Have Contributions From Donors Been Finding Their Way Into DCCC Officials' Pockets?
Friday Nancy Pelosi didn't pick supposed front runner Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the next chair of the DCCC. She picked someone just as bad, Steve Israel. In fact, he's actually worse that Wasserman Schultz in one key way. She at least supports progressive legislation. Until 2 years ago the conservative Suffolk County congressman was a member of the Blue Dog Caucus. He's the epitome of the DLC/Third Way hack. The Washington Post describes him as someone who "joined the Blue Dog Democrats in the House and crossed party lines to support President George W. Bush on a number of key issues, most notably Bush’s 2001 tax cut package [one of only 28 mostly right wing Democrats who did] and the GOP prescription drug bill the following year. He has also espoused more hawkish views on foreign policy, voting to authorize military force in Iraq."
I've been working on a DCCC investigation since September and, just by coincidence I ran across an interesting relationship I wasn't aware of-- or looking for-- one between top DCCC operatives John Lapp, Jon Vogel and... Steve Israel. And now they'll all be together again, just like they were when they all worked on Israel's first congressional campaign in 2000 to win the seat being vacated by hapless Long Island Congressman Rick Lazio. Although I tried contacting every DCCC source I know for my story-- from out-going chair Chris Van Hollen and incoming chair Steve Israel to Lapp and Vogel, the only person who would speak to me on the record-- and only partially on the record as a matter of fact-- was Jon Vogel. Vogel played the role of DCCC Executive Director this year. He assured me that "all our decisions were based on polling with the strategy of winning a Democratic Majority... We were working off a poll that gave us an instrument that tested different ways that we could move numbers in a district.” I kind of wish I could have gotten Lapp on the phone instead (or at least as well)-- a mere senior advisor to the I.E. committee-- but he didn't want to talk. I can understand why.
First off, I need to say that I don't really care that what I've found is standard operating procedure for the NRCC, the DSCC and the NRSC and that "this is the way it's always done Inside the Beltway." I sincerely hope Republicans and like-minded insiders choke on their own corruption, and I'll leave it to right-wing bloggers, who are already onto the trail, to work it out for themselves. This is about the DCCC. More specifically, it's about the systemic corruption inside the committee and how they allocate money and where that money goes. Maybe "corruption" is too strong of a word. Maybe. "Devoid of ethics" might be a fairer description.
How were all those insane Republicans able to win?
Some of them-- too many of them-- really are dangerous crackpots. Was it really just because Obama didn't deliver enough of the Hope and Change agenda? Or was it because some of the very Democrats tasked with victory were focused on something entirely different from winning-- focused instead on personal enrichment? This is a story of, at best, horrifying dysfunction at the DCCC. What if one, single person:
(a) could decide-- or even influence-- which candidates got the DCCC's $82 million in independent expenditures this year, and which didn't;
(b) could get payments that looks a lot like kickbacks from the DCCC, for "advising" those candidates; and
(c) could "earn" 15% "media" commissions on millions upon millions of dollars in TV, radio and other ad buys, from those candidates to whom he directed DCCC support?
Well, at least one person could-- and did. One person could put his own money-making opportunities ahead of what was good for the Democratic Party. One person could help to waste much of that $82 million-- and send so many Democratic House candidates down to defeat-- by diverting some of that firehose of DCCC money into his own and his cronies' bank accounts.
Below, I would like to introduce you to DCCC revolving door operative John Lapp.
