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Friday, September 5, 2008 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Crashing the Party: Suites, Corporate-Sponsored Events...
2008-09-05

Convention Cash: Journalist Peter Stone on the RNC’s Sponsors

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Guests

Peter Stone, author of the Heist: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington.

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Peter Stone covers lobbying, campaign finance and other issues for the National Journal. We ask him the inner workings of the Republican Party and the key players and financiers behind the scenes. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, here in St. Paul, where the Republican — 2008 Republican National Convention came to a close last night, while much of the media focused on the political theater of the convention, we look at some of the inner workings of the Republican Party and the key players behind the scenes.

Yesterday, inside the Xcel Center, I went over to the National Journal booth and sat down with one of its journalists, Peter Stone, to talk about the issue of money and politics, lobbying, campaign finance and other issues. I began by asking him to talk about vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and what he writes about in his latest article, "Palin May Be the NRA’s Best Ammo."

    PETER STONE:

    One of the key things that I think Republicans and the conservative base are very excited about with Sarah Palin, not only is she evangelical Christian, which much has been written about, and not only does she have good positions on many social conservative issues, but she has particularly good positions on gun control and gun rights. That means that, in her case, Sarah Palin is a lifetime NRA member. We’ve seen pictures of her hunting. We know that she’s — you know, knows how to use a gun.

    And it appears, from what I learned yesterday talking to NRA officials, that they are very, very excited about using Sarah Palin on the trail this year. They’re certainly — they’ve got a multimillion-dollar budget to help defeat Barack Obama that started before Palin was tapped for the ticket, but what Palin adds from the gun rights community, from the NRA’s point of view, is her close, longtime support for gun rights. And, McCain had an on-again/off-again record, was not that much of an ally of the NRA. He supported them on a number of issues, but waffled on some. And I think having the addition of Palin makes the NRA a lot more excited about this ticket, just as it makes social conservatives in general more excited about this ticket.

    The NRA is going to be spending tens of millions of dollars on the election in general, and they’re going to be focused on a lot of Midwest battleground states, where there’s a lot of hunting and where gun owners feel strongly opposed to gun control measures. Palin should be, you know, great ammunition here, and I think we’re going to see a lot of ads in a lot of Midwestern states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, many of the key battleground states.

    Simultaneously, I talked to a senior McCain aide yesterday who told me, on background, as a senior McCain aide, that they, too, see Palin as somebody who will be very valuable in many of these same battleground states and contrast her record in particular with Joe Biden, who is a major supporter of the 1994 crime bill which contained an assault weapons ban. It’s now expired, but the NRA has long targeted getting rid of that assault weapons ban.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    You’ve got quite the picture, with Palin in a flag bathing suit with her gun at the ready position.

    PETER STONE:

    Right, right. I think that picture came from a wire service. I don’t know quite where it started. But it was a picture of her with National Guardsmen over in Alaska — I’m sorry, in Kuwait, Alaska National Guardsmen in Kuwait, was where the picture was taken.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    That was her one outside trip outside —

    PETER STONE:

    I guess.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    — of the country.

    PETER STONE:

    Right.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    As you leave the convention, you’ve got your headline: "No Second Acts? Don’t Tell Newt.” And there’s a big laughing picture of Newt Gingrich that says “raising money and profile.”

    PETER STONE:

    Gingrich flirted with running for president this year; decided not to, because he — obviously, the polls didn’t show a lot of possibilities for him. But he has had a PAC that he started about a year ago as a way of jumpstarting that effort that is gaining a lot of — certainly gaining a lot of currency and support from Republican donors. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul, who is a leading — the leading backer of Freedoms Watch, an outside group that’s very active this cycle, has also given Gingrich $4 or $5 million for his PAC.

    He was here — Gingrich was here this week doing some fundraising at events that the PAC sponsored, including one event for his donors and potential donors as a thank you and also to, you know, try to curry interest with new donors one day. Gingrich did an education event, forum on education reform, one of the issues he now considers himself an expert in, and did some media for his new book today, media book signings. Gingrich is definitely looking ahead and was using the convention as a way of raising his profile, refurbishing his image.

    Likewise, Tom DeLay, who was indicted in Texas on charges having to do with a PAC that he ran in Texas. And DeLay, who’s figured in the Abramoff scandal, as well, as I mentioned, has a new PAC — a new organization, not a PAC, a 501(c) organization that he’s been raising money for over the last year. DeLay was here, likewise, beating the bushes for more funds. I’m told by a couple of conservatives that DeLay very much wants to do something this fall in the grassroots, get-out-the-vote area that he’s been talking to folks about.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Is he going to trial?

