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Vogel reports: "A coalition that helped Republicans retake the House majority in 2010 is back and plotting even bigger plans in 2012, with more money, more players - and more problems. The top conservative operatives who make up the alliance were scheduled to huddle this week behind closed doors to discuss how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to attack President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. And participants were reminded in an email that the gathering shares a key rule with Fight Club: no talking about it."

Karl Rove throws his arms up in the air. (photo: Doug Mills/NYT)
Karl Rove throws his arms up in the air. (photo: Doug Mills/NYT)

Karl Rove's Fight Club

By Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico

27 March 12


coalition that helped Republicans retake the House majority in 2010 is back and plotting even bigger plans in 2012, with more money, more players - and more problems.

The top conservative operatives who make up the alliance were scheduled to huddle this week behind closed doors to discuss how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to attack President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.

And participants were reminded in an email that the gathering shares a key rule with Fight Club: no talking about it.

Karl Rove first pulled the group together to coordinate independent spending in the run-up to the 2010 midterms - and it worked. The coalition - including groups that hadn't always played well together - has been credited with helping boost Republicans to sweeping victories across the country.

But this time around, the tenuous alliance is being tested. New players are joining, heightening already intense competition for money, voter intel and, in a broad sense, control of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, some conservative groups that participated in the 2010 effort - including Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth - seem to be keeping their distance.

Dubbed the Weaver Terrace Group for the Northwest Washington address where Rove convened the first meetings in his living room, the meetings are now hosted in the downtown Washington offices of a pair of linked powerhouses conceived by Rove, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies.

An email sent to attendees Friday by Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio warned participants that POLITICO "is calling folks up asking who attends the Weaver Terrace meetings" and included as a reminder "for those of you who don't remember the rules of the road" a YouTube link to footage from the film "Fight Club." In the clip, Brad Pitt's character says: "The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club."

But the group's biggest challenge this year may have less to do with secrecy and more to do with the third rule: "Someone yells 'stop,' … the fight is over." Internecine rifts that reappeared after the historic 2010 effort and widened during the congressional and presidential primaries suggest that a bigger, wealthier tent won't necessarily translate into a more cohesive effort come the general election - unless attendees can set aside their mixed feelings about Mitt Romney and quash other beef.

For instance, a super PAC affiliated with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, which has been invited to recent Weaver Terrace meetings and was considering sending a representative for the first time this week, is under fire from other meeting participants. They're unhappy that the super PAC, YG Action Fund, waded into a contested GOP primary in Illinois last week, spending $52,000 on an ad backing a freshman Republican who Cantor had endorsed in a successful challenge to a 10-term incumbent with wider establishment backing.

"YG" stands for "Young Guns," Cantor's self-styled political brand. And Republican insiders have grumbled that Cantor is using the super PAC - which, in combination with a pair of secret-donor-funded "YG" non-profits, intend to spend a total of $30 million through the first 100 days of 2013 - to boost his own political cachet and fundraising network.

In fact, Cantor has been moving in money circles outside Washington's GOP establishment. POLITICO has learned that he attended the Koch brothers' winter conference in California this January - his second appearance at a soiree considered the preeminent networking event for conservative mega-donors and the politicians currying their favor.

Groups funded by the billionaire libertarian industrialists Charles and David Koch and their network sent representatives to the Weaver Terrace meetings in 2010 and are expected to do so again this year. But the Kochs have also at times positioned themselves as rivals of the more-establishment oriented Rove network. For instance, they're backing a multi-million-dollar voter file project that's seen in some quarters as directly competing with one backed by the Republican National Committee, and allies of Rove and House Speaker John Boehner, who has had an occasionally chilly relationship with Cantor.

A new super PAC affiliated with Boehner called the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has become a key part of the Weaver Terrace network, even joined the chorus of GOP tongue clucking over Cantor's Illinois play.

The Leadership Fund "is not inclined to engage in primaries between incumbent members of the House Republican Conference," Brian Walsh, the operative running the PAC, told POLITICO last week.

Walsh, who also runs another Weaver Terrace stalwart called American Action Network and is a regular at the meetings, declined to comment on the gatherings, as did John Murray, the former Cantor aide behind the YG groups.

But Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a Weaver Terrace attendee, predicted participants will set aside primary-related rifts to focus on their shared goal of defeating Democrats in November. "You're allowed to have intramurals, but those things will sort themselves out over time," he said. Though he explained "I don't feel comfortable talking about off-the-record meetings," Norquist added "I can talk in general about the willingness and capacity of people to work together. And it's as strong now as it was in 2010 and I think everybody is just better at it, and more capable of raising money, because it's a presidential year, and more capable of playing well together because everybody did it once."

