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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

An interesting study in contrasts.

Here's a clip from today's article ("Barnett: No illegal ballots found") in the Argus Leader, in which South Dakota's Republican Attorney General, Mark Barnett, throws a good deal of cold water on the whole 'voter fraud' story.

The investigation into allegations of voter fraud in South Dakota has not turned up any illegally cast ballots but the woman at the center of the controversy still likely will face charges, Attorney General Mark Barnett said late Wednesday.

Barnett said last week that state and federal authorities had found 15 absentee ballot applications with apparently forged signatures. The bad documents surfaced during an investigation of voter abnormalities in 25 counties including registrations for people who were dead or too young to vote.

...

Throughout the controversy, Barnett has smothered discussion of widespread voting irregularities, saying the investigation was focused on one woman, Becky Red Earth-Villeda of Flandreau who was working as independent contractor under a Democratic Party voter drive.

On Wednesday, the attorney general said the woman's actions, while likely criminal, have not led to fraudulent voting.

"So far I have not found that she had any ballots that have been illegally voted," he said in an interview.

Here's the Republican National Committee mailing (just added to the TPM Document Collection) South Dakotans received in their mailboxes today. The headline pretty much says it all: "Tim Johnson and the Democrats are Hiding the Truth about Voter Fraud." But if you want all the ugly details you can look for yourself.

It doesn't get any slimier.

SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt may not be the most or least ethical, or the most or least effective Bush administration appointee. But, man, if this dude ain't the most pitiful. Pitt's had a run of embarrassments over the last month or more. And this comes after a pretty mortifying year. But as you've likely already read, he outdid even himself this week.

The essence of it is this: Pitt decided to appoint former CIA Director and FBI Director William Webster to head a new accounting oversight board. But Webster headed the audit committee of a public company, U.S. Technologies, which was facing investor lawsuits alleging fraud.

You can't really blame Webster because he was calling Pitt and saying "Harvey, Harvey, you sure this is a good idea, considering the whole U.S. Technologies thing?" Pitt apparently told Webster not to worry, that he'd checked, and it was okay. (That's what Webster told the Times and the SEC doesn't dispute it.) But apparently he hadn't checked or even told anyone else at the SEC about it. Then Monday, after he'd gotten appointed, Webster caught word that the feds were opening a probe of the company. He phoned up Pitt again: "Harvey, Harvey ... " Well, you get the idea. Again Pitt didn't tell any of the other SEC Commissioners.

I mean, this isn't even really corrupt. It's just lame. The sort of stuff that eight-year-olds do.

Now the *#$%@ hit the fan. The Times has reported how Pitt kept key information from the other Commissioners at SEC. And he's had to order SEC Inspector General, Walter Stachnick, to investigate his own decision not to tell anybody else what was going on.

Would you like to be Walter Stachnick, considering there don't seem to be any facts actually in dispute? How fun will it be when this guy has to interview Pitt? All that seems left to investigate, after all, is whether Harvey Pitt could really be as big a moron as he seems to be.

What a plum assignment.

So now it seems the DC snipers were responsible for two shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That's added to the other non-DC shootings they pulled off in Washington State and Alabama. A rather different picture starts too emerge. These guys were icing people all over the place. It was only when they got to DC that anyone realized what was going on. More specifically, it was only when they shot five people in a matter of hours on (I believe it was) October 3rd that anyone really realized there was a problem. Could that have been the reason why they hit so many people on that one day? You can almost see these guys sitting around the sniper den one evening, knocking back a beer, and saying: What does a guy gotta do in this country to get some cred as a serial killer?

In all seriousness, random gun killings may just have been too common a matter to arouse that much suspicion, until these two decided to pump up the volume one day in early October.

And there's more! Back in April 2000, two of candidate Michael Ferguson's opponents in the Republican primary in New Jersey's Seventh Congressional District accused Ferguson of waging a push-polling campaign after challenging them to take a clean campaign pledge. Ferguson's campaign polls were done by Arthur Finkelstein and Diversified Research, like those currently being done in South Dakota. More interesting is a beautiful moment from the early history of push-polling back in 1978 when future South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell beat out Max Heller for a seat in Congress. Let's pick the story up from a 1996 report published by the National Jewish Democratic Council ...

That race pitted Republican Carroll Campbell against Democrat Max Heller. According to press accounts, Campbell commissioned a poll, conducted by the notorious GOP pollster Arthur Finkelstein, in which voters were asked their views of Campbell, who was described as "a native South Carolinian," and Heller, who was described as "a Jewish immigrant." The Campbell-Finkelstein poll also asked voters whether they approved or disapproved of U.S. aid to Israel, hardly a significant issue in the campaign except that it injected Heller's religion into the race and implied that, as a Jew, he would favor Israel over the U.S. Then just five days before the election, an independent candidate attacked Heller because Heller did not "believe in Jesus Christ." Heller lost by less than 6,000 votes. Years after the election it was revealed that there had been contact between the independent candidate and the Campbell campaign, leading some observers to believe that the independent candidate had entered the race at the behest of the Campbell campaign.
Why would Finkelstein, a Jew, participate in using anti-Semitism as a political tool? Well, some folks just don't let personal matters get in the way of doing a good job.

