Baoky Vu, told a local reporter that he might consider a write-in candidate rather than backing Trump, he quickly resigned his post. Vu later told MARCA POLITICA that he had intended to highlight the existence of the Electoral College as a “safety valve” against candidates like Trump.

The Electoral College, the constitutional body conceived by America’s founders as a check on voters, meets five weeks after Election Day to cast the formal ballots for president and vice president. States send one elector from each congressional district and two representing the state at large.

Though it originally played an outsize role in the process, it’s long since morphed into a glorified perch for party regulars, donors and insiders to ratify the results delivered by voters. In fact, 29 states have laws forbidding electors from bucking the will of their voters, according to FairVote.

יום רביעי, 24 באוגוסט 2016

Tony Blair's blues


The downcast former British prime minister — and close friend of the Clintons — fears that their shared brand of centrism may be dead.

“It’s a very open question whether the type of politics I represent really has had its day or not,” Tony Blair told

Tony Blair isn’t sure the center can hold — hell, he isn’t even certain that centrists like Hillary Clinton or himself have a viable future in Western politics.

“It’s a very open question whether the type of politics I represent really has had its day or not,” said the 63-year-old former Labour prime minister, speaking on Monday.

“There were times when I was growing up in politics and when I was prime minister when I had complete confidence in my own ability, just as a professional, to predict the course of politics. The last few years have caused me to question [that],” he added — referring to the rise of hard-left upstarts Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. and Bernie Sanders in the U.S.

This is not the boyish, optimistic “Bambi” who walked, doe-eyed, into No. 10 Downing St. 19 years ago — a polished politician whose popularity reached an astounding 93 percent after he anointed the late Diana the “People’s Princess.” The past few years have been trying times for a deft maestro of the middle, a man who dominated British politics from 1997 to 2007 — but crashed after joining in lockstep with George W. Bush to advocate the invasion of Iraq.

The past six months in particular have brought four shocks that undermine Blair's legacy and agenda: the rise of the crusty Corbyn to the apex of a militantly leftist Labour, a Brexit vote he viewed as a disaster, a scathing parliamentary commission report that faulted his presentation of unsubstantiated intelligence as a justification for attacking Iraq — and the rise of Donald Trump, which he views as a global harbinger of something sinister.

In a frank, at times self-scouring 40-minute conversation, Blair questioned the political viability of the pragmatic approach to politics that propelled him to power with Bill Clinton in the 1990s, a trans-Atlantic partnership whose depth (and shallowness) was recently revealed in a series of phone call transcripts showing the two swapping political advice, serious consultation about Vladimir Putin and jokes about bananas.

But he also singled out Hillary Clinton — who has positioned herself as a stout progressive in the Sanders mold — as the last, best hope for centrism at a time when it is beset by extremists on both sides, egged on by social media he believes has had a “revolutionary” impact on politics, and not in a good way.

“Hillary Clinton,” he said, with a grin over his coffee cup, “is the Democrat nominee and, at least if the polls are correct, she has a fair chance of winning.”

Blair said he remains in communication with both Clintons. He provided then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with inside intel on his conversations with Mideast leaders when he served as an envoy to the region — and reportedly sought her help in securing a top job at the European Union. More often the exchanges have been less formal, and Blair told me they have talked, from time to time, about how to survive politically during the present era of “protest” politics.

“They're thinking about it the whole time,” Blair said. “I mean, there's no two smarter people in politics. Of course. this is the No. 1 issue: How do you respond to what are genuine anxieties and fears but come up with a response that has real integrity? And real integrity means an answer. It doesn't just mean — it doesn't mean riding the anger. And this is very difficult to do. … This is why I'm reevaluating the whole time but I haven't come to the conclusion that centrist politics is wrong or dead. … I think it's very much alive but it needs to be given a renewal, a revival, and a muscularity which it presently lacks.”

Trump gnaws at shorter leash


The Republican nominee strays from the teleprompter as he makes a passionate case for his candidacy.

Donald Trump, after several straight days delivering a more scripted message, loosened the rhetorical shackles tightened by his new campaign manager and went off-script several times Wednesday afternoon, offering a more passionate but at times self-contradicting case for his candidacy.

The Republican nominee, still struggling to right his campaign after a prolonged dip in the polls, touted the same divisive policy ideas while promising an “end to the era of division.” He hailed himself as a political outsider, citing his decades as an insider who used his money to buy power. And he offered voters a black-and-white choice between the abject dystopia to come in a Clinton presidency or the problem-free paradise he vowed to easily restore.

"If I don't win, it will be worse than ever before,” he told supporters at a Tampa rally. “But if I win, we're going to turn it around and it will be a beautiful thing."

Trump made the same overt appeals to Hispanics and blacks, constituencies that appear to have broadly written him off, as he first did last week. But he again based his sales pitch on a patronizing portrayal of black and Hispanic communities heavy on hyperbole and stereotypes.

יום שני, 22 באוגוסט 2016

Brexit sparks rush for New Zealand as emigration inquiries hit record high

NZ government’s website records huge spike in queries from British nationals in the wake of referendum vote
On the day of the Brexit referendum the New Zealand government website received 998 registrations from British nationals, compared to 109 at the same time the year before. Photograph: EyesWideOpen/Getty Images

The New Zealand media have warned of a “British Invasion” after government data revealed huge spikes in the number of queries from Britons in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Typically the Immigration New Zealand website receives 3,000 registrations a month from British nationals interested in moving to, working or investing in New Zealand.

What is it really like to live in New Zealand?

But on the day of the Brexit referendum the website received 998 registrations from Britons, compared with 109 at the same time the year before. Anyone who registers will get regular updates and more detailed information on moving to New Zealand.

In the 49 days following the Brexit vote more than 10,000 British nationals registered their interest – compared with 4,599 during the same period the year before.

On Monday the New Zealand Herald ran a story on the increase on its front page, with an illustration declaring a “British invasion”.
The New Zealand Herald’s front page, leading on its story about a ‘British invasion’. Photograph: New Zealand Herald

Prof John Morgan, a British expat and academic at the University of Auckland, said the current wave of interest in New Zealand reminded him of the “political refugees” from the 1980s who fled the Thatcher government.

“New Zealand is really appealing for Brits because it’s a similar size and culture,” said Morgan.

“There is this pervading idea that New Zealand is some sort of relic of 1950s Britain, a place to escape, a place to go back in time. That is not true, but it is generally true that New Zealand does avoid the worst trappings of modern, consumerist culture. There is a rush hour – but it is just an hour.”

Neal Curtis, a media studies lecturer at the University of Auckland and another expat, said he emigrated to New Zealand to escape the Tories, but the country of British imaginations was a long way from the reality.

“New Zealand still has a legacy as a colonial outpost, as a liberal, socially progressive oasis on the other side of the world,” said Curtis.

“It can be quite a shock when you arrive to discover it is really just a more spacious version of what you left behind.”

According to Immigration New Zealand, in the year to June, 4,934 Britons were granted residency, 22,633 Britons were granted work visas and 1,176 Britons were granted student visas.

Nicolas Sarkozy declares candidacy for French presidential election

Former leader says key issue for France is ‘how to defend our lifestyle without cutting ourselves off from the world’
Nicolas Sarkozy was the president of France from 2007 to 2012. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

Nicolas Sarkozy has announced he will seek his party’s nomination to stand in next year’s French presidential election.

