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- 05-12-2012, 09:46 AM #1
Strassel: Trolling for Dirt on the President's List -UPDATED
Strassel: Trolling for Dirt on the President's List
First a Romney supporter was named on an Obama campaign website. That was followed by the slimy trolling into a citizen's private life.
By KIMBERLEY A. STRASS
Here's what happens when the president of the United States publicly targets a private citizen for the crime of supporting his opponent.
Frank VanderSloot is the CEO of Melaleuca Inc. The 63-year-old has run that wellness-products company for 26 years out of tiny Idaho Falls, Idaho. Last August, Mr. VanderSloot gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, the Super PAC that supports Mitt Romney.
Three weeks ago, an Obama campaign website, "Keeping GOP Honest," took the extraordinary step of publicly naming and assailing eight private citizens backing Mr. Romney. Titled "Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney's donors," the post accused the eight of being "wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records." Mr. VanderSloot was one of the eight, smeared particularly as being "litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement."
About a week after that post, a man named Michael Wolf contacted the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls in search of court records regarding Mr. VanderSloot. Specifically, Mr. Wolf wanted all the documents dealing with Mr. VanderSloot's divorces, as well as a case involving a dispute with a former Melaleuca employee.
Mr. Wolf sent a fax to the clerk's office—which I have obtained—listing four cases he was after. He would later send a second fax, asking for three further court cases dealing with either Melaleuca or Mr. VanderSloot. Mr. Wolf listed only his name and a private cellphone number.
Some digging revealed that Mr. Wolf was, until a few months ago, a law clerk on the Democratic side of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He's found new work. The ID written out at the top of his faxes identified them as coming from "Glenn Simpson." That's the name of a former Wall Street Journal reporter who in 2009 founded a D.C. company that performs private investigative work.
The website for that company, Fusion GPS, describes itself as providing "strategic intelligence," with expertise in areas like "politics." That's a polite way of saying "opposition research."
When I called Fusion's main number and asked to speak to Michael Wolf, a man said Mr. Wolf wasn't in the office that day but he'd be in this coming Monday. When I reached Mr. Wolf on his private cell, he confirmed he had until recently worked at the Senate.
When I asked what his interest was in Mr. VanderSloot's divorce records, he hesitated, then said he didn't want to talk about that. When I asked what his relationship was with Fusion, he hesitated again and said he had "no comment." "It's a legal thing," he added.
Fusion dodged my calls, so I couldn't ask who was paying it to troll through Mr. VanderSloot's divorce records. Mr. Simpson finally sent an email stating: "Frank VanderSloot is a figure of interest in the debate over civil rights for gay Americans. As his own record on gay issues amply demonstrates, he is a legitimate subject of public records research into his lengthy history of legal disputes."
A look through Federal Election Commission records did not show any payments to Fusion or Mr. Wolf from political players, such as the Democratic National Committee, the Obama campaign, or liberal Super PACs. Then again, when political groups want to hire researchers, it is not uncommon to hire a less controversial third party, which then hires the researchers.
This is not the first attack on Mr. VanderSloot. While the executive has been a force in Idaho politics and has helped Mr. Romney raise money, he's not what most would consider a national political power player. Through 2011, nearly every mention of Mr. VanderSloot appeared in Idaho or Washington state newspapers, often in reference to his business.
That changed in January, with the first Super PAC disclosures. Liberal bloggers and media have since dug into his past, dredging up long-ago Idaho controversies that touched on gay issues. His detractors have spiraled these into accusations that Mr. VanderSloot is a "gay bashing thug." He's become a national political focus of attention, aided by the likes of partisan Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Bloggers have harassed his children, visiting their social media accounts and asking for interviews and information.
Mr. VanderSloot has said his attackers have misconstrued facts and made false allegations. In February he wrote a long reply, publicly stating that he has "many gay friends whom I love and respect" who should "have the same freedoms and rights as any other individual." The Obama campaign's response, in April, was to single out Mr. VanderSloot and repeat the slurs.
Political donations don't come with a right to privacy, and Mr. VanderSloot might have expected a spotlight. Then again, President Obama, in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, gave a national address calling for "civility" in politics. Yet rather than condemn those demeaning his opponent's donors, Mr. Obama—the nation's most powerful man—instead publicly named individuals, egging on the attacks. What has followed is the slimy trolling into a citizen's private life.
Mr. VanderSloot acknowledges that "when I first learned that President Obama's campaign had singled me out on his 'enemies list,' I knew it was like taping a target on my back." But the more he's thought it through, "the public beatings and false accusations that followed are no deterrent. These tactics will not work in America." He's even "contemplating a second donation."
