After debuting in 2013 to major media coverage and virulent opposition from conservative activists, Karl Rove's Conservative Victory Project political group is seemingly defunct. According to FEC filings, as of March 31, the group has $667 cash on hand after taking in only $2,214 in the first quarter of 2014.
Rove's Conservative Victory Project was announced in a 2013 New York Times article, which explained that the Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official was joining forces with "the biggest donors in the Republican Party" to create a group which would "recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts." The Times reported that the "project is being waged with last year's Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin's comment that 'legitimate rape' rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country."
Numerous conservative figures responded to the announcement by loudly and repeatedly ripping Rove and Conservative Victory Project for its supposed betrayal of true conservatives and attempts at "fratricide." Several conservative activists went so far as to pen a letter to Crossroads donors imploring them to refuse to give money to the new group.
Whether it's directly attributable to the backlash or not, conservatives need not worry about Rove's Conservative Victory Project influencing Republican primaries this year, because the group is all-but-inoperative. As Media Matters previously reported, in the second half of 2013, Rove's group only brought in $10,798, ending the year with only $200 in cash on hand. The trend continued in the first quarter of 2014, with Conservative Victory Project apparently doing no fundraising. Between January 1 and March 31, the group brought in only $2,214, all of which came one of Rove's other political groups, American Crossroads.
While Conservative Victory Project is seemingly dead in the water, Rove's American Crossroads Super PAC continues to rake in millions of dollars, investing some of it in Republican primaries. National Journal explains that in the wake of the Conservative Victory Project kerfuffle, Crossroads' primary spending has shown the group to be "risk-averse" and treading lightly, avoiding criticizing Republicans aggressively and looking too much like the group is "handpicking" establishment candidates.
In an interview with Fortune, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch credited Fox News with having "absolutely saved" the Republican Party, praising the network for giving "voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN." But Fox News has not just given "voice and hope" to conservative news watchers. The network has been instrumental in helping Republicans for years by actively promoting and fundraising for GOP candidates, serving as a staging ground for numerous network employees to prep runs for office, championing Republicans' legislative goals, and systematically smearing and lying about an immeasurable number of Democrats, progressives, and any policy initiatives the network found insufficiently conservative.
During the same exchange, Murdoch reportedly bristled at the suggestion that Fox promotes the tea party, potentially at the expense of the GOP:
Does it bother you at all, Rupert, that there is a view that Fox News has contributed in a big way to the political discontent in the U.S., degraded the political process, and maybe, in spotlighting the Tea Party, even hurt the Republican Party? I think it has absolutely saved it. It has certainly given voice and hope to people who didn't like all that liberal championing thrown at them on CNN. By the way, we don't promote the Tea Party. That's bullshit. We recognize their existence.
But Murdoch's assertion that it's "bullshit" that Fox News promotes the tea party is, well, bullshit. Simply put, today's tea party probably wouldn't exist -- at least not at its level of influence and notoriety -- without the integral role Fox News played in promoting the first round of tea party events during Obama's first year in office.
Even given the warped standards by which Fox News' journalistic ethics are often viewed, the network's early promotion of the tea party is still staggering to revisit. In the early months of 2009, Fox News personalities on several different programs aggressively plugged the supposedly upstart tea party movement. The network even held its own events on April 15 of that year that they branded "FNC TAX DAY TEA PARTIES." Fox News hosts Glenn Beck (who has since left the network), Neil Cavuto, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren all broadcast live that day from various tea parties around the country.
A Texas judge dismissed a complaint based on claims from a video produced by conservative fabulist James O'Keefe after special prosecutors ripped the video as "little more than a canard and political disinformation."
In February, O'Keefe and his Project Veritas group released a video investigation of progressive organization Battleground Texas. In the video, O'Keefe accuses the group, which he labels "the new ACORN," of using "potentially illegal methods to change elections." The allegation hinged on O'Keefe repeatedly pointing to a part of the Texas Election Code, which states that "the registrar may not transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application."