The rightwinger, who was nicknamed “the hyper-president” for his frenetic term in power from 2007 to 2012, had made no secret of his ambition to reconquer the Élysée palace and avenge his 2012 defeat by the Socialist François Hollande.

After weeks of suspense in which he grabbed media headlines by presenting an increasingly hardline stance on national identity and the place of Islam in France, Sarkozy launched his campaign with an announcement on social media and a link to the first chapter of a book, Everything for France, which he will publish this week.

Le comeback kid? Sarkozy shapes up for presidential run on hardline platform

Read more

“The next five years will be filled with danger but also with hope,” he wrote. He listed what he said were the five major challenges facing France, including defending French identity, restoring lost competitiveness and enforcing state authority.

Sarkozy said France’s “top battle” was over how “to defend our lifestyle without being tempted to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world”.

In his fight to win his party’s nomination, the 61-year-old candidate is putting forward a platform of policies that veer even further to the far right than in 2012, when he set out to win over voters from Marine Le Pen’s Front National.

He wants to ban the Muslim headscarf from universities and public companies, limit the French nationality rights of children born to foreign parents, and ban pork-free options in school canteens, meaning Muslim and Jewish children would no longer be offered a substitute meal.

He has also scoffed at what he called “legal niceties” in the fight against terrorism, prompting the left to warn that his treatment of suspected jihadis could be akin to that of Guantánamo Bay.

For the first time, the French right and centre is holding an open contest to choose its presidential candidate. Anyone on the electoral register can vote if they pay €2 (£1.72) and sign a pledge saying they adhere to “the values of the right and centre”. Up to three or four million people could turn out to vote in the two-round ballot on 20 and 27 November.

Sarkozy is the challenger and not the favourite in the right’s primary race. The leader in the polls and currently France’s favourite politician is Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux and a former prime minister, who served as Sarkozy’s foreign minister.

Juppé, 71, has undergone a staggering image transformation. Twenty years ago he was the most loathed prime minister in modern times after his pension changes brought 2 million people on to the streets in protest. Now he is seen as a calm, elder statesman and a moderate, pushing pro-business structural reform and less divisive on identity issues.

Sarkozy believes that the climate of fear and anxiety in France after the deaths of more than 230 people in terrorist attacks claimed by Islamists in the past 19 months means the nation needs a man of authority such as himself.

One hurdle for Sarkozy beyond winning over right and centre-right sympathisers is his lasting unpopularity among the wider French population who still dislike his abrasive personality and his hard-to-shake-off label of “president of the rich”. He must also get around his lacklustre economic record in office – he promised to restore the values of work and reward, yet left France with many more unemployed – as well as judicial investigations into party financing relating to his 2012 presidential campaign, in which he denies any wrongdoing.

What if Trump won't accept defeat?

As their nominee unravels, Republicans worry where his scorched-earth, rigged-election rhetoric leads the GOP and the country.

Donald Trump is on track to lose in November and to refuse to accept the legitimacy of that Election Day result. That’s a problem not just for Hillary Clinton but for both political parties and the country. For everyone, really, other than Donald Trump.

By hiring Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon, a media provocateur in his own image, and accepting the resignation of the man who was supposed to professionalize him, Trump is signaling the final 78 days of his presidential campaign will be guided by a staff that indulges his deeply held conspiracy theories and validates his hermetically sealed worldview.

That includes his insistence that the only way he loses is in a “rigged” election. According to two long-time Trump associates, the notion of a fixed election isn’t just viewed as smart politics inside Trump Tower; it’s something the GOP nominee believes.

“If he loses, [he’ll say] ‘It’s a rigged election.’ If he wins, he’ll say it was rigged and he beat it. And that’s where this is headed no matter what the outcome is,” said one Trump ally. “If Donald Trump loses, he is going to point the finger at the media and the GOP establishment. I can’t really picture him giving a concession speech, whatever the final margin.”

“It’s the same as how he looks at the polls,” said another close Trump confidant. “Any poll that shows him ahead, he likes. Any poll that shows him behind, he thinks it’s rigged.”

Trump began to suggest that the election would be “fixed” last month, as Clinton opened a lead following July’s party conventions. “The only way we can lose, in my opinion — I really mean this, Pennsylvania — is if cheating goes on,” Trump said at a rally in Altoona. Days earlier in Wilmington, North Carolina, he’d warned that without stronger voter identification laws people would be “voting 15 times for Hillary.” The first image of a Trump campaign ad, released on Friday, is that of a polling place as a narrator alleges “the system” is “rigged”; and his campaign has already begun recruiting volunteers to monitor polling places, specifically in urban precincts where African-American voters, very few of whom support Trump, predominate.

יום שבת, 20 באוגוסט 2016

Inside the fall of Paul Manafort

Donald Trump’s campaign chairman thought he could weather the scrutiny of his lucrative foreign political consulting. He was wrong.

Earlier this month, Paul Manafort met with Donald Trump and suggested that they put in place a succession plan for the upper ranks of the Republican nominee’s flailing presidential campaign, according to three campaign sources with direct knowledge of the events that led to Manafort’s resignation on Friday morning as campaign chairman.

Trump was in the midst of a string of self-inflicted controversies that were starting to resonate in polls showing him slipping further behind Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, and Manafort warned his boss that things were about to get worse.

The stories, Manafort argued to Trump, were being coordinated by Clinton’s allies, and they were going to continue for the remainder of the election cycle as long as Manafort remained at the helm.

“This is going to be a distraction, and I don’t want to be a distraction for the campaign,” Manafort told Trump, according to a campaign official briefed on the meeting. The official said Manafort, with Trump’s blessing, “started putting a plan in place” for succession “because he knew exactly what was going to happen, and he didn’t want to leave Trump without any leadership. He’s been around politics long enough to know that you need to have a Plan B and a Plan C.”

Although Manafort told associates that he thought he would be able to weather the controversy, his meeting with Trump nonetheless sparked internal discussions about changes to the campaign’s senior management structure. They included elevating pollster Kellyanne Conway, who had been brought onto the campaign last month, into a more senior role, and also officially bringing on Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, who had been informally advising people around the campaign for months.

Still, Manafort associates said, he hoped he could ride out the storm and remain with the campaign until the end. That’s despite what the associates characterize as Manafort’s growing frustration with Trump’s unwillingness to embrace advice for a more scripted, measured tone and a greater reliance on more traditional campaign tactics.

Paul Manafort resigns from Trump campaign

By Nolan D. McCaskill, Alex Isenstadt and Shane Goldmacher

But it quickly became clear that the controversies around Manafort’s Ukraine work were going to be even worse than he had anticipated.

On Sunday night, The New York Times published the first of the stories that had Manafort worried — revealing that Ukrainian investigators were looking into a “secret ledger” that listed $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort by the party of the deposed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.

A little more than two days later, in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, news broke that Trump was bringing on Conway as campaign manager and Bannon as the campaign’s chief executive, a newly created role for a conservative media firebrand with no previous campaign experience.

Campaign sources publicly played down talk that the moves represented a shakeup or a demotion for Manafort, whom they said would remain on as campaign chairman. But behind the scenes, the campaign was bracing for the next round of damaging stories about his work in Ukraine.

