Moving America Bass-ackwards

Well, tonight’s news showed the new “Thank you Sarah” ad from a new astroturf group called “Our Country Deserves Better PAC.”

Deborah Johns during the Move America Forward Tour in 2005

And you know, something made my little reporter’s “HUNCH” arrow swing all the way into the red. The reason, when I checked the website “” became manifestly apparent. I’ve COVERED these weasels before — over 10,000 words worth — in “Swift Boat Moms in Winnebagos.” (August 30, 2005, cited by SourceWatch HERE and HERE.) Then, they were called “Move America Forward.”

Say “hello” to our NEWEST California astroturf group, website registered in July, 2008:

Created On:30-Jul-2008 21:48:15 UTC
Last Updated On:29-Sep-2008 03:50:36 UTC
Expiration Date:30-Jul-2009 21:48:15 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Melbourne IT, Ltd. dba Internet Names Worldwide (R52-LROR)
Registrant ID:D121744559679866
Registrant Name:Salvatore Russo

(from the WHOIS data at the registrar, an Australian company.)

Astroturf? You ask. Good for you. It’s important.

Astroturf is “fake grass roots.” Usually you come up with something highfalutin’ and ofttimes Orwellian, like “Citizens for Good Governance and Free Turnips.” Then, the same few operators can be Presidents, Chairmen, Executive Committee Chairmen, and other highfalutin’ terms that look good when they’re run as a chiron under your face on Faux Nooz or Faux Nooz Lite (CNN) or MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. to convince turnip farmers to vote for … [insert cause du jour here].

Now, Sal Russo? Let me quote from “Swift Boat Moms“:

First, let’s listen to them, in their own words:

Experience Really Does Matter.

When it comes to winning elections, few firms can match the success of Russo Marsh + Rogers, Inc.

The experience of RM+R’s staff is one of the greatest advantages you get when you recruit the Russo Marsh + Rogers team of political professionals and campaign experts.

The principals and associates at RM+R have been involved in more than 350 campaigns at the local, state, federal and international levels.

In addition to our experience in almost every state in the nation and in countries such as Nicaragua and the Ukraine, the expertise of RM+R’s staff extends to every aspect of campaign strategy and design.

Specifically, the experts on our team have extensive skills in:

Message Development
Market Research Methodology
Audience Targeting
Coalition Building
Campaign Ground Operations
Public Relations
All Advertising Techniques

RM+R understands the commitment it takes to run for office. And whether our client is political or corporate, we always give 110%.

RM+R provides its clients (ranging from County Supervisor to President of the United States) a solid strategic plan combining direct mail, fundraising, research, broadcast advertising, audience targeting, etc.

At RM+R we know that each campaign is unique and we are serious about winning. There are no simplistic formulas; creativity is essential.

With our strategy and skill at implementing the right tactics, RM+R is a proven organization with a solid track record of winning races.

Russo Marsh + Rogers, Inc.
770 L Street, #950
Sacramento, CA 95814

And, on the new Astroturf PAC’s (“Our Country Deserves Better” PAC) “WHO WE ARE” page, there’s Sal Russo.

Sal Russo, Chief Strategist
Sal Russo got his start in politics by working as a Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan. Mr. Russo has spent over 30 years in the field of political consulting and public affairs. He has been a senior advisor to several Republican presidential campaigns. A renowned consultant and strategist, Mr. Russo’s expertise extends to every aspect of the profession. Russo’s early conservative influence can be traced back to Barry Goldwater, who inspired Russo to become active in political causes while in college. Soon thereafter he met Reagan and his life was forever changed. Mr. Russo went on to become a leader in Republican campaigns at the state and national level, and helped freedom-loving people in campaigns around the world.

(Love that “freedom-loving” part. I think it’s the same brand of “freedom” that we’re exporting to Iraq, and the “freedom” that the terrorists hate use for. But I could be mistaken.)

Yeah. And there’s Howard Kaloogian, who started the “recall” election of Governor Gray Davis in California, and then ran for “Duke” Cunningham’s seat in San Diego after Cunningham’s imprisonment. (Oh, and got caught passing off a photo taken in Turkey as being Kaloogian in Baghdad during his ironically entitled and Pentagon-sponsored “Truth Tour” at about the same time as the MAF Winnebago stunt. He, uh, LOST the election to replace the Dukester.)