An organizer from Battleground Texas -- which has worked to register voters in the state -- says in the video that the group has taken phone numbers from the applications, which they will use to reach out to people and encourage them to vote closer to the election. A quote from Texas Secretary of State Nandita Berry's office included in the video suggests that the Battleground Texas organizers may in fact have been in violation of the law.
Following outrage from Republican officials, complaints were filed with the secretary of state's office about the claims from the video. A Texas judge eventually appointed two special prosecutors -- one of whom is reportedly a Republican -- to investigate the allegations.
On Friday, the special prosecutors released a report recommending the case's dismissal, which a judge granted. As first reported by Texas blog Burnt Orange Report, the recommendation for dismissal from the special prosecutors is withering, attacking, among other things, "unprofessional" aspects of O'Keefe's video.
According to the prosecutors, the language about copying telephone numbers from registration applications "applies only to the official county registrar, not to a volunteer deputy registrar." Further, they conclude that "three recent attorney general opinions hold that one's telephone number on a voter registration is not confidential information."
After labeling the Veritas video "little more than a canard and political disinformation," the prosecutors recommend that the complaint "be dismissed for insufficient evidence and failure to state an offense." San Antonio Judge Raymond Angelini subsequently signed an order dismissing the complaint.
The dismissal of the complaint is merely the latest egg in O'Keefe's face, whose work has repeatedly been marred by misinformation and incompetence and condemned by law enforcement reviews. Last year, O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to an ACORN employee he had smeared as part of his fraudulent ACORN sting.
A copy of the special prosecutors' recommendation for dismissal, courtesy of Burnt Orange Report, is below.
Five years ago, Fox News expanded its online presence with "Fox Nation." Early promos for the site told viewers that it's "time to say 'no' to biased media and 'yes' to fair play and free speech," while promising that Fox fans had finally found "a place to call home." Similarly, the "Statement of Purpose" on the site announces that it is dedicated to "the core principles of tolerance, open debate, civil discourse, and fair and balanced coverage of the news."
But after its launch, the site quickly turned into -- in the words of former Fox News producer Joe Muto -- the "seedy underbelly of the Fox News online empire." Fox Nation has for years openly cheered Republican politicians and policies, actively organized for the tea party, smeared Democrats and progressives, engaged in blatant race-baiting on a near-daily basis, and routinely elevated nonsense from the conservative fringe.
So while Fox Nation is celebrating its fifth birthday and its self-proclaimed role as a "defender of the Constitution and the home of hot debates," Media Matters looks back at some (but nowhere near all) of the lowlights from the site's first five years.
One of Fox News' more bizarre ethical violations has drawn to a close. After devoting a week of segments to promoting a Republican Senate candidate's fundraising ploy, Fox & Friends plagiarized the idea and spent another week passing it off as their own.
As Media Matters previously reported, last month Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse released a March Madness-themed competition featuring a bracket of 64 alleged Constitutional violations by the Obama administration.
Fox & Friends eagerly latched onto the "Constitutional Madness" bracket, devoting significant time to it on their March 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26 broadcasts. While promoting the Sasse campaign's bracket, both the hosts and on-screen text repeatedly credited Sasse with coming up with the idea. Fox hosts also adopted the Sasse campaign-approved branding that the Nebraska Republican is known as "the anti-Obamacare candidate."
After originally telling viewers to weigh in on Facebook and Twitter, Fox & Friends started directing viewers to vote in the competition at the Sasse-operated constitutionalmadness.com. (Sasse himself also directed viewers to visit the website during his appearance on the March 24 edition of Fox & Friends.)
The Sasse campaign was likely thrilled by the publicity boost, because the entire competition was a thinly-veiled effort to farm email addresses and solicit donations. Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com are greeted with a large "CONTRIBUTE!" button. Filling out a bracket automatically redirects people to the Sasse campaign's fundraising page, and in order to complete the bracket in the first place, you have to give the Sasse campaign your email address.
