Dissecting a Claim: Perkins v Blumenthal
Ed Brayton printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Sep 27, 2007 at 10:16:07 PM EST
In a recent post about the Louisiana Family Forum, I repeated a claim that Max Blumenthal made in a Nation article. The claim was that Tony Perkins, founder of the Louisiana Family Forum and now head of the Family Research Council, had bought David Duke's mailing list in 1996 while running the Senate campaign of Woody Jenkins. Blumenthal wrote:

In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.
Joe Carter, who is the webmaster for the Family Research Council, left a comment pointing to Perkins' response to Blumenthal on the FRC website. That response said:

Tony Perkins was the manager of the 1996 U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Woody Jenkins in Louisiana where Impact Media was contracted to make pre-recorded telephone calls for the campaign. In 1999, an unrelated federal investigation uncovered that David Duke had a financial interest in the company, which he did not report to the IRS, resulting in his conviction on federal tax evasion charges. This connection was not known to Mr. Perkins until 1999. Mr. Perkins profoundly opposes the racial views of Mr. Duke and was profoundly grieved to learn that Duke was a party to the company that had done work for the 1996 campaign.

These facts have been widely reported in Louisiana and the reports appearing now in various partisan media are not accurate. In 2003, Mr. Jenkins published a letter in the major daily in Baton Rouge responding to a critical article that resurrected the same distortion. "[I]t is unfortunate," Jenkins wrote, "for you to smear a good man like [then-] Rep. Tony Perkins. There is absolutely nothing about the matter that should taint Rep. Perkins. His intentions were entirely honorable, and neither he nor I have ever been 'in bed' with David Duke as you so crudely and unjustifiably allege."

The assertions made by Mr. Blumenthal are untrue and a distortion of the facts.

After further research, aided in particularly by Gerard Harbison finding the FEC filing referred to by Blumenthal, strongly suggests that both versions of this story are inaccurate. It is important to note, I think, that this filing was a settlement agreement, which means that both sides are legally stipulating that the information it contains is accurate, which makes it definitive in this situation. Here's what it says:

After the 1996 primary election in Louisiana, David Duke contacted Woody Jenkins and recommended that he use the services of a computerized phone bank system run by Impact Mail. Jenkins purchased several rounds of calls from Impact Mail. After the first round of calls, Jenkins began hearing complaints that Duke's name would appear on the caller ID when a phone bank message would arrive. At that point, Jenkins tried to cancel the transaction but was unable to because Tony Perkins, his campaign manager, had signed a contract with Impact Mail. Subsequently, Jenkins instructed Perkins to put a stop payment on the check issued to Impact Mail and directed that Impact Mail be paid through Courtney Communications, the campaign's media firm...

V. Respondents knowingly and willfully filed false disclosure reports showing Courtney Communications as'the vendor that provided services to the Jenkins Committee, in violation of 2 U.S.C. S 434(b)(5)(A). VI The Commission has detemined that a civil penalty of $82,500 ordinarily would be appropriate in this matter, but the Commission has agreed to accept a $3,000 civil penalty in settlement of this matter, based on documentation and representations made by Respondents concerning their present financial circumstauces. Respondents agree that the Commission's acceptance of this conciliation agreement is conditioned on the truthfulness and completeness of the infomation they provided.

I think this reveals that both versions of the story are inaccurate in different ways. It does not appear that any mailing list was bought at all; rather, a contract was given to Duke's company to make phone calls on their behalf. And the $82,500 figure that Blumenthal uses was not any fee paid to Duke but was the figure that the FEC said would be the usual fine for the violation of FEC regulations in the case (though they settled for only $3000).

Perkins' version of the story is also inaccurate, but it's inaccurate in ways that are clearly more important to the substance of the complaint. It isn't true, as Perkins claims, that Duke's ownership of Impact Mail  - not a mere "interest in" the company, but actual ownership; the phones were in his name - was only revealed by an unrelated investigation. Duke's involvement was known by Woody Jenkins from the very start because Duke asked him personally to hire his company.

