There is trouble brewing in the bottom tier of the GOP/social conservative "who's more negative" primary. Sen. Sam Brownback, underfunded and trying to move ahead of "none of these candidates" in the polls, is picking fights with fellow basement dweller Rep. Tom Tancredo, while besmirching money magnet Gov. Mitt Romney.
But this story goes beyond Brownback's recent use of nasty phone calls to prick up his flagging campaign. The apology Romney and Tancredo are demanding for misrepresenting their anti-choice profiles is not unlike apologies Brownback has given many times, for:
- anti-Semitic campaign phone calls;
- condoning an atmosphere around him that fosters religious bigotry; and
- holding hatred in his heart for powerful women.
The cast of characters in Brownback's "hate first, seek forgiveness later" files reads like a ballot.
Romney has already accepted one apology from Brownback for a staffer's email demeaning Mormons. "He said that religious attacks don't have any place in politics and, of course, we agree on that," said Romney. But Brownback's first race for the Senate, in 1996, for which I had a front row seat as his opponent Jill Docking's Communications Director, was overshadowed in the final weeks by the very religious attacks from which he now distances himself.
Docking is part of a long and proud family tradition of moderate, centrist Democrats in Kansas; a pro-business stock broker who appealed to many moderate Republicans frustrated with the social conservative takeover of their party. She is also Jewish. In the final weeks of a contest the polls consistently showed as close, the Docking campaign received reports from around the state of push polls. One report:
According to a recently released NJDC (National Jewish Democratic Council) report, two Kansas Republicans have stepped forward to further substantiate claims "that supporters of U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) employed anti-Semitic tactics during his 1996 campaign against Democrat Jill Docking, who is Jewish." Their statements are recounted in the NJDC report:
"The caller, I think it was a male voice, reminded me to vote for Brownback on election day," said Nicki Soici, from Wichita, who at the time was a registered Republican. "Then he said, 'We think it's important for people to know that Docking is a Jew.'" Soici told the caller that Jesus was Jewish. When she informed the caller that Docking was a friend of hers, "the caller hung up."
Steve Baru, a former candidate for an elected GOP precinct office from the Kansas City area, said that he received a nearly identical call a day or two before the election. "We just want to remind you to vote for Brownback, and to remind you that Jill Docking is Jewish,' the caller said." When Baru told the caller he was Jewish the caller abruptly hung up. Baru's caller identification system could not identify the origin of the call. Baru immediately called Brownback headquarters to protest the call.
Additional points raised in the NJDC report included the following:
- The day before the election, the Kansas City Star alluded to the anti-Semitic calls, which were by that time already well known to both the Brownback and Docking campaigns, when it reported that the Docking campaign said "someone was calling voters asking them if they knew [Docking was Jewish] and that 'there were enough [Jews] in Congress already.'"
- According to interviews with dozens of Kansans, NJDC found that these were not isolated incidents. Fran Hoggath, a Republican who volunteered as a telephone receptionist on the Docking campaign, spoke with people who received similar calls. "[I took] five or six calls. All referred to questions being asked 'did you know Jill Docking is Jewish, we're taking a survey,'" Hoggath said. Hoggath, who said these calls came in during the final days of the campaign, was unsure about the party affiliation of the callers who were "surveyed."
- The NJDC spoke to a leader of a local chapter of a major Jewish organization in the Kansas City area, who asked not to be identified, who recalled hearing from two separate people about this type of call.
- NJDC spoke with Rabbi Karol, spiritual leader of the Topeka, Kansas, Temple Beth Shalom congregation, who said he heard about anti-Semitic calls "two weeks before the election."
- NJDC reported that interviews with former Docking campaign aides revealed that anti-Semitic "push polls", in which voters were asked whether their vote would change if they knew Docking was Jewish, had been used in the more rural areas of Kansas in the month prior to the vote. Docking aides said they received dozens of complaints from voters, mostly Republicans, who were subjected to anti-Semitic tactics. Former Docking finance director Todd Sandness said that the Docking campaign "kept getting calls from rural areas complaining about a poll [asking] does it make a difference to you if Jill Docking is Jewish."
So prevalent were the calls that they created a bit of a post election stir in the media and have continued to haunt Brownback, who has gone to great lengths to support Israel and win over, or perhaps paper over, his 1996 campaign's transgressions. To be clear, the calls were never directly linked to any source – unlike the Romney/Tancredo calls which are clearly coming directly from the Brownback campaign in Iowa. But seriously, "we want to remind you to vote for Brownback and that Docking is a Jew", doesn't require a Senate investigation to figure out. We'll get to that in a moment.
His campaign also used Docking's maiden name, "Sadowsky" on news releases and by showing her birth certificate in television commercials to underscore her heritage. This from a man who claims to be defending marriage and upholding traditional family values, somehow suggesting her marriage and years of public service in Kansas weren't enough. So outraged by the uproar over the accusations about how his campaign used Docking's maiden name, Brownback sought and won corrections in many publications. But these corrections only reinforced the truth of his campaign's "wicked" ways – just as The Conservative Voice has claimed of the recent Romney/Tancredo phone calls.
But after winning the 1996 election, Sen. Brownback asked to meet privately with Jill Docking for coffee. Being the forgiving soul she is, she agreed. According to her accounts of the conversation, he apologized and asked her forgiveness. Respecting his request for privacy, she never discussed more details of their meeting.
