Trivia question: Who did Barack Obama beat in his 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois?
Answer: A former ambassador to the United Nations under the Reagan administration, a two-time candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland (he lives in Montgomery County, abutting the northern boundary of the District of Columbia), and an occasional aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination: Alan Keyes.
And now he’s back. Keyes is apparently on the Republican ballot in Florida, New Hampshire, and Utah, among other states, and has been invited to presidential forums and debates such as the Ohio Christian Alliance’s October 11 Presidential Candidate Forum, the September 27 Morgan State University debate moderated by PBS host Tavis Smiley, and the upcoming West Virginia GOP Presidential Convention.
For most Americans, Keyes is known for running to the right of both John McCain and George W. Bush in 2000—and knocking their socks off in a couple of televised debates if only because of his erudition and oratorical skills—and his surprise campaign against Barack Obama where he was purportedly “drafted” by the Illinois Republican party to run. Others might also remember in that campaign that he attacked Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, as a “selfish hedonist,” apparently a defining characteristic of homosexuality.
But there’s also a nonprofit side of Alan Keyes that connects his own nonprofit, the Declaration Alliance, and the famous Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC) vigilante border patrol organization. Remember the Minuteman group? Men and women perched in beach chairs along the Texas-Mexico border offering their unsolicited help to the U.S. Border Patrol to spot illegal (given the geography, mostly Latino) immigrants?
A favorite of Fox News, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps appears to have devoted as much energy to internecine warfare within the anti-immigrant movement as it has nabbing border crossers. Charges and countercharges have been lobbed between Minuteman founder Chris Simcox and Minuteman dissidents who have created a competing organization, the Patriots’ Border Alliance, primarily because of Simcox’s alleged financial improprieties.
Like scenes in an opera by Rossini, there have been melodramatic comings and goings in the Minuteman tragicomedy:
• When senior leaders of MCDC raised questions about the organization’s finances, Simcox simply fired his critics, defending the action as a “housecleaning” to improve organizational performance. • After discovering that MCDC’s filed Form 990 was public information and quite revealing, Simcox decided that the organization’s first 990 would be its last. • A political movement of sorts, MCDC also has an affiliated political action committee (PAC), but somehow it has managed to put only $10,000 of the $300,000 it has raised toward political candidates (Simcox defends the lack of political spending by the PAC because of time and money spent on bolstering MCDC’s Capitol Hill “profile”). • Control struggles, splinter groups, factions and counter-factions, resignations, and dismissals have marked the MCDC culture since almost the beginning.
The bickering MCDC remnants will keep left- and right-wing bloggers and lawyers busy for some time to come. What a mess, right? Maybe something of a deserved mess for how absolutely mean-spirited many of the participants’ motivations have been.
So what does the silver-tongued former host of MSNBC’s Alan Keyes Is Making Sense have to do with these bumbling clowns? At the center of the Minuteman miasma is an organization called the Declaration Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that shares office space with the Declaration Alliance, a 501(c)(4), located in Reston, Virginia. Alan Keyes founded both of these organizations. Apparently, the Declaration Alliance has been a funnel for resources going to MCDC. The most recent 990 of the Alliance, for example, reports $739,353 in “program services expenditures” in support of MCDC, plus a direct contribution to MCDC of another $112,500. The Web site of MCDC claims that it is a project of the Declaration Alliance, and the first and last MCDC 990 reports $418,493 in revenue (almost $1.2 million less than Simcox’s public estimate of the public support his organization had received), including the Declaration Alliance’s $112,500, but the 990 made no reference to the Declaration Alliance’s other programmatic involvement or its expenditures on behalf of the Minuteman project.
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One of the questions asked by those fired from MCDC was what exactly the relationship between the two organizations really is. Besides earning Simcox’s dismissal, they also got an earful from Keyes, who characterized critics of the Declaration-MCDC financial relationship as “racists” and “other unsavory fringe elements.” A clue to the critics’ concerns might be indications of self-dealing, cited by Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Charitable Organizations when it fined the Declaration Foundation $6,500 in 2006 because it “gave false information when it said it did not share revenue with other nonprofit or tax-exempt groups, and misstates the truth when it said none of its officers or employees was tied to any vendor providing goods or services.” As the bureau noticed, the web of interrelationships between MCDC, Keyes’s organizations, and various vendors and Keyes aides get murkier the more you dig.
