Bill Berkowitz: Hunting Hillary Clinton
Hunting Hillary Clinton
Arthur Finkelstein, long-time GOP political consultant, to lead campaign to defeat Hillary re-election and derail her presidential hopes
By Bill Berkowitz
''Stop Her Now,'' is the name of the new Web site soon to be launched by Arthur Finkelstein, the chief political guru of New York Governor George Pataki, and one of the country's most successful yet least known political consultants/spin doctors. The "Her" at StopHerNow.com is New York Senator Hillary Clinton. According to the New York Post, Finkelstein, the longtime master of the political attack ad, hopes the site will raise as much as $10 million from Hillary-haters across the nation and provide a gathering point for conservative activists working to defeat her in next year's Senatorial election. Hillary's defeat would likely derail any presidential aspirations she might have.
The New York Post's Fredric Dicker has called Finkelstein "a secretive and sometimes controversial national GOP consultant who played a key role in Pataki's defeat of Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994." The Associated Press' political writer Marc Humbert characterized Finkelstein as being "media-shy." Nearly ten years ago, CNN's Jonathan Karl wrote of Finkelstein: "He is the stuff of Hollywood: A man who can topple even the most powerful foes, yet so secretive that few have ever seen him." Former New York Senator Alphonse D'Amato maintained that Finkelstein "is probably one of the brightest, cutting-edge political scientists I've ever met."
Hating Hillary: A Cottage Industry
The end of Bill Clinton's presidency coincided with the birth of the political career of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Once she decided to run for the Senate seat from New York, Hillary-bashing replaced Bill-bashing as the right's most popular and financially rewarding activity.
In the fall of 2000, when Morton Blackwell established a group called the Emergency Committee to Stop Hillary Rodham Clinton, he sent an e-mail that read in part: "As you know, the establishment media have protected Bill and Hillary Clinton from the worst of their crimes, corruption and cover-ups." To underscore his sense of urgency, Blackwell, who in 1979 founded The Leadership Institute, recruited such high-powered right wing luminaries as Edwin Meese III, Ronald Reagan's Attorney General during the Iran/Contra scandal, Lynn Nofsinger, longtime Republican Party activist, Oklahoma Republican Congressman Ernest Istook and Alan Keyes, the recently failed Senatorial candidate from Illinois.
Blackwell wasn't the only one tilling the anti-Hillary fields. Early in 2000, The Washington, DC-based National Conservative Campaign Fund issued a Special Report entitled "Campaign Strategy to Stop Hillary Clinton," which aimed to drive up her negatives, establish a "Defeat Hillary Clinton" Web site, and run a protracted anti-Hillary media campaign. NCCF currently bills itself as "an independent political action committee," with Thomas L. Phillips as Chairman, and D. Jeffrey Hollingsworth, Executive Director. The group's Advisory Board contains a number of veteran right wing activists including Gary Aldrich, L. Brent Bozell III, Floyd Brown, Angela "Bay" Buchanan, Ann Coulter, George Gilder, C. Boyden Gray, Donald P. Hodel, Terrence P. Jeffrey, G. Gordon Liddy, Ralph Reed, Jr., Alfred S. Regnery, William Bradford Reynolds, John K. Singlaub, and Armstrong Williams.
Former New York Congressman Gerald Solomon, on behalf of The American Conservative Union's "The Hillary Rodham Clinton Voter Alert Campaign," sent out a 92-page paperback book entitled "Hillary Rodham Clinton: What Every American Should Know." The American Conservative Union, founded in 1964 and headed by David Keene, claims to be "the nations' oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization." According to its Web site, the ACU's purpose is to effectively communicate and advance the goals and principles of conservatism... capitalism, belief in the doctrine of original intent of the framers of the Constitution, confidence in traditional moral values, and commitment to a strong national defense."
In early April 2000, the Washington, DC-based right wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, got in on the action by hosting a conference called "The Legacy and Future of Hillary Rodham Clinton." Co-sponsored by David Horowitz's Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the event, wrote journalist David Corn, "tilted toward the Hillary-sucks side."
And, Christopher Ruddy, the reporter largely responsible for keeping the "Vincent Foster was murdered" story alive in the right-wing media, pitched subscriptions to his new publication by offering two premiums -- a special report Hillary Clinton: The Story the Media Won't Tell and an audio-tape set Bill and Hillary's Secrets Revealed.
All those efforts may have raised millions of dollars for the organizations involved, but they fell short of their goal as Hillary handily defeated Congressman Rick Lazio to win the Senate seat.
Turning to the Internet
That was then and this is now. The fact that George W. Bush is starting his second term and Republicans are in control of the government doesn't lessen the likelihood of another major league hardball campaign against Hillary Clinton. But if the mountains of mud that were flung so enthusiastically in 2000 didn't stick, why do GOP partisans think it will be different this time around?
