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Karl Rove: Spinning a 2010 'Enemies List'

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Karl Rove has done it again. He's turned legitimate political debate into partisan propaganda. In an e-mail to Politico this weekend, the former George W. Bush uber-strategist who has long been accused of assorted dirty tricks, blasted President Obama for cooking up an "enemies list." And on "Fox News Sunday," he charged that Obama was creating "some kind of enemies list," adding, "How dare the president do this." But Rove is using a historical term inaccurately -- of course, to score a political point.

What triggered Rove's false claim was a Democratic Party ad that accused Rove, Ed Gillespie (a former Bush aide), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of "stealing our democracy." At issue are the efforts of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two groups co-founded by Rove, Gillespie, and the Chamber of Commerce to dump millions of dollars in campaign money from unidentified sources into dozens of House and Senate races in the 2010 elections to lift Republican candidates. Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, groups like these can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence federal elections, and they do not have to identify the sources of their campaign cash.

With these organizations outgunning Democratic-leaning outfits, the Obama White House has launched an assault on them. On the campaign trail, Obama has noted that "groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won't tell you where the money for their [political] ads come from." (The liberal Center for American Progress last week put out a report on the chamber's foreign money connections.) On Saturday, The New York Times reported that the chamber was not doing anything "improper or even unusual" for a political advocacy group, but the business organization is pouring $75 million into House and Senate races, a figure far beyond the reach of many groups. And on "Face the Nation" this past Sunday, White House aide David Axelrod said: "Why not simply disclose where this money is coming from? And then all of these questions will be answered. . . . These interest groups . . . are now the major force in some of these campaigns. . . . This issue of this special-interest spending is very important. It's never happened before, that organizations are spending this kind of money." Meanwhile, Rove and Gillespie's groups are aiming to spend $50 million on the elections to bolster Republican candidates. (Two campaign finance watchdog groups have asked the IRS to investigate one of the Rove/Gillespie groups for possibly violating tax laws that limit the political activities of nonprofits.)

Rove may be gone from the White House, but he's hardly forgotten, and the Democrats have relished turning an old target into a new target. But in responding to the White House assault, Rove has engaged in what he's so well-known for: spin.

Calling out political opponents is not equivalent to drafting "an enemies list." For younger readers who may not be familiar with the term, it comes from Richard Nixon's heart of darkness. When Nixon was in the White House, his aides compiled what was officially known as the "Opponents List" or the "Political Enemies List." It was a secret roster. Its first iteration listed 20 names, including top Democratic fundraisers and strategists, the managing editor of The Los Angeles Times, two liberal Democratic members of Congress (Ron Dellums and John Conyers), CBS newsman Daniel Schorr, and actor Paul Newman. A subsequent list expanded Nixon's official enemies to several hundred people, including Ted Kennedy, Bill Cosby, Gregory Peck, football great Joe Namath, and the entire New York Times and Washington Post. A White House memo detailed the purpose of the list: "how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies." Think IRS audits.

By pointing a finger at Rove, Gillespie, and the Chamber of Commerce, Obama is not crafting a covert list of people to screw. He is trying to shame them into disclosing who is financing their multimillion-dollar campaigns to elect Republicans. Obama is correct when he decries the broken campaign finance system, which is easily swayed by special interests and wealthy folks. Under Citizens United, a billionaire industrialist who hates environmental regulations can flood a House or Senate race with ads (true or false) denouncing the candidate who supports environmental safeguards. The ads don't have to state who's behind them. The billionaire could hide behind a perfectly pleasant-sounding name: say, Citizens for Restoring American Progress. One sad truth of U.S. politics is that money and ads usually (though not always) do influence outcomes in congressional races. Consequently, secret funders have much clout and can shape American democracy. (Earlier this year, the House passed Obama-backed legislation that would force disclosure of contributions, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate.)

It is unlikely that Rove, Gillespie, the chamber, and others engaged in this covert politics will indeed be shamed by Obama and his Democratic allies into making their money men and women public. We can expect this debate to continue as Election Day nears. So if Rove wants to defend this practice of secret-cash politics, he should do so openly and not duck behind a canard. That is, let him explain why he shouldn't be on a list of the enemies of transparency and open and accountable government.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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Bob Zajac

Well Mr. Corn, when did you start investigating George Soros. When did he become an american citizen? You know darn well that both political parties do the same things, they both break the laws when it is to their advantage. In my years the Dems have always been known as the Party of the dead, having registered many a dead person and even animals to vote for their candidates, starting in 1960. Also look at the way the Dems handle the Military absentee ballots starting with the way Al Gore did in 2000 and the way NY is doing this year, by not getting these ballots out in time to be counted. And way pray tell, is there such a thing as early balloting around the country, why can't everyone vote on the same day as most people or just send in an absentee ballot just like the military personnel outside the US has to do.