Is it possible that Perkins did not know that? Yes. Joe Carter tells me that Perkins did not know it at the time and also says that Woody Jenkins has confirmed that he never told Perkins that Impact Mail was Duke's company when he instructed him to sign the contract with them. I have no reason not to believe Carter; we may disagree on virtually everything, but I have never known him to not be honorable and honest. I have no doubt that this is exactly what Perkins has told him.

Could Perkins be lying? Of course. And we know that Jenkins was lying when he said that he had never been involved with David Duke. The filing makes clear that Duke asked Jenkins personally to hire his company. So we know that Jenkins knew it, at the very least. And there is more that we can surmise.

We can certainly reason that Perkins found out about Duke's involvement, at the very least, at the time that the cover up began. It stretches credulity considerably to believe that 1) he didn't know about the complaints that Duke's name was showing up on the caller IDs once the calls began; or 2) he didn't bother to ask Jenkins why he was to launder the payments for Duke's company through another company.

So it seems all but certain that even if Perkins did not know that they were using Duke's company at the time he was told to sign the contract with them, he must have known that after the first round of calls took place, the complaints came in about the calls showing Duke's name on the caller ID and Jenkins told him to start laundering the payments to that company to cover up that fact. And after that, Perkins was a part of the illegal cover up of that fact.

So in the end, while Blumenthal's article was inaccurate on the minor things, Perkins' response is inaccurate on the big things. None of this proves that Perkins is a racist, of course; it's certainly plausible that he didn't know about Duke's involvement initially. But it certainly shows that he has some serious ethical problems, both by going along with the cover up and by, now, lying in telling his side of the story.

Ed Brayton should issue corrections and retract his baseless statement asserting that I was "inaccurate on the minor points."

by Max Blumenthal on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 04:14:29 AM EST

I am posting this comment on behalf of Joe Carter. He tried to sign up to make this comment himself and ran into some technological difficulties. I may disagree with some of his conclusions, but I do think it's important that he be allowed to reply. Everything that follows is from him, not me


From Joe Carter:

You say, "Duke's involvement was known by Woody Jenkins from the very start because Duke asked him personally to hire his company." This is a hasty generalization. According to the FEC filing, Duke "recommended that [Jenkins] use the services of a computerized phone bank system run by Impact Mail." No one--until Max came along--ever accused Jenkins of knowing that Duke owned the company. Why would Duke tell Jenkins when he was trying to hide that very fact from the IRS?

Now let's take a look at Max's claims. You're probably starting to see what kind of work his "investigative journalism" entails. Max wrote, "Brayton is confused on the first point. Perkins cut checks to Duke's Impact Mail for his phone banking list, not as a fee for them to "make phone calls." Perkins bought the list so the senatorial campaign of Woody Jenkins, which he was managing at the time, could make "robo-calls" to reliably conservative voters urging them to get to the polls." Point 6 of the FEC filing says, Jenkins used "the services of a computerized phone bank system run by Impact 'Mail. Jenkins purchased several rounds of calis from Impact Mail."

You win that round.

On the next round you both get it right in some ways and both get it wrong. Max is correct that the $82,500 was the fee for paid to Impact Media. But he is wrong when he says "Perkins cut checks to Duke's Impact Mail for his phone banking list, not as a fee for them to 'make phone calls.'" The FEC filing says that Jenkins bought "several rounds of calls." (If Max knew anything about "mailing list" he would know that that 80K is way to high for a state mailing list alone.)

But you are also correct that the $82,500 was the a "civil'penalty" that the FEC chose but later reduced.

Notice that the extent of Max's investigation consists of reading the FEC filing (poorly at that) and quoting an editorial from an alternative newspaper that...also read the FEC filing.

