Captial Research Center Reports on The Left's Attacks on President Trump
Scott Walter: "It’s been said that if you can’t beat ’em, you should join ’em. But the professional Left prefers to copy ’em.There’s nothing original about the Left’s new batch of “watchdog” groups that are aping the Judicial Watch model and hoping to use lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests to stymie the President’s agenda. Their greatest aim is to run President Trump out of office."
The Left’s Judicial Watch Knockoffs Targeting Trump
Scott Walter, President, Capital Research Center
It’s been said that if you can’t beat ’em, you should join ’em. But the professional Left prefers to copy ’em.
There’s nothing original about the Left’s new batch of “watchdog” groups that are aping the Judicial Watch model and hoping to use lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests to stymie the President’s agenda. Their greatest aim is to run President Trump out of office.
This morning, as Kim Strassel documents at the Wall Street Journal, newly formed groups with innocuous names like American Oversight, Democracy Forward, and Restore Public Trust are brimming with senior staffers from the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The list of names reads like a meeting of Democratic Party luminaries. Democracy Forward’s board, for example, includes Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias—who served as Hillary’s general counsel in 2016 and used the firm’s funds to pay for the infamous Christopher Steele dossier—and Clinton crony John Podesta, who chaired Hillary’s presidential campaign and founded the think tank Center for American Progress.
Each of these groups is deeply enmeshed in professional Democratic politics. Take American Oversight, which was created last year and cut its teeth during the Left’s opposition to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court this fall.
The group should call itself an attack dog rather than an “ethics watchdog.” Its leader was an attorney in the Obama State Department, senior staffer to Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and a researcher for the agitation group People for the American Way. Even the liberal Mother Jones called American Oversight “a liberal advocacy group.”
Kyle Herrig, a member of the group’s board of directors, connects American Oversight to the New Venture Fund—a mysterious 501(c)(3) mega-funder that raked in a stunning $358 million in 2016, according to its most recent tax filings. As we document at InfluenceWatch.org, the New Venture Fund maintains a host of websites designed to look like independent activist organizations, including Restore Public Trust and the anti-Kavanaugh group Fix the Court.
But it’s the New Venture Fund’s penchant for funneling millions of dollars to left-wing advocacy groups like David Brock’s Media Matters for America and the Center for American Progress that has led many to call it a “dark money outfit,” that is, a funding conduit that shields donors from scrutiny.
“Dark money” is usually a term you hear from leftists like the New Yorker’s Jane Meyer, who accuse conservatives and libertarians like the Koch brothers of “weaponize[ing] philanthropy” and corrupting elections.
But if liberals really want to cut down on so-called “dark money” in politics, they could start with their own mega-funders.
As I wrote in October in the Wall Street Journal, many left-wing interests raved about the documentary “Dark Money” that recently aired on PBS, calling the film a “political thriller.” Yet the film’s credits reveal one problem: its funding came not from neutral believers in transparency but from left-wing political players like the Ford Foundation, the third-largest private philanthropy in the country with a staggering $12.4 billion in assets at the end of 2015 (the most recent year available).
Liberals often moan about the supposed horrors of conservative “dark money” in politics. But the Left quietly ignores politically active liberal nonprofits, which typically receive between three and four times as much money as their conservative counterparts.
And a good bit of those dollars going to left-of-center groups went there via “dark” funding streams. As Kimberly Strassel was kind enough to quote me this morning, “the Left has no bigger bogeyman than ‘dark money,’ but it plays the dark-money instrument like Isaac Stern.”
Walter is president of the Capital Research Center. He served in the George W. Bush administration as Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and was vice president for…
MORE BY SCOTT WALTER
The Trump ‘Ethics’ Resistance
An army of nonprofits may be a foe more formidable than the Democratic House.
By Kimberley A. Strassel
Dec. 27, 2018
Powerful House Democrats are about to blitz the Trump administration with subpoenas and investigations. Pay attention to their nonprofit helpers, many of which are new.