MCDC, for example, lists one Maureen Otis as its board secretary. Otis is president of a firm called American Caging, sharing MCDC’s address (from its 990), and MCDC paid American Caging $15,202 for “caging fees.” (Caging fees are a political term of art that the Bush administration has added to the American English lexicon, along with “hanging chads.” Our introduction to the former came from the somewhat confusing testimony of Monica Goodling (an aide to the now former attorney general Alberto Gonzalez), which a Slate columnist then clarified: “Vote caging is an illegal trick to suppress minority voters (who tend to vote Democrat) by getting them knocked off the voter rolls if they fail to answer registered mail sent to homes they aren’t living at (because they are, say, at college or at war).”
MCDC paid for caging fees? MCDC’s PAC has paid Otis’s firm $70,000 in caging fees since 2006, although neither Minuteman organization discloses the connection between Otis and American Caging. Otis’s American Caging lists the Declaration Alliance, along with MCDC, the Salvation Army, and the Traditional Values Coalition, as one of its clients.
During that time, MCDC’s PAC also paid $37,500 to Constantine Financial Services, an accounting firm run out of the same address as the Declaration Alliance and Declaration Foundation by William Constantine, who serves as treasurer of the two Declaration organizations. His firm also received $15,500 from the Declaration Alliance PAC (“the campaign and ballot initiatives ‘arm’ of DA activism”) and the Declaration Alliance—MCDC PAC—and $5,500 while he was their treasurer. The Declaration Alliance PAC also paid $5,000 to the company of its own president, Mary Lewis, who is Keyes’s longtime chief of staff. Lewis’s company, Politechs Inc, also received $10,000 from MCDC’s PAC in the first half of this year. Lewis is also the board secretary of the Declaration Foundation and treasurer of two of the Declaration-associated PACs.
While the Declaration Alliance is a “civic public policy and issues advocacy organization that aggressively defends the Founding principles of the American Republic,” its Web site appears to be more like an Alan Keyes presidential campaign arm. The heading at the top of the page is a link to “Alan Keyes on the 2008 Election,” which redirects to the site of a group called Renew America, another tax-exempt entity founded by Keyes. The Renew America Web site leads with a link to a group called “We Need Alan Keyes for President,” which calls itself a PAC. The Declaration Alliance Web site also devotes a page to Keyes’s share of the vote in the 2000 Republican primaries.
Like the Russian matryoshka nesting dolls, these nonprofits all pop up inside one another’s programs and operations. Take Otis’s caging client, the Traditional Values Coalition, a rabidly antigay advocacy organization run by conservative preacher Louis Sheldon and his daughter Andrea Lafferty. Connected to Keyes? Apparently Sheldon and Keyes were the two sponsors of a petition drive to protest Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl halftime performance with some sort of class-action suit against CBS and its parent, Viacom. The entity used by Sheldon and Keyes for the petitions, ConservativePetitions.com, usually lists all open and closed petitions and the number of signers, though the CBS/Viacom petition is not immediately identifiable, but among the two currently open petitions on the sites, the most popular is an anti-immigrant petition (concerning tuition rates for “illegal immigrants”) launched by current Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo.
One would think that the internecine warfare within MCDC’s movement, combined with messy finances, would have put the organization in a nonprofit undertaker’s home. But in fact, MDCD is still functioning, sniping, and whining. In Cochise County, Arizona, Simcox’s longtime plan for a 14-foot border fence (because the federal government couldn’t or wouldn’t build one of its own) has ended up a barbed-wire “cow fence,” condemned by ex-MCDC volunteers as no more than another desperate Simcox fundraising “ploy”. As one former volunteer summarized it, however, MCDC’s ethical problems are as murky as ever: “To this day, we still don’t have an idea of how much Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has raised.” Like Keystone Cops, MCDC and its rival Patriots’ Border Alliance are implementing competing border patrols in Arizona.
