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Despite Focus on Convention Floor, Major Decisions at RNC Made by Wealthy Donors Behind Closed Doors

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As the Republican National Convention opened on Tuesday in Tampa, thousands of journalists were there to cover the story. At the same time, secretive meetings were being held behind closed doors across the city that could determine who wins the election in November. According to the Huffington Post, at one such meeting on Tuesday, the Karl Rove-founded Crossroads groups, representatives of the billionaires Charles and David Koch, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce huddled at a local hotel to coordinate efforts to spend tens of millions more on television ads and voter turnout in their effort to defeat President Obama. We speak to investigative journalist Peter Stone, whose latest article for the Huffington Post is called ”RNC 2012: GOP Shadow Groups Eclipsing Party in Tampa.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, “Breaking With Convention.” This is “War, Peace and the Presidency.” We’re at the Republican convention, inside and out. I’m Amy Goodman.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And I’m Nermeen Shaikh. Welcome to our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world.

As the Republican National Convention opened on Tuesday in Tampa, thousands of journalists were there to cover the story. At the same time, secretive meetings were being held behind closed doors across the city that could determine who wins the elections in November. According to the Huffington Post, at one such meeting on Tuesday, the Karl Rove-founded Crossroads groups, [representatives of] billionaires Charles and David Koch, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce huddled at a local hotel to coordinate efforts to spend tens of millions of dollars more on television ads and voter turnout in their effort to defeat President Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: The billionaire backers of the Republican Party are also being openly honored here in Tampa. On Thursday, the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity will honor David Koch. Meanwhile billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is also expected in Tampa this week to attend an event hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition.

We’re joined now by Peter Stone, freelancer who writes for the Huffington Post and other publications. His latest article is titled ”GOP Shadow Groups Eclipsing Party in Tampa.” He has spent two decades covering money and politics for the National Journal and the Center for Public Integrity.

It’s good to have you with us, Peter.

PETER STONE: Good to be with you, too.

AMY GOODMAN: So, people see the—all of the pomp, but talk about what’s happening behind the scenes. Take us down the money trail.

PETER STONE: OK. Well, this party, in some way, this convention, is really a coming-out party, if you will, for the so-called shadow groups, the super PACs and the nonprofits that are planning on spending hundreds of millions of dollars this year on the Republican side—perhaps, as close to a billion dollars—to help elect Romney and put the GOP in control of Congress. Many of these groups have grown up since early 2010, when high court rulings first gave the green light to allow corporations, individuals and unions to write unlimited checks to outside groups for ads that will directly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

So, American Crossroads is probably the most prominent of these new groups. They have a super PAC, American Crossroads, and they have a nonprofit called Crossroads GPS. The two groups were founded by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now an adviser to the Romney campaign. They have already run tens of millions of dollars of ads bashing Obama administration policies in many swing states—healthcare, economic policies and others. What’s interesting is that the outside groups are allowed to coordinate with each other, and this is perfectly legal. And we’ve seen this year, even more than in the 2010 elections, a high level of coordination between some of the biggest, deepest-pocketed groups.

Besides Crossroads group, you have the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity, which is honoring David Koch on Thursday. And you have the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been able to use kind of spending for a long time but is now able to directly advocate for or against a candidate and is doing so. They’re spending less than the other groups, about $50 million. They’re focusing just on congressional races.

But these three groups, in particular, have been meeting regularly, every two to four weeks, to talk about coordinating strategies in battleground states. They’ve often piggybacked ads, you know, sequentially in key states—Ohio, Florida, Virginia—where they’ve been able to, you know, go back to back legally, all legally, and target both Obama administration policies and some of the top Senate candidates who are under fire, everybody from—well, Claire McClaskill in Missouri is one of the top targets. Sherrod Brown in Ohio is a top target. And obviously they’re going after—they’re going after key—

AMY GOODMAN: Aren’t they in a big bind on the Claire McCaskill front, considering that her opponent is Todd Akin, Todd, quote, “legitimate rape” Akin?

PETER STONE: Right. Well, they have been in a bind. And interestingly, Crossroads was one of the first groups, right out of the bat, as—just while GOP power politicians were decrying Akin and distancing themselves from Akin, they announced, you know, 10 days or two weeks ago, as soon as the controversy broke, that they were pulling ads from Missouri that they had planned. They had planned hundreds of thousand dollars of more ads on top of what they had already done. But they were pulling ads because they were trying to get Akin out of the race.

