Anatomy of the Gelber Attack: From Amway to Huizenga
Sometimes, negative campaigning lives up to its bad name.
The weekend attack on Florida Attorney General candidate Dan Gelber is a perfect example of the kind of sleazy negative campaigning that should make your skin crawl.
In the ads sent out this weekend to heavily Jewish neighborhoods, Gelber was called "Toxic to Jewish Education" in red Halloween font. Why? Because he doesn't support education vouchers.
Yes, some of those vouchers could be used to attend Jewish schools, but this is a glaring mischaracterization of the issue designed to aim an ill-defined anti-Semitic label at Gelber, who is himself Jewish. Gelber's stance, of course, has nothing to do with any dislike of "Jewish education" -- his own children have attended Jewish schools as well as public schools. His support is about protecting the public education system, or, if you'd like to put a cynical edge to it, protecting his own Democratic support.
You have to think those heavily Jewish areas where this was sent are going to see right through the ad -- and you can bet Gelber supporters and condo commandos will make sure word gets out to those who don't. I think this is an ad that will backfire against Gelber's opponent, Pam Bondi.
Here's the irony: Apparently Bondi really didn't have anything to do with it. But uncovering who is really behind it takes us on a journey to the heart of the big-money American right.
The ad was funded through a state 527 committee that itself was funded a quarter million dollars by a federal organization called the American Federation for Children. That group is aiming these kinds of scurrilous attacks against Democratic Jewish candidates in several races.
The chairman of the state committee is Elnatan Rudolph, a former Teaneck N.J., councilman and, get this, a "self-described protégé of Roger Stone." Yes the same former dirty trickster Roger Stone who got his start in the Nixon campaign and served as Scott Rothstein's political guru before the Ponzi schemer's implosion last year.
Now it's all starting to make sense. Let's look at the federal organization. The American Federation for Children is chaired by a woman named Betsy DeVos. She is the former chairwoman of the Republican Party in Michigan, and her husband, Dick, was once the GOP's gubernatorial candidate in that state. More important, Dick DeVos is the son of billionaire Amway founder (and Orlando Magic owner) Richard DeVos. The DeVos family is
among the largest political contributors in America today -- and they generally back an extreme right-wing agenda.
The vice chairman of the group is John F. Kirtley, a "venture capitalist" and sizable Florida Republican Party donor out of Tampa. Prior to starting the current organization, DeVos and AFC Executive Director Greg Brock collaborated on a similar group called All Children Matter (ACM). Here's a bit of their history in campaigning and beyond:
• In 2004, ACM paid for fliers in support of President Bush's re-election campaign in Florida. The fliers do not mention vouchers, privatization, or even the right's favorite euphemism, "school choice." The flier falsely claimed that Sen. John Kerry "opposed equal opportunity in education" and stated that President Bush supported increased education funding. Campaign finance laws require political groups to clearly identify themselves on their ads. Though the phrase "no matter what, All Children Matter" appears at the bottom of the flier, ACM Inc. does not explicitly claim responsibility for it.
• Also in 2004, ACM paid for a last-minute radio-ad blitz in Missouri on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Matt Blunt. After his election, Blunt appointed Ed Martin, ACM-MO's treasurer, to be his chief of staff and personally pushed pro-voucher legislation backed by ACM.
• In the summer of 2004, the estate of Wal-Mart heir John Walton donated more than $2 million to All Children Matter-Virginia, which, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, promptly funneled money to an affiliate group in Florida. The Florida group then spent that money to support pro-voucher candidates in the state without having to disclose the individuals who donated it. Relevant disclosure forms for the Florida groups will show only that money came in from All Children Matter-Virginia, with no disclosure of a connection to the Walton family. All Children Matter-Virginia appears to be the centerpiece of this scheme. ACM-VA is seeing an unprecedented cash flow even though it can spend money only in Virginia on state races, and there are none in 2006. ACM-VA acts a conduit to stealthfully distribute money to other states.
• According to campaign finance records, just before the 2006 primary elections in Missouri, businessman and financial analyst Rex Sinquefield donated $100,000 to an All Children Matter affiliate in that state, which in turn spent the entire sum in the eight days leading up to the election on behalf of only five pro-voucher candidates. All Children Matter enabled Sinquefield to donate much more to each of these candidates than would have been legal had he given money directly to their campaigns.
So who is funding these things? Well, as Right Wing Watch puts it, it's coming from a "small group of ultra-wealthy donors" that includes Dick DeVos, the Wal-Mart fortune, and J.C. Huizenga, cousin and business associate of our own H. Wayne Huizenga.
See how these things come full circle? It's a small world at the top, and you better believe they'll use any (political) means necessary to stay there.
ADDED: Here's a funny and revealing anti-Dick DeVos with a guest role from Casino Jack himself:
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.