Sourcewatch notes:

The officers of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC overlap extensively with current and former leaders of the pro-war organization Move America Forward (MAF). These include MAF co-founder and former chair Howard Kaloogian, who chairs the PAC; PR executive Sal Russo, who serves as chief strategist for both MAF and the PAC; Russo Marsh & Rogers principal Joe Wierzbicki, who serves as grassroots coordinator for MAF and coordinates the PAC; and Marine mom Deborah Johns, who is MAF’s director of military relations and the [new] PAC’s spokesperson.[2]

According to Bill Berkowitz at Media Transparency:

September 26, 2008

PAC man

Our Country Deserves Better PAC aims to ‘define’ Obama’s ‘weaknesses’ and make him ‘an unacceptable choice to serve as our nation’s next president and Commander in Chief’

He maintains that the newly-launched anti-Obama political action committee is not tied, nor related, to the campaign of Sen. John McCain and that it is not out to Swiftboat Sen. Barack Obama. The PAC intends to “define [his] weaknesses as a candidate, and thus make him an unacceptable choice to serve as our nation’s next president and Commander in Chief.” One of the group’s earliest fundraising pitches, posted at the TownHall Spotlight, is titled “Barack Obama Sinks To A New Low.” And among its ready-for-prime-time television advertisements are spots titled, “Obama Mocks America’s Christian Heritage,” “Obama’s Patriotism Problems” and “Obama’s Wrong Values.”

And, a little later down the article/interview:

In the ever-expanding universe of Republican Party-sponsored/related groups attacking Sen. Barack Obama, add Our Country Deserves Better PAC to the list. Run by veteran California-based Republican Party conservative activists Sal Russo and Howard Kaloogian, Our Country Deserves Better PAC is a recently launched political action committee — a committee organized to spend money for the election or defeat of a candidate — that has several provocative pieces in the hopper.

In a series of e-mail exchanges, PAC Coordinator Joe Wierzbicki told me that the Rancho Santa Marga, California-based entity hopes to “raise in excess of $1 million by Election Day,” to run a series of anti-Obama television ads in as many as “ten states.”

Our Country Deserves Better PAC (website) is sprinkled with longtime veterans of conservative causes. Chairman of the PAC is Howard Kaloogian, who served as Assistant Republican Leader in the California State Assembly during his six-year term in office, and in 2003, spearheaded the Recall Gray Davis Committee, which helped remove Democratic Governor Gray Davis from office — giving the world of politics Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kaloogian co-founded, along with Melanie Morgan, then a co-host of a Bay Area morning radio show, the pro-Iraq war group Move America Forward. …

Joe Wierzbicki is the PAC Coordinator. According to his official bio, Wierzbicki “has worked for dozens of conservative and Republican campaigns, ranging from presidential campaigns, to international affairs to grassroots activist causes, such as the historic Recall Gray Davis campaign … [and] Move America Forward.” He is a principal of the GOP-associated public relations firm Russo Marsh & Rogers, and is the King Media Group’s Director of Public Relations.

Sourcewatch continues:

Following the election of Barack Obama on November 4, 2008, the PAC put a poll on its website, asking supporters to weigh in on the group’s future. The poll asked the question, “Should we fight on for victory in 2010 and 2012?” and the possible responses were “YES – We must fight for victory!,” “NO – We should accept defeat and move on,” or “UNDECIDED/UNSURE.” [7]

In response to a blogger’s question, “What will the Our Country Deserves Better organization focus on now that Obama has won?,” Deborah Johns replied: “We do plan to be a watchdog for what happens in the Obama Administration, especially when it comes to matters concerning our military and national defense. We are also going to look at Congressional and Senate issues and hold them accountable as well.” [8]

In mid-November, the PAC announced plans to run television ads thanking former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, around Thanksgiving. “Over the past few days, about 1,000 people have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Our Country Deserves Better,” reported the New York Times election blog on November 11. The PAC’s Wierzbicki told the Times that his group felt “there has been ‘an absence of a pro-Palin cohort. … This woman’s reputation is going to be so damaged that she can never be a national political figure,’ he added. So the goal of the ad is to ‘preserve her options.'” [9]

A local CBS report on the Palin Thanksgiving ad said one of the spot’s aims was “to urge her to run for President” in 2012. [10]

And here’s the commercial:

Now, just to give you an idea of the kind of money they can marshal with these astroturf organizations (remember, THEY had a big part in unseating California governor Gray Davis, then did the Move America Forward sham, created “Defend Reagan” and pressured CBS into pulling the Reagan miniseries, created an anti-Michael Moore group to try and quash Fahrenheit 9-11and have now created an anti-Obama astroturf organization called “Our Country Deserves Better PAC.”) I obtained a copy of MAF’s 2006-filed 990 income tax return (for 2005), and it’s an interesting read. The amount for the “tour” covered in “Swift Boat Moms in Winnebagos”? Try $123,491.21


click to see full-size image

Remember, this was to “support the troops” and stomp on Cindy Sheehan’s Crawford, Texas anti-war protest.

Spinwatch later reported that one of MAF’s tours (the “Truth Tour”) was sponsored by the Pentagon’s newly created “Office of Media Outreach”:

July 6, 2005

John Kasich, subsituting for vacationing Bill O’Reilly last night, discussed the upcoming “Truth Tour,” the second such outing being sponsored by the newly created Office of Media Outreach, a taxpayer-funded publicity arm of the Department of Defense…

According to Source Watch:

“The tour was organized by Move America Forward (MAF), an organization that, according to the Washington Post, owes much of its existence to the good offices” of Russo Marsh & Rogers. “The Office of Media Outreach, a taxpayer-funded publicity arm of the Department of Defense, also sponsored the tour.”

