Unity08: A Summation (Reason #112 to Vote for a Progressive President)
Reason #112 to vote for a real progressive president in 2008: Because there are people out there trying to fool you by faking it.
It has come to the attention of the public relations industry that number of the ideas that invigorate progressivism — especially inclusive government, grassroots involvement, deliberative democracy and accountability for social institutions — have become widely popular among Americans involved in politics. This is for good reason — inclusive government, grassroots involvement, deliberative democracy and accountability for social institutions help to insure that our government and economy serve the public interest. A real progressive president can be part of an effort to bring these features to American government.
Some public relations professionals, however, have decided to create an artificially manufactured instant political movement that makes use of these terms without actually instituting them. The public relations professionals I’m referring to are the people behind Unity08, a registered corporation that is literally housed within a public relations firm. Unity08 plans to nominate its own candidates for President and Vice President — one Republican, one Democrat.
Let’s bring our knowledge of Unity08 together. In the seven months we’ve been following this outfit, here’s what we’ve found out:
- Right off the bat, Unity08 used its website at Unity08.com to refer to itself as a “grassroots organization” and a “peoples’ movement.”
- John Stracke quickly uncovered that Unity08.com was registered to Peak Creative Media, a public relations firm in Denver, Colorado. Peak Creative Media is headed up by Jim Jonas, who has been behind public relations efforts for the Republican Party’s national candidates for years. In IRS filings, Unity08’s principal business address is identical to the principal business address of Peak Creative Media. Jim Jonas has been listed in IRS filings as the President and CEO of Unity08. In the meantime, Unity08 began paying rent for an office in the Watergate Towers — but at a rate that would essentially only pay for a closet. It turns out that Unity08 is a nominal renter of its Watergate space, sharing their office with at least two other organizations.
- The Unity08 faq webpage declares that a set of delegates will select a unity ticket by majority vote — and then goes on to say that the identity of the delegates will be kept secret. That’s right, presidential and vice presidential candidates will be nominated to run in a national election to the most powerful offices in the world, and only Unity08 will know by whom.
- In response to the question, “Won’t this benefit the party of the Presidential candidate more than the Vice-Presidential candidate?,” the Unity08 website glibly responds:
This isn’t about which party wins or loses. This is about nominating and electing a truly bi-partisan ticket that represents the will of the majority of Americans. Regardless of which party is on the top of the ticket, it will result in a truly bi-partisan administration.
This is definitionally true in a trivial way. But that doesn’t mean that the policy outcome won’t favor a particular political party and its agenda. Unity08 issues a classic non-denial response.
- After some pressure was placed upon it, Unity08 began listing what it said was a complete listing of donors giving $200 or more to Unity08 in the summer of 2006. At that time, they pledged to update their list of donors every two weeks. Specifically, they committed to “list all donors… who have generously contributed $200 or more to Unity08. This list will be updated twice a month in the spirit of greater financial transparency, which is sorely lacking in politics today.”
The first listing — of those listed donors giving through July 15, 2006 — showed that 67% (6/9) of donors giving $2,000 or more to Unity08 resided in Washington, DC or its ring of suburbs. On average, these big donors have given $83,067 in donations of $200 or more to FEC-traceable candidates and organizations over the past decade. Those aren’t “grassroots” people — they’re elite insiders. And it turned out that this first listing was not a true representation of the financial transactions actually going on at Unity08. Read on…
For months, Unity08 failed to follow through on its pledge to maintain twice-monthly updates of its donors. Finally, on October 11, 2006 the organization updated its donors list again. At that time, they ditched their previous pledge to update financial disclosures twice a month, and issued a new solemn pledge to update their financial disclosure once every month.
Based on Unity08’s own public reporting of its donations above $200 at that point on its own website (running through September 1, 2006), a tabulation revealed that Unity08 apparently raised only $77,000, via just 79 donations through the 2nd and 3rd Quarter of 2006. Surely, some people gave less than $200. But even generously imagining that 66 people gave $100 and 200 people gave $50, that would still only bring us to $93,600. With less than $100,000, Unity08.com already had the following expenses:
* a nationally representative poll of thousands of adults from Princeton Survey Research,
* three websites — unity08.com, unitypetition.com and collegeunity.com — professionally designed and hosted.
* website redesign for the end of 2006
* a toll-free number, 1-877-UNITY08.