Who's placing those South Dakota push-polls? These things are never easy to get to the bottom of. But we've done some sleuthing. Several South Dakotans asked who it was that was calling them and the survey callers identified themselves as being with Central Marketing of New York City or Central Marketing Incorporated (CMI) of Manhattan in New York City. Well, with some help from some intrepid TPM readers we located CMI, which is located on Irving Place in Manhattan. So we called them up and asked about their polling in South Dakota. The gentleman we spoke to took a message and said we'd hear back from his boss. When we didn't, we called back. Then we were told that if we wanted to know more about what they were doing in South Dakota we should call a number they proceeded to give us. That number turned out to be the number for Diversified Research, a Republican polling firm located in Irvington, New York.

Did firm A (CMI) subcontract the work to firm B(DR)? Or vice-versa? I suspect B hired A. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

So I called up the number CMI gave me. The woman who answered the phone told me I had called Diversified Research and that the person I needed to talk to about the South Dakota business was "Ronnie" and that I could leave a message for him with her. I did. I didn't hear back. Late this afternoon I called again. "Ronnie" had left for the day.

Who is Diversified Research? Good question. This NRCC press release from 2000 seems to show they were doing polling for the NRCC in that cycle. But what's the New York angle. It made me think of reclusive but celebrated Republican operative Arthur Finkelstein. Finkelstein is known in political circles for running nastily negative campaigns and particularly for setting up his candidates with various phrases tagging opponents as liberals. (This brief bio aptly calls him "the godfather of dirty tricks.") Here's a brief clip from a 1996 article in Time ...

For Arthur Finkelstein, this week might have been a vindication: Bob Dole finally started labeling Bill Clinton a "spend-and-tax liberal," using a crude but often effective strategy known as "Finkel-think" by some Dole advisers, because the secretive Republican strategist has been deploying it on behalf of his clients for 20 years. In 1992 Finkel-think helped New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato squeak past "hopelessly liberal" challenger Robert Abrams; in 1994 it helped a blank-slate state senator George Pataki unseat Mario ("too liberal for too long") Cuomo. Now Finkel-think has taken hold of Dole.

Last year D'Amato tried to bully Dole into giving Finkelstein total control of the campaign. Dole refused. These days, Finkelstein is exercising a kind of remote control. The Senator's latest brain trust is dominated by "Arthur's Boys"--such Finkelstein proteges as admakers Alex Castellanos and Chris Mottola, communications director John Buckley and pollster Tony Fabrizio. And Dole is rushing around the country chanting the Finkelstein mantra. "Liberal! Liberal! Liberal!" he cried in St. Louis, Missouri.

Okay, so enough about that. Point being he's big on the hopelessly liberal stuff and he's got some very sharp elbows.

Now interestingly enough, according to this listing, Diversified Research and Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates are located at the same address in Irvington, New York.

More tomorrow.

At any given political moment there is a big picture -- with broad demographic and ideological trends -- and then the smaller, more immediate, political world made up of ingenuity and chance -- the fact that Saxby Chambliss runs a better campaign than many thought, that Paul Wellstone is cut down tragically in a plane wreck days before the election. Of course, the two blend into each other and influence each other, though they remain at some level distinct. Individual politicians are like small ships on those vast political seas. And the best of them can survive and even thrive even when the winds and seas are decidely unfriendly. On balance, though, the winds and currents tell the tale.

What we're now in the thick of is that small, more immediate, political world, in which the newspaper stories which will appear next Wednesday morning will be affected by the personal qualities of candidates, the decisions party committees make over last minute allocations of funds, and simple random chance.

But let's not forget that larger picture. And as TPM noted a couple months ago, the best book we've read in years on this topic is The Emerging Democratic Majority by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. You can read the TPM review and recommendation here or pick up a copy of your own at Amazon.

As TPM wrote two months ago, "it's the most penetrating and prescient look at American politics you're likely to read for some time. If you favor what Judis and Teixeira call the politics of the 'progressive center' the news is quite good."

Newt Gingrich responds!

Or well ... kinda!

On Monday I accused Newt Gingrich of lying when he claimed that soon-to-be-Minnesota Senate candidate Walter Mondale supported Social Security privatization. Now Rick Tyler, Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications, responds ...

Josh,

Look at the quote:

"Walter Mondale chaired a commission that was for the privatization of Social Security worldwide," Gingrich said. "He chaired a commission that was for raising the retirement age dramatically. He has a strong record of voting to raise taxes. . . . think that what you'll see on the Republican side is an issue-oriented campaign that says, you know, if you want to raise your retirement age dramatically and privatize Social Security, Walter Mondale is a terrifically courageous guy to say that."