Sure enough, later that day, The Associated Press reported that Manafort and his longtime deputy Rick Gates (who had followed Manafort onto the Trump campaign) had in 2012 secretly steered $2.2 million to a pair of Washington lobbying firms to boost Yanukovych’s pro-Kremlin government in a manner intended to circumvent disclosure requirements.

The story was followed in short order by a POLITICO investigation revealing that Manafort and Gates — working with a former Russian army linguist allegedly linked to the country’s intelligence service — had continued through late last year to advise the Russia-friendly Ukrainian party that arose from the ashes of Yanukovych’s government.

Manafort pushed back on the stories one by one, denying to the Times that he received the $12.7 million in cash, defending the legality of the lobbying arrangement exposed by the AP, and insisting to POLITICO that he “had no contract and did no business after [the] 2014 elections” in Ukraine.

יום רביעי, 17 באוגוסט 2016

Trump campaign shakeup stokes fresh Hill Republican worries


'Rearranging the deck chairs is not an effective strategy,' fretted one top aide.
In a normal election season, any party loyalist would welcome a campaign shakeup as a sign that a beleaguered candidate was righting the ship.

But Donald Trump’s announcement of two new top campaign hands Wednesday — amid plummeting poll numbers — brought no such response. Instead, it stirred yet another round of private hand-wringing among Republicans in the otherwise sleepy Capitol.

Donald Trump’s announcement of two new top campaign hands Wednesday stirred yet another round of private hand-wringing among Republicans in the Capitol.

“Rearranging the deck chairs is not an effective strategy. They have to change the course,” one top aide to a conservative House Republican said Wednesday. “Problem is not staff. The problem is with Trump.”

Trump’s allies say the naysayers are misreading the latest personnel strategy from the GOP nominee. The decision to tap pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager and Breitbart News Chairman Stephen Bannon as the campaign’s chief executive was merely an expansion of the existing team, they said.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a first-term senator whose outsider-businessman profile meshes well with that of Trump, said in an interview Wednesday that bringing Conway and Bannon on board is “indicative of what good campaigns do” to position themselves after a party convention and ahead of November.

יום ראשון, 14 באוגוסט 2016

How We Killed the Tea Party


Greedy PACs drained the movement with endless pleas for money to support “conservative” causes and candidates. I worked for one of them. But Tea Party ideas live on.

By Paul H. Jossey

As we watch the Republican Party tear itself to shreds over Donald Trump, perhaps it’s time to take note of another conservative political phenomenon that the GOP nominee has utterly eclipsed: the Tea Party. The Tea Party movement is pretty much dead now, but it didn’t die a natural death. It was murdered—and it was an inside job. In a half decade, the spontaneous uprising that shook official Washington degenerated into a form of pyramid scheme that transferred tens of millions of dollars from rural, poorer Southerners and Midwesterners to bicoastal political operatives.

What began as an organic, policy-driven grass-roots movement was drained of its vitality and resources by national political action committees that dunned the movement’s true believers endlessly for money to support its candidates and causes. The PACs used that money first to enrich themselves and their vendors and then deployed most of the rest to search for more “prospects.” In Tea Party world, that meant mostly older, technologically unsavvy people willing to divulge personal information through “petitions”—which only made them prey to further attempts to lighten their wallets for what they believed was a good cause. While the solicitations continue, the audience has greatly diminished because of a lack of policy results and changing political winds.

I was an employee at one of the firms that ran these operations. But nothing that follows is proprietary or gleaned directly from my employment. The evidence of the scheming is all there in the public record, available for anyone willing to look.

The Tea Party movement began building in the George W. Bush years. Profligate spending and foreign adventurism with no discernible results nurtured disgust with Washington’s habit of spending beyond it’s means and sending others to die in its wars. When President Obama made reorganizing the nation’s health care system his foremost priority—and repeatedly misrepresented its effects in the process—anger at Washington exploded.

Republicans inside the Beltway reacted to the burgeoning Tea Party with glee but uncertainty about how to channel the grass-roots energy usually reserved for the left. A small group of supposedly conservative lawyers and consultants saw something different: dollar signs. The PACs found anger at the Republican Party sells very well. The campaigns they ran would be headlined “Boot John Boehner," or “Drop a Truth Bomb on Kevin McCarthy.” And after Boehner was in fact booted and McCarthy bombed in his bid to succeed him, it was naturally time to “Fire Paul Ryan." The selling is always urgent: “Stop what you’re doing” “This can’t wait.” One active solicitor is the Tea Party Leadership Fund, which received $6.7 million from 2013 to mid-2015, overwhelmingly from small donors. A typical solicitation from the TPLF read: “Your immediate contribution could be the most important financial investment you will make to help return America to greatness.” But, according to an investigation by POLITICO, 87 percent of that “investment” went to overhead; only $910,000 of the $6.7 million raised was used to support political candidates. If the prospect signs a “petition,” typically a solicitation of his or her personal information is recorded and a new screen immediately appears asking for money. Vendors pass the information around in “list swaps” and “revenue shares” ad infinitum.

Starting a new PAC is easy: Fill out some paperwork, throw up a splash-page website, rent an email list, and you’re off. It’s an entrepreneurial endeavor. Through trial-and-error, operatives test messages to see which resonate best and are most likely to get them and their vendors paid. They may pay someone known in the movement to “sign” the pitch, as current Donald Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson has on TPLF emails.

Today, the Tea Party movement is dead, and Trump has co-opted the remnants. What was left of the Tea Party split for a while between Trump and, while he was still in the race, Ted Cruz, who was backed by Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots. In 2014, the Tea Party Patriots group spent just 10 percent of the $14.4 million it collected actually supporting candidates, with the rest going to consultants and vendors and Martin’s hefty salary of $15,000 per month; in all, she makes an estimated $450,000 a year from her Tea Party-related ventures. Today, of course, it’s all about Trump, but Trump rallies are only Trump rallies, not Tea Party rallies that he assumed control of. There are no more Tea Party rallies.

A recent poll showed that just 17 percent of Americans support what was once known as the Tea Party—the lowest number ever. The bailout-Obamacare-driven grass-roots revolt has vanished. Various autopsies have offered a number of causes: IRS targeting, bad candidates, hostile media, and even some hazy form of moral and political victory, in that the Tea Party pushed the GOP to take tougher stances on some issues. All have at least some merit.

But any insurgent movement needs oxygen in the form of victories or other measured progress in order to sustain itself and grow. By sapping the Tea Party’s resources and energy, the PACs thwarted any hope of building the movement. Every dollar swallowed up in PAC overhead or vendor fees was a dollar that did not go to federal Tea Party candidates in crucial primaries or general elections. This allowed the GOP to easily defeat or ignore them (with some rare exceptions). Second, the PACs drained money especially from local Tea Party groups, some of which were actively trying to grow the movement electorally from the ground up, at the school board and city council level. Lacking results five years on, interest in the movement waned—all that was left were the PACs and their lists.


Any postmortem should start with the fact that there were always two Tea Parties. First were people who believe in constitutional conservatism. These folks sense the country they will leave their children and grandchildren is a shell of what they inherited. And they have little confidence the Republican Party can muster the courage or will to fix it.

Second were lawyers and consultants who read 2009’s political winds and saw a chance to get rich.

