Saturday, January 25, 2014

Strong Evidence Emerges of Right to Work's Political Activity by Former Rand Paul Chief of Staff

by Russ Choma

Newly released emails and audio recordings show top officials from the National Right to Work Committee, a politically active nonprofit that is strongly opposed to labor unions, were extensively involved with a massive off-the-books mass mailing operation for state candidates in 2010. The activities directly contradict statements made to the Internal Revenue Service and may have involved violations of state law. At the center of the emails and audio recordings is a top aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who was formerly a registered lobbyist for National Right to Work.

In November, reported that a former NRTWC political operative, Dennis Fusaro, had sent a letter to the organization's board of directors charging that the organization had broken state laws and falsely reported to the IRS that it had not participated in political activities. Fusaro has since released a flood of evidence that appears to back up those claims.

National Right to Work is a 501(c)(4), a so-called social welfare organization that is allowed to lobby and to be politically active, as long as politics isn't a majority of the group's work. But that activity must be disclosed on the group's annual 990 tax forms, which must list the total amount spent on politics. In 2010, and in years since, NRTWC has said it engaged in no political activity and has failed to report any political spending. An affiliated group, Mid-America Right to Work, which operated in Iowa, Indiana and other states, also reported no political activity.

The emails and recordings released this week, though, as well as interviews with some of the candidates involved with the mail program, reveal a great deal of direct political activity involving employees of NRTWC's operations across the country.

Fusaro In Iowa

One of the strongest pieces of evidence is a recorded phone conversation in which Fusaro and then-NRTWC vice-president Doug Stafford discussed the details of the Right To Work effort in Iowa in September 2010. At the time, Stafford was also a paid political consultant to Rand Paul in his campaign for Kentucky's open Senate seat. Following the election Stafford became Paul's chief of staff, and last spring took over operations of Reinventing A New Direction PAC (RAND PAC), Paul's leadership PAC and base of operations should he decide on a 2016 presidential run.

At the start of the conversation, first posted by conservative blogger Lee Stranahan, Stafford explained to Fusaro that he had shifted a mail printing operation -- complete with high-speed printers that he said could run 100,000 pieces of mail in the final weeks before the election -- to Indiana. That operation was to be headed by Dimitri Kesari, NRTWC's director of government affairs. Fusaro and Kesari had feuded, but Stafford wanted Fusaro to understand that the operation was moved because Kesari was needed in Indiana -- not as a punishment. 

"I fully trust you to handle Iowa," Stafford told Fusaro. "I hope you will call me on a regular basis and let me know what you need. You will not need to report to Dimitri on the inner workings of the races in Iowa or anything like that. So, let's have a lot more direct contact on that."

As the conversation progressed, Stafford and Fusaro discussed Right To Work's effort in Iowa. The first step was to send surveys to candidates asking their opinions on Right To Work issues, and then sending mailers to voters on how various candidates responded. That type of issue advocacy is permissible for a 501(c)(4) organization and needn't be reported as political activity, according to several attorneys consulted by OpenSecrets Blog.

However, the next step, as described by Fusaro and Stafford in the conversation, quickly veered into political territory -- a "mail program" involving candidate cooperation.

"Part three is candidate mail -- selling these candidates in our target districts the mail because we believe this mail program is effective, and can make or break the difference" Fusaro said. "Even in a great year, it can be the difference between a close defeat and a close victory."

"Absolutely," Stafford replied. "You can point out the number of candidates who won or lost by 100 votes last time, and do you want to be one of those guys or not?"

Stafford also filled Fusaro in on the number of candidates Right to Work would target in Iowas with its mail program. 


  1. This is just a witchhunt of people who helped the RP2012 campaign and someone getting back at the RTW people. There is no merit here and its designed only to make RTW and a few others look bad... because they are extremely effective.

    I predict this will go no where since all of these guys receive money from multiple sources (i.e. moonlighting) and that those people involved were only guilty of using RTW emails and their RTW office space to do their moonlighting.

    I'm familiar with these practices. Dimitri Kesari uses these tactics frequently to upset elections. However, I know these people are very careful. A memo was released in 2011 to assure that RTW people who left to work for C4L or RP2012 were instructed how to be in compliance with the law. They are lawyered-up.

    An example of what I mean by moonlighting was Jesse Benton, he received money from C4L, RP2012, RTW and a few other sources (i.e. private firms) in 2011-2012. However, Benton can reasonably say who paid for the work he did.

    If the folks involved in the latest RTW scandal can also produce to the IRS their receipts then this will go away.

  2. Bob,
    The problem I have getting excited about stuff like this is that there are so many freaking rules that everyone is constantly running afoul of some of them, at least in spirit. It is only a matter of where the "authorities" decide to look and how deeply they dig for evidence. Moreover, as a libertarian, I think the laws / rules are themselves preposterous, as are the offices that exist for which the rules were created. It is all a big joke.

    1. I'll tell you what's a big joke. This whole right to work movement. Can someone please explain to me why libertarians should support this? If an employer wants to make a contract with a labor union, why should the government interfere with that? Bob, I would appreciate your take on the right to work movement.

  3. Even if the allegations against Stafford are true, why would a libertarian care whether or not he followed unjust campaign laws? It makes little sense to me why you're constantly bringing this up Bob. Doing so will only feed into the narrative being put forth by 'liberty' politicos which are trying to discredit you among libertarians. 'That Wenzel is just a purist crank', they say. Postings like this only fuel their arguments.

    1. @pittsburghlibertarian

      Your comment makes no sense. Wenzel is reporting facts. What would you like that we all besurprised if in the future Ron Paul staffers are frogged marched in chains? I prefer that we learn the facts now, so that we can make calm analysis rather than when MSM is blasting the story that "Ron Paul ran a corrupt campaign."

      As for this being Wenzel "just a purist crank." It has nothing to do with libertarian purity. This is a political story that is in the political world.

      You are very confused,my man.