A few days ago, right-wing blogger John Hinderaker enthusiastically endorsed a “slick” new video released by a group called Senate Accountability Watch attacking Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) for wanting to “regulate your internet use.” It features a military family, two video game-playing schlubs, and an elderly woman all using the internet to enrich their lives until a faceless “Al Franken” pushes the huge red “REGULATE INTERNET” button on his desk and shuts off their internet access.
The message of the video is, as Hinderaker puts it, that net neutrality “is a bad idea because it is being promoted by Al Franken,” and the implication is that net neutrality legislation would allow government officials to restrict access to the internet (net neutrality is actually aimed at preventing governments and internet service providers from doing that). The message isn't exactly new or compelling, Hinderaker's endorsement notwithstanding. Far more interesting is the brief, sordid history of Senate Accountability Watch -- an organization founded by a controversial Republican operative for the sole purpose of harassing Al Franken.
Senate Accountability Watch was founded in August 2010 by Jeff Larson, a direct marketing tycoon who worked closely with former Sen. Norm Coleman, whom Franken narrowly defeated in the drawn-out 2008 Minnesota Senate election. Larson just recently signed on as the Republican National Committee's chief of staff. In September 2010, Senate Accountability Watch filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee over an email Franken's campaign committee sent out promoting Franken's role in supporting net neutrality. Larsen filed another complaint with the Federal Election Committee in December claiming that Franken's PAC and other Democratic groups had violated election laws by accepting donations from a “foreign national,” British comedian Eddie Izzard.
Neither complaint succeeded. The Senate Ethics Committee dismissed Larson's allegations, saying they “do not merit further review,” and Larson actually petitioned to withdraw his FEC complaint when he learned that Izzard is a legal resident of the United States and thus entitled to make political donations. The FEC later dismissed the complaint.
Senate Accountability Watch's failed ethics complaints are only the most recent of Jeff Larson's political misadventures.
Larson earned a considerable amount of notoriety during the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary when his direct marketing firm, FLS, conducted a series of robocalls on behalf of George W. Bush smearing Sen. John McCain. Eight years later, McCain hired FLS to conduct robocalls tying Barack Obama to William Ayers.
Larson was also at the center of two political controversies in the 2008 election cycle. In June 2008, National Journal revealed that Sen. Norm Coleman had been renting a Capitol Hill apartment from Larson at the extremely low price of $600 per month. Larson was a longtime ally and client of Coleman's; FLS billed the senator for $1.6 million in services going back to 2001. The Washington, DC-based ethics group CREW filed an ethics complaint against Coleman, claiming he had “violated the Senate gifts rule by accepting lodging from Republican operative Jeff Larson.”
In October 2008, Larson found himself in the spotlight again when it was revealed that the Republican National Committee had reimbursed him for $130,000 in clothing he purchased for then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Thus far there doesn't seem to be any indication that Larson's anti-net neutrality video will air on television, and it hasn't earned much notice beyond Hinderaker's blog.