Retired donors to a super PAC supported by Dick Morris say they are dissatisfied with how their money was spent. It's not hard to see why.
As Media Matters reported last week, Federal Election Commission documents show that Morris' Super PAC for America paid nearly $1.7 million, or nearly half of all money the Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill helped raise, to Newsmax Media, which manages Morris' for-rent email list.
The circular scam apparently worked like this: Morris, acting as chief strategist for the group, sent at least 21 emails to his private for-rent email list, urging readers to give generously to the PAC to fund television ads Morris claimed were essential to a Mitt Romney victory. Newsmax.com sent an additional 25 emails to their own list, featuring a similar pitch and often the signature of either Morris or Michael Reagan, a Newsmax columnist and the PAC's chairman. Then a large percentage of the take was directed back to the coffers of Newsmax, which derives significant profits from its ability to rent out its mailing list to various groups.
Super PACs are unregulated and free to spend their funds however they see fit. But they generally contribute most of their money to candidates or partisan advertising. It is unusual for them to spend half of their revenue on fundraising, and more so for that fundraising to directly profit the PAC's primary spokesperson and strategist. Said Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending: "Spending 50 percent for fundraising and other expenses would be high."
Morris' own supporters agree. Media Matters contacted more than 100 of his donors using publicly available information from the FEC. A disproportionate number of those listed in the FEC filings are retired, and at least a dozen of those contacted seemed extremely confused in their responses. Many more were openly hostile when asked for comment, especially in response to this reporter's stated association with Media Matters.
Others were polite and curious to know how Dick Morris spent their money. Richard Clark, a retired farmer in Jefferson, New Hampshire, made two donations totaling $350 to Morris' group. He was taken aback to learn where roughly $160 of it went. "Half of the budget going to fundraising is probably too high, a quarter of the total is probably closer to the maximum," said Clark, who is also disturbed by Morris' wide margin of error in predicting the election's outcome. "Dick Morris' emails convinced me to contribute, but he was way off. I'm less likely to send him money in the future."
Don Hall, a disabled and retired insurance man in Amarillo, Texas, made five donations to Super PAC for America totaling $1,000. As a longtime fan of Morris' "lunchtime videos," the numbers and implications of the FEC filing disturbed him. "If it is true [that nearly 50 percent of funds went to fundraise through Newsmax and Morris' website] then it would definitely affect my trust in Morris," said Hall. "It would stop all contributions to him in the future."
As Republicans continue to try to make sense of their recent election losses, the finger pointing is becoming more intense.
In recent days, prominent conservatives Bill Kristol and Joe Scarborough have leveled a new allegation: Major players have allowed their pursuit of personal wealth (and ego) to take precedence over larger political goals; that elements of the conservative movement resemble a me-first, moneymaking "racket," where lining ones pockets stands out as the key objective.
The nasty "racket" accusation highlights what's happened as Republicans have handed over more and more of their branding and marketing to media personalities whose ultimate barometers of success (ratings and personal income) differ from those who run political parties (getting candidates elected to office).
In the business of media self-promotion, and particularly the carnival barker variety that powers so much of the conservative movement via Fox News and AM talk radio, it's inevitable that the goals of the "conservative entertainment complex," as writer David Frum dubbed it, would collide with the retail politics of the Republican Party. (Frum has charged the complex with having "fleeced and "exploited" its followers.)
Remember when Glenn Beck charged fans $125 to sit through the taping of his radio show? Or when he charged $500 if they wanted to attend a meet-and-greet before the show? And that was after Beck banked $32 million the previous year. More recently, conservative pundits and outlets have rushed to cash in on election spending by renting their emails lists, while Fox News' Karl Rove lightened wealthy donors' bankrolls by $300 million via his failed political groups.
It's conservatism as an ATM.
The "racket" implication also extends beyond the media world and into the Tea Party, which Fox has faithfully touted as a "grassroot" movement. That feel-good characterization was hard to square with the recent revelation that former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey stepped down as chairman of FreedomWorks, an influential Tea Party non-profit group, with a staggering $8 million golden parachute. (He will reportedly be paid in $400,000 installments, annually, in "consulting fees.")
Republicans rarely begrudge millionaires for big paydays. (It's the free marketplace!) But if they think cashing in has trumped winning elections, GOP pushback is inevitable.
From the December 10 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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While the 2012 election may have severely damaged Dick Morris' credibility as a pundit, leading to his temporary benching at Fox News, it appears to have been good for his wallet. The Fox News contributor and columnist at The Hill aggressively fundraised for a super PAC he advised, which then apparently funneled money back to Morris through rentals of his email list.
According to FEC data released December 6, Morris' Super PAC for America paid conservative news outlet Newsmax Media roughly $1.7 million for "fundraising" in October and November. A significant portion of the super PAC's money likely went to renting Morris' own email list, which is operated by Newsmax Media.
