In February, while attending the Tea Party Patriot Summit in Phoenix, Arizona, I came across the grand opening of a new front group called “Dodd Frank Exposed.” Two staffers for the new group were eagerly shaking hands of Tea Party activists while asking them to fill out a survey about their perception of the Dodd Frank Wall Street reform law passed last year.
On a television set up at the booth, a video played on loop claiming Wall Street reform is an “unconstitutional takeover of the U.S. economy.” The video, set to scary attack ad music, argued that Tea Party activists should be as angry at financial reform as they were against President Obama’s health reforms:
NARRATOR: From the same people who brought you Obamacare comes a controversial sequal: Dodd Frank. Last year, President Obama and the Democrat-run Congress rushed through the sweeping overhaul of healthcare amounting to the unconstitutional power grab followed quickly by Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform And Consumer Protection Act. Just like Obamacare it created a massive, unconstitutional regulatory bureaucracy. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a runaway regulatory machine completely unaccountable to the president, the Congress, and the courts.
I spoke briefly to a young staffer for the group, who told me that the entire law had to be repealed. “All of it?” I asked. “Anything to stop the bleeding,” she replied. According to the survey results posted on the Dodd Frank Exposed website, Tea Party Patriots by a wide margin agreed: repeal the financial reform law.
Who is behind Dodd Frank Exposed? Although the organization is ostensibly hosted by the “Judicial Crisis Network” — a group that has no actual registration or office — Dodd Frank Exposed is actually run by two veteran astroturf lobbyists, Gary Marx and Robert Bork Jr. Marx is a vice president at Ralph Reed’s lobbying firm Century Strategies. Bork runs his own public relations company called the Bork Communication Group.
Bork, the son of famed Reagan Supreme Court nominee, has made a career coordinating front groups on behalf of corporations facing negative scrutiny. In a memo to an association for corporate attorneys, Bork explained that he improves the perception of his corporate clients by using right-wing bloggers and nonprofits to drape an ideological cover over abuses related to environmental crimes or defective consumer products:
“A carefully designed communication strategy that includes third parties has the potential to persuade key audiences. It gives you credibility and increases your chances of success.“
Bork notes that he can be paid to recruit groups like the Federalist Society, the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and other right-leaning think tanks as “allies” for his business clients. Indeed, Bork pitched his services in a letter to tobacco company R.J. Reynolds to create a “campaign of op-eds by surrogates attacking” legislation that would reduce the deductibility of tobacco advertisements. He later used his position as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute to pen an op-ed slamming the Clinton administration for pursuing a RICO suit against the tobacco industry.
I asked Bork if any companies in the financial services industry were backing Dodd Frank Exposed. After a long pause, Bork replied, “we have no banks that I know that are supporting this at this point. I would not object to any individual or corporation supporting our efforts.” He later clarified that he was receiving a monthly check from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a corporate-funded front with a long history of peddling industry-friendly studies.
Marx, on the other hand, did not return any of our calls. His firm, Century Strategies, has a similar history as Bork. Century Strategies created Christian-themed front groups for Enron to lobby for energy deregulation, launched a religion-based direct mail campaign to maintain sweatshops in the Mariana Islands, and was caught up in a money laundering scheme with Jack Abramoff for his casino clients. Although Marx lists companies like Walmart among his clients, it is not clear who is paying him for his new Tea Party group pushing to repeal financial reform. Notably, the Dodd Frank Exposed website applauds litigation sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is funded by banks like Citigroup and Bank of America, for challenging the constitutionality of Wall Street reform.