* secretarial staff.
* administrative staff
* paid interns
* legal expenses
* rent and utilities
These expenses don’t include Unity08’s plan to gain ballot access in multiple states and design and carry out the first ever national online secure presidential nomination. It was and continues to be a mystery how these expenses could be paid with less than $100,000. This suggests some massive debt, from as-yet undisclosed sources.
As this mystery deepened, Unity08 missed its own deadline for monthly reporting, failing to make an update to its disclosure page in November, and then failing to make an update to its disclosure page in December. As Unity08 fell more than two months behind, two pieces of information came to my attention:
1. On October 10, 2006, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) issed its final advisory opinion that to comply with the law, Unity08 would need to register as a Political Action Committee (PAC) and begin making disclosures of its donations (including total donation amount), its expenditures, and its loans. The FEC’s final advisory opinion noted that Unity08 would need to place itself in compliance within 10 days’ time. Unity08 pledged explicitly that it would follow the FEC’s final advisory opinion (See also here). But it did not.
2. Five days after I explicitly asked Unity08 why it had not registered as a PAC, and three months after the FEC issued its final advisory opinion that Unity08 is a PAC and must register as such within 10 days, Unity08 got around to filing a lawsuit against the FEC (date: January 10, 2007). You can read Unity08’s 12-page filing here. Unity08 had made a public pledge to fund itself solely through small donations:
Unity08 intends to fix this broken system by electing a bipartisan “Unity Ticket” to the White House in ‘08 funded solely by small-dollar donations from everyday Americans. As a result the Unity08 President and Vice President will enter office not with favors owed…
But in its court filing Unity08 argued exactly the opposite, that it must be able to gather donations of unlimited size, and must be able to avoid the FEC’s thorough reporting requirements, in order to succeed. One argument to the public, another argument to the judge.
3. In its claim to be a Section 527 organization, Unity08 had made two tardy filings with the IRS. (Review these tardy filings for the 2nd Quarter and the 3rd Quarter for yourself.) Looking at these IRS filings and comparing the two accounts, multiple errors appeared. Depending on which account of its donations a reviewer trusted, Unity08 had an error rate in its donations reporting of either 3 out of 54 or 28 out of 77. This error rate is well within the typical margin of victory in a national election, which is precisely what Unity08 aims to run. Donations in the IRS reports, interestingly enough, extend back to 2002, years before Unity08’s public timeline of its inception.
And then there were the expenditure reportings: In these filings, Unity08 Communications Director Shane Kinkennon is reported as being paid a pittance, Unity08 Chief Operating Officer Anya T. Harris is being reported as having no salary at all, and no compensation for a national representiative survey or legal services are mentioned. In the early fall, a member of the Unity08 “founders council” admitted that of the well-heeled and well-connected “founders council,” “a few will be providing their business services at standard rates.” But such compensation has not yet been reported. Clearly, there are either some significant errors of omission in the IRS reports, or Unity08 is being run in a very curious manner.
On January 5, two and a half months since its previous website disclosure, Unity08 revised its 2nd Quarter and 3rd Quarter 2006 disclosures to correct multiple errors. Unity08’s own summary of donations on its website through September 30, 2006 is available for review, but factually accurate 2Q and 3Q reports are still not available for review as of today. In Unity08’s website summary, new donors appeared, and many names who had been listed as donors previously now disappeared from the list (a curious development, indeed). You can review Unity08’s three accounts of its 2nd Quarter and 3rd Quarter 2006 donations here. Hopefully, revised 2Q and 3Q IRS reports will appear soon.
On January 5, 2007, Unity08 Founder Doug Bailey responded to the issue of Unity08’s finances for the first time, writing:
the subject of bookkeeping is now occupying entirely too much real estate here – I can only imagine that this has been frustrating for people looking for a robust discussion about building a vibrant community to reclaim our politics. Now, I implore our online community to focus its considerable energy and potential on how we win the White House in 2008.
Also on January 5, 2007, Unity08 removed text from its website endorsing “the spirit of greater financial transparency, which is sorely lacking in politics today”. That statement no longer exists at Unity08.
