(The following is an excerpt from Josh Frank’s
Dean’s Titanic campaign began to take on water shortly after Al Gore endorsed Dean for president on December 9, 2003. Hailed by many as a huge boost to Dean’s bid, the endorsement, came at the same exact moment Democratic insiders were meeting to discuss how to sink Dean’s advances.
Theories of why Gore endorsed Dean spread like fire through the media underbrush. As political commentator Adam Nagourney told Gwen Ifill on PBS’s Newshour on the day of the endorsement: “One [theory] is that what is going on here is a proxy war between the Clintons and the Gores over the future of the Democratic Party. I think there is an element of truth to that. I don't think we want to exaggerate that.”
He was right. The war had begun. Verbal bombs dropped—with one target in sight: the future of the Democratic Party. Dean was out for DNC blood, and Gore gladly went along for the ride. “Howard Dean was assassinated in broad daylight. Unlike Kennedy's ‘grassy knoll,’ Dean's killers are not hiding—it was the Democratic Party itself, and more specifically the Democratic Leadership Council, that successfully went after, and sabotaged his candidacy … The DLC reacted with fury to [Dean] … going all out to torpedo his momentum,” Naeem Mohaiemen correctly opined on Alternet.org following Dean’s presidential death. “Although Democratic nominees soon piled on the ‘bash-Dean’ bandwagon, earlier attacks were carried out by DLC operatives. There was even the smell of scandal when two top Democratic candidates were found sharing information about Dean in an attempt to slow him down.”
“But the great myth of the current [Howard Dean] cycle,” DLC leaders Al From and Bruce Reed wrote in a May 15, 2003 memo, “is the misguided notion that the hopes and dreams of activists represent the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. “What activists like Dean call the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party is an aberration: the McGovern-Mondale wing, defined principally by weakness abroad and elitist, interest-group liberalism at home.”
No doubt it was scandalous. But there was more to the drama than Dick Gephardt and John Kerry passing notes under the table and the DLC crying foul. In fact, Democratic insiders (“Washington Democrats,” as Dean used to call them) with deep ties to the DLC began funding campaign ads against Dean, hoping to bring his campaign to a screeching halt.
David Jones, an avid fundraiser and organizer for the Democratic National Committee and a staunch DLC patron who garnered money for centrist New Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, founded an anti-Dean group that ran vile ads attacking him early on in the Iowa contest. Deceptively called “Americans for Jobs, Health Care & Progressive Values, 2004 Election Cycle,” Jones’ group conducted a poll, which found that most Americans championed Dean’s Iraq war stance. But few knew of his support of NAFTA, Medicare cuts in the mid 1990s, or his endorsements from the NRA.
“The first spot, on Dean's NRA endorsements, ran Dec. 5-12 in Iowa,” The Chicago Sun Tribune reported on February 19, 2004. “The second ad ran Dec. 12-19 in Iowa and hit Dean on his NRA backing and NAFTA and Medicare stands. By this time, Jones did not have much money left.”
Jones’ group raised in excess of $600,000 from numerous Democratic insiders, including former New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli whose political career ended abruptly fell victim to ethics violations. Torricelli donated $50,000 to Jones’ group.
As The Washington Post reported on February 16, 2004, “The [Jones’ donor] list makes clearer than ever that the rules need to be changed to provide timely disclosure—to ensure that voters know who is behind this kind of attack advertising in time to factor that into their decision-making, should they so choose. We learn now that unions that had endorsed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) contributed $200,000 of the group's $663,000 in donations. Two top Gephardt backers also contributed: Leo Hindery Jr. of YES Network ($100,000), who served as a national finance co-chair, and Swanee Hunt ($25,000), who was a national campaign co-chair.