For 18 months ending in 2013, I worked for one of these consultants, Dan Backer, who has served as treasurer for dozens of PACs, many now defunct, through his law and consulting firm. I thus benefited from the Tea Party’s fleecing.

The PACs seem to operate through a familiar model. It works something like this: Prospects whose name appear on a vendor’s list get a phone call, email or glossy mailer from a group they’ve likely never heard of asking them for money. Conservative pundit and Redstate.com Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson described one such encounter. A woman called and asked if she could play a taped message touting efforts to help Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz fight for conservative governance. When the recording stopped an older man (the woman was gone) offered Erickson the chance to join “the Tea Party.” He wouldn’t say who paid him, just “the Tea Party.” Membership was even half price. For just $100 he was in! Erickson declined.

Erickson’s call came from InfoCision or a similar vendor hired by PACs to “prospect” for new donors. Often PAC creators have financial interests in the vendors—in fact, sometimes they are the vendors, too—which makes keeping money in house easier, and harder to track. PAC names include “Tea Party,” “Patriots,” “Freedom,” or some other emotive term to assure benevolence. And names and images of political figures the prospects admire (or detest), usually accompany the solicitation, giving the illusion of imprimatur. Those people are almost never actually involved and little money ends up supporting candidates.

According to Federal Election Commission reports between 80 to 90 percent, and sometimes all the money these PACs get is swallowed in fees and poured into more prospecting. For example, conservative activist Larry Ward created Constitutional Rights PAC. He also runs Political Media, a communications firm. The New York Times reviewed Constitutional Rights’ filings and found: “Mr. Ward’s PAC spends every dollar it gets on consultants, mailings and fund-raising—making no donations to candidates.” Ward justified the arrangement by saying Political Media discounts solicitations on behalf of Constitutional Rights.

Let that sink in. Ward takes his PAC’s money and redistributes it to his company and other vendors for more messaging and solicitations, but suggests critics should rest easy since the PAC gets a discount on Political Media’s normal rate. Constitutional Rights PAC may be extreme but it’s hardly an outlier.

POLITICO last year reviewed the activity of 33 conservative PACs for the 2014 cycle. Combined, they raked in $43 million dollars, according to the POLITICO report. Of that, $39.5 million went to overhead including $6 million to entities owned by PAC operators; candidates got $3 million. Another report analyzed 17 conservative PACs from the 2014 midterm. It came up with different numbers than POLITICO, finding that the bottom 10 PACs in terms of the ratio of spending to actual candidate support received $54,318,498 and spent only $3,621,896 supporting candidates.

And who is Constitutional Rights’ treasurer? My old boss Dan Backer. Backer also serves as treasurer to TPLF, and many others. An analysis found 10 conservative PACs whose treasurer was Scott MacKenzie spent 92 percent of the $17.5 million they raised on operating expenses, and less than 1 percent on candidate support.

PACs are not legally obliged to responsibly spend their loot. As former FEC enforcement officer Kenneth Gross stated, “If I have a PAC and want to spend it on a trip to Atlantic City, that’s fine,” provided it’s accurately reported. Unlike nonprofits they are not governed by a board, have no fiduciary duty to their donors and are not subject to IRS audits.

The PACs keep cash flowing by trolling the news for supposed apostasy. The government botches the rescue of employees in a foreign embassy? “Stand with us for Benghazi!” A bunch of kids are murdered in Connecticut? “Help us defend your Second Amendment rights!” “Sign our petition!”

Another favorite tactic is the “Draft Committee.” Pick a popular figure then start a committee to “draft” him or her to run for office. TPLF “drafted” Sarah Palin for Senate in Alaska and Backer “drafted” Newt Gingrich for Senate in Virginia. After I left his firm, Backer “drafted” new Texas resident Allen West for Senate in Florida. None of these candidates were remotely interested or associated with the effort, and in fact could not be by law. But there were signatures to collect and donations to request. (As a litigator, I rarely participated in the conduct described here. I nonetheless knew these schemes paid most of my salary.)

The “draftees” or their campaigns often send cease-and-desist letters, as Gingrich and Palin did. This cycle, Backer and MacKenzie have kept Trump’s lawyers busy. Despite Trump’s constant protests about “corrupt” super PACs, MacKenzie started “Patriots for Trump” and Backer founded “TrumPAC.” MacKenzie shuttered Patriots when the Trump campaign complained, although the Facebook page remains active. The campaign persuaded Backer to change TrumPAC’s name to “Great America PAC.” But the PAC begged off requests to shutter and “refund any funds raised” based on Trump’s candidacy. Jesse Benton, Great America’s chief strategist and formerly a Ron Paul operative, explained the PAC would remain active because Trump would need “a robust and effective finance organization … after he secured the nomination.” By law, the campaign can have no say in how this “finance organization” spends its money, though its website still prominently features the candidate and his trademark slogan. It pledged to raise $20 million dollars before the Republican convention.

PACs exploited a reservoir of goodwill toward minority candidates in particular to raise money for themselves. After his razor-thin 2012 congressional defeat, Allen West, an African-American former Florida congressman, filed a complaint with the FEC against PACs raising money off his race but doing nothing to help him. The FEC concluded it lacked authority to police such efforts. “Draft Ben Carson” paid off well for the North Carolinian who took a $236,000 salary and sent gobs more to a company comprised only of him. After Carson’s campaign ended “The 2016 committee”—the successor to Draft Ben Carson—sought to keep the money flowing, stating it would now promote the surgeon for vice president. It finally shuttered after a barrage of scam accusations. (In fairness, Carson’s entire campaign could credibly be explained as just a list-building operation.)

Challenged about spending allocations by POLITICO, Backer responded that it’s a misinterpretation of FEC reports to suggest that the PACs he helps oversee have spent more on their own operating expenses than on their stated causes. As for Great America PAC, he said it’s “probably the best most effective steward of donor funds. This PAC does stuff, whereas nobody else does.”

From my vantage point, I would occasionally hear disquieting remarks that gave me pause. Rumors about the legitimacy of our operations would sometimes flare up in our small office. When a campaign manager would lash out about PACs using the candidate’s name to make money, I wondered if he was talking about us. When I eventually opened my own firm I vowed never to have such doubts about what I was doing.

The PACs’ electoral record for the little money that did trickle to candidates is terrible. According to POLITICO, $3 million of $43 million raised from 33 analyzed groups did support candidates in 2014. But finding races they positively affected is difficult. They played absolutely no role in that cycle’s biggest Tea Party victory, the scalping of Eric Cantor. The victor, however, had lots of new friends the next morning fearlessly tweeting support for their new champion, Dave Brat. Spin matters more than tangible success. After the 2014 midterms, Jenny Beth Martin quickly opined the Republican wave was a Tea Party victory despite lacking Tea Party candidates because voters rewarded the movement’s “principles.”

A provocative theory holds these groups intentionally back candidates that can’t win to assure fundraising flow. Some may genuinely believe they help (others obviously know they don’t). But it’s no secret that the day after Mitt Romney’s defeat was a huge fundraising day in the conservative world. And electoral success would undoubtedly affect business. Current affinity for Cruz and Trump is conditioned on them losing. Victory attenuates the need for the “action” these groups purport to catalyze. It also blunts the emotional appeals which kick-start contributions. That’s why one conciliatory note in the inauguration speech would start the emails flying about how the grass roots has been sold out and “we need your help to keep President Trump true to his word. Sign our petition!”