The idea of the Weaver Terrace Group was to coordinate spending strategies between legacy conservative groups, and a network of new or revamped GOP-allied groups conceived in the run-up to the 2010 midterms by Rove and fellow Bush-era GOP operative Ed Gillespie. As more attendees joined, the meetings relocated to the Crossroads' offices, where they are typically are presided over by Crossroads' president Steven Law, usually over lunch. They are now being held monthly, but, if 2010 is a guide, they will increase in frequency as the general election approaches.

In 2010, they became the de facto nerve center for the post-Bush Republican establishment, divvying up competitive Senate and House races to maximize advertising dollars and avoid duplication. The unprecedented effort was predicated on a pair of 2010 federal court decisions that empowered independent groups to raise unlimited sums for political ads, and led to an expansion of undisclosed money in politics and the creation of super PACs - all of which had the effect of shifting power and cash away from candidates and their parties.

The roster of groups and players represented at the meetings, most of which do not disclose their donors, reads like a guide to who will shape the 2012 elections on the right - their combined spending plans tallying upwards of $600 million.

Weaver Terrace is anchored by the Crossroads groups, which plan to spend as much as $300 million ahead of Election Day 2012 and have also positioned themselves as funders of other conservative groups, and American Action Network. It spent $30 million during the 2010 campaign, when it shared the New York Avenue office suite with Crossroads, and likely will shoot for at least that sum this year.

Other participants have included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is planning to a 2012 play of more than $50 million, Americans for Job Security, Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-abortion rights group, and the Republican Jewish Coalition. A source familiar with the RJC's 2012 plans said they include spending more than $6 million directly on "the largest, most expensive, most sophisticated outreach effort ever under taken in the Jewish community."

The group shares a pair of board members with American Action Network - former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and veteran fundraiser Fred Malek - and in 2010 it donated a total of $8 million to Crossroads and American Action Network, according to tax filings.

Yet, a handful of conservative groups that attended the meetings in 2010 are staying away during the primary, with some citing support by key Weaver Terrace players for Romney and establishment congressional candidates deemed insufficiently conservative.

"I don't think there will be that same commonality of interest in 2012," said one operative whose group was represented at the 2010 meetings. "The major potential fault lines will be over what happens if Romney wins the nomination and it starts looking like he can't win," the operative said, predicting that Crossroads "will still spend money supporting him and bashing Obama," while "other groups will focus on winning the Senate, protecting the House or just pushing their issues."

Another operative said conservative groups are leery of Rove, asserting "There are a lot of guys out there who don't want to have anything to do with him. I have my own group, I have my own money. I want to be helpful, but I don't want get swallowed up and be perceived as part of that Karl Rove establishment dynasty."

The fiscal conservative hardline group Club for Growth attended Weaver Terrace Group meetings in 2010, but doesn't plan to attend this week's meeting and hasn't decided whether to attend future gatherings, said its president, former Indiana Congressman Chris Chocola. Instead, his group, which last week issued a stern warning to Cantor and the YG Action Fund to stay out of a contested primary in Arizona, intends to focus on contesting GOP primaries rather than general election strategy, he said.

"The Weaver Terrace thing has not been all that significant to us," Chocola told POLITICO. "It's not a bad thing, it's just not our thing."

The same goes for Americans for Prosperity, the most prominent political group backed by the Koch brothers.

Its president Tim Phillips attended a couple of the meetings in 2010, but told POLITICO he bowed out because the focus was more on electing Republicans than pushing fiscally conservative policies. "We feel more comfortable talking about issue efforts, but I'm not sure those meetings have that as much, so it doesn't make sense for us to go to them."

The relative cooperation of the Kochs may be among the biggest wild cards in determining the success of Weaver Terrace this year, since the brothers' network is aiming to steer significantly more than $200 million to conservative groups - a tally that puts them in same league as the Crossroads groups. The Koch cash comes from a pool including the brothers' own contributions and those raised from wealthy conservatives at their twice-a-year donor summits, such as the one Cantor attended this year in California, where - POLITICO had learned - the Kochs raised more than $150 million.

They are expected to dispatch one of their operatives - either Sean Noble, who attended in 2010, or Marc Short, a former chief of staff to Rep. Mike Pence who joined the Koch team last year - to Weaver Terrace to represent groups to which the Kochs steer cash. In 2010, that included not only Americans for Prosperity, but also the 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund and Americans for Limited Government.