We’re seeing these groups emerge as huge forces, parallel parties, in effect, shadow party groups. They’re doing many of the same things that the RNC, the Romney campaign, the congressional Republican campaigns are doing. They’re actually being able to supplement the spending. While the Romney campaign has been catching up and now surpassing the Obama campaign in fundraising the last few months, these groups were able to pour, you know, tens of millions of dollars into races—or in the spring and the summer, when the Romney campaign and the RNC were just getting going after he, you know, more or less became the presumptive nominee, winning the primaries. So they have been big, big players up ’til now, and they will continue to be big players through Election Day.

We’re going to see some of them do more get-out-the-vote efforts. Americans for Prosperity, in particular, has folks with other Koch-backed groups in 300 counties across the country in battleground states, where they’ve got a network of folks working to get out the conservative vote, working—and they’re going after—you know, they’re going after some moderate Ds, too. Interesting appeal in recent weeks, we’ve seen some of these groups say that—you know, basically casting Obama as a failed president, acknowledging he’s likable, but emphasizing that he hasn’t done the job. So, they’ve broadened their message. They’re playing to both, you know, conservative base and to a swing—you know, potential swing votes, in efforts to find a way to pull Romney up in the polls. And, you know, he’s getting very close, some close—in some polls, passing Obama.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You mentioned that David Koch is being honored, but someone else who’s being honored is a billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s wife.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you talk about that? And who’s honoring her?

PETER STONE: Well, many of the public contributions—the Adelsons, Sheldon and Miriam together, have given over $40 million, that we know about, publicly to super PACs. They gave a little less of it—I think 15 to Newt Gingrich, who was their favorite candidate. When he pulled out of the race, they initially were a little reluctant, hesitant to support Romney, because they liked Gingrich so much. But they did come around to Romney, and, you know, he’s fine on most issues for them.

They are primarily concerned about support for Israel, and particularly the conservative Netanyahu government. Adelson is personally close to Netanyahu. But Miriam Adelson, who’s a physician in her own right and Israeli-born, has given part of this money. She has given some of these donations, too. And among other groups, they’re close to this group that has links to Eric Cantor, the highest-ranking Jewish Republican in Congress. And they are helping—they have given him $5 million. So, they decided to name their workspace after Miriam Adelson. So, this is, you know, a little look at it.

One small correction on what you said before when we started: The Kochs themselves were not at this meeting yesterday. Representatives of the Kochs were at the meeting yesterday. It’s a small correction.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about saying that, well, it’s a real coming out of sorts here?


AMY GOODMAN: Explain the significance of that and what people should be following in these few days. And how different is it going to be from what’s going to happen in Charlotte next week with the Democrats?

PETER STONE: Well, it’s a coming out in the sense that these groups have already spent so much money and are on track to spend, you know, as I say, close to a billion dollars on the Republican side. Legally, they’re not allowed to coordinate certain activities, particularly spending and advertising strategies, with the campaigns. We have weak rules, and there are a lot of loopholes that allow for fundraising opportunities. Candidates themselves—Mitt Romney attended some of the early events for the super PAC supporting him, Restore Our Future, the one that Mel Sembler allowed into his home the other day to do a little meet and greet, chat up potential donors.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that one.

PETER STONE: Well, the idea is that, under the rules, that are rather loose, you can have candidates, you can have representatives of candidates organize—they can host events. They can attend events. What they cannot do is they cannot ask for the unlimited sums that are now OK after the court rulings in 2010. They can ask for limited donations. But it’s a very fluid situation, so their representatives are—can be there. The leaders of the groups themselves are allowed to ask for the unlimited contributions. Romney went to some early events, thanked donors for coming, talked briefly and then left the room, while the people who started Restore Our Future, who were three former aides for the Romney campaign in 2008, basically made presentations, or some of them made presentations, and they were the ones who did the asks for the money.