The PACs excuse their profligate spending through artful dodges. This or that group doesn’t concentrate on electoral spending, which shows up on FEC reports, but on “organizing,” “rallies,” “training volunteers” or showing people they aren’t alone. At the same time, a Tea Party rally can be a convenient way to collect information and raise funds, as is “organizing” the grass roots for issue X by sending more emails and solicitations.

Another excuse the PACs make is that small-dollar fundraising is expensive. That’s true, and donor prospecting is not inherently unethical. It becomes so only when fundraising is the ends not means. Sometimes the PACs promise to do better after cultivating a house file. But they are also quick to put themselves on the cross when confronted, as Pierson did, “The only reason [TPLF] draws attention is that it is anti-establishment.” In other words, lots of groups do it.

She’s not exactly wrong. High political overhead isn’t new, nor is it limited to Republicans. Jon Stewart mocked the Democrats constant barrage of Henny-Penny fundraising emails in 2014. Mr. Campaign Finance himself, Russ Feingold, ran a PAC that essentially existed to keep himself and his staff paid while he awaited another Senate run—it spent 5 percent on electoral activities. Some Democratic operatives drew ire after raising $11 million off the left’s favorite bugaboo Citizens United v. FEC—although there complaints centered on PAC intrusion on nonprofit turf and focusing on swing-races instead of overturning the maligned free-speech case.


Political advocacy law, of the kind I practice, is different from other types of law in which people spending money expect a tangible benefit, like defense of a lawsuit. Political advocacy can be a years-long, even decades-long, process where progress at any point in time can be hard to define. Elections are single points in a political cycle that renews every two years. This ambiguity makes the field easily vulnerable to marketing over results. But when small-dollar donors give to an organization promising political results, a high ethical standard should exist.

No one should take a vow of poverty to go into politics, but it should reflect a higher calling. Mine came after spending six days in a hospital in downtown New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. When I got out I knew a comfortable career in cardiopulmonary science wouldn’t be satisfying. I enrolled in law school the following year determined to fight for the principles of liberty, individualism and self-determination that made America the world’s envy. The people who supported the Tea Party believed in those same principles just as much as the immigrant who risks his life to come here. These people deserve something tangible for parting with their money.

So what can be done, given that Tea Party candidates create a particularly target-rich environment?

Some candidates have found success in the courtroom. In 2013, Scott MacKenzie’s Conservative Strikeforce began soliciting ostensibly to help Ken Cuccinelli win the Virginia gubernatorial race. The campaign received $10,000 of the $2.2 million raised in Cuccinelli’s name. He sued, claiming the PAC violated the Lanham Act through false advertising. The case settled on favorable terms to Cuccinelli. Most important, henceforth, Conservative Strikeforce must stop using the name and/or image of any candidate who requests it. As Cuccinelli recently reflected: “Their defense was ‘free speech’… But you don’t have the freedom to go tell little old ladies that if they give you $50, you are going to do ‘X’ with it and then not do it. You don’t have a First Amendment right of free speech to bilk them out of money.”

On the federal side, FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel has pushed to expand the commission’s authority into this realm to protect candidates like Allen West. Ravel is sincere, but conservative and libertarians are skeptical of government intruding into speech-related activities. It’s also possible that voluntary standards or a privately run grading system may provoke better practices.

Importantly, the conservative media must police this. Most reporting on these PACs comes from outlets the right generally distrusts, like the New York Times and POLITICO. It’s shameful that MSNBC’s Chris Hayes has discussed these schemes more than most right-leaning outlets. Excepting Erick Erickson, Jonah Goldberg and the Daily Caller, conservative reporting is rare. One commentator speculates professional relationships with PAC operators eschews hard journalism. If true, this taints much lofty talk about conservative values.

But most important, the responsibility is on you—the Tea Party activist, the older conservative—to know where your money goes. You can view a group’s track record on OpenSecrets.org in minutes. How much goes toward candidate contributions or so-called independent expenditures, which are supposed to be spent on the candidate (though even those can be thinly veiled solicitations if the "ask" or landing page directs to the PAC and not the candidate). And do PAC operators donate their money?

If you give, give directly to the candidate. The money may still be wasted, but at least it goes to someone incentivized to spend wisely. Or if you care about a certain issue, give to an organization that specializes in that issue; it will at least employ true believers. If you give to the Tea Party, give local. They need money more than groups hiring telemarketers or sending glossy mailers. Be wary of solicitations that promise to “Help Candidate X.” Odds are Candidate X has nothing to do with it.

But the best news is you can make a difference without spending a dime. Campaigns and political parties are always searching for volunteers. Look for organizations that don’t just ask for money. A couple years ago I attended an Americans for Prosperity gathering in Fairfax, Virginia, on a client’s behalf. Two young staffers spoke to about 15 activists. They asked how AFP could help them. Did they want to become better writers, to write op-eds or letters to the editor? AFP could arrange writing seminars. Did they want to become better organizers? They would bring someone from the home office. Not once did they ask for money (perhaps they did at some other time). Instead of asking the crowd to invest in AFP, these staffers asked how AFP could invest in them. I was floored. Charles and David Koch are true believers and they don’t need your money. And there are others: Erickson points to Senate Conservatives Fund, Madison Project and Club for Growth as groups he personally supports. And you can always start your own Facebook or Twitter group around the issues and candidates you care about. That will have more impact than lining the pockets of some consultant you’ve never met.

The excesses of George W. Bush and Barak Obama created the “second” Tea Party—named after the 1773 anti-tax revolt incited by Boston colonials—in 2009, when CNBC’s Rick Santelli extolled the virtues of reining in runaway government and touched a raw nerve. The Tea Party critique of government—the way it has grown, concerned with itself and its vested interests, and benefits the governed as only an afterthought—has never been more cogent. At its best, the Tea Party sought a return to the nation’s philosophical roots of government of the people, by the people and for the people. In sad irony, the Tea Party was hijacked by those who mirrored its critique of government: bloated, inefficient and looking out only for themselves.

If there is a Tea Party 3.0 it must unshackle itself and rise again as a grass-roots movement.

יום חמישי, 11 באוגוסט 2016

The Entertainment Candidate


Donald Trump is running a top-notch campaign — just not to be president.

Donald Trump is running a top-notch campaign to be a conservative media celebrity.

Unfortunately for him, and especially for the Republican Party, this isn’t the same thing as running a good, or even minimally competent, campaign for president.

From the beginning, Trump has been the candidate by and for the Entertainment Right, the talk-radio hosts, cable personalities and authors who recognize in Trump their own combative style and find it irresistible.

Trump’s campaign has hewed closely to the rules for 21st-century media provocateurs: Always be inflammatory and never apologize. Wear the media’s outrage as a badge of honor and attack your critics twice as hard. Repeat as necessary.

Trump didn’t learn these rules climbing the best-seller charts with polemical books or garnering A.M. radio ratings, but in the world of New York real estate. His dirtball mentor Roy Cohn, the late Joe McCarthy aide turned New York power lawyer, taught him to always stay on the attack and never back down. It was Trump’s discovery that, in the right conditions, the model was transferable to Republican primary politics.