    PETER STONE:

    DeLay, as far as I know, is not going to trial, but he is still under investigation in the Abramoff investigation — in the Abramoff scandal and could ultimately be — could ultimately be indicted. It’s been very unclear why he has not been completely cleared up until now, but he does remain under investigation, as does Congressman John Doolittle, who has announced he’s not running again this fall.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    You title it "No Second Acts?" because...?

    PETER STONE:

    Well, this is Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the great novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald came from this city. I’ve long been a Fitzgerald fan. Many people, though, don’t think his most famous maxim holds up, which is, “There are no second acts in American life.” Certainly, the convention has had a plethora of second acts.

    I point out in the story, too, that Joe Lieberman, on a different level, is starting a new chapter in his life this week, by so publicly endorsing, heaping lavish praise on, Senator McCain, his longtime friend and ally on many issues. After running for vice president with Al Gore in 2000, Lieberman’s relationships with Democrats having become increasingly frayed, and this may be the end or lead to the end of any Democratic — real Democratic ties that he’s maintained. Democrats are obviously very upset with the fact that Lieberman was such a featured speaker and went so far as to endorse McCain at the convention as he did.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Peter Stone, you do the “money in politics” beat for the National Journal, and you followed this week one of the top Republican fundraisers, Lewis Eisenberg.

    PETER STONE:

    Eisenberg is one of a number of key Republican fundraisers. This year, he was tapped a few months ago to lead a joint fundraising committee that the RNC set up with the McCain campaign in the spring as a way of bringing in more money. The purpose of this committee, basically, was to seek out donors for contributions well above the legal limit of $2,300 for the McCain campaign. This can be done legally, if the bulk of these monies go to the RNC. And so, the joint committee they set up — and Obama did the same thing with the Democrats — these joint committees basically can accept up to $70,000 from an individual, with the lion’s share of that money, everything but the $2,300, going to the RNC and state party committees.

    So, Eisenberg and his colleagues at the McCain campaign and the RNC went out and started doing this a few months ago and have managed to close the gap with Obama and the DNC over the last few months, because they’ve been so successful at bringing in larger donations. From now on, because McCain has agreed to take public funding for the general election, $84 million in public funding, all the monies will be going — they’ve now renamed the committee, it’s “McCain-Palin Victory” — all the monies will be going to the RNC and the state committees, and they’ve begun to catch up to Obama.

    Obama, of course, disappointed some of his supporters by saying that he was not going to take public funding. Obama is now taking — using his bundlers, who have been very successful, and his internet operation, which has been incredibly successful. Obama and — will now be going out and trying to raise a couple hundred million over the next couple of months so that he is adequately funded for the general election.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    I mean, you’re talking about numbers like $70 million that Eisenberg helped raise for the “McCain Victory ’08,” comparing it to the Democratic National Committee, which pulled in $77 million —

    PETER STONE:

    Right.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    — in July.

    PETER STONE:

    That was — right. Those were — those numbers represent — the RNC and the McCain campaign pulled in about $70 million in August. In July, the most recent month for the Democrats that we have numbers on, the DNC and the Obama campaign together pulled in about $77 million. So, the gap, which Obama seemed to have, the inordinate gap, has been closing. And at least in terms of money, it looks like the two candidates and their party committees will ultimately be very close at the finish this fall.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    You also write about Lewis Eisenberg stopping in at a breakfast hosted by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, moving on to a lunch organized by the pro-Israel Republican Jewish Coalition, and you have a whole piece about courting the Republican Jewish vote.

    PETER STONE:

    Right, right.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Explain what that coalition is all about.

    PETER STONE:

    Well, the Jewish community, in particular, the staunchly conservative part of the Jewish community, which is well represented in AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is even somewhat more conservative, both of these groups have been longtime sources of big money for Republicans, to a lesser extent for the Democrats. There are Democrats, obviously, on AIPAC, but they’ve been increasingly supportive of Republicans the last couple of cycles because of the Bush administration’s record of staunch support for Israel and because of the Iraq war, which they’ve championed, as well, and the position on terrorism of the Bush administration. There are a lot of big Jewish fundraisers. Eisenberg was a longtime member of the Republican Jewish Coalition. There are several others here — a number of others here this week, and it’s a key piggyback — I’m sorry, piggybank for fundraising that the Republicans have tapped very successfully over the last couple of cycles.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    We’re increasingly seeing an ad put out by the Israel Project really targeting Iran.

