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“Converting A Phony Scandal Into Political Cash”: How Much Money Can Republicans Raise Off Benghazi? Ask Darrell Issa

House Republicans’ newly created Benghazi Select Committee has attracted attention to their penchant for using investigations of the Obama administration as a fundraising tool. Most of the criticism, thus far, has concerned the National Republican Campaign Committee’s effort to collect email addresses from those who want to “become a Benghazi watchdog” despite committee chairman Trey Gowdy’s plea that they not do so.

It is no surprise, though, that the NRCC would use Benghazi to the Republican Party’s financial advantage. To understand just how lucrative these scandals can be, look no further than Rep. Darrell Issa. He has offered Republicans a clinic in the science of converting phony scandal into political cash.

For most of his career, Issa was a lackluster fundraiser. But through the first five quarters of the 2014 election cycle, his campaign committee has raised $2,573,258. This is an impressive haul, considering he has not faced significant opposition in more than a decade. The two Democrats vying to challenge him this year together have raised less than $50,000 combined. If Issa’s fundraising continues at its current pace, he will raise more this cycle than in his first four terms in Congress combined.

To understand Issa’s success, you need to see how he has stealthily used his official position as chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee to build one of the most successful and impressive direct mail operations in the House of Representatives. As chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, Issa is outraising colleagues who occupy traditionally more lucrative posts including Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarlin and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, whose committee is known as one of the easiest perches in Congress to attract campaign contributions from the fossil fuel and healthcare industries.

From his post as chairman, Issa has incessantly beat the drum of Benghazi and other scandals. According to a search of Nexis, the terms “Issa” and “Benghazi” have appeared together in Fox News segments 221 times since September 11, 2012. On Sean Hannity’s show a year ago he proclaimed, “The administration has made a claim that for classified reasons they change the story. We believe right now that may be the biggest lie of all.” Encouraged by Hannity, Issa then stated, “Lying to Congress is a crime,” stoking the conservative fantasy of a lawless White House.

Issa’s campaign website does not contain the standard political pictures of constituents and community events. Instead it contains a panoply of press clippings primarily focused on the Congressman’s investigations of the White House and attacks on Obamacare.  Currently the top two stories on DarrellIssa.com announce the subpoena of Secretary of State John Kerry and an article from Breitbart.com by his former aide and current consultant Kurt Bardella headlined “They Knew and They Lied About Benghazi.” (Breitbart.com notes that Bardella is a “former” aide to Issa but does not disclose that his company Endeavor Strategic Communications was on his campaign committee’s payroll as of his latest FEC filing.)

As a reward, the Republican grassroots have padded Issa’s coffers: The key ingredient to his miraculous fundraising turnaround has not been high-dollar gifts from PACs and lobbyists, but ordinary Republican voters thanking him, through their contributions, for being the president’s number one antagonist. Issa has nurtured this relationship with the GOP base by cultivating an enormous direct-marketing operation. Four of his top six campaign expenditures so far this year were to direct mail firms and his third largest expense was $70,684 paid to the Post Office.

Issa’s FEC reports further demonstrate the success of the program. In the first quarter of 2014, nearly 56 percent of his contributors listed their occupation as “retired”an indicator, often, of a small donor reached through direct mailing. Previously, from the 2006 through 2010 cycle, the pharmaceutical industry was the largest source of donors to his campaigns. This change occurred only after Issa took over the Oversight Committee in 2011.

These donors are not simply responding to the letter they receive in the mail, but the image Issa has cultivated in the media. They see the congressman on Fox News portrayed as the leader in Congress investigating the scandals they feel have come to exemplify this White House and respond with open checkbooks.

Robert Spuhler, a retired community college president from Colorado, who gave $500 to Issa in 2013, explained to USA Today, “I contributed not so much because of him, but what the committee is working on. When you do things like that, you’re going to be targeted by the other party.”

A second donor, George Brandon, who also listed his occupation as retired on FEC forms, told the paper, “I want to see him survive and get to the truth on Benghazi, and I want to see the IRS destroyed.”

Pacific Political, a California firm contracted by Issa, brags on its website that it “has managed the growth of numerous direct mail campaigns, including that of Congressman Darrell Issa, whose house file… has grown from 2,600 donors to 26,000 donors.”

The front page of Pacific Political’s website features a sample direct mail piece whose visible text focuses on the purported attempts by “White House staff” to use “tax dollars to try and smear” Issa as a result of the scandals he is investigating.