Hillary bashers are counting on a political trifecta consisting of the Internet, lessons learned from the Swift Boat Veterans attack against John Kerry, and the genius of Arthur Finkelstein.
"The decision to turn to the Internet is a de facto acknowledgment that the so-called 'tough New York press corps' failed to do its job during Clinton's campaign five years ago, when a whole host of questions about the former first lady's involvement in a number of controversies during the 1990s went unexplored," NewsMax.com, a right wing online news magazine, reported in early February. NewsMax hinted that the campaign against Hillary would do well to learn from the smear campaign against Senator John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which at first was ignored by the mainstream press and succeeded in getting their message out by first using the Internet and talk radio.
Finkelstein's Web site launch comes on the heels of his having been fired by the state's Republican Party "in the wake of Republican setbacks in New York in the November elections," AP reported. Pataki, thinking about a possible run for president in 2008, "has said he will personally continue to use" Finkelstein, "but [he] will seek other political advice, too."
Who is Arthur Finkelstein? Will his "Stop Her Now" campaign be more successful than the Stop Hillary efforts of 2000?
Finkelstein has had a long and colorful political career that has seen him work with some of the most reactionary politicians both at home and abroad. He runs Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates, and during his thirty-year career he has worked for President Reagan and President Nixon. In addition to spearheading the then-little-known Pataki's 1994 victory over Mario Cuomo, he was also a top adviser to Alfonse D'Amato and Jesse Helms during their Senate careers. But he hasn't always led his clients to victory -- in 1996 he was a major, if well-hidden, consultant to Senator Bob Dole's losing presidential campaign.
In addition, Finkelstein was also an early director of Terry Dolan's groundbreaking political operation, the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC).
Finkelstein is an international player as well. According to AP's Humbert, "Finkelstein has been increasingly active is Israeli politics. He helped Benjamin Netanyahu during his 1996 campaign for prime minister and he is an adviser to the current Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon."
And, you can add one more element to Finkelstein's reality; he is gay, yet he's worked for a gaggle of gay-bashing Republican Senators including Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C), Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Sen. (Bob) Smith (R-New Hampshire), all of whom voted against legislation banning discrimination against gays while Finkelstein was working for them.
Finkelstein is also Jewish, but that didn't stop him from using anti-Semitism during a 1978 South Carolina congressional race between Republican Carroll Campbell and Democrat Max Heller. A 1996 report published by the National Jewish Democratic Council summarized the story:
"According to press accounts, Campbell commissioned a poll, conducted by the notorious GOP pollster Arthur Finkelstein, in which voters were asked their views of Campbell, who was described as 'a native South Carolinian,' and Heller, who was described as 'a Jewish immigrant.' The Campbell-Finkelstein poll also asked voters whether they approved or disapproved of U.S. aid to Israel, hardly a significant issue in the campaign except that it injected Heller's religion into the race and implied that, as a Jew, he would favor Israel over the U.S. Then just five days before the election, an independent candidate attacked Heller because Heller did not 'believe in Jesus Christ.' Heller lost by less than 6,000 votes. Years after the election it was revealed that there had been contact between the independent candidate and the Campbell campaign, leading some observers to believe that the independent candidate had entered the race at the behest of the Campbell campaign."
His non-political clients have included Time Magazine, Scott Paper, McDonalds, Quaker Oats and the Trump Organization. This past summer, Finkelstein was hired by opponents of the new stadium on the West Side of Manhattan being proposed for the New York Jets football team to prepare anti-stadium advertisements. Finkelstein & Associates recently entered into a joint venture with Kidron Strategies to provide consulting services in Israel specifically focusing on the corporate and consumer markets.
In a rare interview in December 2004, with Boaz Gaon of Maariv, an Israeli daily newspaper, Finkelstein seemed to be suggesting that things may have shifted too far to the right in the U.S.: "The political centre has disappeared, and the Republican Party has become the party of the Christian right more so than in any other period in modern history," he said.
"Bush's strategy secures the power of the American Christian right not only for this term," Finkelstein said. "In fact, it secures its ability to choose the next Republican president."
Finkelstein told Maariv that he was troubled by the strategy of dividing the country by "values of religion and culture."
"Bush courted the evangelical vote," he said, "and turned these elections, in fact, into a referendum on the religious and cultural nature of America. This is my problem."
Finkelstein's comments reflect his concerns that Governor Pataki would have a hard time getting a GOP presidential nomination given the party's current domination by the Christian right.
An early February independent poll from the Siena College Research Institute found Hillary Clinton beating either Pataki or former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in a 2006 Senate race. The statewide poll had Clinton leading Pataki, 58 percent to 32 percent, among registered voters and besting Republican Giuliani, 52 percent to 43 percent.
The Finkelstein Web site is a clear indication that "Republicans are clearly planning on waging a negative campaign of lies and distortions against Senator Clinton," said Howard Wolfson, an adviser to the former first lady. "New Yorkers will see through it, and we will be prepared."
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Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.