In May, the Wonk Room first reported on the sordid history of Republican operative Tim Phillips — who now heads the front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) — with respect to his long history of orchestrating “grassroots” lobbying efforts for nefarious corporate and political clients. For example, Phillips helped run a “religious and pro-family” campaign for Enron’s largely successful attempt to achieve energy deregulation policies, and in another campaign used anti-Semitic attacks against Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) during Cantor’s first run for Congress.
Last night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called Phillips out for using deceptive tactics and fear in his campaigns, noting in particular his role in creating the ads which portrayed former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) — a triple amputee and Vietnam war veteran — as a terrorist sympathizer. Phillips stood by every single example of his work for his Republican and corporate clients, adding that he indeed does believe Cleland didn’t have the “courage to lead on the war on terror.”
Maddow extracted confessions from Phillips that he had in fact worked for a Jack Abramoff client to pressure members of Congress to vote against legislation that would have made the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands — where Chinese workers were forced into prostitution and mandatory abortions — subject to federal wage and worker safety laws. Even given the deplorable conditions at the sweatshops, Phillips was unrepentant. “I don’t have an issue with it,” said Phillips, adding, “I’m not going to disown it.”
Phillips defended his methods with a curious argument. He disregarded the morals of his tactics, then explained that no matter what his organization says, who funds them, and how they operate, he and his corporate backers have every right to be “involved in the process.” Maddow conceded that point, but asserted that AFP’s fear-mongering and lying is simply bad for the country:
MADDOW: And I have to tell you, because we’re making this about you and me, is that I personally think that you and the folks who do what you do are a parasite who gets fat on Americans’ fears.
AFP, which was founded and is currently funded by David Koch of the Koch Industries oil refining empire, maintains a variety of mini-front groups to attack progressive labor efforts, clean energy legislation, and most recently, health reform. AFP places multimillion dollar ad buys knocking reform, employs dozens of high level Republican operatives planning “grassroots” events, and rents buses crisscrossing the country to shuttle anti-reform speakers to their rallies.