Special Report

The Senator From Soros

Secret donors funded Feingold questions to judicial nominee; Washington Post involved.

By 10.19.10

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"So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections."
-- President Obama on October 7

"I challenge the Chamber of Commerce to tell us how much of the money they're investing is from foreign sources. I challenge them, if I'm wrong I will stand corrected. But show me, show me."
-- Vice President Biden on October 11

"You arrogant ass! You've killed us!"
-- The Hunt for Red October

Shall we play a game?

The line, spoken in an eerie mechanized voice, comes from the movie War Games, starring Matthew Broderick as he does battle with an out-of-control computer bent on blowing up the world. Broderick responds by saying, "Love to! How about Global Thermonuclear War?"

We're not into Global Thermonuclear War here. But a game of follow the Secret Donor Money -- an incredibly dishonest game that they will doubtless regret beginning -- has been launched by this White House, the New York Times and their liberal allies. Charges of foreign money, improper influence and secret donors fill the air. The Times has even seen fit to trot out Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew!

So. Shall we play their Secret Donor Money game? Love to? Excellent.

Let's begin with questions.

• What if Secret Donor Money -- funneled through a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit with no obligation to reveal its donors -- was used to influence not just your run-of-the mill election, but a sitting United States Senator as he ran a Senate confirmation hearing of a federal judge? An official constitutional duty of the United States Senate?

• What if that United States Senator secretly influenced by that Secret Donor Money were named Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin?

• What if that Secret Donor Money was used to supply Secret Research Senator Feingold was secretly using to defeat that Bush nominee for the federal judiciary? And what if Senator Feingold repeatedly and secretly (so he thought) plagiarized his questions to the nominee -- from the secret document purchased by Secret Donor Money secretly supplied by those Secret Donors?

• What if then-Senator Biden sat on this same Senate Committee while this game of left-wing Secret Donors was going on and never said a thing about it?

• What if that same Secret Donor money was being used to secretly buy a Page One favorable story on the front page of the Washington Post? And the Washington Post both knew this secret and went along with it -- publishing the story? But not publishing the names of the Secret Donors?

• What if the Chief Justice of the United States received a serious complaint from his staff about the possibility Secret Donor Money was being used by the Washington Post to attack the federal judiciary in that Page One story?

• What if that Secret Donor Money was used to formulate five questions from the Washington Post to the U.S. Department of Justice about the Bush nominee -- and an editorial opposing that nominee resulted from those questions provided by Secret Donor Money? 

Let's start at the beginning.

February, 2002.

The Dirksen Senate Office Building. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Bush Third Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Judge D. Brooks Smith, the Reagan-appointed Chief Judge of the Western District of Pennsylvania..

The nomination, considered routine and well-received across the board by the legal community of Western Pennsylvania, where Smith has served with distinction for fourteen uncontroversial years, has run head-long into the politics of Senate Judicial confirmations. What the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette would eventually refer to as a "lynch mob." Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the Fifth Circuit, has just gone up in flames, the target of these same left-wing special interest groups. With a scalp in hand and Democrats running the Senate, the groups have set their sights on Smith.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I was a friend of the nominee, and because I had some experience in the arcane world of judicial nominations -- and was now embarked on a writing career -- I had some idea what to look for and took notes. Enough to get a small book together in 2005 recounting the episode. (The book, The Borking Rebellion, had long since been out of print until Amazon brought it back as a Kindle Book. The future of books? We'll see.)

Here's what was uncovered in the Smith nomination fight -- all thoroughly documented -- which unexpectedly now bears on the issue of, as the New York Times has phrased it, "secret donors" influencing the political process.

1. Chairing the hearing? Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin. Sitting in for Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Feingold grilled the nominee. He questioned Smith using questions supplied from a secret strategy memo put together by lobbyists for three left-wing special interest groups all receiving funds from the George Soros-run Open Society Institute. The OSI, in turn is a 501(c)(3) -- which means it both takes money from outside donors and does not reveal who those donors are. The Soros-funded groups who researched and wrote the secret memo on Smith were: The Alliance for Justice, the Community Rights Counsel, and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. A copy of the secret memo had been leaked -- and I have it still.

Here's what matched up:

AFJ-CRC strategy memo: begins by complaining about the number of free-market economics seminars Smith has attended. Feingold: begins his remarks by complaining about the number of free-market economics seminars Smith has attended.

AFJ-CRC memo: cites the locale of the trips, citing them by name. Feingold: cites the locale of the trips, citing them by name.