October 25 2010 at 9:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good luck. The Bush-Cheny-Rove cabal has never played by the rules, and certainly will not be doing so any time soon. They just have much more money to make trouble now that the supreme court has once again enabled the cabal to create a "level palying field" for global corporations.

October 15 2010 at 6:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

Money donates by unions before 2010 was not disclosed as other 501c nonprofit agency. The donations for Obama in 1008 are not public record, Soro gave million to different agencies and unions that went to dems. in 2004, 2006, and 2008. When did he become and american? But that is different that is money for dems so it ok. If you look back you will find that the Dems. were the first to use this idea of hiding where funds come from. Unions have given 250 million this year. Where did it come from?

October 14 2010 at 11:58 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

No enemies list? Are you kidding? Let's see...Pres. Bush, Tea Party, Republicans, Fox News, Palin, Hannity, Israel, Dems that don't tout the party line, Wall Street, Insurance companies, Doctors cutting off legs for a profit, white police officers, people who disagree with the 9/11 mosque, the Chamber of Commerce, and on, and on! No wonder they are losing. They have managed to insult, demean or slander everyone who is not a liberal progressive.

October 14 2010 at 1:25 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

i am sure that every dollar obama got in the last election was accounted for.millions of dollars was raised and not one thin dime came from anywhere but the united states.really?dont be a hypocrite your job and check both sides of the aisle repubs and dems.if you have proof put it up,if you dont have any proof shut up.

October 12 2010 at 12:11 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Mr Corn you are making an accusation of wrong doing by the Chamber of commerce where is the proof that the Chamber is representing foreign interests. When are you going to pen an article about the virtues of the democrats rather than attacking their opponents. I would like to be informed about the virtues of "hope and change" And last but not least this is NOT a democracy it was a "representative republic" until the present crowd was elected and ignored the wishes of most citizens.

October 11 2010 at 9:23 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

When will Karl Rove disclose where all that money is coming from that he is funneling to republican candidates? Mr. Rove needs to disclose the source of these funds to dispel suspicion.

October 11 2010 at 8:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The President, and Axelrod, are saying, "Disclose your paying constituents." Why? So they can go after the enemies using gubmint agencies (Just ask my former GMC dealer, now out of business after 90-some years...) Nixon's Enemies List wasn't so secret: anybody paying attention could have written it up for him: Hollywood stars with more money than sense, unions, corrupted by political deals, corrupt democrats who helped steal the 1960 election--especially in Chicago (LOL),and the whole Dem establishment, in power for over 40 years at the time. Tell you what, David: the Chamber of Commerce will probably release its list of contributors just as soon as Move-on.Org does the same. President Obama raised more money in 2008 than Bush-Kerry combined in 2004. Have you published HIS contributors' names?

October 11 2010 at 3:55 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

I find it almost funny Mr Axlerod speaks of disclosure.This Admistration has become poster child for non disclosure,yet Axlerod and his staff continue with their lopsided attacks while they hide their own secrets.How can this be?

October 11 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

Karl Rove is correct when he said that this question is disturbing. While it was ok and politically profitable, in the short term, to question the funding for the "ground Zero Mosque"; it's devastating to have to answer the questions regarding the funding of the anti-Obama agenda. To turn the tables on Republicans could have long term consequences. After all, the parties have the right, according to a split Supreme Court decision, to raise and use money from secret doners to advance one'e agenda (such as incessantly attacking all-things-Obama. Remember the argument? "According to the Constitution, they have the right; but is it the right thing to do? "All they have to do is release the name of the donors for the Mosque." These questions and the answers to them were not disturbing; it was the same old politics. But these question disturb Mr. Rove a lot! The Supreme Court made secret political funding legal but can't justify foreign influence of our political system. Karl Rove and cohorts may be engaged in treasonous activities.

October 11 2010 at 10:15 AM Report abuse -9 rate up rate down Reply

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