Fred Malek has a storied history in the Republican Party. He held several significant roles the Nixon Administration (though one of them implicated him directly in his boss’ anti-Semitic crusade), and filled top-level roles in Republican presidential campaigns in 1972, 1992, and 2008. Most recently, he founded the big-money American Action Network, a conservative 501c(4) organization that runs millions of dollars in ads opposing Democrats. Malek is widely considered a major player in the Republican Party.
And as of this weekend, he supports marriage equality.
ThinkProgress caught up with Malek at the Hispanic Leadership Network’s conference, a conservative pro-immigration reform meeting which had been consumed with debating ways the Party could expand its appeal to demographics it was currently losing. Malek had previously come close to endorsing marriage equality, but hadn’t stated it outright. Here’s what he said last weekend:
BEAUCHAMP: There’s an internal debate on the right about whether or not the party should change its orientation on gay issues, specifically. How do you all feel about that?
MALEK: I don’t know how American Action Network feels, but I feel it’s overdue and I support gay marriage…Here’s what I feel about it. I’ve always thought, raised throughout my life, as a conservative I’ve always regarded marriage as between a man and a woman. Other people don’t agree. If they don’t agree, why should we force them to do what they don’t want to do? They should be able to do what they want to do. It’s a free country. They ought to be able to get married and they ought to have legalization of that.
Part four of ThinkProgress’ profiles of right-wing groups that are taking advantage of the Citizens United ruling to flood the airways with independent attack ads. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
American Action Network is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organization.
Founded in 2010, AAN is chaired by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN). Its president is Brian O. Walsh, a former political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. AAN says it is an “action tank” that aims to “create, encourage and promote center-right policies based on the principles of freedom, limited government, American exceptionalism, and strong national security.”
Others on the board are former Sen. Mel Martinez (a Florida Republican and former RNC chairman who abruptly resigned midway through his sole Senate term to pursue a private sector career), former Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY), former Rep. Jim Nussle (R-IA), and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-MN), and former Bush Ambassdor C. Boyden Gray (the man enlisted by Karl Rove to create an organization to push for confirmation of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees).
Yet top Republicans are coalescing around the idea that current campaign finance laws — which still prohibit corporations and wealthy individuals from giving unlimited money directly to campaigns — are actually too restrictive. Judging from interviews with ThinkProgress and Republican campaign speeches over the past two months, the GOP’s standard response to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling has solidified: allow for unlimited contributions directly to candidates while requiring immediate disclosure.
The language used by different high-ranking Republicans is so similar that it suggests a certain level of message-coordination on the subject. Indeed, from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to Republican money man Fred Malek, their reactions to campaign finance laws are virtually identical:
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “The better position is to allow full and free speech in whatever form, but have instant disclosure.” [1/21/12]
Top Republican Money Figure Fred Malek: “I would favor unlimited contributions to candidates with full disclosure.” [1/27/12]
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney: “We’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately…” [12/21/11]
Although Republican supporters of unlimited money in politics seem to have decided that supporting campaign disclosures is an important part of their messaging strategy, the GOP’s actions betray any suggestion that they actually stand behind transparency. Following Citizens United, Democrats introduced the DISCLOSE Act to bring more transparency to the murky world of campaign finance. It passed the House in 2010 but failed to break a Republican filibuster by a single vote.
In other words, Republicans seem to care a whole lot more about letting corporations and the very rich buy elections than they do about protecting the American people’s ability to know about it.
Campaign expenditures by independent groups are skyrocketing in this election cycle: non-political party independent spending in Senate and House races totaled $147.5 million through mid-October, a 73 percent increase over such spending in mid-October 2008. One of the more active groups is the American Action Network, a 501(c)(4) that just began a $19 million ad campaign against House Democrats in 22 districts. The group has refused to say who funds their often-misleading ads.
As ThinkProgress noted when the group was formed, AAN is controlled by a number of very wealthy Wall Street Republicans, including a former Goldman Sachs CEO and the founder of Home Depot. The founder of the group is Fred Malek, a former Nixon aide who has become quite wealthy on Wall Street, earning a net worth of between $200 and $300 million through various corporate jobs and as founder partner of the private equity firm Thayer Capital Partners.
Malek is notorious as the “Jew counter” in President Richard Nixon’s administration: he made a list of Jewish employees in the Bureau of Labor Statistics at Nixon’s behest, and was involved in reassigning or demoting those workers. But as the New York Times pointed out this weekend, Malek has significant baggage from his campaign fundraising roles during the Nixon era:
The Committee for the Re-Election of the President was also illegally hauling in many millions of dollars from corporations, many of which felt pressured into making contributions. [...]