We've already talked quite a lot at DWT about how so much of the DCCC 2010 budget was allocated to the Democrats who least supported the party's legislative agenda. Bobby Bright was the perfect case, since he supported the party agenda least of any member and still found himself the recipient of $1,411,243.95 worth of DCCC Independent Expenditures in his failed quest for reelection. Stalwart Democrats who supported the agenda-- and who were defeated by millions of dollars of concentrated negative ad campaigns against them from GOP front groups, like Rove's two Crossroads machines and the foreign-financed U.S. Chamber of Commerce-- were cut off by the DCCC, including progressives Alan Grayson, Mary Jo Kilroy and Carol Shea-Porter. Just for reference, here's the list of the Democrats whose campaigns benefited by over a million dollars each (over half the total spent by the DCCC) in Independent Expenditures against their opponents, courtesy of the DCCC's $65 million I.E. fund:
Chad Causey (Blue Dog-AR)- $1,771,176.95- LOST
Denny Heck (WA)- $1,747,599.58- LOST
Dan Seals (IL)- $1,746,828.70- LOST
Larry Kissell (NC)- $1,705,392.71- WON
Gerald Connolly (VA)- $1,602,785.32- WON
Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog-MD)- $1,514,468.48- LOST
Zack Space (Blue Dog-OH)- $1,512,696.39- LOST
John Boccieri (OH)- $1,449,104.74- LOST
Bill Keating (MA)- $1,433,411.49- WON
Joe Garcia (FL)- $1,422,238.20- LOST
Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL)- $1,411,243.95- LOST
Dina Titus (NV)- $1,382,353.12- LOST
Mark Schauer (MI)- $1,377,652.69- LOST
Baron Hill (Blue Dog-IN)- $1,376,746.34- LOST
Gary McDowell (MI)- $1,319,440.14- LOST
Colleen Hanabusa (HI)- $1,304,253.42- WON
Debbie Halvorsom (IL)- $1,303,014.50- LOST
Mike Oliverio (WV)- $1,264,731.94- LOST
Ike Skelton (MO)- $1,256,818.68- LOST
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)- $1,247,472.30- WON
John Salazar (Blue Dog-CO)- $1,192,722.15- LOST
John Spratt (SC)- $1,124,025.67- LOST
Harry Mitchell (Blue Dog-AZ)- $1,089,932.74- LOST
Phil Hare (IL)- $1,067,804.37- LOST
Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ)- $1,056,844.12- LOST
Jerry McNerney (CA)- $1,031,192.02- (leading)
Julie Lassa (WI)- $1,027,637.45- LOST
Mike Arcuri (Blue Dog-NY)- $1,008,038.47- LOST
Who Or What Is Ralston Lapp?
I bet you've never heard of Ralston Lapp Media, Global Strategy Group, Dewey Square Group or GMMB... unless you're an Inside the Beltway politico, steeped in Democratic Party politics. Then you know them quite well; you have to to do business in DC. Let me start with Ralston Lapp, a K Street media company whose website's front page justifies itself with a Washington Post quote from another year: "One of the principal architects of the Democrats’ takeover of the House." Among their clients this year were Arizona Blue Dog Gabrielle Giffords and Kentucky Blue Dog Ben Chandler, each of whom eked out a narrow win against a reactionary opponent. Another client, Jerry McNerney (CA-11), is slightly ahead as votes are still be tabulated almost three weeks after election day. Ciro Rodriguez (TX-23), another of their 2010 clients, was defeated by Quico Conseco 49-44% (just half of Rodriguez's 2008 voters turning out for him 3 weeks ago). Here's a list of checks reported to the FEC from the DCCC's I.E. Committee to Ralston Lapp Media:
AZ-05 (Harry Mitchell)- $10,695.89
AZ-05 (Harry Mitchell)- $11,698.72
AZ-05 (Harry Mitchell)- $10,381.47
AZ-07 (Raul Grijalva)- $13,500.00
CO-04 (Betsy Markey)- $ 2,177.65
IL-14 (Bill Foster)- $ 1,537.04
IL-14 (Bill Foster)- $11,993.63
MI-07 (Mark Schauer)- $10,914.56
MI-07 (Mark Schauer)- $10,736.25
MI-07 (Mark Schauer)- $10,860.28
MI-07 (Mark Schauer)- $10,543.12
MI-07 (Mark Schauer)- $10,502.24
MO-04 (Ike Skelton)- $13,498.37
MO-04 (Ike Skelton)- $11,065.59
MO-04 (Ike Skelton)- $10,435.39
NY-23 (Bill Owens)- $10,218.71
NY-23 (Bill Owens)- $ 1,222.34
NY-23 (Bill Owens)- $10,395.01
NY-23 (Bill Owens)- $ 2,153.67
NY-23 (Bill Owens)- $11,365.29
NY-24 (Mike Arcuri)- $11,965.12
NY-24 (Mike Arcuri)- $ 1,959.64
NY-24 (Mike Arcuri)- $10,332.42
NY-24 (Mike Arcuri)- $10,990.35
OH-16 (John Boccieri)-$10,536.29
OH-16 (John Boccieri)-$11,120.01
OH-16 (John Boccieri)-$13,102.34
OH-16 (John Boccieri)-$10,040.16
PA-08 (Patrick Murphy)-$13,390.55
VA-11 (Gerry Connolly)- $11,342.61
VA-11 (Gerry Connolly)-$2,497.43
WA-03 (Denny Heck)- $10,900.74
WA-03 (Denny Heck)- $11,927.69
WA-03 (Denny Heck)- $10,415.96
Now this is what they claim to offer their clients:
Ralston Lapp Media is a full-service communications agency providing strategic communications services to political and issue campaigns.
