Obama’s main man will do whatever it takes to fell Republicans and conservatives. Where does his ruthlessness and drive come from?
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Thus, like his mentors, David Canter and Don Rose, Axelrod went into political consulting.
His move from the Chicago Tribune to Axelrod & Associates meant a jump in salary from re-portedly $42,000 per year to “around six figures,” due primarily to commissions that ranged from $15,000 to $60,000 per campaign, plus a 15 percent commission on TV ads. Axelrod had considered going into business with Bob Shrum (then Ted Kennedy’s press secretary), consultant David Doak, and Pat Caddell, who had been a pollster for Jimmy Carter. Caddell, however, repulsed Axelrod. “Pat was narcissistic and consumed with himself,” he snarled.
Axelrod went in his own direction. He became known as a “five-tool consultant,” capable of writing speeches, press releases, and statements; crafting a campaign message; plotting strategy; producing TV and radio spots; and acting as a spokesman—all traits he would ultimately evidence in working for Obama.
Over time, Axelrod represented a variety of campaigns, primarily through two principal organizations: AKP&D Message and Media, and ASK Public Strategies. Among them, Axelrod & Associates morphed into AKP&D.
AKP&D is Axelrod’s Chicago-based political consulting firm that serves Democrat clients nationwide. The “A” is for Axelrod. The “K” is for John Kupper, a former Capitol Hill press secretary. The “P” is for David Plouffe, who would become campaign manager to Senator Barack Obama. The “D” is for John Del Cecato, described at the firm’s website as a “seasoned press secretary and veteran of battles in New York City and throughout the country,” who caught Axelrod’s eye through his talent for writing and producing ads. The firm’s client lists boasts four presidential campaigns and numerous senatorial, congressional, gubernatorial, and mayoral campaigns, with names ranging from Barack Obama to John Edwards, from Rod Blagojevich to Eliot Spitzer, from Patrick Kennedy to Rahm Emanuel.
Operating from the same address and same office as AKP&D is Axelrod’s ASK Strategies. Here, the “A” is for Axelrod, the “S” for Eric Sedler, and the “K” (again) is for John Kupper. Sedler came to ASK through AT&T and Edelman. The focus of ASK is not political candidates but organizations and corporate clients. Most interesting, ASK has mastered the use of front-groups—something intimately familiar to Axelrod’s radical mentors.
A well-known, somewhat notorious example of this front-group tactic is the company ComEd, which sought a palatable way to seek higher electricity prices in Illinois. ComEd sought ASK’s advice. ASK advised ComEd to form a group called Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity (CORE), which in turn described itself as a “coalition of individuals, businesses, and organizations.” The group then ran ads—written by ASK—direly warning of blackouts if electricity rates were not hiked. As noted by Bloomberg, ComEd later acknowledged that it had bankrolled the entire $15 million effort.
It was precisely the kind of thing that Chicago’s communists did in the 1940s, organizing groups with names like the American Peace Mobilization, which argued that America should stay out of World War II for purposes of peace when, in fact, the group’s goal was to assuage Hitler because Hitler had signed a pact with Stalin. This is a crass example, yes, but it is indicative of the way that communists in Chicago and New York operated unceasingly for decades through the finely honed tactic of the front-group. The likes of the Canters, Frank Marshall Davis, and others were involved in innumerable front-groups in Chicago and elsewhere.
But there was more to the ComEd example. As Bloomberg noted, “Illinois employees of the utility and its parent, Exelon, have contributed $181,711 to Obama’s presidential bid—more than workers at any other company in the state.” Bear in mind that David Axelrod not only runs ASK, which advised the ComEd campaign, but also advised Barack Obama’s campaigns. As the Bloomberg article pointed out, “Axelrod’s public and private efforts bump into each other at ComEd.”
ComEd is just one example of work done by ASK. Bloomberg also reported the remarkable case of New York’s Cablevision, which owns Madison Square Garden. Cablevision hired ASK to stop the New York Jets from building a new stadium in nearby Manhattan. Again, a front-group was formed, calling itself the New York Association for Better Choices, which, in turn, ran ads and materials opposing construction. According to records, Cablevision paid ASK $1.2 million in 2004-05.
Other clients followed. In 2006, none other than Michelle Obama, an executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center—whose husband was advised by David Axelrod—recommended that the hospital hire Axelrod’s firm for a program intended to steer inner-city patients to neighborhood clinics. That effort eventually led to a program the hospital now calls its Urban Health Initiative. As the Washington Post reported, “The medical center’s initiative provides a window into the close relationship between the Obamas, their associates at the University of Chicago and Axelrod, the strategist most central to Barack Obama’s rise.”
In December 2006, the medical center hired Axelrod’s ASK Public Strategies to sell the Urban Health Initiative.
This came shortly after Obama joined the U.S. Senate in 2005. The medical center gave Michelle the plum position of vice president of community and external relations, with an annual salary of $317,000. The medical center’s chairwoman was Valerie Jarrett, an intimate of both Obamas then and (of course) still today.
As the Post noted, the “vast majority” of political contributions from University of Chicago employees have gone to Democrats, with $373,000 donated to Obama’s campaigns prior to 2008.
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