Inevitably, since filling out a bracket on March 26, Media Matters has been emailed fundraising solicitations from the Sasse campaign, including one on March 29 urging people to contribute before the end of the fundraising quarter.
But a strange thing happened in the middle of Fox & Friends' promotion of Sasse's "Constitutional Madness": the show kept running segments charting the progress of the competition, but stopped crediting Sasse for the idea. Instead, Fox & Friends started directing people to vote at their show's own website, where they had plagiarized much of the original bracket.
Over the past week, Fox & Friends has run numerous segments promoting the "Constitutional Madness" bracket created by Republican Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse. While Sasse's bracket is ostensibly an attempt to determine the worst constitutional violation among supposed Obama administration scandals, in reality it's a thinly-veiled attempt to collect donations and email addresses. Fox News liked the Sasse idea so much they eventually plagiarized it for FoxNews.com.
To coincide with the NCAA's annual March Madness basketball tournament, last week Sasse's campaign released a bracket of 64 alleged constitutional violations by the Obama administration. Sasse is a former Bush administration official running in a Republican primary to fill Mike Johanns' Senate seat in Nebraska. The bracket is made up of a panoply of Fox News-promoted pseudoscandals, including things like "death panels."
Fox & Friends has given the bracket a major publicity boost, discussing it at length on its March 21, 22, 24, 25 and 26 broadcasts. During some of the segments, Fox hosts -- and Sasse himself, who appeared on March 24 -- directed viewers to the competition website and pushed people to cast a vote. The network has also hyped how "thousands of people" are voting in the competition, which has gotten "a lot of buzz" -- thanks in no small part to Fox's efforts.
Visitors to constitutionalmadness.com -- many of whom likely did so after hearing about it on Fox News' highly-rated morning show -- are greeted with a green "CONTRIBUTE!" button above the actual voting process.
In order to submit votes, visitors must give the Sasse campaign their email address, which will undoubtedly be used for later fundraising pitches. After submitting a vote, the site redirects to the Sasse campaign's donation page, with the $100.00 donation option helpfully pre-selected. Text on the landing page reads, "Thanks for playing! Will you help fight back against Constitutional overreach by making a donation to the campaign today?"
On its March 26 broadcast, the show promoted its own version of the competition and encouraged viewers to visit the Fox & Friends website to cast votes.
Much of the language on Fox's version of the bracket is pulled directly from the Sasse campaign website, but Fox offers no attribution anywhere on its site. To the contrary, Fox News claims it's "our Constitutional Madness Bracket" and "we put together a 'Constitutional Madness' bracket." Fox also lifted language from other sources in writing "background" information about the alleged constitutional violations.
Fox News of course has routinely worked to bolster the political ambitions of Republicans, including those on its own staff. But even by the network's warped ethical standards, its week-long promotion of Sasse's campaign ploy has been egregious.
In 2010, the Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint (later dismissed) against Fox News after the network ran the campaign web address of former Fox employee and then Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich.
A rundown of Fox's "Constitutional Madness" hype is below.
Fox News finally terminated the contract of contributor Scott Brown after Brown told the network he is planning a New Hampshire Senate run. The move follows months of speculation about a possible run by Brown, a topic that was repeatedly raised during his appearances on the network.
Brown tweeted today that he "enjoyed being a part of the Fox family. Their analysis & insight has helped hold politicians accountable for their actions ... especially on ObamaCare. I am extremely grateful to everyone at Fox for their friendship, & wish them all the best moving forward."
It became clear shortly after Brown was hired by Fox in 2013 that he was planning to use the network as a springboard to the next stage of his political career. And Fox was more than happy to play along.
The network gave Brown an online column, which he used to write columns with headlines like "Time to hold Democrats in Congress responsible for the mess they created." Fox also let him practice stump speeches, plug his New Hampshire bona fides, discuss the need for Republicans to win back the Senate, and attack his possible opponent on-air.