For nearly a decade, the left has decried the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which restored speech freedoms and enabled hundreds of tea-party groups. For just as long, they have bitterly criticized conservative watchdogs such as Judicial Watch, which they accuse of using litigation to hound the Obama administration. Various liberals have called Judicial Watch a “smear sausage” factory, identified it as the epicenter of “Clinton Derangement Syndrome” and accused it of “weaponizing the Freedom of Information Act for political purposes.”
But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Judicial Watch has many great admirers. Progressive nonprofits are popping up all over Washington, shepherded by powerful liberal political players, funded by sources unknown, modeled on conservative groups and united in burying the Trump administration under a mountain of scandal. The White House would do well to understand that in some ways these groups are its most potent threat.
Consider Democracy Forward, which launched last year with a mission of “fighting government corruption in court.” Sound familiar? The board includes Marc Elias, the Democratic lawyer behind the infamous Steele dossier, and John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. It’s a big operation as these things go, with a staff composed largely of Obama administration lawyers and advisers. And it’s already touting a packet of FOIA demands and lawsuits against the administration.
American Oversight, also created last year, bills itself as “the top Freedom of Information Act litigator investigating the Trump Administration.” It’s chief counsel, John Bies, served eight years in the Obama Justice Department, and its website already lists 19 team members, mostly lawyers. In addition to a flood of FOIA demands, the group helped lead opposition to Justice Brett Kavanaugh. That included filing a lawsuit on behalf of yet another new nonprofit, Fix the Court, demanding all Kavanaugh documents from the Justice Department.
And don’t forget Restore Public Trust, which didn’t launch until Nov. 8, two days after the election, with a mission to “expose corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of government.” Executive director Caroline Ciccone was a longtime DNC and Obama campaign surrogate, and her advisory board is stocked with former Obama staffers (Brad Woodhouse) and allies of Clinton henchman David Brock (Shripal Sha). The Daily Beast’s headline on launch day: “New Progressive Oversight Group Wants to Make Trump’s Cabinet Miserable.”
These newbies join the usual roster of liberal agitators: Public Citizen, the Center for Public Integrity, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, etc. When it comes to creating damaging narratives, they have the potential to be far more damaging to Team Trump than Congress. If Judicial Watch has proved anything in recent years, it is that the power of FOIA lawsuits (which cannot be easily ignored) can sometimes surpass the power of congressional subpoenas (which can). Judicial Watch lawsuits unearthed key details in the Internal Revenue Service targeting, Benghazi and Hillary Clinton email scandals.
Now imagine that power in the hands of angry Never Trumpers. Judicial Watch is conservative, though it famously also waged battles with George W. Bush’s administration and once teamed up with the Sierra Club to sue for records. These new nonprofits make clear with their own words that transparency is merely a means to the end of destroying the Trump administration. Their FOIA requests to date look like fishing expeditions designed to manufacture scandals, or attempts to overwhelm agencies with information demands. They’ve already proved how effective a strategy of piling ethics complaints on officials can be: It forced the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And it’s easier when the press is on your side.
The groups in question look to be flush with cash; Mr. Trump is a great fundraiser for his adversaries. Not that there are details as to where that cash comes from. (Where’s the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, scourge of “dark money,” when you need her?) Several of the groups are registered with the IRS as nonprofits under Section 501(c) of the tax code, which means they are not required to make public their donors. At least two, Restore Public Trust and Fix the Court, didn’t even bother with the IRS. They are instead “projects” of an outfit called New Venture Fund, a charity managed by the for-profit Arabella Advisors.
“The left has no bigger bogeyman than ‘dark money,’ but it plays the dark-money instrument like Isaac Stern, ” says Scott Walter, president of Capital Research Center, a right-leaning watchdog of nonprofits, which tracks groups on its Influencewatch.org site.
Some of us have long believed in the First Amendment, government transparency, and even donor privacy—and will continue to. It would be nice, though, if the liberals now embracing these freedoms in their work to bring down Mr. Trump would show the same consistency.
Write to email@example.com.
Appeared in the December 28, 2018, print edition.