Still. If details about Mr. VanderSloot's life become public, and if this hurts his business or those who work for him, Mr. Obama will bear responsibility. This is what happens when the president makes a list.
Strassel: Trolling for Dirt on the President's List - WSJ.com
Last edited by Newmexican; 07-21-2012 at 11:05 PM.
- 07-21-2012, 11:04 PM #2
Strassel: Obama's Enemies List—Part II
First an Obama campaign website called out Romney donor Frank Vandersloot. Next the IRS moved to audit him—and so did the Labor Department.
- By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL
This column has already told the story of Frank VanderSloot, an Idaho businessman who last year contributed to a group supporting Mitt Romney. An Obama campaign website in April sent a message to those who'd donate to the president's opponent. It called out Mr. VanderSloot and seven other private donors by name and occupation and slurred them as having "less-than-reputable" records.
Mr. VanderSloot has since been learning what it means to be on a presidential enemies list. Just 12 days after the attack, the Idahoan found an investigator digging to unearth his divorce records. This bloodhound—a recent employee of Senate Democrats—worked for a for-hire opposition research firm.
Now Mr. VanderSloot has been targeted by the federal government. In a letter dated June 21, he was informed that his tax records had been "selected for examination" by the Internal Revenue Service. The audit also encompasses Mr. VanderSloot's wife, and not one, but two years of past filings (2008 and 2009).
Mr. VanderSloot, who is 63 and has been working since his teens, says neither he nor his accountants recall his being subject to a federal tax audit before. He was once required to send documents on a line item inquiry into his charitable donations, which resulted in no changes to his taxes. But nothing more—that is until now, shortly after he wrote a big check to a Romney-supporting Super PAC.
Two weeks after receiving the IRS letter, Mr. VanderSloot received another—this one from the Department of Labor. He was informed it would be doing an audit of workers he employs on his Idaho-based cattle ranch under the federal visa program for temporary agriculture workers.
The H-2A program allows tens of thousands of temporary workers in the U.S.; Mr. VanderSloot employs precisely three. All are from Mexico and have worked on the VanderSloot ranch—which employs about 20 people—for five years. Two are brothers. Mr. VanderSloot has never been audited for this, though two years ago his workers' ranch homes were inspected. (The ranch was fined $8,400, mainly for too many "flies" and for "grease build-up" on the stove. God forbid a cattle ranch home has flies.)
This letter requests an array of documents to ascertain whether Mr. VanderSloot's "foreign workers are provided the full scope of protections" under the visa program: information on the hours they've worked each day and their rate of pay, an explanation of their deductions, copies of contracts. And on and on.
Perhaps all this is coincidence. Perhaps something in Mr. VanderSloot's finances or on his ranch raised a flag. Americans want to believe the federal government performs its duties without fear or favor.
Only in this case, Americans can have no such confidence. Did Mr. Obama pick up the phone and order the screws put to Mr. VanderSloot? Or—more likely—did a pro-Obama appointee or political hire or career staffer see that the boss had an issue with this donor, and decide to do the president an unasked-for election favor? Or did he or she simply think this was a duty, given that the president had declared Mr. VanderSloot and fellow donors "less than reputable"?
Mr. VanderSloot says he "expected the public beatings" from the left after the naming, but he "also wondered whether government agencies, anxious to please their boss, would take notice of the target he had apparently placed on me. Now that I'm being singled out for audits, I can't help but wonder whether there is a connection."
As for other Romney donors: "It is un-American and irresponsible for a president to target individual, law-abiding citizens for political retribution, and it is inconceivable that any U.S. agency would stoop to do the bidding for this campaign's silliness," says Louis Bacon, an investor and conservationist who also made the Obama list.
We don't know what happened, and that's the problem. Entrusted with extraordinary powers, Mr. Obama has the duty to protect and defend all Americans—regardless of political ideology. By having his campaign target a private citizen for his politics, the president forswore those obligations. He both undermined public faith in federal institutions and put his employees in an impossible situation.
Every thinking American must henceforth wonder if Mr. VanderSloot has been targeted for inquiry because of his political leanings. And every federal servant must wonder if his inquiries into an Obama enemy will bring suspicion or disgrace on the agency—even if the inquiry is legitimate.
As for Mr. VanderSloot, to what authority should he appeal if he believes this to be politically motivated—given the Justice Department on down is also controlled by the man who targeted him? (The White House did not return an email requesting comment.)
If this isn't a chilling glimpse of a society Americans reject, it is hard to know what is. It's why presidents are held to different rules, and should not keep lists. And it's why Mr. Obama has some explaining to do.
Strassel: Obama's Enemies List—Part II - WSJ.com