A Media Matters review found that in the month before the election, Morris sent at least 21 emails to his mailing list featuring fundraising pitches that were "paid for by Super PAC for America." Super PAC also "paid for" at least 25 emails to Newsmax.com's main email list during the same period.
This is the second consecutive election cycle that Super PAC for America has paid significant money to Newsmax. The group, which was formed prior to the 2010 midterm elections, paid Newsmax Media nearly $2 million in 2010 for advertising, fundraising, and "email list rental." At the time, Morris also sent numerous fundraising solicitations to his email list that were "paid for by Super PAC for America." Morris also regularly used his Fox News platform in 2010 to promote the group.
In October and November of 2012, Super PAC for America paid more money to Newsmax Media than it spent on all independent expenditures combined. The Newsmax payments represent 46 percent of the net contributions made to the super PAC during the 2012 election cycle. And Morris, who serves as the group's chief strategist, isn't the only Super PAC for America official tied to the media outlet. Michael Reagan, who serves as Super PAC for America's chairman, is a Newsmax columnist.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that Newsmax's soaring profits were tied to their ability to leverage their "politically plugged-in" readership, with the outlet regularly renting out their mailing list to various groups for thousands of dollars.
Reporters at The Hill newspaper are levying tough criticism at the publication's columnist Dick Morris following recent outlandish predictions that caused Fox News to restrict his time on the air.
"I think everyone at The Hill views him the way that people outside The Hill do," said one staffer. "He is a laughingstock, especially the way he acted in this last election."
"I don't think people take his column seriously," added another. "What did he predict, 300 electoral votes for Romney?"
New York magazine's Gabe Sherman reported December 4 that segments involving Morris and fellow Fox News political analyst Karl Rove would now require approval from a top network executive. He explained of Morris:
Inside Fox News, Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line. At a rehearsal on the Saturday before the election, according to a source, anchor Megyn Kelly chuckled when she relayed to colleagues what someone had told her: "I really like Dick Morris. He's always wrong but he makes me feel good."
Morris had used his Fox perch to offer an array of outlandish predictions, including repeated claims that Mitt Romney would win the presidency by a "landslide," Republicans would pick up 10 Senate seats, and stating it was "very possible" President Obama would drop out of the race altogether.
The commentator's record at The Hill was not much better, using his widely-mocked final columns before Election Day to predict a Romney "landslide" of more than 5 points in the popular vote and several GOP Senate victories.
But while Fox News - famously lacking accountability - has decided to reduce Morris' appearances in response to his embarrassing commentary, The Hill appears to be taking no such steps. And that concerns some of the paper's reporters who worry that his work adversely affects their brand.
"If it was up to me, I would not have him as a columnist, but it's not up to me," said a third reporter. "His columns are wildly outlandish. I think that he, as evidenced by this [interview], he probably brings more negative attention than positive to the paper."
New York magazine contributing editor Gabriel Sherman reported on Tuesday that Fox News producers are under orders to limit the appearances of contributors Karl Rove and Dick Morris. Fox relied heavily upon Rove and Morris to interpret polling and project the winner of the 2012 presidential election, which they invariably projected being Mitt Romney.
Morris not only failed to call the race accurately, he repeatedly made outrageous predictions of how the race would turn out, all in the GOP's favor. In the wake of Morris and Rove's role as Fox election experts ending, Media Matters looks back at some of their best moments:
So it seems that Karl Rove and Dick Morris are on the outs at Fox News. New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman reports that Roger Ailes wants the two pundits off the air, for the time being, and that Fox News producers "must get permission before booking Rove or Morris." The reasons for their benching? "Morris's Romney boosterism and reality-denying predictions became a punch line" within the network, and "Ailes was angry at Rove's election-night tantrum when he disputed the network's call for Obama."
At last we're getting a clearer picture of what it takes to face a reckoning at Fox News. Glaring conflicts of interest, grossly unethical behavior, and naked GOP boosterism adorned with a journalistic fig leaf are just fine. To reap the Ailes whirlwind, you have to become such a transcendent embarrassment that the network has no choice but to treat you as a liability.
It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but there exists some precedent. The most prominent example is, of course, Glenn Beck, whose short-lived Fox News tenure was an ongoing exercise in damage control. Beck managed to stay in Ailes good graces owing to high ratings and ad revenue, but as he grew increasingly unhinged (caliphate, anyone?) and big-name advertisers fled en masse, they had a falling out and Beck was shown the door. "Half of the headlines say he's been canceled. The other half say he quit. We're pretty happy with both of them," Ailes told the Associated Press.
And then there's E.D. Hill, the Fox News anchor who in 2008 memorably characterized a fist bump between Barack and Michelle Obama as "a terrorist fist jab," generating howls of outrage from all corners. Her program was canceled within two weeks, and later that year the network declined to renew her contract.