    PETER STONE:

    Right.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What do you understand about what the Israel Project is?

    PETER STONE:

    I don’t know as much about the Israel Project, frankly, and I think it’s another smaller group that has taken a rather hawkish position on Iran and is — I think they’re heavily involved in doing PR and advocacy through the media. As far as I know, they don’t have quite the campaign war chest — I don’t think they have the campaign war chest that either AIPAC or the Republican Jewish Coalition have.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    And how does the Israel Project fit into this? They’ve done these big ads targeting Iran. The top fundraisers for McCain, you’ve got Charlie Black, you’ve got his top foreign policy aide Ralph Scheunemann.

    PETER STONE:

    Right, Randy Scheunemann.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Randy Scheunemann. You’ve got Rick Davis, his campaign manager.

    PETER STONE:

    Right. Well, they’re not all fundraisers. In fact, most of those individuals are, you know, playing roles, different roles, inside the campaign. McCain does have a lot of major bundlers, who are — include a group of about sixty who have raised over $500,000 each. In that group of sixty, there are several well-known lobbyists from Washington.

    The three you mentioned are campaign aides who come from the lobbying community. Charlie Black for many years was a top figure at a firm called BKSH, which started out in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s as Black Manafort, a lobbying firm, and then changed some of its principals. But Charlie Black has had a long career as a lobbyist in Washington representing a wide variety of corporations, foreign governments, and briefly represented Ahmed Chalabi in the run-up to the Iraq war, trying to advocate Chalabi’s position, pro- — well, pro-war position, basically, before the Iraq war began. Randy Scheunemann — Black, as a senior aide, has a wide portfolio of issues that he works on for Senator McCain.

    Randy Scheunemann is his chief foreign policy adviser, much less well known as a lobbyist than Charlie Black. Randy Scheunemann ran a very small firm in Washington called Orion Strategies, which had only a handful of clients, most of which were fairly prominent Eastern European governments: Latvia, Georgia, and several others who were seeking membership in NATO. And that was Scheunemann’s job, to help stir up interest and get them support for joining NATO.

    Randy was also, lesser well known, but an outside lobbyist for the National Rifle Association for several years and is advising McCain, to some extent, on gun issues. His primary role is chief foreign policy adviser. But in a profile I did of Scheunemann a few months ago, he indicated to me that, yes, he did weigh in as well on gun issues with Senator McCain. Randy’s a hunter.

    And Randy’s raised — had some controversy, because he left his firm early — I guess about a year ago. He took a leave of absence a little less than a year ago, took a leave of absence from his firm, as did Charlie Black and Rick Davis, when the campaign developed tough guidelines for lobbyists working there, which basically said they had to sever their ties or at least take leaves of absence from their lobbying firms while they worked full-time on the campaign.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Also head of — formerly head of New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation, founder.

    PETER STONE:

    Right. Randy was a longtime top foreign policy aide in Congress, first for Lott, I believe, then for Senator Dole, and worked on the McCain campaign in 2000. Right around the same time, he was setting up the Committee to Liberate Iraq, or he was a leader of the Committee to Liberate Iraq, which was the outside advocacy group that did more than probably any — well, one of two or three key advocacy groups for building support for the war. And Randy was a, you know, close ally of many of the neoconservatives and of Ahmed Chalabi in championing intervention in Iraq.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    Rick Davis?

    PETER STONE:

    Rick Davis, no, was not as involved with that.

    AMY GOODMAN:

    What was Rick Davis — what is he involved with?

    PETER STONE:

    Rick Davis is a longtime lobbyist. More recently, he’s been a consultant, doing less lobbying. He’s worked for a firm, Davis Manafort. His firm has also done some representation in Eastern Europe. They had some Ukrainian clients that drew some controversy. I think they represented one Ukrainian faction that was embroiled in some controversy in Ukraine because of their ties. I think they were — if I recall correctly, they had connections opposing the official government of Ukraine, and that raised some eyebrows.

AMY GOODMAN:

Peter Stone writes about money in politics for the National Journal. Oh, and just a correction: the picture that’s circulating on the internet that we just mentioned, of Governor Palin in a flag bikini holding a gun, well, it’s doctored. It’s Photoshopped — her head on another woman.

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