Hints of Prior Attacks As Reports of Progress Kentucky's Role in McConnell Recording Surface

Reports surfaced Thursday that two founders of the liberal political action committee Progress Kentucky are behind the recording of a private February meeting held at Senator Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky campaign headquarters.

Speaking to the local NPR affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky, Jacob Conway, a Jefferson County Democratic Party executive committee member, said that Shawn Reilly and Curtis Morrison bragged about the recording, which has since been leaked to Mother Jones magazine and published on its site on April 9th.

Conway also spoke Thursday afternoon to FOX News’ Megyn Kelly, in which he further described the conversation Reilly and Morrison had with him. “They told me they were there [the Senator’s campaign office], they told me they were in the hallway, they have a recording. So, you know, you can draw your own conclusions.”

Progress Kentucky is the same liberal political action committee that attacked Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife earlier this year.

The same day the McConnell recording appeared on the Mother Jones website, the Senate Majority PAC announced it had created an anti-McConnell microsite, in which it attacks the Senator as “Washington’s top road block.”  A domain lookup for the website indicates it was registered on April 5th, 2013.

The revelation of Progress Kentucky’s involvement in the recording also comes on the heels of an April 11th announcement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which specifically cites the Mother Jones article.  CREW has asked the FBI and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics “to investigate whether Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) violated federal law and Senate rules by misusing Senate staff or resources to conduct opposition research on potential campaign opponents.”

Mother Jones published an earlier article in January, 2013 that may have hinted at the attacks to come. 

That article detailed a secretive meeting that was organized a month after Obama’s election to launch an initiative dubbed “the Democracy Initiative.”  A consortium of powerful liberal groups, “brought together by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the NAACP,” all met at the National Education Association headquarters in Washington DC to plan out their future political strategy.  That article cites that among the state targets the Democracy Initiative selected for campaign fights was Kentucky, home base to Senator Mitch McConnell.

According to a schedule of the meeting, the attendees focused on opportunities for 2013. On money in politics, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, a pro-campaign-finance-reform advocacy group, singled out Kentucky, New York, and North Carolina as potential targets for campaign finance fights. In a recent interview, Nyhart said the Kentucky battle would likely involve trying to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Public Enemy No. 1 for campaign finance reform, who faces reelection in 2014. In New York, Nyhart said, activists are pressuring state lawmakers, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to pass a statewide public financing bill in 2013. And in North Carolina, the fight is more about countering the influence of a single powerful donor, the conservative millionaire Art Pope, whose largesse helped install a Republican governor and turn the state legislature entirely red. 

Also mentioned in that earlier Mother Jones article in the list of target states was that of North Carolina.

Interestingly, another liberal non-profit, Progress NC, received attention in February this year when a controversial leaked memo revealed that the group and other affiliated organizations planned to attack North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders “with bad press and pressure tactics.”

The memo, marked boldly with “NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION,” had been forwarded by Progress NC to another group, Blueprint NC, and was then distributed to other organizations, according to WRAL.com.

According to documents included with the memo and interviews, the strategy outline was produced by Myers Research and Strategic Services for Project New America. It was originally provided to Progress North Carolina, a liberal nonprofit that has aggressively attacked McCrory during the 2012 campaign and his early term in office. Progress North Carolina shared the memo with Blueprint NC, a nonprofit that coordinates the activities of liberal-leaning nonprofits. In turn, Blueprint NC distributed it to its member organizations.

An electronic version of the memo appears to contain at least three separate documents. One is an email from outgoing Blueprint NC Communications Director Stephanie Bass describing the material and emphasizing that it is “CONFIDENTIAL to Blueprint, so please be careful – share with your boards and appropriate staff, but not the whole world.”

Sean Kosofsky, Blueprint NC’s director, said his group did not pay for or commission the research. “We were just forwarding it on,” he said.

That memo was strongly criticized at the time by one of its key funders for the nature of the tactics outlined in it.  Leslie Winner, executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, said the group exercised “bad judgment” and expressed her disappointment with the strategy.

“(Z. Smith Reynolds) believes in robust debate on issues of public importance, (it) does not support attacking people,” Winner said. “We were disappointed to learn that Blueprint is advocating this strategy…

“We are taking this seriously. We are determining our options and our obligations. We will get to the bottom of it.”

The Foundation is providing $400,000 of Blueprint’s nearly $1 million budget, Winner said.

Assuming the claims are accurate, it is not yet known whether or not Kentucky Progress’ financial donors approve of the tactics of recording a US Senator’s private discussions.

Mother Jones has since responded to FOX News, saying that the recording of Mitch McConnell’s campaign staff came from a confidential source which has not yet come forward and it refuses to comment on its sources.


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