Questions of Coordination

Left-wing groups engage in near-simultaneous attack on Sen. Mitch McConnell

Sen. Mitch McConnell / AP

Allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) say a series of attacks and ethical complaints leveled against him are part of a coordinated campaign by left-wing activists, political operatives, and journalists to prevent his reelection in 2014.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a left-wing watchdog group, filed an ethics complaint against McConnell on Thursday, alleging he improperly used Senate resources to support his reelection effort.

The charges were based on a recording released earlier in the week by Mother Jones. Allegedly recorded by two members of Democratic Super PAC Progress Kentucky, the tape captured McConnell discussing campaign strategy with several aides.

Meanwhile, a poll released Tuesday, April 9 by the Democratic polling outfit Public Policy Polling (PPP) showed low favorability ratings for McConnell.

McConnell’s campaign says the confluence of these events suggests coordination.

"When you see in the same week cooked polling, illegal recordings and a series of inter-related attacks from four different groups with strong Democrat Party ties, all then tied up in a bow and flanked by party mouthpieces, you don't need a team of rocket scientists to see the coordination of this effort," campaign manager Jesse Benton told the Washington Free Beacon in an emailed statement.

Mother Jones, CREW, and Progress Kentucky have denied collaborating on the McConnell recording. PPP also denied any coordination and said it regretted the timing because the results were "overshadowed" by the news of the recording.

However, representatives from Mother Jones, CREW, and groups with ties to Progress Kentucky all attended a December meeting of the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of left-wing groups that discussed efforts to unseat McConnell.

Additionally, Progress Kentucky has ties to a number of other organizations that also attended the meeting and have openly worked to promote their anti-McConnell efforts.

One of those groups, Public Campaign, released a report the month after the meeting criticizing McConnell for taking part in Republican filibusters. Progress Kentucky executive director Shawn Reilly joined local affiliates of the AFL-CIO and Common Cause, which also had representatives at the Democracy Initiative meeting, at a press conference touting the report.

Reilly previously worked for an anti-war group sponsored by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition that included the group Americans United for Change (AUC). That group launched an ad last week linking McConnell to al Qaeda for his support for the Second Amendment.

Democratic National Committee communications director Brad Woodhouse, the former president of AUC, has also attacked McConnell over the recently released recording.

Despite Reilly’s ties to AUC—and his work as a Democratic Party delegate last year—Woodhouse claimed he had never heard of Progress Kentucky before the recording was released.

Progress Kentucky staffer Curtis Morrison allegedly recorded McConnell’s conversation with aides after an invitation-only event. Reilly has cooperated with the FBI in its investigation of the incident and denied any wrongdoing, but admitted that he was present while the meeting was recorded.

The McConnell campaign says all of these connections suggest behind-the-scenes collaboration by a network of groups looking to oust the Kentucky senator.

"The far left has openly said they will stop at nothing to beat Sen. McConnell, and now we know what they meant," Benton said.

David Corn, Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief and the author who first wrote about the recording, told the Washington Post that allegations of coordination were absurd.

"This is tin-foil stuff," Corn said. "I had no knowledge that these other developments were afoot. There was no contact, no conversations and no coordination. We are journalists and do not coordinate our coverage with partisan outfits."

Matthew Vadum, senior editor at the Capital Research Center, said Corn’s denial is not proof-positive that the other organizations did not take advantage of his magazine’s publishing the story.

"If we take Corn at his word, just because he wasn't necessarily aware of every plot being hatched behind the scenes doesn't mean that plots weren't being hatched behind the scenes," Vadum said.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said she remembered discussing McConnell at the Democracy Initiative meeting, but denied that CREW representatives or other attendees planned a coordinated attack.

"It’s not like this was a day about how to go after Mitch McConnell," she told the Post.

Some Republicans remain unconvinced. GOP strategist Rick Wilson insists that the ties between CREW, Mother Jones, Progress Kentucky, and other liberal groups targeting McConnell clearly suggest coordination.

The goal of the campaign, Wilson said, was "to give their allies like CREW a chance to extend the story into new domains."

"It's a form of political smear-laundering that a growing constellation of billionaire-funded liberal groups, party committees at the state and national level and a far left ‘media’ apparatus are devoted to in the age of Obama," Wilson said.

Update, 4/16, 9 AM: The story originally reported that Progress Kentucky was at the Democracy Initiative meeting.