I don’t know at yesterday’s event—one or two of the representatives of Restore Our Future, I think, were there. But it was an event to capitalize on the fact that you had so many big donors coming down to Tampa who were in town, and these groups are still seeking more money. So, among other donors, Paul Singer, the hedge fund manager, has also given a—at least a million dollars to Restore Our Future. And you have other folks here, as well, who have, you know, supported them. We see a lot of overlap, in some cases, between big donors to the Crossroads groups and these other groups. And the money is being spread around very widely.

We will see some of the same stuff in Tampa—I mean, excuse me, in Charlotte next week. The Democrats have been woefully behind in this effort for various reasons. One reason goes back to the fact that the president initially was very critical and has been critical of the court rulings that allowed for these unlimited contributions. The Obama campaign was in a much better position financially to raise money, and so it was not seen initially as quite the priority for the Obama campaign as it has been for the Republicans, who needed—you know, were playing a game of catch-up in terms of the traditional fundraising. There are other factors, as well. But the Democrats, in the last few months, a couple of groups, particularly ones started by two former White House aides, Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action, have begun to raise, you know, millions and millions of dollars and have booked, you know, I think something like $20 or $30 million worth of airtime this fall. They’ve caught up a bit but are still behind by a factor of anywhere from five to six to seven. You know, they’re going to be well outspent. We don’t have any precise numbers on this at this stage. These are estimates based on, you know, what we’ve heard that’s public and what sources have said.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, how different is this, Peter Stone, from the past? You’ve been doing this for decades, following the money. Is it so significantly different in this year?

PETER STONE: Well, it’s significant in the sense that you have a small group of super wealthy billionaires, multimillionaires, especially on the Republican side, but also now on the Democratic side. There are some big Democrats. Jeff Katzenberg has given at least $2 million to one—the Hollywood producer—has given at least $2 million to the Priorities group. A couple of actors, I believe Bill Maher, and one or two others have given million-dollar contributions. They’re starting—

AMY GOODMAN: They’re from the Democratic side.

PETER STONE: On the Democratic side. But we’ve got inordinate sums of money and access that is just unparalleled. I mean, we’ve had Mitt Romney meet privately with Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas about 10 days prior to the fact that Adelson—the first $10 million check, that we know of, arrived for Mitt Romney’s super PAC, Restore Our Future. Romney was not allowed to make for that ask. There’s no indication that he did make the ask. But the timing is illustrative. We had Paul Ryan, a few days after he became the VP, fly out and do an event in Vegas, where he had a sit-down chat with Sheldon Adelson there. We had a group of powerful American donors fly over to Israel to help do an event when Romney attended, you know, Israel for meetings, and Adelson was one of the ones who showed up—in fact, the most prominent name who went to an event in Jerusalem. The stakes are high. It’s been noted widely, by me and others, that Adelson’s casino empire is currently under investigation, has been under investigation for well over a year, actually since early 2010.

AMY GOODMAN: The question is, would Attorney General Eric Holder indict him?

PETER STONE: Well, it’s hardly likely anything is going to happen before this election, but it’s important news, you know, whether it can be an independent investigation after this election.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Stone, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you very much for being with us, and we’ll catch up with you at the Democratic convention, as well.

PETER STONE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to New Orleans. No, in fact, we’re going to go right now.

[Segment: “Hurricane Isaac Makes Landfall in Louisiana, Threatening New Orleans with Heavy Flooding”]

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back for one minute to Peter Stone, who we were just talking to before we got this report from New Orleans, and we cut you off just before you finished, Peter, as we were talking about the money trail and what’s happening here, back in Tampa.

PETER STONE: Sure. I was just explaining at the very end, when I was talking about Sheldon Adelson, that his casino empire, which has very lucrative operations in Macao, China, has been under investigation since early 2011, late 2010, by the Justice Department for possible violations of anti-bribery laws, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And this investigation has been going on for well over a year. It will probably be going on well past the election. Unlikely there will be any developments before the election with the investigation. But it’s a serious one, and the stakes are high for Mr. Adelson.

AMY GOODMAN: The stakes are also high for an Obama Justice Department, right?


AMY GOODMAN: Considering he is the main funder of the Republican Party.

PETER STONE: He has been a top funder of the outside shadow groups that are now rising in power, correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Peter Stone, thanks so much for being with us. And you can follow his work. We will link to it at democracynow.org. When we come back, the uprising on the floor of the Republican convention on the part of Ron Paul supporters in Texas and in Maine. That’s next.

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