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A Demented Political Process Dominated by Corporate Cash

A Demented Political Process Dominated by Corporate Cash

Bill Berkowitz
January 5, 2011

Mitt Romney's razor-thin victory in the Iowa caucuses was accomplished in large part the old fashioned way; sporting a huge bankroll, Team Romney blanketed the state with negative TV ads, and eviscerated the campaign of perhaps his most formidable rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. John Terrence "Terry" Dolan would have been proud.

Before the Super PAC fundraising groups, Karl Rove, Frank Luntz's linguistic somersaults, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, Fox News, Senator Larry Craig's wandering bathroom leg and Ted Haggard's drug and sex scandal, there was John Terrence "Terry" Dolan.

Twenty-five years ago, Dolan died of AIDS. If you don't recognize the name, that's probably because you probably weren't sniffing around the entrails of the Republican Party's political machine during the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s.

Before he flamed out, Terry Dolan's fingerprints were all over the formative years of what was then called The New Right. As co-founder - in 1975 -- and chairman of the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC), he was one of the pioneers of direct mail solicitations, the modern political attack ad, and independent expenditure groups.

"Groups like ours," Dolan presciently explained to the Washington Post in 1980, "are potentially very dangerous to the political process. We could be a menace, yes. Ten independent expenditure groups, for example, could amass this great amount of money and defeat the point of accountability in politics. We could say whatever we want about an opponent of a Senator Smith and the senator wouldn't have to say anything. A group like ours could lie through its teeth and the candidate it helps stays clean." Dolan later back-peddled by saying that he wasn't describing NCPAC's tactics so much as he was talking about a hypothetical situation.

In 1979 Time magazine characterized NCPAC, the Conservative Caucus and the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (headed by Paul Weyrich) as the three most important ultraconservative organizations making up the New Right.

In just a few election cycles, NCPAC was responsible for taking out a number of well-known liberal national Senators: In 1978, Democratic Senator Dick Clark was defeated by Roger Jepson; In 1980, four of the six incumbent Democratic Senators targeted by NCPAC -- John Culver (Iowa), George McGovern (South Dakota), Frank Church (Idaho), and Birch Bayh (Indiana) -- were defeated (California Senator Alan Cranston and Missouri's Thomas Eagleton were re-elected).

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, "Most of the $1 million [ed. Note: a paltry sum by today's standards] NCPAC spent on independent expenditures during the 1980 Senate races financed attack ads against incumbents. A NCPAC target could face as many as 72 negative radio ads a day and 200 television commercials per week, well before the election. A sample of NCPAC ads includes one that called then-Senator Bayh's fight against inflation ‘One very big piece of baloney'; a campaign that said McGovern was ‘touring Cuba with Fidel Castro while the energy crisis was brewing'; and an ad depicting an empty missile silo, stating that ‘Senator Church has always opposed a strong national defense.'"

Dolan was part of the conservative brain-trust - along with Weyrich, widely considered as the guru of the modern conservative movement, Richard Viguerie, the godfather of conservative direct mail, and Howard Phillips - that tapped a then relatively unknown televangelist named Jerry Falwell to head up the Moral Majority.

He was a member of the Council for National Policy Board of Governors. The Council for National Policy is a highly selective and often secretive group of right wing policy makers, fundraisers and activists that convened yearly to shape the conservative agenda.

In the mid-eighties, Dolan's NCPAC, received $500,000 from the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's political arm, Causa International, to finance a major anti-communist lobbying campaign. Dolan was a proud member of Causa International's advisory board.

One of the more disgraceful aspects of Dolan's life and career is that he was a closeted anti-gay activist who helped promulgate anti-gay attitudes. As the founder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, he helped raised who knows how many millions of dollars for conservative causes and candidates; much of it by bashing gays.

Box Turtle Bulletin recently pointed out that According to Randy Schiltz's bestselling book And the Band Played On, when playwright Larry Kramer recognized Dolan at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party, he walked up to him and threw a drink is his face. "How dare you come here?" Kramer shouted. "You take the best from our world and then do all those hateful things against us. You should be ashamed."

It is unclear whether Dolan ever was ashamed of any of his activities, including the gay bashing. In 1982, Dolan famously pointed out that "The "shriller you are, the easier it is to raise money."

A 1987 National Review piece titled "Terry Dolan, RIP," pointed out that, "NCPAC played rough. It specialized in the kind of ‘negative campaigning' that recently became a fashionable issue. ... What NCPAC did, in the main, was to tell the truth about their representatives' performance in Washington to the folks back home -- a devastating disclosure that resulted in the defeat, in 1980, of George McGovern, Frank Church, Birch Bayh, John Culver, and others who had little business maintaining that their views were representative of those of their constituents."

The National Review piece made no mention of Dolan's homosexuality. However, in May of 1987, after the Washington Post published a story titled "The Cautious Closet of the Gay Conservative; In the Life and Death of Terry Dolan, Mirror Images From the Age of AIDS," Dolan's brother, Reagan White House speechwriter Anthony Dolan, was so angry that he took out an two-page ad in The Washington Times, arguing that "the greatest and most malicious falsehood in this story was its entire thrust, its basis: the claim that my brother lived and died a homosexual."

As Box Turtle Bulletin recently noted, Dolan "did live and die a homosexual, and a deeply closeted one at that.... [and] despite his and the family's best efforts, the secret was out, and no amount of wishful thinking otherwise would ever change that."

Mitt Romney's razor-thin victory over former Senator Rick Santorum was in large part achieved after Team Romney, with surgery-like precision and unlimited spending, had eviscerated the campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. John Terrence "Terry" Dolan would have been proud of Romney's effort.


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