Below are five segments that show the farcical nature of Brown's job as a "Fox News contributor."
Earlier this week Fox News hosted the "professional dirty trickster" who founded an anti-Hillary Clinton group with the acronym "C.U.N.T." The day before, it was the attorney who pushed fabricated anti-Clinton stories in the 90s. Last month, it was the woman who has suggested the Clintons may have had her husband killed.
Fox has never had particularly high standards for who they put on air, and it appears there's no source too incredible for Fox to host as long as they are willing to smear the Clintons. And that list is long.
As Joe Conason and Gene Lyons detailed in their book The Hunting of the President, in the 1990s, an array of conservative operatives, right-wing journalists, and opportunists sought to drive the Clintons from the White House. Their backgrounds were often shady, their methods deceitful, and their claims fraudulent.
So who might be the next guest for a network with no standards and an urge to stop a potential Hillary Clinton presidential run? Some of these figures have gone on to extensive careers in the conservative media, while others haven't been in the public eye for decades.
But all have literally unbelievable stories to tell.
Gary Aldrich is a former FBI agent who wrote a 1996 book about his time inside the White House during the first three years of the Clinton administration. CNN described the book, produced by a right-wing publisher and flacked by a Republican operative, as filled with "second-hand, unsubstantiated sexual rumors about and bitter attacks against President and Mrs. Clinton," including ludicrous claims that President Clinton was regularly ditching his Secret Service detail for trysts at a downtown hotel (Aldrich later said that allegation was a "hypothetical"). Aldrich also wrote that on "orders from the First Lady's Office," the White House Christmas tree was decorated with crack pipes and other drug paraphernalia as well as sex toys and condoms (unsurprisingly, the White House denied the charge).
Aldrich used the notoriety from his book to become a professional conservative. He founded the right-wing Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty in 1997 to support federal whistleblowers (Linda Tripp was among the organization's first clients), but the bulk of the group's spending soon focused on raising money and paying Aldrich's salary. The group was largely silent during the Bush administration, but re-emerged to support tea party groups in 2010. Aldrich has written op-eds for TownHall and the Daily Caller.
Larry Nichols spent years at the heart of the conservative campaign to smear President Clinton. A former jingle writer who became a marketing consultant for the State of Arkansas, he was fired from the Arkansas Development Finance Authority in 1988 for making hundreds of phone calls to Nicaragua contra leaders and their American political supporters on the taxpayer's dime, and apparently held a grudge. Shortly before Bill Clinton's 1990 re-election as governor of Arkansas, Nichols held a press conference announcing he was suing Clinton for allegedly using state funds to conduct affairs with five women. All five women subsequently signed affidavits denying the claims and threatened to sue Nichols, who later issued a statement saying he had wrongfully issued the accusations because he was mad about being fired. But the incident nonetheless ushered in the right-wing focus on Bill Clinton's sex life.
Nichols, who described himself as "smut central" in a 1998 interview, spent years tracking down sketchy rumors about women who had had affairs with the president and trying to peddle them to everyone from supermarket tabloids to major newspapers. Last year, he offered a new explanation for why he had spent years trying to destroy the Clintons -- he claimed to have "beat up women and beat up husbands to protect the Clintons" and even "killed people" for them for money until they turned on him and he had to defend himself.
The conservatives behind some of the worst political smear campaigns have started a super PAC.
Takeover Super PAC is backed by a team that includes Joseph Farah, founder of the fringe conspiracy site WND; Jerome Corsi, a leading member of the Swift Boat and birther campaigns; and Floyd Brown, producer of the racist Willie Horton ads.
The group says it will "win elections and take our country back from the liberals and socialists" and exhorts potential donors, "If you're tired to [sic] putting your money to work for turncoats and traitors, join us." Takeover claims liberals want to eliminate the right to privacy, the Second Amendment, religion, want to "permanently enslave the American people" with Obamacare and entitlements, and ultimately desire "a tyrannical dictatorship."
