The White House is ‘helping’ liberal groups to get their political messages in sync with the official line.
By Jeremy Scahill
Over the past several weeks, independent journalists and anti-war activists have tried to shine a spotlight on how groups like theCenter for American Progress and MoveOn, which portrayed themselves as anti-war during the Bush-era, are now supporting the escalation and continuation of wars because their guy is now commander-in-chief. CAP has been actively pounding the pavement in support of the escalation in Afghanistan, therebranding of the Iraq occupation and, more recently, Obama’sbloated military budget, which the group said was “on target.” MoveOn has been silent on the escalation in Afghanistan and has devoted substantial resources to promoting a federal budget that includes a $21 billion increase in military spending from the Bush-era.
What is clear here is that CAP and MoveOn are now basically psuedo-official PR flaks targeting “liberals” to support the White House agenda. This, though, should not come as a shock to those who have closely monitored these groups. They were the primary force behind Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), “a coalition that spent tens of millions of dollars using Iraq as a political bludgeon against Republican politicians, while refusing to pressure the Democratic Congress to actually cut off funding for the war.” Now, according to John Stauber, executive director of theCenter for Media and Democracy, the Center for American Progress is now running “Progressive Media which was begun by Tom Matzzie and David Brock in 2008 and now ‘represents a serious ratcheting up of efforts to present a united liberal front in the coming policy wars….’ [These groups] are working hard to push Obama’s policies, including rationalizlng or defending his escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan as “sustainable security.”
On Wednesday, Ben Smith at Politico reported on the latest development in this White House-coordinated campaign to use these think-tankers to whip up support for its agenda. It is a newly formed coalition, the Common Purpose Project, which blogger Jane Hamsher describes as “one of the many groups Rahm Emanuel has set up to coordinate messaging among liberal interest groups.” This one includes the direct participation of White House officials, according to Smith:
The Common Purpose meeting every Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol Hilton brings together the top officials from a range of left-leaning organizations, from labor groups like Change to Win to activists like MoveOn.org, all in support of the White House’s agenda. The group has an overlapping membership with a daily 8:45 a.m. call run by the Center for American Progress’ and Media Matters’ political arms; with the new field-oriented coalition Unity ‘09; and with the groups that allied to back the budget as the Campaign to Rebuild and Renew America Now.
Unlike those other groups, however, the Common Purpose meeting has involved a White House official, communications director Ellen Moran, two sources familiar with the meeting said. It’s aimed, said one, at “providing a way for the White House to manage its relationships with some of these independent groups.”
Common Purpose was founded by Erik Smith, a former aide to Dick Gephardt. The group’s political director is former Obama aide, Miti Sathe. “Common Purpose is formed as a 501(c)(4), which leaves it focused on policy, rather than electoral, work,” notes Smith. “Part of the group’s role is to enforce a kind of message discipline.” He tells the story of how last month “some of the more liberal members of the coalition” were launching a campaign against conservative Democrats under the banner “Dog the Blue Dogs.” The White House, Smith alleged, “was in the midst of discussions with members of the congressional Blue Dog caucus, and objected to the slogan, which was promptly changed, and the page describing the drive is gone from CAF [Campaign for America’s Future, a participant in the Common Purposes calls]’s website.”
Hamsher, who wrote an interesting response to the Politico report with a different spin on the above story, concluded:
There’s a big problem right now with the traditional liberal interest groups sitting on the sidelines around major issues because they don’t want to buck the White House for fear of getting cut out of the dialogue, or having their funding slashed. Someone picks up a phone, calls a big donor, and the next thing you know…the money is gone. It’s already happened. Because that’s the way Rahm plays.