Trump opened a window to his mind-set in advice he gave radio talk-show host Howie Carr, when Carr was embroiled in a minicontroversy: “Whatever you do, don’t apologize. You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy ‘the Greek’ way back. Remember? He was doing OK ’til he said he was sorry.”

This isn’t an accurate representation of Jimmy the Greek’s fall nearly 30 years ago (CBS fired the football analyst almost immediately after his offensive musings about black athletes). But it is telling that this is how Trump remembers it. If only poor Jimmy hadn’t been such a weak loser, he might have survived his racially insensitive remarks, and—who knows?—maybe been bigger than ever!

Trump’s refusal ever to apologize takes away one way to defuse controversies, and perhaps demonstrate some humanity and humility in the process. So his only options are to double down or try to evade what he said, forcing his defenders to repeat wholly implausible spin (and Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich and Co. usually dutifully comply).

Believers in the Trump “pivot” are constantly disappointed for a simple reason. Like a good entertainer, Trump always tries to keep his audiences engaged and amused. He doesn’t want to bore them or himself. His campaign is a kind of performance art in which entertainment value is more important than basic political considerations.

While journalists and political strategists are appalled by the distractions, Trump probably looks at things differently. Whenever one of his controversies generates a tsunami of media coverage, he may chafe at how “unfairly” he’s being treated, but part of him must be delighted as a child on Christmas morning at all the coverage. This is how he is wired.

After the past week, Trump must have trouble resisting the thought, “I’ve been the lead story in The New York Times five out of the last seven days—it can't be that bad, right?"

After his wife’s introduction to the country was spoiled at the Republican convention, Trump tweeted, "Good news is Melania’s speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics especially if you believe that all press is good press!” And that has, across four decades in the media capital of the world, always been one of Trump’s profoundest beliefs.

Republicans have been especially susceptible to the phenomenon of people running for president to enhance their media careers. Mike Huckabee had the most success at this, surprising on the upside in 2008 and landing his Fox News show afterward. In 2012, Newt Gingrich existed somewhere on the border between serious candidate and publicist for future book and movie projects. In his shocking victory in South Carolina, fueled by his defiance of the media despite his manifest weakness as a candidate by traditional measures, Gingrich came closest to foreshadowing the Trump phenomenon.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a media skills, a deft sense of political theater or boldness. But Trump is pushing the limits of the media-centric candidacy. His media enablers apparently don’t realize that just because someone rates, that doesn’t make him a good presidential candidate; just because someone has an intense following, doesn’t mean he’s appealing to a majority of people; just because someone is hated by the media, it doesn’t mean he’s a conservative.

Trump’s media fans will invariably give him advice to attack Hillary Clinton more (certainly sound counsel), but they will never tell him to tone it down.

The fact is that Trump isn’t necessarily losing on the issues; he’s losing on demeanor. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Trump is roughly even with Hillary on handling the economy and terrorism, major issues, yet he trails badly on every presidential attribute.

So it’s not just a matter of Trump being more focused. e needs to be more dignified, more careful, more respectful and more knowledgable—in other words, a presidential candidate, not a media celebrity.

He is currently on a path to defeat, although if his standard is different, this may not matter so much to him. In terms of media attention, Trump’s campaign has been, and will continue to be, a runaway success. In his bizarre, rambling news conference after his convention speech, Trump bragged about how many Time magazine covers he has had in the past year. There have been reports that Trump is considering starting his own TV network after the election.

And why not? By November, one way or the other, win or lose, he will be more famous than ever.

יום רביעי, 10 באוגוסט 2016

Reaching Across the Thin Blue Line


How the head of a police union and the father of a son killed by a police officer found common cause.

The cycle of violence between police and their communities shows no sign of ending. Last month,, police officers were shot to death in Dallas and Baton Rouge, apparently by perpetrators bent on vengeance of some sort for the killings of African-Americans. Now, in the wake of the shooting death of an unarmed teenager named Paul O’Neal in Chicago on July 28, street gangs in that city are reportedly planning to retaliate against police. As a result, around the country some police officials are coming to realize they must make a better effort to reach out to their communities, just as some advocates of victims are seeking a better dialogue and greater understanding with police.

One of the most remarkable stories of these attempts at reconciliation involves Jim Palmer, head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and Michael Bell, the activist-father of a police-shooting victim, both of whom overcame initial hostility and mistrust to join together in supporting one of the most forward-looking pieces of legislation in the country intended to restore trust to police. Here is their story, told in their own voices:

Jim Palmer

The first time I heard the name Michael Bell was in 2005, when the Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA)—the state’s largest law enforcement group, of which I’m executive director—planned to give awards to officers in the city of Kenosha for actions that resulted in the death of a 21-year-old male suspect on Nov. 9, 2004. The man had struggled with alcohol addiction since his early teens, and despite having a court appearance the following morning on a felony charge of marijuana possession and several misdemeanors, and that he was free on bond on the condition that he not drink and drive, he had gone to a tavern that night with some friends. According to the officers at the scene, after unsuccessfully attempting to subdue the young man with a Taser, they were forced to shoot him when he grabbed one of the officer’s holstered gun.

The young man’s name was Michael Bell. His father was Michael Bell Sr.

A businessman and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, Bell placed full page ads in several national newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Times, criticizing the WPPA for awarding the officers that had caused the death of his son, and raising for the first time the issue of whether police departments should be allowed to investigate themselves when it comes to use-of-force cases. While I was only working as a legislative lobbyist and staff attorney for the WPPA at the time, it was clear that the leadership of the organization was uneasy at the public attention.

I knew that he Kenosha Police Department investigated the matter, quickly concluding that the officers’ actions were justified. Shortly thereafter, the local district attorney did the same. In the announcement of his decision, the DA said people “do not have the right to fight with a cop. Nobody does.” Following these determinations and on the basis of the facts considered by the authorities, the WPPA’s awards committee of officers from around Wisconsin concluded that it would recognize the Kenosha officers at its annual convention in May of 2005.

Nonetheless, while Bell’s unorthodox approach had effectively served to draw attention to his son’s case ...


Michael Bell

After my son, Michael, was killed by a police officer, I resisted the urge to rush to judgment and waited until the facts came in, before concluding whether the officer had used excessive force. Michael’s mother and sister had witnessed him being held down by an officer, hands cuffed behind his back, and hearing an officer scream “He has my gun!” Another officer immediately drew his weapon, placed the barrel directly against my son’s temple, and pulled the trigger, taking Michael’s life.

As a United States Air Force pilot, I expected a National Transportation Safety Board-type of investigation of my son’s death. Instead, the local police department cleared itself of wrongdoing within 48 hours. Two weeks later, a district attorney, who refused to give our family an inquest, ruled the shooting justified.

I reached out to state and federal officials but was simply ignored. Then the state’s largest police union gave the three officers involved in my son’s death meritorious service awards. Recognizing that the traditional justice system had locked down in support of police officers and failed us, I had to resort to press/radio ads, TV commercials and highway billboards to call attention to a system that investigated itself.

After our city and I reached a $1.75 million settlement in a federal civil rights lawsuit, we brought awareness to the death of a Vietnam vet killed over a dispute involving fireworks, a young black male who suffocated in the back seat of a squad car and a white musician who inadvertently entered the wrong side of his duplex and was shot by police. But I knew the only way to really change things was to change the law and create a body that would independently investigate police violence.