AFJ-CRC memo: complains about the funding of the seminars, complaining that it comes from "large corporations" like "General Electric, Texaco and Monsanto." Feingold: complains about the funding of the seminars, complaining that it comes from "large corporations" like "General Electric, Texaco and Monsanto."

AFJ-CRC memo: complains that other funding comes from "right-wing foundations such as the Sarah Scaife Foundation [Richard Mellon Scaife] and the Claude Lambe Foundation [run by Charles Koch, Koch Industries]…" Feingold: complains that other funding has come from "very conservative foundations funded by Richard Mellon Scaife and Charles Koch."

AFJ-CRC memo: says "As the Dean of the George Mason Law School told ABC News 20/20, which did an exposé on these trips in April, 2001, LEC is 'out to influence minds…If court cases are changed, then that is something we are proud of as well.'" Feingold: says "For example, the Dean of the George Mason Law School told ABC News 20/20 in April 2001 that LEC is 'out to influence minds.' …If court cases are changed, then that is something we are proud of as well."

Interesting, no? 

No one in these interest groups knew there had been a leak of their memo. Feingold, who gave the impression to his audience that the questions were his, never said a word about the memo from which he was deriving his questions to the nominee, simply plagiarizing the group's questions outright.

But who paid for this? Who paid for the extensive research that became that memo which Feingold used to question a nominee for the federal judiciary?

That would be right: George Soros.

As the Capital Research Center later would discover, the Community Rights Counsel received a $50,000 grant from the Soros Open Society Institute that was used in 2002 when the CRC "unsuccessfully attempted to block President Bush's selection of federal judge Brooks Smith to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by erroneously charging Smith with unethical conduct." Which is to say, Soros money apparently paid for the AFJ-CRC strategy memo, which in turn was used by Feingold to grill Smith.

Feingold wasn't alone in this secret either, although he appeared to be singularly dependent on the Soros-group for his work. A law clerk of the Judge's took his own time to carefully start matching inquiries from Democrats on the Committee to the Soros-funded memo. A March 5, 2002 letter from Feingold to the nominee had follow-up questions containing the identical wording from the CRC text. The leaked secret memo was also found to have been used in questions to Judge Smith from Senators Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee Chairman; then-Committee member Senator Maria Cantwell, the Democrat from Washington state.

Senator Ted Kennedy had three of his five questions supplied by the group; and then-Senator Joe Biden -- the man now making accusations about secret donor money coming from foreigners -- used four questions supplied by Secret Donor Money.

Oh yes. Alliance for Justice lobbyist Nan Aron was in the hearing room that day. She informed one person -- personally -- that her task was to walk back and forth in the back of the room to send a signal to Feingold and other Democratic Senators and their staff of just how interested the Soros-funded group was in the Smith nomination. All of which meant that not only were Feingold's questions supplied by Soros, but he was apparently taking signals from a Soros-funded lobbyist through her physical movements in the hearing room.

2. Biden on the Committee: One of the people present for this hearing -- in fact the Senator who received the lion's share of the news the next day for tangling with the nominee -- was Delaware Senator Joe Biden. To his credit, he later -- after considerable pressure from all manner of Western Pennsylvania lawyers and his then-Republican colleague Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter -- was one of three key Committee votes that won the Committee battle for Smith and sent him to the Senate where he was finally confirmed. But Biden, who had reason to know about the role of Secret Donor Money because he used four questions supplied by that money, never said a word about the subject at the time.

3. The Washington Post and the Chief Justice: After the confirmation, another interesting document was obtained. This one a July 17, 2000 memo to then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist from the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Leonidas Ralph Mecham. It's explosive topic? It was headed: 

SUBJECT: Apparent Partnership of Washington Post and Community Rights Counsel on Judges Travel and Recusal issues.

In this memo, Mecham informs his boss the Chief Justice that the Court's Deputy Assistant Director for Public Affairs, David Sellers, had sent a letter to then-Washington Post Ombudsman E.R. Shipp…

…pointing out that the Washington Post appears to have been used by the Community Rights Counsel which seeks to advance the Counsel's ideological goals. David Sellers is a professional newsman himself and, as you [the Chief Justice] can see, he raises ethical questions to the Washington Post Ombudsman.

The single-spaced memo, three pages in length, focused on stories run in the Post over a three-year period -- including a story featured on Page One of the Post -- discussing the issue of judicial seminars sponsored by free-market "issues" groups. The memo to the Chief Justice specifically says that its reporter Joe Stephens -- who co-wrote the stories with reporter Ruth Marcus -- admitted to Sellers that "the Community Rights Counsel...has done much if not all the research for him." Not once, the memo notes, had the Post disclosed to its readers that the Community Rights Counsel had done its research. Nor had the paper noted the research it used came from a group "ideologically opposed" to the host of the judicial seminars.