In a fundraising email announcing the PAC, Farah stated that he's "not giving my money to the RNC any longer. I'm not giving a dime to Karl Rove's Tea Party-hating PAC, and I'm not supporting spineless Republicans who lead us down the same liberal roads. I'm giving my money to Takeover Super PAC." Farah and other conservatives have been feuding with Rove, a fight that intensified when the former Bush adviser launched an effort to protect Republicans against tea party challengers.
The section of Takeover's website for supported candidates is currently empty. Several navigation buttons on its website, such as links to its Facebook (which links to "facebook.com/takoversuperpac [sic]"), Twitter (which links to "twitter.com/takoversuperpac [sic]"), and YouTube pages do not work -- and a page devoted to the "Takeover Store" is also blank.
Takeover's advisory board indicates the group will be heavily intertwined with professional consultants.
The super PAC's executive director and treasurer is "Internet marketing and communications entrepreneur" Thomas Freiling. He previously headed Patriot Super PAC, which paid him $78,239 during the 2012 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data via OpenSecrets.org. Freiling's consulting firm Fairfax Technologies also received $18,044. Patriot Super PAC paid $374,976 to Internet communications consulting firm Grassroots Action Inc. Grassroots is headed by Steve Elliott, who also sits on Takeover's advisory board. Patriot Super PAC raised $922,266 during the 2012 cycle, and spent $163,418 on independent expenditures.
Board member Floyd Brown is president of Excellentia Inc., a conservative marketing firm. Another board member, Richard Viguerie, pioneered the use of direct mail fundraising.
The toxic background of the group's board members may actually end up hurting any supported candidates. Here's a closer look at three of the group's advisors.
Former Republican Senator Scott Brown's latest appearance as a Fox News contributor exemplified the ethically murky middle ground between being a potential political candidate and a news commentator.
Since his initial hiring by Fox News in 2013, there has been widespread speculation that Brown would return to politics and mount a run for Democrat Jeanne Shaheen's Senate seat in New Hampshire. Both Brown and Fox have mutually benefited from the publicity surrounding his potential run, and have discussed his possible candidacy during his appearances on the network (including his first appearance on-air after renewing his contract last month).
If Brown wants to keep his contributor status, he needs to walk the tightrope of repeatedly toying with the idea of running while not actually taking formal steps to declare his candidacy (in the past, Fox has severed the contracts of contributors once they have filed the requisite paperwork).
Earlier this week, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren tweeted that she was told it is "certain" that Brown is going to run, prompting Brown to deny the report, telling Politico, "I will make my decisions in due course."
As Brown continues to delay his decision, Fox News is happy to help bolster their employee's potential candidacy. Brown sounded like a candidate today during an appearance on Your World with Neil Cavuto, where he attacked Shaheen and Senate Democrats. He also attempted to prove his New Hampshire bona fides in the wake of carpetbagger criticism.
Cavuto wondered whether Obamacare would be Brown's "issue" if he chose to run, prompting Brown to reply that "it's no secret" he's thinking of getting into the race before launching into speech about "dysfunctional" Washington and how we "need to fix it."
Cavuto raised the attacks on Brown as a possible "carpetbagger" were he to run in New Hampshire, since he was previously senator in Massachusetts. Brown called the attacks "laughable," adding "people know that I have long and strong ties to New Hampshire, you know, going back generations" and explaining he has been a resident for "a couple of months."
Brown then turned to the "real issue," which was attacking his possible opponent Jeanne Shaheen for joining Democrats in having "rammed" health care reform through Congress.
Pressed by Cavuto for when he planned to make his decision -- and whether he would make any announcement on Cavuto's show -- Brown was coy as usual, explaining that "I'll make an announcement sooner rather than later."
In the meantime, Fox is willing to hand him a paycheck while he practices potential stump speeches.