If you think changing state law is easy, think again. It’s next to impossible, especially in regards to law enforcement.


Jim Palmer

In the next few years that followed, I was generally aware that Bell had continued to push the case of his son. For example, the Wisconsin attorney general rebuffed his request to review the matter, stating that she lacked the authority to do so. With few other options, Bell sued the City of Kenosha over the death of his son, and in 2010, that suit was settled for $1.7 million, which was a significant sum for cases of this type in Wisconsin.

Armed with new resources, Bell began a billboard campaign to publicly raise the question again: “When police kill, should they judge themselves?” The provocative ads appeared to inspire greater attention than his newspaper ads from five years before, though they seemed relatively sporadic and predominantly concentrated n Milwaukee. That attention grew considerably when, in 2012, Bell launched dozens of billboards in Milwaukee over the controversial death of a black man in police custody. The squad’s video of the man as he expired in the back of a squad car was played again and again by the media, and seemed to find a place within a larger narrative emerging on the national stage. Still, considering that Wisconsin had just come out of a contentious and historic two-year period brought about by an attack on the state’s collective bargaining laws, substantial reductions in the amount of state aid distributed to our cities, and an unsuccessful effort to recall the governor, the Milwaukee-targeted ads did not yet appear to generate prevalent statewide attention.

That changed when an officer with the Madison Police Department shot and killed a man by the name of Paul Heenan during a confrontation on November 9, 2012, when Heenan was said to have advanced on the officer who shot him, attempting to seize his drawn gun. The similarities of Heenan’s death and that of Michael Bell’s son seemed numerous. As reported in the media, both had histories of struggling with alcohol, both were intoxicated on the night of their deaths, and both were “unarmed” until it was determined that they moved aggressively toward police in such a way as to justify law enforcement’s use of deadly force. Additionally, both were white.

By this time, I had become the WPPA’s executive director. Among other changes, we launched a strategic public relations effort to expand our ability to communicate, educate and engage the media and general public. At the time of Paul Heenan’s tragic death, the WPPA had already begun formulating plans to better gauge public sentiment on law enforcement issues through the use of scientific polling—something that, even today, no other police group conducts on a consistent basis.

Almost immediately after the shooting of Heenan, Bell expanded his campaign to include not only billboards throughout the Madison area, but television and newspapers ads as well. Some of Bell’s new billboards used new messages, such as “Bad cops stain good cops,” which I and many local officers found offensive for inappropriately insinuating that an officer under investigation was a “bad cop.” Nonetheless, the Bell campaign garnered the widespread attention of the local media.

Then, in December of 2012, Michael Bell reached out to me.


Michael Bell

Our actual first meeting occurred in January of 2013, just months after a fatal shooting by the Madison Police Department. And it only happened because I barged into his office. I had leased billboards on major highways calling out police for investigating themselves. As you can imagine, law enforcement wasn’t keen about it. I had sent an email request to meet with the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association to discuss how we might improve the post-shooting investigation process. He was in no way amused and made it clear that he would not meet with me under those conditions. Our email exchange was contentious to say the least. The door was closed because we both refused to back down.

Several weeks later, while I was in Madison and driving past the WPPA headquarters, one of our team members laughingly suggested that I stop in and say hello. In my mind I thought NO WAY, but I remembered the words of General George S. Patton, “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.” So I went inside and asked for an impromptu meeting with James Palmer III. To my surprise and I am sure his, Jim invited me into his office. We ended up talking for an hour.

After some introductions, I discussed how aviation mishaps were handled by the NTSB and that if police fatal shootings were investigated in similar fashion, both the community and police would benefit. He seemed to be intrigued by my logic, but made it clear that as long as the billboards were up, the conversation would go no further.

After several argumentative days, we reached our first compromise. The billboards would remain up for several more days, but more importantly, I would not renew their lease, thereby effectively ending the campaign. He in turn would help me craft the legislation I sought.

Our first chore was building a level of trust. We set the ground rules for how we would handle our disclosures/discoveries. There would be no secret recording of our conversations, no running to the media with discrediting information, no grandstanding and no tearing down. During this phase we talked about our families, our sons and that his brother also was a USAF officer. At some level I think he felt what it must be like to lose a child. I recognized his deep respect for those who wear the blue uniform.

Over the next several months, we sat together in the WPPA conference room and crafted a bill. He shared with me the inner workings of legislation and law enforcement. I shared with him my aviator’s perspective on how pilots keep a jet from crashing, and how accidents were investigated when they do. To my amazement, we drafted a joint news release stating that the WPPA and the father of a man killed by a policeman were working together to craft legislation.


Jim Palmer

At times our language was direct, and I recall that we both candidly expressed our ire with the other. He was frustrated about the fact that the WPPA has awarded the officers that killed his son, and I was frustrated that he was using his campaign to encourage the destructive rush to judgment in cases of law enforcement’s use of force. Neither of us held back, and we still have passionate exchanges on these matters today.

Eventually, Bell raised the notion of the two of us meeting in person to begin a broadened conversation. I expressed a willingness to do so, but I also made clear that I would not agree to a meeting “at the tip of a spear” while his billboards remained. Not knowing me at all, he was understandably resistant at first. Would I agree to meetings in order to stall his campaign, only to then blow him off? He couldn’t be sure. Likewise, could I agree to examine and explore issues with him without concern that he might publicly distort my positions? I didn’t know.

Shortly after our email exchange, Bell made an unannounced and unexpected visit to my office. While I’m not one to turn down an opportunity to meet with anyone and have a discussion, I’m not a fan of insolence. Nonetheless, I received Bell and we discussed briefly how we might be able to come together and engage in a broad discourse in earnest. Not long after that meeting, Bell decided not to extend his billboard campaign as he had originally planned. To his credit, the billboards came down, as did the impediment to our ability to begin a dialogue. Though I was incredibly disappointed that the billboards didn’t garner as much attention when they came down as when they went up, I was prepared to fulfill my part of the bargain.

At our first meeting, Bell and I set about to establish some basic ground rules designed to build a foundation of trust. We both recognized that we would gain very little if one of us resorted to grandstanding, or if we couldn’t be candid with one another. But perhaps the most important achievement made in that meeting was that we first met as fathers. I began the meeting by openly talking about my own family, the fact that I had sons of my own, and that I couldn’t begin to fathom his loss. In that moment, and for the purpose of our ongoing dialogue, our views regarding the incident that resulted in the tragic death of his son were irrelevant. Like me, he was a father, and we spent much of that first meeting talking as one father to another about that inherent and mutual bond.

In the months that followed, we discussed a plethora of ideas for potential reform, some of which were very basic, while others were more convoluted. Though Bell has shared his belief with me that I backed away from him at some of these meetings, I don’t remember it that way. Nonetheless, it is true that there were some within law enforcement who were skeptical of my aims, and those who questioned why I would grant Bell an audience at all in light of some of his allegations. Fortunately, those pressures were not posed by the board of directors that oversee my performance.

In August of 2013, Republican state Representative Garey Bies introduced bipartisan legislation mandating the independent investigations of officer-involved deaths. Initially, all of the other law enforcement special interest groups, such as those that lobby on behalf of the chiefs and sheriffs in the state, and even the Wisconsin attorney general, opposed the measure. This opposition stemmed, in part, from the fact that the bill contained other provisions that would not have passed constitutional muster, but also because they felt there was no need to change how these sensitive situations are investigated. Additionally, there was much discussion among the law enforcement groups about whether this law would unnecessarily bind the hands of departments that already had personnel with the expertise and experience to conduct these independent reviews.