Max is a sloppy "reporter" so we don't expect much from him. But since you are trying to get to the bottom of things I think you should note the editorial by Christopher Tidmore, a campaign staffer ( http://www.louisianaweekly.com/weekly/news/articlegate.pl?2002080 5f)

Therefore, when Woody organized the campaign in a somewhat unorthodox manner, we chalked it up as a method to maximize his conservative supporters for a run. Perkins oversaw the ground campaign. He and Daniel Duggan, the campaign coordinator, organized Jenkins's road trips, press appearances, speeches, and the other organizational grunt work of a campaign. They also managed the regional directors who passed out yard signs and signed up volunteers. The operational side of a campaign was their full bailiwick.

All media advertising purchases, production, and large scale wholesale public campaigning (TV, phone banks, and direct mail) went through the exclusive hands of media director Courtney with the aide of Jenkins friend Dan Riche. Perkins ran the retail campaign and Courtney ran the wholesale. There is a problem with this specialization. Perkins as campaign manager should have overseen it all, but he did not. Woody reserved the final decisions on all campaign operations to himself.

While Perkins may have been responsible for writing the checks, Courtney was responsible for the phone banks. That lends plausibility to Perkins claim that he wasn't aware of what was going on. It also would raise eyebrows for Jenkins to direct him to make the checks out to Courtney Communications.

by Ed Brayton on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 12:42:25 PM EST

Why would Duke tell Jenkins when he was trying to hide that very fact from the IRS?

What, despite the fact that his name was coming up on caller IDs? Not very bright. But then, neither is Jenkins, by the sound of it: "Oh, one the nation's most notorious racists has just phoned me up with a recommendation for a good mailing firm. That was thoughtful of him, I think I'll go along with his suggestion."

by Richard Bartholomew on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 04:20:50 PM EST

Regarding Joe Carter and anyone else who is part of the religious right.  While it is fine for Ed and Max to debate the facts, it would not have been ok for Joe Carter to join the site to do so, as the TTA Statement of Purpose make very clear. Meanwhile, Ed can certainly take Carter's info into consideration if he wishes.

Talk to Action is a platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right -- and what to do about it. It is not a forum for discussion, dialog or debate with those who sympathize with or belong to this movement. There is an editorial framework for this site that is different than you will find on other major blog sites, so please read this carefully: We are pro-religious equality and pro-separation of church and state. We are prochoice, and we support gay and lesbian civil rights -- including marriage equality. Therefore, debates about the validity of abortion and gay rights are off topic. We understand that some people who share our general concern about the politics of the Christian Right may not agree on all of these matters. That's fine. Anyone who agrees with the purpose of this site is welcome to participate -- but bearing this in mind. It is our intention to take the conversation forward, and not let it be held back by debating what, in our view are or should be, settled matters of human, civil and constitutional rights. Similarly, religious debates are off topic, especially debates between theism and atheism. Finally, we are nonpartisan. While political discussions are welcome, -- even central to the purpose of this site -- we do not wish the site itself to be a platform that is necessarily for or opposed to any particular party.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 01:08:11 PM EST
In the interests of fairness and an honest search for the truth about this situation, I think it's important that I let Carter have his say on the matter as well. That's why I posted his comment and I think it was the ethical thing to do.

by Ed Brayton on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 01:23:18 PM EST
to your posting the Carter comment. That is your choice, but obviously we wouldn't want you or anyone to be an ongoing proxy. We have not encountered this situation before, but my sense is that there is a reasonable gray area and you are well within it.

No matter who is correct about this particular matter, discussions and debates among us about facts and interpretations and such are welcome and encouraged, as appropriate.

I was just reminding us all about the bright line to which every person who signs up for the site indicates that they agree when they check-off the little box.

In the past, we have conducted debates at a distance with some of our critics. It is a big blogosphere and everyone, especially Joe Carter, is not without a place to publish.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 01:41:56 PM EST

Chris Tidmore, a former staffer for Woody Jenkins, is not sure whether Tony Perkins knew he was dealing with Duke. Joe Carter (via his new press secretary, Ed Brayton), only posted a portion of Tidmore's column. Here is another segment:

"If Jenkins understood that the company in question, Impact Mail Ltd. was a mere conduit for the transfer and utilitization of the Duke list, how could he keep Perkins, his campaign CEO, in the dark? After all, Jenkins had to give some kind of legitimate justification to spend that much money. Contacting motivated conservative voters (albeit of the Duke stripe) would be a definite advantage for the Jenkins effort, so why not tell?