If, as his campaign maintained, they had nothing to do with the anti-Semitic phone calls, what weighed on his conscience so heavily? How could Brownback, Prodigal Son of the Far Right, anointed in the 2008 race by Rev. Pat Robertson, Dr. James Dobson, Harald Bredesen, and who himself is a member of the secretive mono-theocratic/Dominionist Christian organization known as "The Family" or "The Fellowship", have a guilty conscience for something he supposedly did not do? Surely as a convert to the shadowy ultra-conservative form of Catholicism, Opus Dei, he gets confession?
And how could he, with all this support from Far Right leadership, be doing as poorly as he is in the polls and with fund raising?
Years later, in a story that now has become a bit of Beltway legend in some circles, Sen. Brownback offered a similar apology and asked forgiveness of Sen. Hillary Clinton for "hatred he held in his heart" for her and her husband. We can all understand and respect forgiveness, something every major world religion teaches in some way. But to hold hatred in one's heart for a powerful woman like Sen. Clinton and repeatedly use religious bigotry to quench his lust for power, first with Jews and now Mormons, hardly speaks to a genuine sense of forgiveness. It's more like sleeve-wearing piety that serves as a thin veil over less than pure campaign tactics. Like Jill Docking, Sen. Clinton graciously forgave Sen. Brownback. Jesus, a Jew, didn't talk the talk; he walked the walk suggesting others humbly lead by example, as he did, and Romney, Docking and Clinton have demonstrated.
Now, about that Senate Investigation …
One more 2008 Presidential hopeful-to-be factors into the Brownback forgiveness files – Sen. Fred Thompson. It is Thompson who, as Media Matters reports, allowed forgiveness of many campaign sins to wash over a special investigation his 1997 Government Affairs Committee undertook into the shadowy and secretive Triad Management Services. Triad coordinated independent expenditures on behalf of Brownback in 1996, as well as two other Senate and twenty-nine House races. According to Media Matters:
Thompson did initially undertake an investigation of Republicans as well as Democrats, he shut down the investigation before Democrats were able to introduce evidence linking Republican lawmakers to Triad Management, a fundraising group that Democrats claimed had skirted campaign finance laws. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on November 1, 1997, that Thompson "abruptly halted" the investigation and that "Democrats noted that Thompson's cancellation of hearings coincided with questions emerging this week about Republican-backed groups using millions of dollars to help party candidates in last year's election.
But the Thompson investigation wasn't shut down until depositions had been taken. And in Meredith O'Rouke's deposition, Brownback is clearly linked to Triad Management, its CEO Carolyn Malenick, and to the independent expenditure campaign committees Citizens for Reform and Citizens for the Republic Education Fund. Those committees had legal ties to Bay Buchanan and former Reagan adviser Lyn Nofziger, and amounted to nothing more than shell organizations used to funnel extra money to highly targeted races and make it harder for media to trace its source. The complete 174-page deposition is here.
In her deposition, O'Rourke provides more than enough information linking Brownback, his mainstream media mogul in-laws the Stauffers, and the acquisition/coordination of donor lists by his campaign and Triad. Discussions of "maxed out donors" and several meetings are detailed. It is not a stretch to imagine how bigoted calls get made from hard to trace phone banks, or third party ads that push the boundaries of propriety get aired when so many layers of shadowy organizations are involved. There was ample evidence to have kept the investigation up and running, perhaps too much for many people's comfort.
Sen. Fred Thompson upset people on both sides of the investigation and as the evidence mounted, so did the pressure to call it off. When Brownback drops out of Iowa, where a weak finish in this summer's straw poll will all but end his candidacy, and even a surprisingly strong finish will only get him close to the butter cow sculpture, watch closely where his allegiance goes. Brownback owes Thompson a big debt of gratitude for not exactly forgiving his and Triad's 1996 sins, but at least for making them disappear.
In the end, many on the Far Right know Brownback isn't going any where on his own. As Jeff Sharlet reports in his excellent Rolling Stone article, God's Senator, "What Sam could do very effectively," says the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical activist, "is hold the nomination hostage until the Christian right 'exacts the last pledge out of the more popular candidate.'"
That was way back last year when hopes were high and now seems like a tall order for a man picking fights with Tom Tancredo over who's more anti-choice, or bashing Mitt Romney for suggesting the Boy Scouts should honor national values and not discriminate, adding to Brownback's oddly obsessive fixation on anti-gay issues.
As Sharlet reported last year:
He purses his lips as he searches the other tables. Look, he says, pointing to a man across the room. "Mark Dayton, over there?" The Democratic senator from Minnesota. "He's a liberal." But you know what else he is? "A beautiful child of the living God." Brownback continues. Ted Kennedy? "A beautiful child of the living God." Hillary Clinton? Yes. Even Hillary. Especially Hillary.
Once, Brownback says, he hated Hillary Clinton. Hated her so much it hurt him. But he reached in and scooped that hatred out like a cancer. Now, he loves her. She, too, is a beautiful child of the living God.
As a gay child of that same living and loving God, I too await one of Brownback's now famous apologies, but it seems he has more trouble with issues of sexuality than most, so his journey accepting all God's children is not yet complete. But don't worry Sam, many of us have already forgiven you for the harm you're causing to young gay people, their families and friends, as well as to women who are victims of rape. We're just waiting for you to catch up with the rest of creation.