But since their 2010 collaboration, there have also been signs of tensions between the camps. Crossroads and American Action Network supported Boehner's bill to increase the debt ceiling, while Americans for Prosperity, pressured conservatives to oppose it.

Plus, the Kochs are funding a voter file project to help turn-out voters called Themis that in some ways competes with a similar project called Data Trust backed by the RNC and Boehner and run partly by Mike Duncan, a former RNC chairman who sits on board of Crossroads.

While Themis is already out in the field being used by Koch-approved groups, a few operatives raised concerns about Data Trust, for which arrangements are still being finalized.

"Themis is a direct threat to what the Republican Party is doing," said one operative. "They're kind of in a super power data mining race." your social media marketing partner


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For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+10 # cordleycoit 2012-03-27 22:52
This is where rubber and road come together. Can they keep it together? They think in terms of lock step and killer blows. Rotten nasty and sometimes hideous stuff comes out of their bag. Against hard style fighters soft style fighting works best. Apply the drunken set and you win. Try to match hard with hard or nasty with nasty and you lose. Try the drunken set on the Rovers, they will not grasp it.
+6 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-28 02:59
I might agree with you if I knew what you're talking about. What is the "drunken set"?
+22 # Regina 2012-03-28 01:25
The 2012 election will make the 2000 election look pristinely legitimate by comparison. The plots being hatched in the dark caves described in this article are so extreme, and illegitimate, that we will not recognize the nation if they succeed in pulling off their evil conspiracies.
+15 # Tazio 2012-03-28 01:33
Love that internecine strife in the GOP, but Rove is still in charge and Romney is his man. Alas, Rove is a Bush wing pragmatic and the Far-Right-Koch Brothers-Tea Party-rebrandin g experiment wing is very much at odds with him. But, he has outmaneuvered them, Palinistas feel marginalized, and the torrent of anti-Romney derision from the far right has only ensured that the Etch-A-Sketch candidate will lose to the cool, cerebral and competent President.
But, the real fight is for Congress, and I can't wait to see how the GOP's record low rated performance in Congress plays on the hustings this fall.
+21 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-28 02:57
"The unprecedented effort was predicated on a pair of 2010 federal court decisions that empowered independent groups to raise unlimited sums...... which had the effect of shifting power and cash away from candidates and their parties."
In other words, the political process has been subverted. Whatever accountability and transparency there was is gone. We have gone back to the smoke-filled back room.
Karl Rove is right about one thing:
Demand that your candidate, federal and state, support Sen. Bernie Sanders' constitutional amendment to nullify the Citizens United and the money-equals-sp eech decisions.
+12 # erogers 2012-03-28 08:33
Ralph, your last line says it all. We have to get Citizens United out of the picture. We have to get rid of Corporate Personhood. Those two steps go a long way in reining in not only Rove but all those who rely on his tactics. One person, one vote with equal influence for all. Final step would be to make our political system a true Democracy. All political parties must have equal access to being heard and considered. The Two Party system is broken.
+9 # John Locke 2012-03-28 09:38
Ralph: yes that is a start, but what about the legalized bribery, "lobbying" where people like Canter and all of them get campaign financing due to their promised vote!
+2 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-28 15:14
The only solution I can see is the public financing of elections. When legislators and candidates are not constantly "fund-raising" for campaigns, lobbyists' money means less. It will never mean nothing.
+9 # Progressive Patriot 2012-03-28 05:00
Someone needs to find out where their meeting is taking place, then THOUSANDS need to OCCUPY ROVE.
+21 # Jane Gilgun 2012-03-28 05:15
Isn't it sad that people with this much power are so stupid? Imagine if they used their power for the common good. Not only are they stupid, but they are selfish and short-sighted. A house divided against itself cannot stand, said a famour Republican. These people are not only stupid, but they are divisive and destructive. That many of them align with what they say is Christiainity is diabolically stupid. Stupid is as stupid does. Are progressives going to be stupid and not push back?
+5 # Glen 2012-03-28 09:12
Jane, these people are anything but stupid. Rove, Cheney, et al., have long term plans and have been the most heinous group to arise within the U.S. political system, beginning under Reagan. They know exactly what they are doing and even have a published paper outlining that plan, in the PNAC.

