Moxie Media Story Unfolds Like a Novel – How a Left-Wing Coalition Turned a Nowheresville Conservative Into a Viable Candidate
Article by Erik Smith. Published on Monday, October 25, 2010 EST.
Did Splendid Work for Rod Rieger, Faked Out Everett Republicans – How Come Nobody Wants Credit?
One of the two mailers that were sent to Republicans and independents in the 38th District race. Moxie Media partner Lisa MacLean said the goal was to “simulate crappy GOP mail.”
By Erik Smith
Staff writer/ Washington State Wire
OLYMPIA, Oct. 25.—The state Public Disclosure Commission’s report about what happened in the 38th District Senate race reads like a novel. It tells one of the wildest stories ever revealed in Washington state politics – why and how some of the state’s biggest Democratic players mounted a fake campaign to build up a weak “conservative” candidate who wasn’t even willing to call himself a Republican.
The report, compiled by investigator Phil Stutzman, quotes heavily from depositions and emails to show how Moxie Media, a Seattle-based consulting firm, worked with three top Democratic contributors to turn a zero into a hero. Moxie Media partner Lisa MacLean imitated what she called “crappy GOP mail,” and even played the part of a disgruntled Everett voter in a recorded “robo-call” message that went to Republican and independent voters in the district. All indications are that the effort turned the race around and forced Berkey out.
Now it seems that no one wants to take any credit for the effort that turned Rod Rieger into an effective candidate. It might have something to do with the fact that the PDC is considering serious penalties, criminal prosecution might be involved and the race itself might be overturned. But at the time it pleased the dickens out of everyone.
Cody Arledge of the Washington Federation of State Employees said of one campaign postcard, “It’s a very nice piece. I wish the Republicans would do something that good.”
So let’s make sure credit goes where it’s due. Here’s the story, straight from the PDC report.
Top-Two Primary Forces Strategy
As August began, the “progressive” coalition in the 38th Legislative District faced a strategic problem. Thanks to the barrage of campaign advertising financed by the left, their chosen candidate, Nick Harper was making big gains in the Senate race. But Washington’s quirky “Top-Two” primary raised the possibility that incumbent Democrat Jean Berkey would survive the primary.
Under the state’s rules, the top-two vote-getters advance to the general election, regardless of party. That meant Harper and Berkey, both Democrats, might move forward. There was a third candidate in the race, Rod Rieger, but he was making only a bare pretense of a campaign.
Rieger, a candidate of a tea-party bent, filed as a “conservative,” not as a Republican. The party was too liberal for his tastes. He received no GOP support, didn’t bother with public appearances, raised a grand total of $800 and wasn’t even spending that. To squeeze Berkey out, the left had to turn Rieger into a viable candidate on the right.
On Aug. 3, MacLean sent an email to 15 groups that had supported the above-ground effort, and suggested that a new plan was in order:
“Tomorrow I will propose additional mail and automated phones to likely-voting Republican and independent households hitting Berkey from the right on tax increases. This will show up late and be sponsored by a new PAC. This will require some additional funding, but shouldn’t cost too much. Please stay tuned and watch this space.”
Counted on Press to Miss It
MacLean’s follow-up email the next day outlined a plan for a pair of pro-Rieger mailings and a unique “robo-call” message to about 5,293 middle-of-the-road and right-leaning voters that had been identified through polling. The messages would indicate that they were paid for by an entity calling itself the “Cut Taxes PAC.” As required by state law, the messages would identify the top five contributors to the Cut Taxes PAC. But there would be only one, a second entity calling itself the “Conservative PAC.”
MacLean wrote, “This will not show up at the PDC until Aug. 11 as a C6 [report] and would likely take much longer for any reporter or blogger to connect it to any of you before election day.”
Trial Lawyers Make Pledge
In a deposition, Michael Temple of the Washington State Association of Justice said he discussed the plan with MacLean.
“We looked at it, and we said, yeah, we probably need to do something, because Rieger had filed as a conservative, not as a Republican, so if the Republicans don’t see ‘Republican’ after his name, is that an issue? And we also felt that look, if our ultimate goal was Nick Harper, we didn’t want Nick Harper necessarily running against Jean Berkey without a Republican on the ballot.”
For his part, Temple settled on a plan that would have had some of the trial-lawyer PACs send their money to a committee called Forward PAC. Then Forward PAC would send its money to Conservative PAC.
MacLean sent an email to the group late in the afternoon on Aug. 4: “WSAJ will move $3,750 from another PAC. That leaves us looking for $5,250. Anyone?”