- During its period of non-compliance with the FEC’s final advisory opinion and its own pledge to update disclosure on its website monthly, Unity08 went ahead with a series of endorsements by celebrity Sam Waterston — an old personal friend of one of the Unity08 Founders. Unity08.com also called its first election — to name one “Naughty” politician and one “Nice” politician. Its nominating process for this election drew just 33 voters. And Unity08 entered into behind-the-scenes talks with Michael Bloomberg’s staff, soliciting his entry into the 2008 race as a Unity08 candidate.
- While all this was going down, these financial mysteries, inaccuracies and shenanigans were reported upon by exactly zero professional journalists. Instead, Unity08 received glowing accolades in a magazine article in The Atlantic Monthly and a column by Ben Goddard. How did Unity08 manage to get such fawning praise in the national press while avoiding critical examination? I don’t know the answer to that question, but there are two things I do know. First, The Atlantic Monthly is published by Atlantic Media, to which Unity08 Founder Doug Bailey sold his operation, The Hotline. Second, Ben Goddard didn’t tell us in his columns praising Unity08 that he shares history with one of the Unity08 lawsuit plaintiffs, Carolyn Tieger. Both were founding partners of the political public relations firm Goddard Claussen.
- Speaking of pre-existing connections, it’s now turned up that the Unity08 Founders Council has been stacked. Hamilton Jordan, a political insider and former White House Chief of Staff, is on the Founders Council. So is Kathleen Jordan. The Unity08 website doesn’t tell you that Kathleen Jordan is Hamilton Jordan’s daughter. So is Lasley Gober. The Unity08 website doesn’t tell you that Lasley Gober is a teacher at Kathleen Jordan’s high school. So is Ellen Frauenthal. The Unity08 website doesn’t tell you that Ellen Frauenthal is a former member of the board of Camp Kudzu, a camp which Hamilton Jordan founded and which Kathleen Jordan attended. How and to what end this social stacking of the Founders’ Council happened is yet another mystery.
Let’s imagine that Unity08 overcomes all these problems of accuracy, legality, financial transparency, duplicity and insider connections I’ve identified above. Is the Unity08 vision for America the sort of vision we really ought to endorse? Let’s consider what J. Clifford wrote on the subject last June, back before the shenanigans of Unity08 began to become apparent:
That’s the creepy power of the Unity08: The organization’s goal is to get the Republican Party and the Democratic Party to stop disagreeing with each other, and unite behind a single vision of how the government should be run.
The people at Unity08 call it bipartisanship, but I have another name for it. I’ll give you a clue: It’s what happens when you take a two-party system and smush the two parties together so that they’re working for the same, single political agenda, without any disagreement (also known as dissent)… Have you figured it out? I knew you could. It’s a One Party State, for crying out loud!
In other words, what Unity08 is aiming for is the end of democracy. You see, if you have two political parties that share exactly the same political platform, then voters are only going to have the chance to vote for that one political platform, no matter who the candidate is. Are we supposed to think that’s a good thing? Hell no!
Listen, I live in a town where the Supervisor has been endorsed by both the Republicans and the Democrats. That means that when voters go to the polls to vote for who should occupy the most powerful political seat in the town, they have the choice for voting for the candidate on the Republican line or voting for the very same candidate on the Democratic line. In other words, the voters have no choice at all.
Look beneath the surface, and you’ll see that this Unity08 project is little more than an attempt to ressurect the spirit of that terrible, dissent-silencing slogan “United We Stand”. You know what I’ve learned over the last six years? I’ve learned that leaders who expect everybody to unite behind them are very, very dangerous. This idea of unity is a thin mask for the suppression of dissent.
For cripes sake, it is a sign of a seriously unhealthy society when everybody agrees on the most important issues of the day! Stop and think about the kinds of societies that have achieved unanimity of political opinion: The Soviet Union, Taliban Afghanistan, China during the Cultural Revolution, Nazi Germany. I don’t think that America should be headed down that road, thank you.
When we vote for a progressive president, it’s important to vote for a real progressive, not a pasteurized process cheese imitation of one. That doesn’t mean we just automatically vote for the Democrat; a lot of Democratic politicians are opposed to progressivism or simply corrupt. But it certainly means we need to think twice about offering our support to a PR group like Unity08. If we lend our support to a person or an organization that only mouths progressive-sounding platitudes while engaging in a second set of non-progressive behaviors, we will inevitably fall, backwards.
(Sources: Unity08.com and Irregular Times’ research series on Unity, June 1, 2006 through January 26, 2007)
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