Last night on MSNBC, host Rachel Maddow interviewed Americans for Prosperity (AFP) head Tim Phillips. AFP, a group that employs dozens of field staff and public relations operatives, is a prolific creator of front groups to fight reform on clean energy, the environment, labor, and most recently, health care. AFP’s work against health care reform has included running a multimillion-dollar ad campaign, busing people from state to state to rally against pro-reform politicians, and collaborating with allied right-wing groups to organize disruptions of town hall events.
Trying to create a veneer of grassroots legitimacy, Phillips denied claims of running an astroturf operation and smirked to Maddow, “Hey I’m a community organizer.” Maddow pressed him to reveal his contributors, and Phillips eventually acknowledged being largely funded from Koch Industries, a $90 billion oil and gas conglomerate and one of the largest privately held companies in the world. Maddow then asked Phillips if his organization had ever been funded by ExxonMobil:
MADDOW: Are you, guys, funded in part by Exxon or have you been?
PHILLIPS: No, absolutely not.
MADDOW: No Exxon money.
PHILLIPS: Absolutely not. But I’ll tell you again, though, we would be happy to take funding from broader groups like that. […]
MADDOW: Exxon does list the Americans for Prosperity Foundation as a recipient of, in some years, tens of thousands of dollars, in other years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, even for things just like general operations. But you’re saying Americans for Prosperity, no Exxon money?
PHILLIPS: This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money. I would be happy to go back and look at the records. And I will get back to you, Rachel, if we have. But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.
During the course of the interview, Phillips both appealed to corporations for more cash while repeatedly denying claims of being a lobbyist or serving any special interest. Maddow also exposed the mysterious 9-year gap in Phillips’ official biography. As a partner in Ralph Reed’s lobbying firm Century Strategies, Phillips executed mass mailings and Christian outreach for corporate clients:
— Phillips was paid $380,000 by Enron to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation in Congress and on the state level. The Washington Post reported that the pair informed Enron that they had leveraged their relationships with members of Congress and “placed” articles in prominent papers like the New York Times. [WonkRoom, 5/29/09]
— Phillips worked with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to vote against legislation that would have made the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands subject to federal wage and worker safety laws. A federal report “found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.” Nonetheless, Phillips sent out mailers claiming Chinese workers “are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ” while on the islands, and many “are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand.” The mailers then encouraged the recipients to contact lawmakers and ask them to oppose the Marianas labor reform legislation. [WonkRoom, 5/29/09]
— As a GOP consultant, Phillips founded “The Faith and Family Alliance,” a group supposedly designed to support conservative and Christian causes. But like his other front groups, Phillips used the Family Alliance to simply slime his political opponents with an organization that appeared to represent a grassroots community. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that Phillips was hired by State Sen. Stephen Martin to manage his direct mail campaign against State Del. Eric Cantor in the 2000 Republican primary for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA). Phillips used his Family Alliance to blast robo-calls and mass mailers claiming Cantor did not represent “Virginia values” and that his opponent was the “only Christian in the contest.” [WonkRoom, 5/29/09]
As veteran Virginia politics observer Larry Sabato has noted, “A despicable, underground campaign that was unquestionably anti-Semitic nearly beat Cantor in the GOP primary for U.S. House to succeed Tom Bliley in June 2000.” Nevertheless, when questioned about his role in spreading anti-Semitic smears against Cantor in the past, Phillips replied, “Eric Cantor is a good friend of mine today.”