By contrast, the WPPA offered a different, more constructive response to the legislation. Whenever and wherever I could, I expressed the view that, as the state’s largest law enforcement group, the WPPA felt an obligation to maintain an open mind and explore whether improvements could be made.


Michael Bell

Of course, there was some backsliding. Other police shootings occurred in the state, and for whatever reason, Jim cancelled meetings. On occasion, I would tell him how close I came to buying additional advertising. Yet we always remained professional and never abandoned working together.

Around this time, Jim pulled away (I think he was getting massive heat from his board or the other unions) and our team pursued legislators to sponsor the legislation we crafted. I was blessed to meet Rep. Garey Bies, a Republican, U.S. Navy veteran and a retired chief deputy sheriff. Having a retired law enforcement professional leading the legislative charge was a tremendous boost to its credibility. On the other side of the aisle, we were able to work with Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democrat in whose district the Heenan shooting occurred.

An advocate suggested that local district attorneys, union officials and law enforcement personnel meet the families who lost loved ones from police action, but without the legislators. To my surprise, the Dane County Sheriff hosted the event and Jim Palmer and I sat side by side. The event was a success, clearly showing that law enforcement was serious about having dialogue with the community.

Then came another setback. The head of the state House justice committee refused to allow the bill to be heard. Our only hope for saving it was to have it transferred to an alternative committee. State leaders would determine the bill’s fate by Friday noon. That morning, I made an agonizing decision (without my wife’s knowledge or approval) to purchase an expensive national ad in USA Today, notifying millions of readers that retired NYPD detective Frank Serpico—the subject of the famous movie starring Al Pacino—had endorsed the reforms we sought. I subsequently called the Wisconsin speaker of the Senate, speaker of the House and the governor’s office to politely give them a heads-up that a national ad was coming, and to let each know I was sending a copy for their files.

Shortly after lunch, the bill was transferred to a friendlier committee and eventually was heard in a packed-house hearing. Our family and two others who had lost children, personally delivered copies of USA TODAY to each office at the capitol. Jim says that the USA Today ad was a key moment because it gave the bill enough strength to have legs of its own.

Other setbacks occurred. Two key bill items were stripped. Immediately, my team was up in arms. I had to calm the outrage, reminding everyone that what remained in the bill was still a large step forward. I knew, deep in my pilot’s heart, that changing the focus of an investigation from “Who is right or wrong?” to “How did it happen and what could we do to prevent it from happening again?” was critical to both sides—citizens and police officers. One of the bill’s most important features remained—external investigation (very similar to the NTSB investigation model).


Jim Palmer

I openly expressed the view, in both public forums and private settings with some of the interested parties, that it was simply untenable for law enforcement to oppose everything in the bill. We needed to find something that we could be for, and thus become part of the driving force behind any reform. The WPPA strongly and aggressively supported the independent investigations bill, recognizing that this measure of accountability would help build credibility and trust in the officers who police our streets. Ultimately, to their credit, every law enforcement organization in the state came to support the bill as well.

As part of our efforts to support this legislation’s passage, the WPPA initiated its first statewide polling effort in 2014. Conducted by the St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute, the object of the poll was to assess the public’s views on host of law enforcement and public safety-related issues. Included in this poll were multiple questions to gauge the public sentiment toward the independent investigations legislation.

Our poll revealed an incredible amount of public support for the initiative, with more than 80 percent of the poll’s respondents favoring it. In the waning days of the legislative session, I promoted these results in every media market in the state, meeting with as many newspaper editorial boards as I could. I shared these results widely with the Legislature as well and met with lawmakers of both parties to gain its passage. To this day, I credit those poll results and the way in we touted them as key to the bill’s eventual success. The poll served to reinforce the WPPA’s position with its members who were supportive, soften the opposition of those within law enforcement and otherwise, and motivate our state’s elected leaders from both parties to break with what had become a tradition of discord and derision inside our State Capitol. At the same time, Bell broadly ran ads to draw even more attention to this importance of the bill.

Eventually, through the combined efforts of law enforcement groups and citizen advocates alike, Wisconsin’s independent investigations bill was signed into law in April of 2014. Since then, it has worked very well. The law requires objectivity and transparency, and it has benefited both the public and law enforcement alike. While the success of our law is appropriately shared by many, a strong argument can be made that without Michael Bell and the WPPA, this groundbreaking reform would not have been possible. I’m sure Michael will continue to push for additional reforms, and I and the WPPA will actively do the same.

Going forward, we have already identified areas of some common agreement, such as the need for more states to formally require the independent investigation of officer-involved deaths, expanding law enforcement’s use of body cameras, and the need for more data on how law enforcement interacts with the public. Neither of us suffers from the misperception that these initiatives represent a panacea to the problems confronting our country, but they are all constructive and meaningful steps that can be pursued in the short term. While Michael Bell and I both recognize the reality that there will be times when we disagree, we also appreciate the importance of a dialogue that is built upon a foundation of candor, empathy, trust and a willingness to find common ground.

That foundation seems largely nonexistent today as this country finds itself caught in what appears to be a never-ending cycle dominated by sensational snap judgments and condemnations of blame that serve only to further divide us as Americans. The issues of policing and institutional racism are complex and deep, and the opposing views that exist on these matters are the byproducts of experiences that are real and unique. Only when we acknowledge the pain on the other side can we truly begin to heal as one nation. Whether that is possible in the hyperpoliticized environment of a presidential election cycle remains to be seen, but I for one, am optimistic. I want to believe that we possess the ability to set our differences aside.


Michael Bell

Before the law was signed, legislators told me that Jim had been in their offices several times. I later learned that he had to go to practically every legislator’s office and personally assure them that the WPPA supported this bill. Lawmakers were petrified at the idea they might be tagged as anti-law enforcement by supporting this type of reform. Jim had to work just as hard as I to insure the bill’s success.

Knowing what I know now, I’m convinced that this bill would have never been signed if it wasn’t for law enforcement. We were so fortunate to have some of the nation’s forward-thinking people in key positions.

The bill went to the floor and was unanimously passed by the House, followed by the Senate and signed into law on April 23, 2014. At the governor’s signing, families who lost members to police action, legislators and the leaders of five police unions stood side by side in the background to applaud. It was a healing moment for many and a step forward for the nation.

Moving forward, the gains made in Wisconsin could easily be duplicated elsewhere—in Louisiana, Missouri and Minnesota, in Texas and Illinois—if just one leader in a police union had the audacity to listen to what the public was asking. A simple advance in technology, the cellphone camera, has brought the historic problem of police investigating police to light as a national crisis. In our small way, Jim Palmer and I delivered at least a partial solution to the mistrust of policy in communities across America. Even though we still sometimes have vast differences in viewpoint, we set aside our egos, respected each other and worked for the greater good of the whole. The bill we put together is an essential starting point for police departments that want to establish greater credibility within their community. It all happens when law enforcement decides to be part of the solution.

Jim Palmer is the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

Michael Bell is an activist and the father of a police shooting victim.