While Mr. Gephardt's backers [including Jones during the late 1990s] constituted the bulk of the donors, they weren't alone: Slim-Fast Foods founder S. Daniel Abraham, a major Democratic donor who contributed to his home state senator, Bob Graham (Fla.), and to Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), gave $100,000. J. McDonald Williams, a former chairman of the Trammell Crow construction company and a donor to the Bush-Cheney campaign this year, though to Democrats in previous cycles, gave $50,000 … Mr. Torricelli, you will remember, had the cash to spare because he was forced to quit his reelection race after being ‘severely admonished’ by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting expensive gifts from a campaign donor he was doing official favors for. Now a champion at collecting special-interest money is gathering checks for Mr. Kerry, who's busy railing against those interests.”
As it turns out, the Post article doesn’t even tell the full story. In reality, the ties between Jones’ organization, the Kerry campaign, and DNC chair Terry McAuliffe were much stronger than suggested.
As Marc Brazeau pointed out on the online political site Joe Hill Dispatch, a closer examination reveals “that the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & From was paid $18,000 for legal work by the group and the e-mail contact for Americans for Jobs” ended in skadden.com.
Why the fuss? It just so happens that skadden.com was the email tag for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & From—a firm that has donated $176,575 to John Kerry’s presidential campaign as of mid-June 2004. To put things in perspective, this is more money than any other big Kerry backers, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan, and Microsoft have donated since the inception of Kerry’s campaign.
And while the Post points out that Leo Hindery had ties to Gephardt, it should be noted that he testified before Kerry’s communications committee as well.
So you have a $50,000 contribution from Kerry fundraiser Robert Torricelli, legal expertise provided by Kerry’s largest contributor, and a major donor from an industry that Kerry was responsible for regulating,” Brazeau explained. “Those are the dots. Connect them how you like.”
Given this, it’s abundantly clear that the grassroots efforts of Howard Dean, Inc. were being taken on by insider money. Recognizing the challenge, Al Gore boarded the ship he hoped would not succumb to the rocky waters of Washington politics. But this scandal was just the tip of the iceberg, inevitably dashing Dean’s prospects of winning his party’s nomination as Democratic scorn prevailed.
DNC fundraising guru Terry McAuliffe was also ostensibly involved—perhaps directly—in Jones’ anti-Dean propaganda. Leo Hindery, the former CEO of Global Crossing, donated $1,140,000 to the Democratic Party during the 2002 congressional race. Slim Fast diet mogul S. Daniel Abraham, meanwhile, forked over $1,450,000 to the Democratic Party that same year.
McAuliffe tapped into these fat cats’ resources, scoring a bundle of cash— some $18 million—for himself when he ditched his Global Crossing stock in 1999. But McAuliffe’s tie to the anti-Deaniacs didn’t end there. Along with McAuliffe, Bernard Schwartz, who donated $15,000 to Jones’ group, was a plaintiff in a 1998 lawsuit over the alleged breaching of export regulations between the US and China.
In fact, Schwartz, the chairman and CEO of Loral Space & Communications, has a long history of complicity in Democratic scandals. In 1994, he gave the DNC $100,000 and visited China with President Clinton’s Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Their trip heeded a $250 million package that allowed China to use Chinese rockets to launch Loral's multi-million dollar satellites into space.
Despite overt objections by the Defense Department and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Clinton personally transferred jurisdiction of satellite-export licensing from the State Department to Commerce Secretary Ron Brown by March 1996. At the same time, Schwartz increased his contributions to the Democratic Party, making him the largest single contributor in the 1996 election cycle. Later that same year Clinton signed a waiver that allowed Schwartz’s Loral Space Company to export a satellite to China. When the satellite was ostentatiously launched the following autumn, Schwartz’s Loral Space & Communications made out like bandits.
That is how big money works for “Washington Democrats,” so it’s little wonder that Schwartz wanted to punish Dean for challenging the D.C. norm, even if Dean only accidentally stumbled into the role of ‘maverick progressive.’ The truth is, Schwartz didn’t want this new base of Democratic activists to take over the party he did business with.
Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Did Bush’s Work for Him, as well as a contributor to Counterpunch’s upcoming book, Dime’s Worth of Difference. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.
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