[S]ome players shaking the corporate money trees for nonprofit groups this year cut their teeth in the Nixon re-election campaign. There is Fred Malek, a founder of the American Action Network, whose members include many well-known Republicans, like former Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota. Mr. Malek was the White House personnel chief in 1972 and helped dispense patronage for major Nixon donors as well as serving as deputy director of Creep.
Back then, Mr. Malek was interviewed by Hamilton Fox III, another Watergate prosecutor, and acknowledged that some of the campaign’s activities might have “bordered on the unethical.”
In addition, the Washington Post previously detailed how Malek designed a “responsiveness program” in the Nixon federal government which was explicitly intended to “politicize the federal government in support of Nixon’s reelection.”
Malek has close ties to the conservative campaign fundraising structure. On the board at AAN is former RNC chairman Ed Gilliespie, who along with Karl Rove helps coordinate the mega-spending group American Crossroads. AAN and American Crossroads share an office, and of course Rove, too, is a former Nixon campaign vet.
As noted, in the Times piece, Malek was investigated for his role in Nixon’s campaign fundraising. In today’s post-Citizens United climate, he’s a celebrated mainstream player.
Early last month, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) named longtime Republican power broker Fred Malek to chair his Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring. As ThinkProgress noted at the time, Malek brings a controversial past with him to the position as President Nixon once tasked him with creating a list of “important Jewish officials” within the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several of whom were later demoted or transferred.
Malek’s infamous past gained renewed attention last week when the Washington Post reported that “Democrats are calling attention to the recent disclosure of more memos that detail his part in carrying out President Richard M. Nixon’s program to enforce ideological and religious purity.” As Slate’s Timothy Noah (who has writtenextensivelyonMalek’spastconduct) notes, documents released in January 2010 “show beyond any doubt that Malek was actively involved in the process of reassigning the offending BLS Semites, his strenuous denials to the contrary.” Noah also notes evidence that demonstrates how Malek’s use of the term “ethnics” in memos was meant to mean “Jews”:
The Nixon Library documents also include a July 30 memo to Haldeman from Kingsley (“through” Malek, who signed it) explaining that although the earlier (July 27) Jew-counting memo said the BLS housed 13 Jews, they were now revising their estimate to 19. The identities of the additional six suspected Jews are not revealed. In this memo Kingsley rather ham-handedly lists the 19 under the heading “NUMBER OF ETHNICS,” then further gives the game away in a scribbled cover note to Malek: “Obviously, the interpretation of ‘ethnic’ should be narrow in this case!” Well, duh. (Malek’s own earlier memo to Haldeman more delicately referred to the Jews as fitting “the other demographic criterion that was discussed.” Malek confirmed to Woodward and Pincus that he meant Jews.)
On Saturday, Malek — somewhat evasively — apologized for his past once again. In a moment of unintended irony, however, Malek returned to his old-minority counting ways today in an interview on Bill Bennett’s radio show, albeit with a much more benign intent:
BENNETT: Alright, we talked to Bill Kristol about, you know, California stuff and, you know, Florida and all. But what about some of these governors races that are not getting so much attention that you find interesting?
MALEK: Well, I think the governor’s races are the, are the great untold story in American politics today. I mean, not to, a few people have noticed them, but we’ve got some huge races and some major themes are emerging for the, for the Republican Party. Think of this. I believe that we’re going to have a Hispanic candidate emerging today. Brian Sandoval, I believe will win the primary in Nevada. We would have two Hispanic candidates for governors in this, in this country. Susana Martinez in New Mexico and Brian Sandoval in Nevada. We’ll have three minorities over all because I think Nikki Haley is going to get into a run off today and probably emerge as the candidate in South Carolina and she is an Indian born Indian, full-blooded, and a very attractive candidate. So, all in all, you have three minorities running as governor on a Republican ticket. And you know, it’s not just that they’re women and minorities, they are all really well-qualified. They’re center-right candidates. They’ve got the right beliefs. And joining with altogether, we have five women who are going to be running for governor. So it’s really going to put a new face on our party.
Bennett joined Malek in delight over the countable number of minorities potentially representing the GOP in 2010. “Nikki Haley, if elected, would join Bobby Jindal and we would have two Republican, Republicans from the Indian sub-continent,” said Bennett. “That’s right,” replied Malek. “And you know, we’re always characterized as the kind of the old white conservative guys and so forth,” but “who’s going to have the most female governors? Whose had the most Hispanic candidates for governor? Who has the most, the most Indian-American governors?” asked Malek. Listen here: