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."
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.
Right-wing media have attacked early voting, claiming it leads to fraud, pushes uninformed voters to cast ballots too early, and is unconstitutional and untraditional. In fact, early voting increases the integrity of the voting process, and the vast majority of early votes are cast in the final two weeks before the election by decided voters. Early voting dates back to the founding of the country.
Fox News contributor Bradley Blakeman joins the right-wing media's assault on early voting by misreading the Constitution to fashion an argument that our founding document forbids early voting. In a Newsmax column, he argues that the Constitution requires that all votes be cast on a single day, although it contains no such requirement.
The Constitution provides in Article 2, Section 1 that:
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing [sic] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
Under the Electoral College system established by the Constitution, voters choose electors, who elect the president. Thus, the Constitution sets out three -- and only three -- rules regarding the timing of voting in presidential elections. One, Congress determines when voters choose electors. Two, Congress determines "the day" on which electors cast their votes for president. And three, the day electors cast their votes "shall be the same throughout the United States."
Blakeman, a former Bush administration official, misreads these three rules as an argument that early voting is unconstitutional because "[o]ur Founding Fathers specifically set forth 'a national Election Day' -- not days." He also writes that:
I believe the Founding Fathers set forth one day for voting because they knew that in order to best execute a fair election and in order for Americans to understand and appreciate their right to vote that voting should involve some level of "sacrifice" of time and effort.
The Constitution is clear. Congress is given the responsibility to set a single day for a national election -- not days. States have no right to subvert the clear directive and intent of the U.S. Constitution when it comes to national voting.
This argument is simply wrong. The Constitution says nothing about "a national election day" or "a single day for national elections." The Founders never "set forth one day for voting." They did provide in the Constitution that presidential electors cast their votes on the same day, but the Constitution clearly distinguishes that process from voters going to the polls.
Blakeman may simply be confused about what the Constitution actually says, because he writes that the relevant provision of the document is "Article 2, Section 1: Clause 4: Election Day". In fact, the phrase "Election Day" does not appear in the original text of the Constitution. Of course, subheadings added later by editors of various published editions of the Constitution do not alter the document's meaning or have the force of law.
Blakeman is correct that in 1845 Congress passed legislation establishing a single date for voters to choose electors. But early voting and absentee voting, in which voters in many states cast ballots over a period of days or weeks, do not prevent ballots from being counted, and electors chosen, on a single day. And in any case, arguments about the law establishing a national election day are irrelevant to Blakeman's misreading of the Constitution.
The New York Times cited right-wing magazine Newsmax in an article discussing how President Obama chooses to interact with the news media and highlighted his criticism of the media's reliance on "false balance." Why the Times thought Newsmax was a credible enough source to discuss Obama, let alone be included in the same breath as the White House press corps, is a mystery.
Newsmax is a right-wing outfit that has traded on blatant anti-Obama rhetoric to make a buck, has continued to stoke birther fantasies while promoting Donald Trump, and routinely spreads falsehoods about Obama's policies.
After noting that Obama has sat down with a wide variety of columnists including the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan and the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, the Times wrote:
In addition to well-known columnists, Mr. Obama also holds summit meetings with niche online outlets that did not have access, or did not exist, during previous administrations, including personal finance Web sites like The Consumerist and Fool.com, and African-American Web sites like Jack & Jill Politics, The Root and theGrio.
That approach can frustrate White House reporters whose job is to cover the president's day-to-day activities. It has also hurt the White House's messaging efforts, said Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative magazine and Web site. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all better "understood that the campaign didn't end and that public perception was vitally important to governing," Mr. Ruddy said.
The article then highlighted Obama's criticism:
While Mr. Obama frequently criticizes the heated speech of cable news, he sees what he views as deeper problems in news outlets that strive for objectivity. In private meetings with columnists, he has talked about the concept of "false balance" -- that reporters should not give equal weight to both sides of an argument when one side is factually incorrect. He frequently cites the coverage of health care and the stimulus package as examples, according to aides familiar with the meetings.
Indeed, the Times article could be used as the perfect example to illustrate this phenomenon. The Times, which characterized Newsmax as a "conservative magazine and Web site," gave the site enough standing to criticize Obama's press strategy. The article, for balance, included the views of "left-leaning" Talking Points Memo, conservative site Power Line, and a host of nonpartisan journalism heavyweights.
Let's not pretend Newsmax has any business being included in that list.
Right-wing media outlets are seizing on a recent study to claim that ultraviolet (UV) emissions from compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) pose a threat to human health and may even cause skin cancer. But experts agree that under normal conditions CFLs are perfectly safe, and the study's author says that there is "no link" between CFLs and cancer.
A study published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology measured the effect of CFLs at distances of 2.5, 7.5 and 35 centimeters (0.98 to 13.78 inches) away from skin cells and found that "the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation." It concluded that "it is best to avoid using them at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover."
The UV risk is easily eliminated by purchasing double-envelope CFLs, using a lampshade, or staying more than a foot away from an exposed bulb.
Nevertheless, conservative media outlets have exaggerated these findings to once again portray CFL bulbs as unsafe. During a Fox & Friends news brief on the study, Gretchen Carlson reported that CFLs "could be bad for people," and Brian Kilmeade exclaimed: "Goodbye epidermis!" And a Newsmax headline declared that "Energy-Saving Light Bulbs Can Cause Skin Cancer."
But Dr. Tatsiana Mironava, co-author of the study, told Media Matters that "there is no link in scientific literature between CFL exposure and cancer." And dermatologist Dr. Howard Brooks explained that CFLs emit "such a small amount" of UV rays that they "shouldn't be a risk." Dr. Brooks said that skin damage would only be a concern after "prolonged exposure," such as sitting directly underneath a desk lamp for an extended period of time.
Donald Trump recently declared on CNBC that "Saudi Arabia is doing Obama a big fat favor" by increasing oil production in order to bring gasoline prices down, and that if Obama is re-elected the "favor will be repaid many times over." Fox Nation took this conspiracy even further, calling it a "SECRET SAUDI OIL DEAL TO WIN REELECTION"; Real Clear Politics, Breitbart.com, and Newsmax also promoted Trump's comments.
This has put conservatives in the bizarre position of claiming that Obama is nefariously lowering gasoline prices in order to help the economy and win re-election, after previously claiming that Obama was trying to raise gas prices.
And the claim that there is a "SECRET" "DEAL" is ridiculous: it is public knowledge that the U.S. has pressured Saudi Arabia to boost its oil output. The administration's apparent success in doing so undercuts Trump's previous attack that the Saudis were not ramping up production because Obama was a poor "messenger" or was too busy on "his basketball court" or something.
The Saudis have no incentive to do "Obama a big fat favor" unless it is in their own self-interest. As the Washington Post reported, energy economist Phillip Vergeler believes that Saudi Arabia is trying to "stay in the good graces of United States and Europe" by providing "economic stimulus," but they are also acting in order to slow down shale production in North America and put pressure on Iran.
The New York Times reports this afternoon that the right-wing magazine Newsmax will host a Republican debate later this month, and that it will be moderated by Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, reality show host, and nation's most prominent birther.
Mr. Trump's role in the debate, which will be broadcast on the cable network Ion Television, is sure to be one of the more memorable moments in a primary season that has already delivered its fair share of circus-like spectacle.
Mr. Trump's own flirtation with running for president this year seems almost quaint (whose birth certificate was he all worked up about?) compared with more recent distractions - like allegations of adultery and sexual harassment, gaffes that seemed scripted from a late-night comedy show, and a six-figure line of credit at Tiffany & Co.
Almost quaint indeed! Good to know we're at the point where we can shrug off one of the more blatantly racist spectacles in modern American politics. I guess Trump benefits, if that's the right word, from having already been too clownish a figure to let something like birtherism tarnish his reputation.
And it's no great shock that Newsmax would select a conspiracy-mongering publicity hound as their moderator. Newsmax publisher Chris Ruddy spent the Clinton years flogging the conspiracy theory that Vince Foster's suicide was actually a murder connected to the Clintons.
But during the Clinton years, people like Ruddy were confined largely to the fringe. These days... well, Mr. Trump has a few questions he'd like to ask.
The right wing media have claimed that President Obama is deliberately sabotaging the super committee's negotiations to reach a deal to decrease the deficit in an attempt to strengthen his re-election prospects. But Obama has repeatedly urged the super committee to come to a compromise, while the Republicans on the super committee have refused to compromise, instead proposing massive tax giveaways for the richest Americans and even more massive cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other programs Americans rely on.
Following the Justice Department's announcement that an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States has been foiled, right-wing media called for the bombing of Iran. Indeed, conservative media figures have repeatedly endorsed military action against Iran and other countries.
Right-wing commentators have repeatedly claimed that the best thing President Obama could do during his September 8 speech to Congress is tender his resignation.
"Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" That's the first sentence of a July 29 Fox News article about a recent study which shows nothing of the sort, demonstrating just how broken climate change coverage is at news outlets like Fox, where scientific illiteracy meets political slant.
Last week, Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), one of the few climate scientists who think we don't need to worry much about global warming, published a paper purportedly challenging mainstream climate models that is both limited in scope and, by many accounts, flawed. After a Forbes column by James Taylor of the libertarian Heartland Institute misinterpreted the study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," an avalanche of conservative media outlets, including Fox, followed suit:
The conservative group writes that "[y]ou may have heard on Fox News and elsewhere about former DOJ career attorney J. Christian Adams, who quit the DOJ and blew the whistle on the cover-up of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation cover-up. ... the politicized Obama DOJ thought otherwise and decided not to press charges. That's when Adams quit and went public with this outrageous decision not to enforce the law." RNLA later asks for money to help "fight these gross abuses of the Obama administration."
As Media Matters has documented, Adams is a longtime right-wing activist who has admitted that he does not have firsthand knowledge of the events, conversations, and decisions that he is citing to advance his accusations. Additionally, the Bush administration's Justice Department -- not the Obama administration -- made the decision not to pursue criminal charges against members of the New Black Panther Party for alleged voter intimidation at a polling center in Philadelphia in 2008. The Obama administration successfully obtained default judgment against King Samir Shabazz, a member of the New Black Panther Party who was carrying a nightstick outside the Philadelphia polling center.
The July 17 RNLA email, sent through Newsmax.com's mailing list:
Was it the opportunity to snag a glowing profile from a right-wing outlet?
Could it have been the chance to reach Lou Dobbs' coveted demographic of aging anti-immigrant conspiracy theorists?
Perhaps he was given some sort of clue as to how glowing the profile would end up? There isn't really a harsh word in the piece… they cover his dashingly good looks, his affection for Ailes-Hannity-O'Reilly, his purported fairness to both sides, that he worked at the AP once upon a time when it was still fair, and all of the big politicos appearing on his show. The profile's author, Ronald Kessler, even explains to his readers what it means for King to "keep kosher" since his conversion to Judaism.
The only thing that makes sense is the idea that King agreed to the interview because he knew in advance that it would be a puff-piece. Then again, maybe he didn't know Newsmax's history of right-wing incendiary misinformation. For example, back in September the publication ran a column (eventually taken down) stating that a military coup "to resolve the 'Obama problem'" was not "unrealistic." There's a lot more where that came from.
Check out the interview's gems after the break.