Hilltop’s House of Mirrors

Roots of left-wing network lead to mysterious Beltway consulting firm
January 24, 2013

A web of political organizations stretching from Montana to Washington, D.C., has connections to a single Democratic consultancy that refuses to answer questions about its business relationships.

At least eight political organizations formed since 2008—some officially affiliated, others different iterations of the same group—have ties to the firm Hilltop Public Solutions. They have used donations from an array of prominent liberal organizations to fund advertisements promoting Democratic candidates for office, attacking their Republican opponents, and attempting to affect legislation on Capitol Hill.

One such group, the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund, was active most recently in pushing for an extension of tax breaks for wind energy companies. The CSS Fund is a descendent of an organization created in 2009 to advance President Barack Obama’s health care reform efforts.

The CSS Fund, initially named Healthy Economy Now, was part of the pharmaceutical lobby’s push for Obamacare. The industry supported the legislation in exchange for billions of dollars in policy concessions agreed to by the White House.

Healthy Economy Now was "created" and "managed" by Hilltop and funded by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and other Obamacare advocates, according to internal PhRMA documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"When polling and focus groups indicated that voters needed to know more specifically what health care reform means to them, the coalition began to pivot its messaging to ‘health insurance reform’ and changed its name to Americans for Stable Quality Care (ASQC)," a PhRMA report explained.

ASQC would eventually spend $43 million supporting Obamacare, according to ProPublica.

The group changed its name to the Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund after the health care fight, but its ties to Hilltop remained strong. The group’s 2010 form 990 filing lists just two employees: Jessica Bradley and Sharon White, both of whom are partners at Hilltop.

Neither returned requests for comment.

The CSS Action Fund’s website ceased being publicly available in January 2011. The Citizens for Strength and Security Fund was created later that year.

The CSS Fund’s website "uses the same clip art, cites the same issues, and repeats much of the same language as [the CSS Action Fund’s] now-defunct website," ProPublica notes. Google search metadata for the CSS Fund website still lists it as the "Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund."

Like its predecessors, the CSS Fund has ties to Hilltop. A March 2, 2012, letter on CSS Fund letterhead to Democratic media firm LUC Media lists Jeremy Van Ess, a Hilltop partner, as an officer.

Van Ess declined to comment on the relationship between the fund and the action fund and only noted that they are distinct organizations.

The CSS Fund did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Lora Haggard, the CFO of John Edwards’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign, is listed in that March letter as the CSS Fund’s president. She also founded a 527 political group—a tax exempt organization involved in electioneering—in August 2008 called Citizens for Strength and Security (CSS),  FEC records show.

Haggard is also listed as the treasurer of a 527 called We’re Not Going Back. That group received contributions from the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. It paid Hilltop $25,000 during the 2010 election cycle.

The mailing addresses for We’re Not Going Back, CSS, and the CSS Fund are all P.O. boxes in the same downtown Washington, D.C., UPS store.

The CSS Fund, in its previous iteration as ASQC, gave CSS $180,000 during the Obamacare fight. CSS also received major contributions from PhRMA and the SEIU, two of the ASQC’s largest financial backers.

A PhRMA spokesperson confirmed the CSS contribution but declined to comment on the organization's contributions to related groups or its relationship with Hilltop.

The SEIU did not respond to a request for comment.

CSS, like the CSS Fund and the action fund, has ties to Hilltop. The group paid small fees to Strange Sister Creative, a Billings, Mont., company owned by Kari Kaiser, the wife of Hilltop partner Barrett Kaiser.

Mr. Kaiser is a former staffer for Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) and assisted the 2006 campaign of Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.). Tester’s opponent in the 2012 elections, Republican Denny Rehberg, was a target of CSS attacks.

The CSS Fund also ran ads in Montana attacking Rehberg, as did other independent political groups with ties to Hilltop. Hilltop staff supported a group called the Partnership to Protect Medicare according to ProPublica, which ran ads supporting Tester.

Montana Republicans have credited another Hilltop-affiliated group, Montana Hunters and Anglers, for tipping the race in Tester’s favor. The group’s treasurer is Hilltop employee Joe Splinter. Kaiser filed FEC disclosure forms for the group’s activist arm, Montana Hunters and Anglers Action.

Montana Hunters and Anglers Action ran ads in Montana supporting Dan Cox, the state’s long-shot libertarian candidate for Tester’s Senate seat. Republicans in the state say Cox acted as the spoiler, contributing to Tester’s victory over challenger Rehberg by splitting the vote.

Other Hilltop-linked groups maintain a presence in Montana. Bradley, a CSS Action Fund director and Hilltop partner, and Carrie Schuyler, another Hilltop employee, are listed as the only employees of a 501(c)4 called Montana Growth.

Montana Growth also has ties to the pharmaceutical lobby, having received $500,000 from PhRMA during the 2012 election cycle.

Montana Growth was called Economy Forward until 2011. Both filed 990 forms with the IRS under the same employer identification number and listed Hilltop’s Jessica Bradley and Carrie Schuyler as their only employees.

The group received more than $175,000 from the CSS Action Fund under the Economy Forward moniker  and spent almost an identical sum airing an ad supporting the 2010 reelection campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., N.V.).

Beyond Van Ess, who provided little information, no one from Hilltop would comment on the group’s involvement with this web of political organizations. Reporters from other news organizations have also been unable to get Hilltop to discuss the many political groups to which it has ties.