Labor Council Makes Pledge
Less than an hour later, Kathy Cummings, communications director for the state Labor Council, sent an email to MacLean. “Lisa, move $2,500 out of the LD02 fund from DIME [PAC] and then see who will put the rest in for this effort in the 38th. I understand this is important.”
DIME PAC, short for Don’t Invest in More Excuses, is the labor council’s primary political action committee, receiving contributions from most of the labor unions in the state, public-employee and otherwise.
Federation Makes Pledge
In a deposition, Arledge said the Federation of State Employees came up with a plan to transfer money from a PAC that had been set up to protect state Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, against a primary challenge from Republican J.T. Wilcox.
“For the work I was doing for the Federation, we had already spent our primary budget, so when she came up with this late request, the proposal came up, why don’t we do it from this other PAC we had set up called 2nd Defense? Because that was the only money that we had budgeted that had not yet been expended.”
MacLean sent out an email message of triumph:
“Okay, we are funded at $9K thanks to DIME, WSAJ and WFSE. Thanks!”
Simulates “Crappy” GOP Mailings
At the same time that Moxie Media was sending out postcards to Democratic voters in the district that hammered “Big Business Berkey” for not raising taxes on banks and other corporate interests, it prepared two mailings that presented an opposite message for conservative voters. McLean asked the three groups to sign off. “Please remember that we are simulating crappy GOP mail,” she wrote.
The first postcard offered a sunny pro-Rieger message, and the second offered a harsh message against Berkey: “When times are this tough… the last thing we need is higher taxes from Jean Berkey.”
It went on to say:
“State Sen. Jean Berkey voted for $757 million in new taxes this year. And she voted to make it easier for politicians to raise taxes, suspending a voter-approved initiative requiring a two-thirds majority to change tax policies. All during the worst recession we’ve faced in a generation.
“It’s time for a new leader who will hold the line.”
Not Good Enough, Says SEIU
MacLean sent the mailings to Adam Glickman of SEIU Local 775 and asked his advice. Glickman’s union wasn’t part of the Republican fakeout, but it was a big supporter of the general anti-Berkey effort.
Glickman suggested that the anti-Berkey postcard ought to have more of a pro-Rieger message:
“My two cents, not that I’m paying for it, would be to do something like the first piece, and if you think you need to go a little further on taxes, you can focus more on his general opposition to taxes and spending. And I think a line like, ‘Rod Rieger opposed overturning the two-thirds requirement for tax increases, and opposed the tax increases that Jean Berkey voted for” would probably be O.K.”
Glickman’s suggestions were incorporated in the final mail piece. It went out in the mail Aug. 10, followed by the pro-Rieger piece Aug. 11.
On Aug. 12, it was time to record the “robo-call,” a recorded message that would play automatically when Everett voters answered their phones. The emails show that Temple, Arledge, Cummings and McLean communicated extensively that morning and debated the message. Should it be pro-Rieger? Anti-Berkey?
The final result was a little of both.
The script was read by MacLean, a Seattle resident. “Hi, this is your neighbor, Emma,” she said.
“I’m a lifelong Republican and I vote in every election, but every once in a while I vote for a conservative Democrat. Four years ago, I voted to re-elect Democrat state Sen. Jean Berkey. But this year things in Olympia have just gotten so bad.
“Luckily we finally have a good Republican candidate to support. Rod Rieger will fight to hold the line on taxes in the Legislature. He opposes making it easier for politicians to raise taxes. And Rod Rieger opposes the tax increases Jean Berkey voted for.
“I hope you will join me before Tuesday, Aug. 17, and vote Republican—Rod Rieger for state Senate.
“Thanks, and have a nice day.”
Tag-Line Fails to Provide Credit
As in all campaign communications in this state, the message was required to indicate who paid for it. The robo-call indicated that it was paid for by the “Cut Taxes PAC.” As required by law, the ad identified the top five contributors. There was only one, which made it easy – the “Conservative PAC.”
Both committees were created by Moxie Media.
Not only wasn’t there a conservative within a mile of either one of them, neither committee had any money, either. The PDC says the pledges should have been identified in the reports.
It also says MacLean should have identified herself as a principal in the official filings. MacLean explained her decision to keep her name out of the reports:
“In an interview under oath, Ms. MacLean explained that closely associating her name or Moxie Media’s name with prior communications has resulted in a high level of unwanted contact with the public.”And so the credit for the Rod Rieger miracle has never gone where it belongs – until now.
Moxie Media’s pro-Rieger mailer.