Their goal is power, pure and simple. Just as Cheney and those working with him, are responsible for the deaths of thousands, Rove is responsible for choreographing the entire plan and leaving ruined careers in his wake, and the height of accepted lies and propaganda.

Katrina Van Denheuval (sp?), while appearing with Rove on a panel news program, refused to call him by name. Obviously there is great disdain and total disrespect for the man. That includes me.
+1 # Jane Gilgun 2012-03-28 13:10
Hi, Glen. I agree with almost everything you have said. What these individuals don't have is the big picture, what counts for everyone. They are selfish and short-sighted and stupid in the sense that they don't realize in the long run that they are shooting themselves in the feet and are threats to the foundation of US government and pride. Not seeing this big picture related to the common good is stupid as I see it because even self-centered people who are smart know that what hurt others will in the long run hurt them.
+1 # Glen 2012-03-28 16:34
I must protest. "These individuals" do have "the big picture". It is THEIR big picture. They do not care one whit about U.S. citizens, or citizens of any other country. Rove and his ilk are re-defining the U.S. and North America in general. Pride has nothing to do with it. "Common good" has nothing to do with it. Power and money are the driving force here without the limitations of pride or hurt.

You appear to care. We all do, so we are "brothers" in that sense. I do think that we must stick together to survive as individuals and communities in spite of these truly evil assholes.
+7 # dick 2012-03-28 05:50
Class Warfare strategy #1: Accuse those defending egalitarian democracy of engaging in class warfare. Fortunately, in Nov. the guys at that meeting will have fewer than 50 actual votes. It could be loads of fun if we all turn out & they see their billion$ wasted.
+14 # walt 2012-03-28 06:19
And all the GOP dirty money is collected for ONE purpose: to defeat Mr. Obama, the black president. They have no other goal for the benefit of the country than that.

Let's hope the GOP has shamed itself sufficiently in this whole campaign of fools to compel intelligent folks not to vote for any of them.

I know both parties leave much to be desired, but we really need to begin by VRO! Vote Republicans Out! We can fix things later. The GOP has done far too much damage.
+6 # Vardoz 2012-03-28 07:49
I pray that more states reject Citizens United and the 99% just vote for the right person because they know what they stand for. If Republicans take control of
everything they will economically rape us. We will be the most backward developed nation in the world. We will look more like Russia as they strip us of even more protections, regulations and safety nets. Crsuh unions, education, Medicare, clean water and air as they are now.

I have already donated to Elizabeth Warren because I know what she standes for and it is not for these profiteering nation destroyers. They will lower the bar so low down will look like up to us.
+8 # Vardoz 2012-03-28 08:18
Do you want to vote for another Bush and tea bag mentality who wqant to weaken the clean air act and every other regulation or Obama?

The Obama administration has proposed new standards that – for the first time ever – would limit the industrial carbon pollution from power plants that contributes to global warming.
+3 # fredboy 2012-03-28 09:43
As a former fighter and occasional and very successful street fighter (I kicked bully's asses) I find it truly hilarious to think of the bald fat wimp Rove in a "fight club." Amazing! Thanks for the great laugh!
0 # Cassandra2012 2012-03-28 17:18
Apparently, there are some in DC and the 'intelligence' community who refer to him as the 'capon' ... .
+6 # John Locke 2012-03-28 09:49
Well lets understand all of this. The 1% send our jobs abroad, then they hire some of us at a portion of our worth, mostly now at minimum wage. Then they take a portion of their profits made off us as consumers and use the money to further enslave us. Then they want to take away our entitlements and let us die after we are no longer of use to them...
I think that about sums it up...
Now what do we do to reverse this?

Perhaps a "consumer revolution", buy only from small mom and pop shops, avoid anything the Koch brothers make, market and sell, and anything manufactured by the 1% ...
also don't get involved in their wars... Consider we are now living in an occupied country... use barter clubs where you can, and knowing we are an occupied country deal accordingly!
+2 # paulrevere 2012-03-28 09:50
The fact is, thank you Mr Averill, that IT'S ALL ABOUT CONGRESS IN 2012!!! in 2010 I guess we are here to be all hopey that the dems take a big hunk of that billion their leader plans on selfishly spending on himself and make a concerted effort to take both houses. Like it or not the presidency is theirs...the real power is having both houses regardless of veto pens.
This past half decade has proven that a presidency can be hacked through owning, by hook or by crook, both bodies.
0 # USA2012??? 2012-03-29 03:54
The heart Cheney got is most certainly not the one he needed most: what has happened to America's mentality?

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