The Alan Keyes presidential campaign Web site gives no indication of concern about MCDC’s travesties and no retreat from the organization’s hostile stance toward immigrants. In fact, the campaign uses language that even the Minuteman guys don’t. According to the AlanKeyes.com Web site, the candidate advocates “discouraging any [immigrants] who think they have the right to establish foreign enclaves in our midst, so to speak, in order to gain economic advantages for themselves without fully committing to help us build this free society” and calling on “responsible and moral Americans [to] oppose any measures that would signal our acceptance of the de facto colonization of our country ”. A presidential candidate frequently enmeshed with xenophobic nonprofits, Alan Keyes appears not to reflect the best of the nonprofit sector’s values and standards.
1 Bill Cotterell, “Hopefuls Filing in Florida”, Florida Today, November 6, 2007.
2. Tom Fahey, “ Clinton Files, Gardner Waits to Set Date,” The Union Leader, November 3, 2007.
3. Robert Gehrke, “ Utah ‘s Primary: Barack, Rudy, Hillary and Mitt All Make Presidential Nomination Ballot,” the Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 2007.
5. Jerry Seper, “Minuteman Chief Purges Ranks; Fired Leaders Sought Financial Accountability,” the Washington Times, May 24, 2007.
6. Jerry Seper, “ Minuteman Spending Outstrips Donations, Fees; IRS Form Lists Nearly $450,000 in Payments to Monitor Border,” the Washington Times, November 17, 2006.
7. Shawn Zeller, “Border Breakdown,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly, June 15, 2007; Jerry Seper, “Minuteman PAC Raised $300,000; Only Fraction Given to Campaigns as Financial Concerns Persist,” the Washington Times, June 6, 2007.
8. Leslie Berestein, “Border-Watch Squabble; Civilian Patrols Mushrooming, Along with the Infighting,” the San Diego Times-Union, July 6, 2005.
9. Jerry Seper, “ Minuteman Spending Outstrips Donations, Fees; IRS Form Lists Nearly $450,000 in Payments to Monitor Border,” the Washington Times, November 17, 2006.
10. Jerry Seper, “Minutemen Skeptical of Ties with Keyes Project,” the Washington Times, July 20, 2007.
11. Dahlia Lithwick, “Raging Caging: What the Heck Is Vote Caging, and Why Should We Care?,” Slate , May 31, 2007.
12. A Texas attorney, Otis is listed by the Washington secretary of state as a commercial fundraiser for the Liberty Alliance (an affiliate of the Moral Majority), the Senior Coalition (a free-market senior advocacy organization), the Christian Coalition, and other conservative political organizations . Otis apparently also operated under the name Regency Communications, which the secretary of state noted distributed only 40 percent of the monies it raised to its nonprofit clients. For the monies Regency raised in Georgia, it distributed only 2.21 percent to the Seniors Coalition and 4.36 percent to the Liberty Alliance in 1998–1999, earning itself the inclusion in the list of the state’s most “uncharitable charities” . As a functioning firm, Regency may have closed circa 2000, though Otis had other vehicles, such as her law firm and Caging through which to work.
13. Caging is not small potatoes. The Traditional Values Coalition’s latest 990 shows $228,458 in caging expenses for 2006 (PDF).
14. With a copyright date of 2006, American Caging’s Web site lists only these four clients.
15. The Declaration Alliance Web Site.
16. The Renew America Web site.
17. The Traditional Values Coalition Web site.
18. Conservative Petitions.com (link).
19. Abbie Boudreau and Ken Shiffman, “Minuteman ‘s High-Tech Border Barrier Called ‘a Cow Fence ‘,” CNN.com, November 7, 2007.
20 Anderson Cooper 360, November 6, 2007.
21. “Watchers Prepare to Return to Border,” Monterey County Herald (September 27, 2007)
22. AlanKeyes.com (link).