Walter Mondale DID chair a commission the was FOR the privatization of Social Security. He DID chair a commission that was FOR raising the retirement age.

No where doe the Speaker say that Mondale was for it but that the commission he chaired was for it. Shouldn't Mondale have to answer for a commision's finding that he chaired?

Best regards,
Rick Tyler
Director of Media Relations
Gingrich Communications

(Email published with author's permission.)

Now, as I told Rick when he and I exchanged emails about this, I don't find this a terribly convincing argument. Doesn't this get us into what the meaning of 'is' is territory?

The obvious intent of Gingrich's statement is to say that Mondale supports privatization. Even if the statement is technically true, as Tyler argues, it is so willfully misleading as, for my money, to constitute a deception. In fact, it almost seems worse since one might have assumed that Gingrich was just going on bad information and didn't know that Mondale had officially dissented from the privatization recommendation. But apparently not. The statement was just willfully deceptive.

I'd come up with a few analogies for how ridiculous an argument this is. But now you've heard from both sides. I'll let readers decide.

If you missed the movie-let produced for tonight's Paul Wellstone memorial you missed a lot: a montage of Wellstone's political life played over a track of Bob Dylan's Forever Young. Perhaps corny to some. To others like me, beautiful and heartbreaking. And, yes, clearly deep down I'm a lib. One doesn't fall far from the tree. (Full TPM Wellstone eulogy here.)

With one week to go, the South Dakota Senate race remains on a razor's edge TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.. The latest information TPM has received has Johnson blipping up by a point or two. But is Johnson's opponent, Congressman John Thune, trying to even the score with some last minute 'push-polls'?

Seems so.

In case you're wondering, 'push-polls' first got attention in the early 1990s and they're the specialty of your greasier sort of political tele-marketing firm. A 'push-poll' isn't really a poll, or at least it's not really an effort to gain public opinion information. It's actually a stealth form of negative advertising. So for instance, you might have a list of a few questions followed by something like: "Would you still vote for candidate X if those awful charges about his beating his wife turned out to be true?" Click ... phone hangs up.

You get the idea...

Now someone is pulling one of these stunts in South Dakota.

For a week or more there've been rumors around the state that voters were getting classic push-polls tarring Tim Johnson with responsibility for engaging in voter fraud or "rigging the election." The fraud story began to fade about a week ago, fizzling for lack of substance. But it's a close race and the Thune campaign would still like to use it against Johnson.

Push-polling is notoriously difficult to track down and prove. And the financial paper-trail, to the extent there is one, usually only comes to light long after the election is over.

Today I spoke to two South Dakota voters who received such calls.

Ann Boer lives in Lyons, South Dakota, about twenty miles northwest of Sioux Falls. (Her husband, Vern Boer (D), is a candidate for Minnehaha County Commissioner.) Recently, Mrs. Boer received a survey call. The questioner first asked a few generic questions: leaning more toward Republicans or Democrats, more likely to vote for Thune or Johnson, etc. And then he asked: "Have you heard about the investigation going on about fraud in registering voters?"

Boer said yes.

"And if it was told to you tomorrow that it was Johnson's campaign that was responsible for this [fraud] then would that change your vote?"

Here's how Boer described the rest of the call: "I said 'no' and then he said 'why?' and I said 'because I know it's not verified that his campaign is responsible for it.' And then he just kind of hurried up and quit."

"I've gotten numerous calls but I've never gotten one like that," Boer told me Tuesday afternoon. "It was like accusing someone of something that hasn't even been verified."

Then there's Kathy Gustafson.

A bit after 9:00 PM Monday night Gustafson, a graduate student and teaching assistant at South Dakota State University, got a similar call. The caller started out with the standard questions of whether Gustafson leaned more toward the Democrats or the Republicans, whether she supported the NRA, pro-life or pro-choice, etc.

Then came the zinger. "If you knew that Tim Johnson had rigged the election, would you still vote for him?"

Gustafson didn't like the sound of that question and immediately asked the caller who he was working for. He said Central Marketing of New York City. Gustafson told the caller that she would still vote for Johnson since she didn't think there was anything to the charges. She also told him "a question like that had no business on a survey."

"He thanked me for my time," Gustafson told me on Tuesday. "He did not react or respond to my response to the question ... I asked one more time for him to clarify the company to make sure I got that right. And he said 'Central Marketing, Manhattan, New York City.'" (In yet another call to a South Dakota number, a survey caller identified himself as working for Central Marketing Incorporated (CMI) of Hudson, Florida.)

On Tuesday evening, Gustafson got the same call again from Central Marketing. A lot of these calls, it would seem, are getting made.

The Thune and Johnson campaigns are both now operating under a pledge to run only positive ads through election day. Someone is simultaneously running a pretty slimy negative ad campaign over the state's telephones. One assumes it's not the Johnson campaign.

A late afternoon call to Thune spokesperson Christine Iverson, requesting comment, was not returned.

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