CAMPAIGN-FINANCE reform has been an immense scam perpetrated on the American people by a cadre of left-wing foundations and disguised as a "mass movement."
But don't take my word for it. One of the chief scammers, Sean Treglia, a former program officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, confesses it all in an astonishing videotape I obtained earlier this week.
The tape — of a conference held at USC's Annenberg School for Communication in March of 2004 — shows Treglia expounding to a gathering of academics, experts and journalists (none of whom, apparently, ever wrote about Treglia's remarks) on just how Pew and other left-wing foundations plotted to create a fake grassroots movement to hoodwink Congress.
"I'm going to tell you a story that I've never told any reporter," Treglia says on the tape. "Now that I'm several months away from Pew and we have campaign-finance reform, I can tell this story."
That story in brief:
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.
"The target audience for all this activity was 535 people in Washington," Treglia says — 100 in the Senate, 435 in the House. "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 reform."
It's a stark admission, but perhaps Treglia should be thanked for his candor.
(Treglia, contacted by The Post yesterday, was singing a different tune about Pew, saying it would be "incorrect to suggest that the organization would attempt to deceive or mislead about its funding efforts." Pew's president, Rebecca Rimel, calls the charge "false" in a written statement.)
Treglia's revelations help put in context a report just out from a group called Political Money Line, "Campaign Finance Lobby: 1994-2004," which follows the money behind campaign-finance reform.
That cash, it turns out, was the one thing about the "movement" that was masssive: From 1994 to 2004, almost $140 million was spent to lobby for changes to our country's campaign-finance laws.
But this money didn't come from little old ladies making do with cat food so they could send a $20 check to Common Cause. The vast majority of this money — $123 million, 88 percent of the total — came from just eight liberal foundations.
These foundations were: the Pew Charitable Trusts ($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).
Not exactly all household names, but the left-wing groups that these foundations support may be more familiar: the Earth Action Network, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, the Public Citizen Foundation, the Feminist Majority Foundation . . .
What did this liberal foundation crowd buy with its $123 million?
For starters, a stable of supposedly independent pro-reform groups, with Orwellian names you may have heard in the press: the Center for Public Integrity, the William J. Brennan Center for Justice, Democracy 21 and so on.
Plus, favorable press coverage. Here, the story as laid out in the Political Money Line report gets really ugly. Some highlights:
* In September of 2000, less than two years before the passage of McCain-Feingold, the liberal magazine The American Prospect put out a special issue devoted to campaign-finance reform. With incredible hypocrisy, the magazine failed to tell its readers that the "Checkbook Democracy" issue was paid for with a $132,000 check from the Carnegie Corporation — which, again, has spent $14 million promoting the regulation of political speech in the last decade.
* Since 1994, National Public Radio has accepted more than $1.2 million from liberal foundations promoting campaign-finance reform for items such as (to quote the official disclosure statements) "news coverage of financial influence in political decision-making." About $400,000 of that directly funded a program called, "Money, Power and Influence."
NPR claims that there has never been any contact between the funders and the reporters. NPR also claims that some of the $1.2 million went to non-campaign-finance-related coverage. But at least $860,000 can be tied directly to coverage of money in politics.
* Lastly, the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation accepted $935,000 between 1995 and 2001 from liberal foundations promoting campaign-finance reform for things like a "training initiative to help television, radio and print journalists provide better news coverage of the influence of private money on electoral, legislative and regulatory processes."
The president of RTNDF, Barbara Cochran, assured me that "We did not receive money to promote campaign-finance reform." Cochran also made clear that RTNDF does not provide news coverage, it only trains journalists. But she wouldn't provide The Post with any of the training materials it produced with the foundation money.
The press as a whole, of course, wasn't bought off. But most journalists were either too ill-informed or too unconcerned to figure out the fraud.
Back to the videotape, where an unidentified (but apparently sympathetic) individual asks Treglia: "What would have happened had a major news organization gotten a hold of this at the wrong time?"
"We had a scare," Treglia says. "As the debate was progressing and getting pretty close, George Will stumbled across a report that we had done and attacked it in his column. And a lot of his partisans were becoming aware of Pew's role and were feeding him information. And he started to reference the fact that Pew had played a large role in this — that this was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress."
"But you know what the good news is from my perspective?" Treglia says to the stunned crowd. "Journalists didn't care . . . So no one followed up on the story. And so there was a panic there for a couple of weeks because we thought the story was going to begin to gather steam, and no one picked it up."
Treglia's right. While he admits Pew specifically instructed groups receiving its grants "never to mention Pew," all these connections were disclosed (as legally required) in various tax forms and annual reports. "If any reporter wanted to know, they could have sat down and connected the dots," he said. "But they didn't."
So shame on Pew for undertaking a sustained campaign to mislead the public and Congress. And shame on all of the journalists who let them slide.
Above all else, looking ahead: Shame on any news organization that lets the campaign-finance-reform lobby keep on portraying itself as a "movement" now that the facts have come out.