Thursday, May 17, 2012

Citizens United gets nasty (and not in a good way)

I put one finger here, and...
I don't quite know what to make of the controversy to do with incredibly nasty fundraising letter sent out by Citizens United. They are a conservative non-profit organization made famous by the Supreme Court decision that now makes it possible, almost mandatory, for obscene amounts of money to pollute the political process.

BuzzFeed got its hands on the letter sent out to donors over Gov. Mike Huckabee's signature. The language in it was quite disgusting, even for a conservative organization, which is saying something. For example, it contained this line: "President Obama has surrounded himself with morally repugnant political whores with misshapen values and gutter-level ethics." Whoa! Really? That's not nice.

The implication, of course, is that the letter was "written" by Huckabee, although everyone knows big names don't write these things, they just allow their name to be used. Having said that, these luminaries are pretty sensitive about what is said in their name and, at least in my experience, either they or "their people" sign off on the content. Within a big campaign, where the candidate is too busy, a campaign manager might do the authorization, but there is a necessary degree of trust between candidate and manager that you wouldn't find between an organization like Citizen's United and someone of Huckabee's profile.

In a statement to Politico, Huck said this:

This was a complete surprise to me. I most certainly did not approve such language and would never have used that kind of repulsive rhetoric. I repudiate that language, find it offensive to me, and have ordered that it be pulled immediately.

Initially, Jeff Marschner, a spokesman for Citizens United, "categorically denied" the letter was sent by his organization. Some time after, Marschner corrected himself to say that the letter was sent as a test. Here is his statement:

Neither Governor Huckabee nor Dave Bossie, President of Citizens United, approved the language presented and used in the fundraising letter that was sent out as a test to a small number of people. Both have taken corrective action to make sure that this does not happen again. It is language that is beneath Governor Huckabee and Dave Bossie, and language that they would not use.

I've done a ton of political fundraising letters in my life. You do not generally put a letter out, no matter what it says, no matter how small the mailing, without the approval of the person whose signature appears at the bottom. When I first read the full text, which BuzzFeed has at its site, it simply did not seem that the governor would allow his relatively good-natured public image to be used in that way. He's making his money in television now, looking goofy with an electric bass around his neck. It doesn't seem like the approach he would take.

It struck me as so improbable that I even thought it could have been a dirty trick to make the right look even more extreme than it is, though that hardly seems necessary.

No, it looks like Citizens United was trying to pull a fast one and got caught. I'm not sure I buy the "test" excuse. No, I'm sure. I don't.

This is the nuts and bolts of politics. Believe or not, there are some rules it's best not to break.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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