• Strategic consulting and message development
• Creative advertising and production for TV, Radio, Newspapers and the Web
• Media planning and placement
• Press strategy and media training
• Speech and debate prep
I don't have the Ralston Lapp fee structure, but I've been told that they probably get a 15% commission on any advertising created, although my guess is that they share that percentage with the media buying firm.
Now, Who Is John Lapp?
One of the two partners in Ralston Lapp is John Lapp, somewhat better known as a longtime DCCC insider. This is what the current DCCC website says about him:
John Lapp, Independent Expenditure Senior Advisor-- John Lapp served as DCCC Executive Director in 2006 under then Chairman Rahm Emanuel, and later as the DCCC Independent Expenditure Director. Lapp is credited with being one of the principal architects of the Democrats’ winning the House Majority in 2006. He served as a consultant to the DCCC during the successful 2008 campaign that strengthened the Democratic House Majority. Lapp has had a long career in Democratic politics, leading successful candidate and issue advocacy campaigns for many years. He is a partner at Ralston Lapp Media.
He's got power. Incumbents told me they would go to DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen or Debbie Wasserman Schultz and ask for financial help for their campaigns, only to be told that it was up to Lapp. One Member even told me that Van Hollen promised him help on four separate occasions, help that was never authorized by Lapp... and never came.
Lapp's biography at the Ralston Lapp website doesn't mention he was the senior advisor for the I.E. Committee at the DCCC this year. Maybe it just hasn't been updated. Maybe it was viewed as just too unseemly... even in Washington.
Lapp served as Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee under former Congressman Rahm Emanuel, and later, Independent Expenditure Director for the Committee. For the first time since 1994, Lapp helped deliver a Democratic majority to Congress and without sacrificing a single Democratic incumbent-- something not achieved since 1922. The Washington Post called Lapp, “one of the principal architects of the Democrats’ takeover of the House in 2006.”
The Problem Isn't Really Lapp; It's Systemic
GMMB is a real powerhouse in Democratic politics, consulting for a wide range of politicians, from Obama and Clinton to Harry Reid, Mark Warner, Max Baucus, Barbara Boxer and Donna Edwards. I noticed that this year they made and placed ads for the DCCC that ran to help the campaigns of dozens of Democratic candidates, including many of the big-name losers the DCCC was fighting the hardest to keep, like Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD), Frank Kratovil (MD), John Salazar (CO), Ciro Rodriguez (TX), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ), Baron Hill (IN), Mike Arcuri (NY), Chris Carney (PA) Scott Murphy (NY), Travis Childers (MS), etc. Lapp's partner at Ralston Lapp Media, Jason Ralston, whose official bio brags he was "a chief media consultant for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Independent Expenditure effort" in 2006 and 2008, was a partner in GMMB before he and Lapp founded their own firm.
