Campus Progress Mob Rules

, Alana Goodman, Leave a comment

It appears that the writers at the Center for American Progress (CAP) can dish it out but they can’t take it. Lee Fang, one of the trenchant investigative reporters over at CAP’s Think Progress website uncovered what he claimed was a “leaked memo” written by a “Lobbyist-funded Republican operative” that detailed a diabolical strategy for disrupting town hall meetings.

Fang’s July 31st article was eagerly picked up by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), ABC News, the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times, MSNBC and CBS, who railed against “manufactured Right-wing mobs.”

“This is orchestrated outrage. There is a script for this stuff that was written before these events happened and that appears to be instructions to people to shut down these efforts at civic discourse,” fumed MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on August 4th.

The DNC even used a photo of the memo in their most recent ad titled “Enough of the Mob,” with a sinister-sounding voice-over calling the tactics “straight from the playbook of high-level Republican political operatives.”

Predictably, the media quietly dropped the issue without apology once it was revealed that the writer of the memo, Bob MacGuffie, was neither a high-level Republican nor a political operative. MacGuffie is a small-town Connecticut activist who emailed the alleged “memo” to eight or ten of his friends and was surprised to see it appear on a DNC ad shortly thereafter, reported Mary Katharine Ham on the Weekly Standard blog on August 5th. MacGuffie and four fellow activists are also the founders of a political action group called Right Principles that “has taken in a whopping $5,017 [since 2008],” wrote Ham, describing Federal Election Commission (FEC) records on the PAC.

And while Fang rages over the supposedly “violent and absurd” tactics of universal health care opponents, virtually every single one of McGuffie’s “techniques” can be found in the pages of CAP’s very own left-wing playbook called “Local Action for National Change: A Guide to In District Lobbying.”

In his Think Progress article, Fang appears unduly offended by MacGuffie’s benign suggestion that activists should spread out around the town hall room and pack the front half of the room to make the congressman “feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.” Fang says this is an attempt by activists to “artificially” inflate their numbers.

But CAP’s playbook, released by their student arm Campus Progress, also notes the importance of appearing to have a large group of supporters. The pamphlet instructs its activists to “fill the room and show strong support for progressive policies,” and adds that “the most effective way to get your message across and be taken seriously is to bring as many people as possible to your meetings…You want people of all backgrounds and all interests to show that there is broad support for our progressive priorities behind you.”

Fang also finds fault with MacGuffie advice to “watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the [Congressman’s] statements early [during the town hall meeting].” According to Fang, these types of tactics are akin to “harassing Democratic members of Congress.”

But the Campus Progress guide similarly advises their activists to make “loud demands” and “challenge” their elected officials. They instruct their activists to “be proactive, unified, and loud this August, march into our elected official’s offices and demand that they [support progressive policies]…It’s time to support those that support us, challenge those that don’t, and most importantly, don’t give up the fight.”

In the Think Progress article, Fang claims that MacGuffie’s strategy is to stifle intelligent debate by controlling the town hall conversation. “The goal is to rattle [the congressman], get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down,” said the memo. However, MacGuffie also added “don’t carry on and make a scene.”

Campus Progress similarly tells its activists to “control the conversation” by “remember[ing] what you came for. Politicians and their staff often control conversations with small talk, bringing up stories tangentially connected to the issue at hand, and asking questions they know you can’t answer.” The pamphlet advises students to “Neutralize the opposition if possible, but don’t waste too much time trying to argue with them.”

And while Fang denounces universal health care opponents as “sign-carrying mobs,” he doesn’t seem to mind that his own group openly encourages similar activity. In a section titled “Rallies, Street Theatre & Flash Mobs,” the Campus Progress pamphlet advises students that “You might have a hard time getting a meeting with your representative, but that’s no reason to give up trying to be heard. District offices are great places for demonstrations, flash mobs, and other media-savvy events.”

As “proof” that the universal health care protests are organized by lobbyist groups, Fang reports that conservative and libertarian groups are busing people to their rallies. “Patients United, a front group maintained by Americans for Prosperity, is currently busing people all over the country for more protests,” Fang complained.

However, Fang ignores the fact that CAP activists get bused around the country as well. On the Campus Progress website, a June 29th article gushes about how “Campus Progress stood strong to represent young people” at the June 25th Health Care for America NOW rally in Washington, DC. “The rally took place in the early afternoon and was followed by lobby meetings and town hall meetings with constituents who traveled by the bus-load from around the country to demand health care for all,” said the article.

Perhaps the most audacious of Fang’s criticism is that “much of these protests [against universal health care] are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms.”

It’s puzzling that a CAP employee would be so distressed by lobbyists when the organization titled their own Campus Progress instructional booklet “A Guide to In-District Lobbying.”

CAP was also founded by a former lobbyist and prominent Democratic operative John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under President Bill Clinton. The organization is well-funded by heavyweight left-wing philanthropist George Soros, who donated nearly $1.5 million to CAP in 2007 alone, $150k of which went directly to Campus Progress. In addition, CAP’s sister group, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, is a 501(c)(4) lobbying group.

And the Campus Progress guide leaves little doubt that their protests are heavily coordinated. Everything from the designated roles of individual activists, to the template letters to send to elected officials, phone scripts for speaking with congressional staffers, and agendas for the lobbying meetings are planned out to the most minute detail.

“This toolkit is designed to give you some tips on how to make your visit with your Congressperson effective from start to finish,” reads the guide.

It describes how long each part of the meeting with the congressman should take (introductions should be kept to five minutes), how many people should tell “personal stories” about their problems with health care (one to three), how to ask a congressman to support leftist policies (“Film the response if possible”), and what to do at the end of the meeting (“IMPORTANT: Before you leave, ask if you can take a picture with the Representative or Senator.”).

Under a section titled “Roles,” it also delegates responsibilities to specific activists. The Facilitator “leads introduction, meeting overview and closing;” the Storyteller “delivers personal message, speaks to why legislator should act and why acting is in best interest of the constituents;” the Pitcher “makes the hard ask and is prepared to respond depending on what legislator says;” and the Reporter “takes comprehensive notes on what the legislator says” so that they can relay their findings back to Campus Progress in the provided Report Back Form.

Before the meeting, the pamphlet also advises young activists to “Contact Campus Progress…to help you set up a meeting, deal with messaging, targeting, media, visibility and other logistics for the event.” After the meeting, the guide instructs students to “Report back to Campus Progress…[everything] you find out about your legislator and their position on progressive issues will be helpful to Campus Progress and our partner organizations. In-district lobby meetings have the dual purpose of influencing your legislator with your stories and to collect information about their stances to help progressive groups strategize effectively. Make sure that your recorder prints out the form in APPENDIX III, fills it out and returns it to”

CAP has blatantly engaged in these organizing tactics for years, but only now that their opponents have begun to use the same strategies are they starting to cry foul. The only difference is, CAP is a multi-million dollar policy group led by powerful political strategists and their target, MacGuffie, is a small-time, grassroots activist with an email list. Maybe next time CAP, along with their allies in the DNC and the mainstream media, can pick on someone their own size.

Alana Goodman is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.