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Campaign Finance Reform Conspiracy

New American | April 2, 2005
by William Norman Grigg

"I'm going to tell you a story that I've never told any reporter," stated Sean Treglia, a former program officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, during a March 2004 conference at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. "Now that I'm several months away from Pew and we have campaign finance reform, I can tell this story."

Speaking to an audience of the initiated, Treglia described how the crusade for campaign finance reform was “an immense scam perpetrated on the American people by a cadre of left-wing foundations and disguised as a ‘mass movement,’” wrote New York Post reporter Ryan Sager. In a March 17 story based on a videotape of Treglia’s presentation, Sager described how “Pew and other left-wing foundations plotted to create a fake grassroots movement to hoodwink Congress.”

“Charged with promoting campaign finance reform when he joined Pew in the mid-1990s, Treglia came up with a three-pronged strategy: 1) pursue an expansive agenda through incremental reforms; 2) pay for a handful of ‘experts’ all over the country with foundation money; and 3) create fake business, minority and religious groups to pound the table for reform,” recounted Sager.

“The target audience for all this activity was 535 people in Washington,” recalled Treglia — 435 congressmen and 100 senators. “The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot — that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about [campaign finance] reform.”

Supporters of campaign finance reform insisted that new laws were needed to cure electoral politics of the corrupting influence of donations from “special interests.” Toward that end, Congress enacted — and President Bush signed into law — the McCain-Feingold law, which is intended to limit not only financial contributions but also some forms of political speech during election campaigns.

However, most of the money propelling the campaign finance reform crusade — $123 million, or 88 percent of the estimated $140 million spent to lobby for the measure — “came from just eight foundations,” notes Sager. These special interest lobbies included Pew ($40.1 million), the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy ($17.6 million), the Carnegie Corporation of New York ($14.1 million), the Joyce Foundation ($13.5 million), George Soros’ Open Society Institute ($12.6 million), the Jerome Kohlberg Trust ($11.3 million), the Ford Foundation ($8.8 million), and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($5.2 million).

That money was distributed through a network of left-wing advocacy groups and media organizations to create the illusion of a nationwide groundswell of public support on behalf of federal enactment of campaign finance reform. It’s a version of the “pressure from above/pressure from below” strategy so often described in THE NEW AMERICAN. And since the key figure who orchestrated this campaign has admitted to doing so on video, this is demonstrably a case of conspiracy fact — not conspiracy “theory.”

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