Global Strategy Group is another Inside the Beltway Democratic campaign firm. They say they offer their clients the following services:
• Strategic Communications
• Grassroots & Grasstops Organizing
• Branding & Marketing
• New Media & Interactive Solutions
Among their clients are now ex-Congressmembers Mike Arcuri (NY- $1,008,038.47), Bill Foster (IL- $1,303,014.50), John Hall (NY- $502,692.18), Phil Hare (IL- $1,067,804.37), Patrick Murphy (PA- $557,612.95) and Scott Murphy (NY- $686,418.54), each of whom had something in common, very large DCCC I.E. media buys (indicated after the state abbreviations above). DCCC Executive Director Jon Vogel assured me he has no ownership stake in Global Strategy Group and that he only worked there for three weeks. He's mostly scrubbed from their website, although I did manage to find a news release from March 13, 2009:
GSG's Jon Vogel becomes Executive Director of DCCC
March 13, 2009
Jon Vogel, partner at Global Strategy Group, has been named the Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC).
During the past two election cycles at the DCCC, Jon has been at the center of unprecedented back-to-back gains that have resulted in the largest Democratic majority since 1992. Jon was one of the DCCC’s top strategists during the historic 2008 cycle where Democrats picked up 24 seats. Jon served first as the Political Director overseeing candidate recruitment and campaign planning and strategy, and finished the cycle as director of the Independent Expenditure Program.
Jon directed an $85 million Independent Expenditure Program that operated in over 60 Congressional districts and tracked 135 races nationally. He won races in every corner of the country and oversaw successful programs in conservative districts across the Deep South (Alabama and Mississippi), the Rustbelt (Ohio, Michigan and Western Pennsylvania) the Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada), the Mountain West (Colorado and Idaho) and in the suburban Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
In passing, I'll mention that when Rahm Emanuel was Chairman of the DCCC, his Executive Director was Karin Johansen, a former Steny Hoyer Chief of Staff and a principal partner in DSG (Dewey Square Group), and Michael Whouley, a DSG founder, also worked for Rahm, overseeing the DCCC's GOTV (get out the vote) efforts. DSG describes itself as "delivering winning public affairs strategies for our clients, from creating grassroots and strategic communications campaigns around federal legislation to building lasting relationships with customers and consumers."
During the 2008 cycle Rodd McLeod headed the DCCC efforts in the Northeast and sent quite a bit of direct mail business to MSHC Partners, which was grateful enough to hire him on as a vice president immediately after the election. At least he wasn't a vice president while he was directing checks MSHC's way. UPDATE: McLeod says he is unaware of any business he "directed" to MSHC during the 2008 cycle.
On the other hand, every time DCCC Independent Expenditure Program senior advisor Lapp had a check cut to Global Strategy Group, Ralston Lapp Media or some of these other well-connected consulting agencies that are routinely pushed onto congressional candidates, were they actually personally benefiting? I was told that the DCCC built a kind of Chinese wall around Lapp so that he had no part in the discussions involving any of the clients his firm was working with. No one I mentioned this to seems to find that credible. I called Chris Van Hollen, who headed up this year's failed DCCC efforts, and he refused to discuss it or anything about the DCCC with me. I've been talking with people at the DCCC for years. No one wanted to discuss this matter on the record, particularly not Lapp. Several Members of Congress told me the situation is outrageous and at the very least creates an impression of serious abuse.
One congressman was willing to state categorically that when he was first running, Rahm bluntly and unambiguously told him that if he didn't hire a consulting firm owned by Lapp, he would get no I.E. help from the DCCC. He did hire Lapp's firm, and did get a hefty I.E. buy, a percentage of which of course wound up in Lapp's personal bank account. Sounds vaguely illegal to me... but what do I know?
As we look at the direct business the DCCC Independent Expenditure committee sent Ralston Lapp's way for media production, let's remember it's just one little case study from this particular cycle. Far vaster sums went through GMMB for media placement this year and this is something that has certainly been going on for at least the three cycles I've studied. The crowd running the DCCC likes to point to their brilliance and success as a kind of excuse for behavior that is, at least, by appearance, shady, They think their incredibly overpriced ads-- which Madison Avenue and Hollywood ad makers laugh at as amateurish at best and counterproductive in too many cases-- are brilliant and unassailable. I just hope that if Darrell Issa decides to investigate, he investigates all four party committees, since they're all operating the same way.
TO BE CONTINUED