On the other hand, there are plenty of Fox News personalities who have very publicly disgraced themselves and the network and who remain secure in their jobs. Look no further than the cast of Fox & Friends. Their 2008 stunt in which they smeared two New York Times reporters by Photoshopping yellow teeth, big noses, and receding hairlines into their publicity photos should have sent heads rolling. And yet, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade are still on the air. Eric Bolling declared himself a birther on his Fox Business Network show: "There is a legitimate question as to whether or not the president of the United States is allowed to be president of the United States." He's since moved up to the big leagues and now co-hosts The Five on Fox News.
All this to say that, despite Morris' and Rove's benching -- which has every appearance of being temporary -- there is still no real culture of accountability at Fox News. The only way to get in trouble is to make such a spectacle of yourself that the network brass are forced to act (sagging ratings seem to be a precondition as well). And even then, there's a good chance you won't face any consequences whatsoever.
You might even get promoted.
From the November 25 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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The right-leaning Heritage Foundation has thrown cold water on the revival a conspiracy theory pushed on Fox News by contributor Dick Morris and the National Rifle Association that the United Nation's Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is actually a sinister Obama administration plot to eliminate the right of private individuals to own a firearm.
During a Heritage Blogger Briefing, senior research fellow Ted Bromund stated, "I don't think that the ATT is a gun confiscation measure for a variety of reasons. First, because I don't regard that as within the bounds of possibility in the United States and secondly, because that is not what the text says."
Bromund's assessment is correct. The stated goal of the treaty is to regulate the international trade of firearms in order to prevent the diversion of arms to human rights abusers, and the most recent version of the treaty's text expressly prohibits the regulation of firearm ownership within sovereign nations.
The preamble of the July 26 treaty draft clearly "reaffirm[s] the sovereign right and responsibility of any State to regulate and control transfers of conventional arms that take place exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system." Furthermore, the Department of State has stated that it will oppose any treaty that contains "restrictions on civilian possession or trade of firearms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution."
Despite convincing evidence that the treaty seeks only to regulate international trade -- and that any treaty limiting rights granted by the United States Constitution would be considered invalid -- the conspiracy theory persists. Morris, who has pushed theory on Fox News, and NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, both dedicated space in their latest books to advance the claim.
After spending the weeks before the election sending emails imploring his readers to send him money to run TV ads he described as critical to defeating President Obama, Dick Morris used his most recent column to say that such ads have no impact.
The Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill is having a rough month. In the wake of an election in which several conservative pundits -- conspiracy theorists, wishful thinkers, and heavily invested political players alike -- have come out looking foolish for their predictions of a major Romney win, Morris stands alongside Karl Rove as the figure bearing the most ridicule and criticism.
Perhaps in response to this criticism, Morris penned an election postmortem this weekend, wherein he laid out why "The Campaign Made No Difference." According to Morris, the extended, expensive campaign in swing states was basically a wash.
But for weeks before the election, Morris' public pronouncements of an impending Romney victory were tied to a steady barrage of fundraising emails from his political action committee, Super PAC for America. Those pre-election emails explained that the TV ads that Super PAC for America was running had made a difference in swinging the race in Romney's favor.
Now, a week out from the election, Morris explains that political ads are ineffective and people just fast forward through them anyway:
The months and months of campaigning, the hundreds of millions of TV advertising, the incessant travel schedules of the candidates, and the vigorous efforts of both sides to get their vote out made little or no difference in the outcome of the Election of 2012.
1. Television is losing its impact. Particularly in the presidential race, it is astonishing that the almost one billion dollars spent advertising in eight states did very little to move the vote share. Voters are not watching television as much these days and those that are still turning it on are fast forwarding through the ads. And negative campaign ads -- in fact, all ads, -- are losing their impact.
To sum up, Morris now says that nobody watches political ads, they don't move swing voters, and negative ads are losing their impact. Let's compare Morris' discussion of the ineffectiveness of political advertising with some of the fundraising emails sent by Super PAC for America in the weeks leading up the election.
After President Obama's re-election, conservative media figures attacked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for his praise of the president's leadership following Hurricane Sandy. Their attacks followed News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch's pre-election statement that Christie would be to blame if Obama won the election.
From the November 7 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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From the November 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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In response to President Obama's re-election, conservative media have declared that the president does not have a mandate to pursue his policies and said Republicans have a mandate to obstruct them. In Obama's first term, Republicans engaged in historic levels of obstruction against Obama's agenda.
During this election cycle, Fox News political analyst Dick Morris repeatedly made outlandish and bizarre electoral predictions at odds with polling data and common sense. His predictions were "so far out on the limb" that Bill O'Reilly told him if Barack Obama wins the election, Morris would be "through." Morris' long track record of terrible prognostication shows that his many strikeouts this cycle aren't an aberration but a steady flow of failure.
Media Matters looks back at 12 of Morris' many predictions that didn't come true.