Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bernie Vs The Koch Clown Car


We may not be hearing much from Ted Cruz in the mainstream media lately-- not that I want to look a gift horse in the mouth-- but he and his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination are still very active on the fringes of the far right. So, for example, despite the fact that nearly 80% of likely voters support expanding Social Security benefits, he told his inbred core of crackpot true believers that Bush was right to try to privatize Social Security and give it to Wall Street. "I… think you've got to give George W. Bush some real credit-- he showed remarkable courage… on Social Security reform and personal accounts. It was the right thing to do." Tragically, most of the GOP candidates feel the same way, including supposedly mainstream JEB!, who said, "We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70." Chris Christie is saying the same thing.

Bernie Sanders' perspective is more in line with most Americans: "When the average Social Security benefit is $1,328 a month, and more than one-third of our senior citizens rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income, our job is to expand benefits, not cut them." Bernie is asking why these Republicans "are on the payroll of the Koch brothers and other billionaires rather than addressing the needs of working families."

But even with all the kissing up to the Koch brothers that the Republican hopefuls are doing-- to the extent that they're jeopardizing their chances with mainstream voters-- not all is well between the grasping Kochs and the Republican Party. John Ward, writing for Yahoo News last week, wrote about the war between the Koch Machine and the official GOP, probably a greater threat to Republicans than unions' threat to perfidious Democrats is.

The Koch network plans to spend almost a billion dollars on the 2016 campaign. That buys a lot of fealty from candidates. The 2014 deal between the RNC and the Kochs over data sharing has led to acrimony... and worse. "It's pretty clear that [the Kochs] don't want to work with the party but want to supplant it," said one source close to the RNC.
[A]fter the fall midterm elections, the deal was allowed to expire without being renewed. Since then, relations between the two sides have soured, turning into what one Republican operative described as "all-out war." Interviews with more than three dozen people, including top decision-makers in both camps, have revealed that the Kochs’ i360 platform for managing voter contacts-- which is viewed by many as a superior, easier-to-use interface than what’s on offer from the RNC-- is becoming increasingly popular among Republican campaigns.

The RNC is now openly arguing, however, that the Kochs’ political operation is trying to control the Republican Party’s master voter file, and to gain influence over-- some even say control of-- the GOP.

"I think it’s very dangerous and wrong to allow a group of very strong, well-financed individuals who have no accountability to anyone to have control over who gets access to the data when, why and how," said Katie Walsh, the RNC’s chief of staff.

The fight between the RNC’s chairman and the political operatives affiliated with Charles and David Koch over who controls the rich treasury of data on likely Republican voters has raised fundamental questions about what role the party’s central committee-- even under the best management-- can hope to play in the age of super-PACs. And it raises an even more fundamental question of how you define a political party.

...Among the GOP presidential primary candidates, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are using i360 data services exclusively, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are building their own voter files. Former RNC chief technology officer Andy Barkett is a key player in the Bush operation, and his performance will be closely watched, since he was charged with building Beacon at the RNC. Barkett has told contemporaries that he was undermined at the RNC by FLS Connect and other private companies who didn’t want to lose business from the RNC.

The RNC has signed data-sharing agreements with most of the 2016 candidates or likely candidates. And the RNC-- as it did in 2014-- is trying to discourage campaigns and state parties from signing up with i360, according to numerous conversations with people who have knowledge of such conversations. This was a tactic that irritated many people in 2014. But Walsh, the new chief of staff, appears to be setting a different tone that admits past shortcomings and focuses on the philosophical argument that the GOP’s data should be housed at a party committee, not at a private business empire.

The RNC is now confronting the Kochs more openly than before, by having Walsh speak on the record for this article and by making other key players available for interviews. Their decision to take their dispute with i360 public shows the level of alarm inside the RNC at the growing clout of the Koch political empire. They have concluded that the Koch political machine wants to replace them and to essentially become a shadow party.

“It’s pretty clear that they don’t want to work with the party but want to supplant it,” the source close to the RNC said.

Adding to the rivalry, in January i360 poached the RNC’s chief digital officer, Chuck DeFeo, who had played a senior role within the party committee’s digital operation in 2013 and 2014. DeFeo’s departure was a surprise to the RNC, and his decision to work for a direct rival was not well-received in the fourth-floor suite of offices that house the committee’s top decision-makers. There was talk of having him escorted by security from the building, though that did not materialize.

Palmer, the head of i360, said that his organization simply wants to be helpful to the Republican Party at large. “We have repeatedly expressed a willingness in working with the RNC, and we will continue to work with any organizations interested in advancing free markets and a free society,” he said.

...The RNC is currently telling state parties and campaigns that it is updating GOP Data Center to make it more user-friendly. Walsh said this would be ready in three to four weeks.

However, critics of DataTrust, the RNC’s data arm, say that it is in serious financial trouble, and multiple sources-- from Koch world to a major party committee to a source intimate with Republican congressional leadership-- said that Priebus asked McConnell and Boehner to have their campaign committees give $1 million each to DataTrust to help with paying off debt. Both leaders were unreceptive, these sources said, believing a soft-money committee should be able to raise that kind of money from a few donors rather than having money from the committees-- which is raised in much smaller amounts and harder to come by-- transferred.

A source close to the Republican congressional leadership said that DataTrust “has barely existed for the last two cycles” because of its inability to raise money.

In mid-April, the RNC transferred $1.5 million to DataTrust. RNC and DataTrust officials characterized this transfer as routine business and denied that DataTrust has had any fundraising or debt problems.

McConnell and Boehner, according to the congressional source, do not share Priebus’ concern that the Koch brothers could own the GOP’s master voter file in any way that held the party hostage.

It would not be “as difficult as it sounds” for the GOP to reassemble its own file and its own voter contact apps if the partnership with i360 dissolved for some reason, the source said, adding, “Everybody needs to take a deep breath on this thing.”

Walsh, the RNC chief of staff, had a different version of events. She said there was a meeting held last year where DataTrust president John DeStefano updated a room full of Republicans on the latest business plan for his organization and that one idea discussed was to have the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee contract directly with DataTrust as a show of support for the organization.

“One of top bullet points was, ‘i360 is gaining market share and how do we publicly show that the federal party committees are behind the DataTrust model?’” Walsh said. “It was not, ‘We’re out of money.’”

...The result of all this infighting is that for the moment, Republican campaigns and even state parties are Balkanized between different approaches on which database to use and how to use it.

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