The memo asks specifically, "How does CRC receive its funding?"

The answer, of course, is that the Washington Post was using research supplied by George Soros -- and never said a word about it to its readers. The e-mail from Sellers to the Post Ombudsman, provided directly to Chief Justice Rehnquist, concluded by saying:

This form of journalism is highly unprofessional and adds to the perception that the reporter and the source have established a working relationship that goes beyond the norm.…there appears to be a disturbing relationship that has developed between a special interest lobby and a Washington Post reporter.

And that lobby was a Soros-funded group, the Soros funds, as the New York Times likes to describes these things, from Secret Donor Money.

4. The Washington Post and the Department of Justice: On February 12, 2002, Washington Post reporter Edward Walsh e-mailed the Department of Justice about the imminent Feingold-run hearings for Judge Smith, saying "My initial questions about this matter are as follows…" What followed, in fact, were five questions, every one matching perfectly the material supplied in the leaked Soros-funded Secret Donor Money memo. And nary a word from the reporter who had paid for his research. The reporter, in a particular mark of chutzpah, finished his recitation of the Secret Donor Money questions by saying in his e-mail:

I'm sure I'll think of other questions as I continue to do reporting on this story and will have follow-up questions to Judge Smith's responses.

The Post ran the story on February 20. Not a single word was mentioned as to the relationship between the Soros-funded Secret Donor Money and the paper, its stories or the "disturbing relationship" memo from the office of Chief Justice Rehnquist.

So why bring this old story up now?

Why is a story about the funding for the opposition to a sitting federal judge who finally was confirmed to the Third Circuit important?

The charge is being made by President Obama, Vice President Biden, the New York Times and other liberal allies that "Secret Donor Money" is somehow in play in this election. A charge made in the hope that no one will notice there is hard proof beyond doubt that Senator Feingold -- now behind in the polls -- has been dependent on the fruits of Secret Donor Money and Secret Donor Money groups and lobbyists to perform his duties as a U.S. Senator.

And the real kicker? Also discovered in the aftermath was the reason for all this Secret Donor Money pouring into judicial nomination battles. It was presented by U.S. Magistrate James G. Glazebrook of the Middle District of Florida, who studied the issue and documented his findings in a publication called Judges Journal. The article was attached to the memo to Chief Justice Rehnquist from his staff. 

The accusation? Said Judge Glazebrook: 

The attacks are a means of "judge-shopping" -- attaining an optimal judge, or pool of federal judges, who might adjudicate cases in the organization's favor."

Which is to say, as Glazebrook explained in longer form, the idea was to so damage a prospective judge who might rule unfavorably on a case supported by one of the Secret Donor Money groups that he or she would never survive politically to be confirmed and take the bench..

Oh yes. One last thing.

When Russell Feingold had run for re-election in 1998, George Soros had personally contributed $18,000 on October 8, 1998, to the Democratic Senatorial Committee -- which then sent $275,000 to the Wisconsin Democratic Party -- whose top priority that year was to re-elect Russell Feingold. Also direct contributors to the Feingold campaign that year? The son and daughter of -- George Soros. 

So where are we after knowing this?

What is it that liberals want us all to take away from the notion that the Chamber of Commerce or a group associated with Karl Rove or ex-GOP Chair and Bush aide Ed Gillespie are receiving "secret donor money"?

The answer we are supposed to get here comes from one Fred Wertheimer, quoted in the New York Times "Secret Donor" article as saying these conservative organizations are all about "guaranteed corruption."

And Mr. Wertheimer? The Times identifies him as "a longtime supporter of campaign finance regulation," a former head of the liberal group Common Cause "who now runs Democracy 21, which pushes for campaign reform."

Sounds so lovely, doesn't it? But wait! What has the Times mysteriously left out of its story?

That's right. Democracy 21, the group which longtime reformer Fred Wertheimer runs, gets money from -- you guessed it -- the Open Society Institute.

Which is to say, like Russell Feingold -- the Senator from Soros who was the recipient of Soros Secret Donor Money used to influence his conduct during a long-ago hearing for a federal judicial nominee -- Mr. Wertheimer has a tad of a PR problem on his hand, if not an ethical dilemma..

You see, Mr. Wertheimer's grand reform group Democracy 21 is taking Secret Donor Money its very own self. You may find that undisclosed information right here.

Sometimes you just can't make it up.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.