Fade in …
A “Republican” State Senator stands in front of a statue of one of South Carolina’s conservative legends, Strom Thurmond, urging Palmetto State residents to stand behind their current U.S. Senator, Lindsey Graham, as he fights to make America safe by reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
It’s a message that tugs at the heartstrings of the GOP faithful in the Palmetto State – a constituency that has been abandoning Graham in droves lately as he careens further to the left on a variety of different issues, most notably energy policy.
But who is this “Republican” State Senator that’s rushing to Graham’s defense? And who is paying for the television ads that are bombarding South Carolinians with all of this “conservative” imagery?
First, let’s look at the star of this production – who has considerable experience “acting” like a Republican.
State Sen. John Courson – who was apparently the only elected official willing to come to Graham’s defense – easily has one of the worst fiscal conservative records in the entire General Assembly, Republican or Democrat.
In addition to casting one of the deciding votes in the State Senate against a fiscally-responsible alternative budget that would have reduced waste and prioritized spending on government’s core responsibilities, Courson also voted to override dozens of cost-saving budget vetoes. On top of that, he voted to maintain a fiscally-indefensible legislative slush fund for pet projects known as the “competitive grants” program.
Courson is a RINO, pure and simple.
But aside from the fiscally liberal background of the ad’s star – who’s paying to get this “conservative,” pro-Graham message out to the masses?
That’s where our story takes an interesting twist.
Reached for comment Wednesday night, Graham’s top South Carolina strategist, Richard Quinn, told FITS that the ad was paid for by a group called the Truman National Security Project, which he described to us in an email as “a national security leadership institute, the nation’s only organization that recruits, trains, and positions a new generation of professionals across America to lead on national security.”
More on that description in a moment …
In addition to vouching for the organization’s conservative credentials, Quinn acknowledged that he discussed the selection of Courson as the proper spokesman for the Graham ad with representatives of the organization.
Quinn hotly disputed our contention that the Courson ad was being paid for by the national environmental lobby, and told us that Graham’s hugely controversial co-authorship of a recent oped with Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) was merely an attempt to “open a dialogue” with Democratic supporters of a “Cap & Trade” energy tax hike.
“Lindsey doesn’t support Cap & Trade and he will not support Cap & Trade,” Quinn told us flatly.
Indeed, such a move could politically incapacitate Graham, whose unfavorable rating among GOP primary voters has been climbing steadily in recent months. In fact, according to recent polling data obtained by FITS, only scandal-tattered Gov. Mark Sanford had a higher unfavorable rating among South Carolina politicians.
Of course, we dug a little bit deeper into the background of this organization to see who was really providing Lindsey Graham with this desperately-needed political cover.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out that the Truman National Security Project – the organization that Quinn told us was going to fund Graham’s television and radio ads – is a liberal front group aimed at training “progressives” (not “professionals,” as Quinn emailed us) in their efforts to co-opt the debate over national security, which is typically one of the GOP’s bread-and-butter issues.
“(Congressional Democrats) understand very viscerally that if we don’t take back the issue of national security, we will never win an election,” the organization’s president, Democratic activist Rachel Kleinfield said prior to the 2006 elections. “We’re reaching out to a lot of rising politicians in those red states … these are Democrats who get it.”
Not only that, according to documents filed with the IRS, the organization’s employees – including Kleinfeld – receive part of their salaries from a group called Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs.
According to that group’s website, SaveOurPlanet.org, the mission of the Social and Environmental entrepreneurs is “to empower, encourage and catalyze individuals to facilitate progressive change in areas of social justice and ecological restoration.”
Hmmm. A real “conservative” crowd, right?
Of course, the board of directors and executive staff of the Truman National Security Project are littered with establishment liberals and Democratic consultants representing groups like the Progressive Policy Institute, the Open Society Institute and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign organization.
We couldn’t find a “conservative” among them.
Needless to say, with the prospect of this cast of characters being exposed to South Carolina Republican voters, it didn’t take long for Graham’s advisors to change their tune – and likely their minds – on who should ultimately be called upon to fund these pro-Graham ads.
And so hours after initially providing us with the name of the Truman group, Quinn emailed us saying that he had made a “mistake” about who was paying for the TV ad and promised to get back to us with the “correct” information.
It was too late, however – the cat was already out of the bag.
Pro-Graham radio spots had already begun airing on various radio stations throughout South Carolina – ads that specifically named the “Truman National Security Project” as the entity responsible for their content.
Those ads have since been pulled from the airwaves, although Quinn was forced to admit to FITS that “the Truman group sponsored a small (dollar) radio buy with Courson that ran in a couple of markets for (two) days.”
Additionally, sources at local news stations have confirmed to FITS that television time for the Courson ad was originally purchased under the Truman National Security Project name, but that it was later changed to the name of a different organization.
So … who is the new group sponsoring these pro-Graham ads?
According to Quinn, the ads are now “99%” being paid for by a group called Republicans for Environmental Protection.
Sounds 100% fishy if you ask us …