Well, well, well. Look what just oozed up:
Did you know the AARP hates US troops? And loves gay marriage? That's obviously the message sent by the ad on the left. And, I'm sure these positions come as news to the folks who are in charge over at the nation's largest single special-interest group.
This ad, found over at the American Spectator website, points to an outfit called USA Next. USA Next's website seems to position itself as an alternative to the AARP...kind of a competing senior-citizens organization, if you will. (Although, on the page where you can sign up to join, they note that "there are no age requirements for joining.")
However, as reported in the NYT yesterday, USA Next is a "conservative lobbying organization. . .which has poured millions of dollars into Republican policy battles" and "plans to spend as much as $10 million on commercials and other tactics assailing AARP." Thus, the AARP-spits-on-the-troops-but-embraces-the-gay-love smear.
USA Next's origins seem less than savory. To quote the NYT again:
Formerly known as the United Seniors Association, USA Next was founded in 1991 by Richard Viguerie, a Republican pioneer and mastermind of direct mailings, who raised millions of dollars from older Americans using solicitations that sent alarming messages about Social Security. In 1992, there were allegations that the group was used as a device to enrich other companies owned by Mr. Viguerie, drawing criticism from watchdog groups and Democratic lawmakers.
Then there's the benignly-named United Seniors Association (USA), which serves as a soft-money slush fund for a single GOP-friendly industry: pharmaceuticals. USA claims a nationwide network of more than one million activists, but, just like Progress for America, listed zero income from membership dues in its most recent available tax return. USA does, however, have plenty of money on its hands. During the 2002 elections, with an "unrestricted educational grant" from the drug industry burning a hole in its pocket, the group spent roughly $14 million--the lion's share of its budget--on ads defending Republican members of Congress for their votes on a Medicare prescription-drug bill.
So: Who came up with this slimeball ad? Guess what? It's the same folks that worked for the Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth. Quoth the Times:
To help set USA Next's strategy, the group has hired Chris LaCivita, an enthusiastic former marine who advised Swift Vets and P.O.W.'s for Truth, formerly known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on its media campaign and helped write its potent commercials. He earned more than $30,000 for his work, campaign finance filings show.
Officials said the group is also seeking to hire Rick Reed, a partner at Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a firm that was hired by Swift Vets and was paid more than $276,000 to do media production, records show.
For public relations, USA Next has turned to Creative Response Concepts, a Virginia firm that represented both Swift Vets - the company was paid more than $165,000 - and Regnery Publishing, the publisher of "Unfit for Command," a book about Senator John Kerry's military service whose co-author was John E. O'Neill, one of the primary leaders of Swift Vets.
The Times seems to be charitably refraining from pointing out that, of course, the Swift Vets' claims completely fell apart under scrutiny. They lied relentlessly to smear John Kerry, all with tacit White House approval.
Remember Chris LaCivita from a couple grafs up? He advised the Swift Boat liars, helped write their (misleading) ads and has been hired by USA Next, presumably to craft more misleading ads for them. Josh Marshall has some interesting things to say about LaCivita:
LaCivita, for those who follow these things, is a veteran astroturfer and hired gun, who's had a hand in all sorts of funny-business over recent years. We're most interested to see if he gets pulled in to testify at the oft-delayed trial of Jim Tobin later this year.
Tobin, you'll remember, is the former New England Chair of the Bush-Cheney Reelection Committee, who back in 2002, when he was the Northeast political director of the NRSC (the Senate Republican campaign committee) organized the phone-jamming hijinks to sabotage Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in the Sununu-Shaheen senate race.
Sununu ended up winning by a solid enough margin that he probably didn't need the help. But two of Tobin's co-conspirators have now pled guilty in the case and Tobin (whose trial has now been delayed a few times) is scheduled, I believe, to go on trial in June.
Now, Tobin was the Northeast field director for the Senate Republicans and the guy he was working for was none other than our man Chris LaCivita, the political director of the committee in the 2002 cycle. The fairly obvious question of what LaCivita did or knew about the operation has, to the best of our knowledge, never been addressed.
Since then LaCivita, along with Tobin, went to work for that Johnny Appleseed of astroturf, Tom Synhorst and his outfit DCI. And of course last year LaCivita was doing the Lord's work helping to gin up the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to maul John Kerry.
Another GOP soft-money conduit is Progress for America, a self-described "national grassroots organization" that listed zero income from membership dues on its last tax return. Like many such groups, it is run by a handful of operatives with a half-degree of separation from the GOP. Its founder is Tony Feather, the political director of President Bush's 2000 campaign. Feather's own consulting firm handles direct-mail and get-out-the-vote contracts for Bush's reelection effort, the Republican National Committee, and the party's congressional campaign committees. The former political director of one of those committees, Chris LaCivita, is now executive director of PFA. The group's Web site used to describe its purpose as "supporting Pres. George Walker Bush's agenda for America," but that slogan, apparently too brazen to pass legal muster, has since been changed; now PFA supports "a conservative issue agenda that will benefit all Americans." The group hopes to raise up to $60 million in soft money this year, and has enlisted the help of some prominent Republicans to do so, including Bush's campaign manager, chief campaign counsel, and party chairman. Thus, when Bush's lawyers accuse the Democrats of organizing a "soft-money conspiracy," they know what they're talking about.
(Progress For America's lawyer, Benjamin Ginsberg, also served as counsel to Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth. However, he had to resign that role when it was revealed that he was also the chief outside counsel to the Bush campaign. Illegally.)
More from Josh Marshall on USA Next, namely its chairman and CEO Charlie Jarvis:
Before he got the USANext gig, Jarvis was an executive vice president of Dobson's group Focus on the Family. And in the interests of bringing you all the information, it seems that it is not 100% accurate to say that USANext is a slush fund purely for the drug industry, seeing as how Jarvis was willing to bring the group out in favor of the rights of seniors to drill in ANWR after an Anchorage-based company called Arctic Power cut a check for $181,000. And if all that weren't enough, it seems that as of the summer of 2003 the Social Security Administration itself had secured a 'cease and desist' order against Jarvis's group for sending out mailings that "mislead the public into believing the mail is officially sent or approved by the Social Security Administration."
What a bunch of winners, eh?
I wonder...will the White House be quite as upset about these sorts of "special interests" as they were about the 527s during the election campaign? (Putting aside, of course, the fact that both Swift Vets and MoveOn.org are 527s...and that George W. Bush signed the law that created 527s.) It seems to me to be pretty close to political suicide to go after the AARP, so this seems like a breathtakingly audacious move. Who better to do it, then, than USA Next? They're nicely insulated from the White House, so Bush himself won't suffer much political fallout from the country's biggest association for seniors for his attempts to phase out their biggest entitlement program.
As a Talking Points Memo reader discovered, there are two more USA Next anti-AARP ads floating around; you can see them here and here. (They're pretty far out there, but not quite as laughable at the troops/gay marriage ad.)
Hmph. Lying astroturf groups, misleading mailings, hateful and misleading ads, phone jamming, soft-money fundraising...is this starting to smell like a Karl Rove orchestration yet?
UPDATE: I see that USA Next has pulled its anti-soldier/pro-gay marriage ad. That was fast.
ADDENDUM: I like this remix of the USA Next ad, posted by "furiousxgeorge" at MetaFilter: