Who is McCain campaign manager Terry Nelson? And will the media tell us?

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

The media largely ignored the hiring of Terry Nelson to serve as campaign manager for John McCain's presumed bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, and with few exceptions, those that did report on Nelson's hiring have largely overlooked Nelson's connections to various Republican scandals.

In mid-March, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hired Republican operative Terry Nelson as a senior adviser to his political action committee. More recently, McCain aides disclosed on December 7 that he had tapped Nelson to serve as his campaign manager for his presumed bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.

But not only have the media largely ignored this recent development, those who reported on it have largely overlooked Nelson's connections to various Republican scandals. Most recently, Nelson was responsible for a television advertisement attacking Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. that many criticized as racist. Last year, the indictments of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) on campaign finance-related charges alleged that Nelson was the conduit for money transferred through the Republican National Committee (RNC) between DeLay's political action committee and Republican Texas House of Representatives candidates. Questions have also been raised regarding his knowledge of the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal. Moreover, Nelson's consulting firm employs a former adviser to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose 2004 campaign tactics McCain himself called "dishonest and dishonorable."

Both CNN's The Situation Room and MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann briefly reported Nelson's hiring on December 7, as did weblogs at The Washington Post and ABC News. Further, articles on McCain in the December 11 issue of Roll Call [subscription required] and the December 18 issue of Time noted that McCain had tapped Nelson as his campaign manager. And in his December 12 "Media Notes" column, Post columnist Howard Kurtz excerpted a December 7 blog post by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman on Nelson's hiring. But of the few mentions in the media of this development, a Media Matters for America search through December 12 found only three -- Time staff writer Karen Tumulty, Countdown host Keith Olbermann, and Kurtz -- who have made any reference to his controversial past.

Approved attack ad on Harold Ford criticized as racist

As head of the RNC's independent expenditure unit in 2006, Nelson approved a controversial advertisement attacking Senate candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN). The ad featured a scantily clad white woman posing as someone who "met" Ford "at the Playboy party." As the ad concluded, she looked into the camera, purporting to address Ford, an African-American, and asked him to "call" her.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, "Critics said the ad ... plays on fears of interracial relationships to scare some white voters in rural Tennessee." An October 26 New York Times article quoted Vanderbilt University professor and political advertising expert John Geer saying that the spot that it "is playing to a lot of fears" and "frankly makes the Willie Horton ad look like child's play." Former Republican senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen, on the October 23 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, said the ad made "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment," and NAACP Washington Bureau director Hilary O. Shelton also denounced the advertisement.

The uproar surrounding the ad ultimately led Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to fire Nelson. Wal-Mart had hired Nelson's consulting firm, Crosslink Strategy Group, in 2005 "to help burnish its image after a wave of attacks from organized labor and liberal groups," according to The New York Times. As Media Matters for America noted at the time, The New York Times reported that Nelson "has worked for various Republican leaders, including President Bush and Senator John McCain of Arizona"; in reporting that Nelson "has worked" for McCain, the Times obscured the fact that Nelson still worked for McCain.

Implicated in DeLay scandal

In September 2005, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was indicted on charges of conspiracy involving alleged illegal corporate contributions into the Texas state elections. Specifically, the indictments accused DeLay of, in 2002, conspiring with two aides, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, to arrange large corporate contributions to the RNC that would then be sent back to various candidates for the Texas legislature.

While Nelson has not been charged, both the conspiracy and money-laundering indictments allege that, as deputy chief of staff of the RNC at the time, Nelson received a $190,000 check from Colyandro in September 2002, along with a request that the RNC fund seven particular candidates for the Texas House of Representatives. The RNC subsequently carried out this request, issuing $190,000 to the seven candidates on October 4, 2002. From the money-laundering indictment:

(4) on or about the eleventh day of September 2002, in Washington, D.C. the defendant, James Walter Ellis, did communicate with Terry Nelson, deputy chief of staff of the Republican National Committee, and did request and propose that, in exchange for their receipt of a contribution of a certain sum of money from Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, the Republican National Committee and the Republican National State Elections Committee ... make political contributions to several candidates for the Texas House of Representatives that were supported by Texans for a Republican Majority PAC;

(5) on or about the thirteenth day of September, 2002, in Washington, D.C., the defendant, James Walter Ellis, did tender and deliver aforesaid check and did cause the aforesaid check to be tendered and delivered, to Terry Nelson and the Republican National Committee;

(6) on or about the thirteenth day of September, 2002, in Washington, D.C., the defendant, James Walter Ellis, did provide the said Terry Nelson with a document that contained the names of several candidates for the Texas House of Representatives that were supported by Texans for a Republican Majority PAC ... to whom the defendant, James Walter Ellis, requested and proposed that the Republican National Committee and the Republican National State Elections Committee make political contributions in exchange for the committee's receipt of the proceeds from the aforesaid check, and that contained amounts that defendant, James Walter Ellis, and Texans for a Republican Majority PAC suggested be contributed to each of the said candidates.

Implicated in NH phone-jamming scandal

During Nelson's tenure as RNC deputy chief of staff, one of his subordinates, RNC New Hampshire political director James Tobin, conspired with several GOP operatives to obstruct the Democrats' get-out-the-vote effort in the state by jamming the phone lines they used on Election Day, November 5, 2002. On December 15, 2005, Tobin was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit the commission of interstate telephone harassment and one count of aiding and abetting the commission of interstate telephone harassment. He later received a sentence of 10 months in prison, two years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.

While the degree to which Nelson was aware of Tobin's scheme is unknown, his name did appear on the government's witness list during the Tobin trial, as the weblog Talking Points Memo documented.

Consulting firm connected to Swifties

Nelson's consulting firm, Crosslink Strategy Group, counts Chris LaCivita among its employees. While working for a separate Republican strategy firm in 2004, LaCivita was a paid consultant and media adviser to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who launched a smear campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) based on lies, factual distortions, and baseless attacks on Kerry's Vietnam War record and personal life.

At the time, McCain called the Swift Boat Veterans' campaign "dishonest and dishonorable."

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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