- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

THE VAST LEFT WING CONSPIRACY

By Byron York

Crown, $26.95, 288 pages

When President George W. Bush broke a campaign promise in his first term and signed into law the ill begotten McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill he little guessed that he was opening a can of political worms that down the line would seriously threaten his bid for reelection.

McCain-Feingold, named after Republican senator John McCain of Arizona and Russell Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, like all earlier campaign legislation, was supposed for all time to put an end to the big, bad, bogeyman of excessive campaign spending.

Of course it did nothing of the sort.

What Mr. McCain, Mr. Feingold and their supporters had never learned was that in a nation where free speech and a free press are guaranteed by the Constitution, smarter people than they are will find ways around any attempts to limit either.

Thus it was with McCain-Feingold, the law.

And the first people who found the way around were not rich Republicans; they were super-rich, far-left Democrats, including one of the world’s richest men, the naturalized American from Hungary with the palindrome for a last name, George Soros.

Their story is related by National Review reporter Byron York in his book, “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy,” which is a takeoff on Hillary Clinton’s famous charge that her husband was the victim of a “vast right wing conspiracy.”

Neither, as Mr. York is quick to admit, was a conspiracy in the traditional sense of the term. Both were, from the right and the left, groups of political activists, each of which had a single aim, the right-wingers to destroy Bill Clinton’s presidency, the left-wingers to defeat George W. Bush’s bid for reelection.

Neither, it turned out, was a success. But the effort by the far-left to send Mr. Bush packing may well have changed presidential campaigns for all time, unless Mr. McCain and Mr. Feingold can persuade Congress to pass, and a future president to sign, another ditzy piece of campaign-reform legislation. Or a more sensible Congress repeals what is already on the books.

What the left wing came up with were so-called “527 groups,” named after a section of the federal tax code. The left-wing 527s, nominally nonpartisan, could accept unlimited contributions, which they did,including over $27 million from Mr. Soros and multimillions from several other Bush-haters.

Mr. York tells how the left wing ignored any pretense that the 527s they organized were nonpartisan and goes into detail how they worked to identify Democrat voters and get them to the polls.

But he does not stop with the 527s. He also discusses Michael Moore’s overblown quasi-documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the effort by liberals to put together a left-wing answer to Rush Limbaugh and the rest of conservative talk radio, and John Podesta’s failed dream of putting together a left-wing think tank that would rival the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute on the right.

One gets the impression from Mr. York that the left wing was frantic, almost hysterical, in its efforts to beat Mr. Bush. Limited by McCain-Feingold in the amounts they could contribute to Democratic candidates or to the Democratic Party they scrambled to find other ways and means to attack Mr. Bush and the entire conservative network.

So, there were the 527s, the largest of which were America Coming Together (ACT), MoveOn.org and The Media Fund. And there were the documentary makers, not only Mr. Moore, but also the less successful Robert Greenwald. And there was the liberal Air America network which featured and still features the comedian, Al Franken, and which has yet to have a significant impact. And there was John Podesta, who, Mr. York says, got things exactly backwards when he set up his think tank by beginning the marketing campaign before he had a product to sell.

So what did the campaign of 2004 boil down to as far as the left is concerned? Mr. York thinks it amounted to the their talking pretty much to themselves, spending a lot of money, getting out their vote but not enlarging their share of the voting public.

Does this mean they worked in vain, that nothing changed and nothing is going to change? Mr. York doesn’t think so. Even though they lost, Mr. York is impressed with what they accomplished in a short time and he warns that “in the next few years they will keep building — new organizations, new donors, new ways to reach voters.”

For that reason alone it should behoove conservatives to seek to profit not only from what the left did in 2004 but also from where it may seek to go in the future. To do less could be to turn the reins of government back to the Democrats come 2008.

Lyn Nofizger, a Washington writer, served as an adviser to President Reagan.

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