True, Perkins might have said no, in theory, but he had to co-sign the documents. From the simple standpoint of strategy, such a disclosure seemed a necessity. No one with a conventional knowledge of the operation of political campaigns could believe otherwise.

Nevertheless, the truth is Perkins could have easily been in the dark in that campaign -- but it is a truth that does not speak well for Perkins, his current media director Bob Courtney, or any senior staffer on the Jenkins campaign -- including the author of this column."

So Perkins "could have easily been kept in the dark." Then again, he "had to co-sign the documents." Even Tidmore doesn't know what Perkins knew and when he knew it. Still, he concludes that Perkins' actions "do not speak well" of him.

Now, what does Carter have to say about Perkins raising money for the CofCC, a white supremacist group? What did Perkins say at the CofCC fundraiser? Will the Family Research Council produce a transcript of Perkins' speech? Why did the FRC's board appoint such a tainted person as president of their organization? Perhaps they didn't consider racism to be such a taint after all.

For a look at what Joe Carter has to say about racism, click here.

by Max Blumenthal on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 02:24:49 PM EST

Max Blumenthal wrote:

Joe Carter (via his new press secretary, Ed Brayton), only posted a portion of Tidmore's column.

I think you've now rather clearly crossed a line. Allowing the other side to have their say does not make me anyone's press secretary. For some reason, you're taking this very personally and choosing to attack, rather than engage on a factual level, someone who is on your side. That's rather juvenile and tends to undermine your credibility rather than enhance it. You can have an intellectual disagreement without this kind of behavior.

by Ed Brayton on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 06:05:27 PM EST

The ending of the spaghetti western "El Gran Silencio" is sad. Larry Craig's decline is sad too, but in a funny way. And Ed Brayton deploying the FRC's web propagandist (who was banned from this site) to attempt to undermine my factual reporting and attack my credentials as a reporter through sarcastic asides -- that is sad too. Also, the song "Puff the Magic Dragon" always made me sad when I was a little kid. Then I got older and realized the song was really about marijuana and I feel much better now.  

by Max Blumenthal on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 11:18:00 PM EST
Max continues to distort and misrepresent my statements. I did not "deploy" anyone. I looked at the evidence and came to my own conclusions. The notion that I "deploy[ed] the FRC's web propagandist (who was banned from this site) to attempt to undermine" your "factual reporting" is absurd; all I did was allow Carter to have his say. I also spelled out exactly where and why I thought he was wrong, about 90% of which was in complete agreement with you.

I politely pointed out one specific claim that you made that I think, based on the evidence we have in this situation, was slightly inaccurate on minor details and should have been stated differently. That is hardly the same thing as "attacking your credentials as a reporter." And I think it should be clear to anyone reading that the only one who has resorted to "sarcastic asides" is you, particularly with your highly inaccurate and rude comment that I've become Joe Carter's "press secretary." If you are that sensitive to even this mild disagreement, I would suggest that you're in the wrong line of work. I would also suggest that it is that kind of behavior, not my very mild disagreement with one thing you've written, that undermines your credibility as a journalist.

You seem to be suffering from the same sort of malady that many extremists of all stripes suffer from. So fanatical are you in your opposition that you don't appear to think it matters whether one's claims are accurate on the little things as long as you succeed in making the bad guys look like bad guys. Another symptom of this problem is such hyper-sensitivity to any dispute of what you say that you automatically presume that anyone who disagrees with you on even the most minute details is to be relegated to the other side; thus your repeated implication that I'm somehow lobbying for "Them" when I'm really just insisting that our conclusions be justified by the evidence wherever possible. It's the sort of behavior that you no doubt laugh at when displayed by "Them", yet you seem incapable of recognizing the same shallow thinking on your own part.

by Ed Brayton on Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 11:37:14 PM EST

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