Protesters linked to corporate, GOP actors

Addie Stan contributes some top-notch reporting on the origins of the protests.

Published August 12, 2009 9:13PM (EDT)

I'm generally disinclined to steer readers away from Salon's fine coverage of the health care debates, given the superb reporting from the likes of Joan Walsh and Alex Koppleman and Mike Madden already on the site, but I would be remiss if I did not share a link to an excellent piece published by Adele Stan at Alternet.

In addition to pulling together various threads related to the protest origins, Stan digs in to find out more about two groups, Grassfire and ResistNet, and what they're up to:

A 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Grassfire has been named as a "stealth political action committee" by Public Citizen. Its founder and president, Steve Elliott, has held up as a model for where he would like to take his organization.

ResistNet, has become a major hub for turning out hard-core right-wingers to health-care town hall meetings. The organization took in $1.5 million in 2007 (the most recent year for which information is publicly available).

It's difficult to find out much of anything about Elliott; he manages to keep a very low profile. But SourceWatch and Public Citizen report that Grassfire is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Bannister, whose principal is Craig Shirley, the man who gave us the Willie Horton ad of the 1988 presidential election.

Shirley promoted the movie, Stolen Honor, a Swiftboat-style smear piece made about 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Today, Shirley's clients, according to the Shirley & Bannister Web site, include the National Rifle Association, author Ann Coulter, religious right co-founder Richard Viguerie, and other religious right figures.

But Shirley & Bannister retains ties to GOP establishment figures; its Web site bears an endorsement from William Kristol, who served in the administration of the first George Bush, who happens to be the candidate whose campaign reaped some of its victory from Shirley's Horton ad.

The firm also promotes the books of former Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., (now of MSNBC) and former George H.W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan (who promised us a "kinder, gentler nation") -- books published by Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins.

But I recommend reading the whole thing. There's a bonus Obama=Hitler video link and explanation for how that is tied into this whole mess.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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