Ultimately Issa’s small-dollar fundraising creates an incentive for him to make the wildest accusations possible and to continue investigations after their shelf lives have expired. The longer these inquisitions last, the more questions remain up in the air, the more time the media spend covering the alleged scandal, the more TV time Issa receives on Fox and the more money flows into his campaign coffers.

Accordingly after investigations by the Accountability Review Board, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Republicans have not given up investigating Benghazi. If the hearings end and the coverage diminishes, the money will stop rolling in.

 

By: Ari Rabin-Havt, The New Republic, May 11, 2014

May 13, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Darrell Issa | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dumb And Dumber”: Congress Is Awful Because Members Spend All Day Long Talking To Rich People

Members of Congress don’t know anything about “the issues” and they spend all their time fundraising, according to both a new Huffington Post story and “an easy inference to make after observing Congress for almost any length of time.”

The HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Sabrina Siddiqui obtained a PowerPoint presentation given to incoming Democratic freshmen legislators by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the DCCC’s recommended schedule for House members includes four hours spent on the phone begging rich people for money and one hour spent begging rich person for money in person. This is the daily schedule.

As Kevin Drum notes, this leaves no time for studying or homework. Members rarely know much about anything, policy-wise. An unnamed member confirmed to HuffPo that these guys basically are exactly as ill-informed as you feared:

One member of Congress said that the fundraising takes up so much time that members don’t even have time to become experts on bills they sponsor. “One thing that’s always been striking to me is even the members playing a leading role on specific issues actually could not talk about the issues,” said the member, who didn’t want to be quoted by name. “They didn’t have enough knowledge on their own issues to talk about them at length. I’m probably guilty of that.” He recalled one meeting early in his career, where he brought several members together to try to hash out a compromise, just as he had done earlier as a state legislator.

“Staff members were all twitching at the discussion, because their principals were saying things that were just flat-wrong or uninformed or wondering aloud about what the industry practices really were,” he recalled. “The staff members of course had a pretty good idea. … The members were sitting around the table having a remarkably uninformed and unproductive discussion.”

This, as much as anything else, is why our Congress is both dysfunctional — legislators have no clue what they’re voting for or against most of the time — and so attentive to the priorities of the very wealthy.

Newt Gingrich completely dismantled the internal institutions that used to provide Congress with objective information and research, both because that information frequently contradicted conservative dogma and because he knew that doing so would force Congress to rely on outside (ideological) organizations for information, which would strengthen the corporate-funded policy shops and think tanks that powered the conservative movement. Now nearly everything Congress “knows” about policy comes directly from self-interested, industry-funded groups. Simultaneously, as Lorelei Kelly recently wrote, congressional staff began shrinking, which means expertise was, once again, outsourced — now, increasingly, lobbyists perform the educational function that well-versed staffers used to.

So: the constituents members of Congress have the most direct contact with, and the ones they see themselves as reliant upon to remain in office, are the ones who have the ability to write massive checks. And the people the members talk to to understand the issues are either think tank ideologues or paid representatives of industry or both.

The result is Congress as it’s been since the second Clinton term: Hundreds of dim bulbs, a couple of brilliant-but-evil guys, and a handful of dedicated and intelligent people who frequently do weird and inexplicable things like “voting for the horrible 2005 bankruptcy bill.”

The annoying thing is that the solutions to these problems are incredible simple: public financing of elections and huge increases in congressional staff budgets. But you might notice that both of those solutions involve spending more money on the government, making them non-starters in our age of bipartisan agreement that government spending is unseemly.

The alternative to constant fundraising by the members is for outside groups to take care of it for them, which is a model conservatives already sort of practice. In their “Behind the Caucus” column on Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas freshman who will vote against raising the debt ceiling because he explicitly wants the United States to default, Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei explain that Cotton won his primary because the ultra-conservative Club for Growth simply sent Cotton “a FedEx envelope full of checks that he didn’t ask for.” And that certainly saves some time. Allen and VandeHeil also note that Cotton, and his peers, explain why we are probably about to induce a recession for no reason:

Many in the media — us included — often underestimate just how conservative and how impervious to criticism and leadership browbeating these members are when appraising the chances for change in the next two years.

Hey, Mike and Jim, that’s what we’ve been saying for a while now. We’re screwed, because the people who spent thousands getting Cotton elected are the ones explaining the issues to him and his dumber peers.

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 9, 2013

January 10, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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