Yeah. Your tax dollars at work.

And, Russo Marsh & Rogers have even more interesting government/Pentagon/war profiteering connections. According to the Asia Times:

… In a parallel strategic track, however, the Kurdish Regional Government appears to be keeping its options open, recently hiring Russo Marsh & Rogers (RM&R) – a Sacramento, California-based public relations firm with close ties to the Republican Party – to promote its interests. … RM&R’s Joe Wierzbicki* said, “Our job with the Kurds is to carry out a public relations campaign that will thank the American people for supporting the war in Iraq and encourage Americans to visit and invest in the Kurdish region.”

{Evidently “thank you” PR campaigns are an RM&R specialty.)

The project has not yet begun and it is unclear how long the contract will actually run. “It’s a short-term thing because they don’t know how long the public relations campaign might go,” Wierzbicki said.

Before RM&R finalized the deal with the Kurds, it had other business in Iraq to attend to: handling the publicity for the “Truth Tour”, a seven-day carefully calibrated trip to Iraq by a group of conservative radio talk-show hosts that was intended to spread the “good news” about what is happening on the ground.

The tour was organized by Move America Forward (MAF), an organization that, according to the Washington Post, owes much of its existence to the good offices of RM&R. The Office of Media Outreach, a taxpayer-funded publicity arm of the Department of Defense, also sponsored the tour.

MAF describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to preserving our American heritage of freedom and liberty”.

Its website pointed out that the purpose of the “Truth Tour” was “to report the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you’re not hearing from the old line news media … to get the news straight from our troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the positive developments and successes they are achieving”.

Wierzbicki said that from the very beginning, MAF was the project of Howard Kaloogian, a former California state assemblyman, and Melanie Morgan, the co-host of a morning show on KSFO-AM in San Francisco, and that Sal Russo, the founder of RM&R, “helped set it in motion”.

[* Joe Wierzbicki according to the “Our Country Deserves Better PAC” website:

Joe Wierzbicki,PAC Coordinator

wierzbickiheadshot… Wierzbicki has worked for dozens of conservative and Republican campaigns, ranging from presidential campaigns, to international affairs to grassroots activist causes, such as the historic Recall Gray Davis campaign. He is also quite proud of his work with the patriotic, pro-troop organization, Move America Forward, where he helped ensure the organization’s efforts were often featured in national media reports

He has also worked on public relations efforts for non-political clients, and he is dedicated to making sure that the efforts of the “Our Country Deserves Better” PAC receive ample media coverage – including in the new line media.]

Creepy enough for you?

I don’t have time (today) to go into Mark Williams (former Sacramento radio host, now vaguely mediagenic). He was “blogging” about the anti-Obama tour, in much the same capacity as he was in 2005. See “Swift Boat Moms in Winnebagos” for a pretty complete report on Mark Williams and his interesting — shall we say? — connections to Deborah Johns, the Sarah Palin of the pro-war moms set.

Let’s see, they’re all tied up with California Republican dirty tricks, doing propaganda for the Pentagon, for the Kurds, trying to “Swift Boat” Obama, and can raise astonishing amounts of cash from obscure sources. That “Move America Forward” organization, a “charitable” 501(c)(3) (like the Red Cross or the Girl Scouts) that’s working hand-in-glove with the Pentagon’s domestic propaganda office, newly created?

They filed tax returns in 2004 and 2006. Not enough income to report in 2005 or 2007, evidently. In 2005 (“The Year of Living Pentagon-iously”), they reported “income” of $640,010.44. Click here for a screen capture of their “charitable” activities description for that year.


click for full size version

One other weird thing that struck me from that federal tax filing. Move America Forward lists 2005 “Bank servicing and processing charges as $43,579.03. $50 grand for bank charges when you only took in $650 grand in “income”? Really? Any business worth its salt would be considered pretty irresponsible for paying such a big chunk of its budget in bank fees. (Not outrageous, but pretty steep.)


[* Sorry: If I were doing an audit of their books, that would be the first question I’d ask, because that kind of strange overage is generally indicative of money laundering, embezzlement, etc. Just one of those things that make you go “hmmmm.”]

According to OpenSecrets dot Org, these were “Our Country Deserves Better”s expenditures as of November 17, of this year:

Recipient Amount
Newsmax Media, Inc $55,000 $40,774
Eagle Interactive $24,525
California Image Associates $13,281
Highroad Solution $8,894
Joan Randall Agency $6,720
Russo Marsh + Associates, Inc $6,541
Eusatrix Corporation $4,700
Betty Presley & Associates, Inc $3,300
Rousselot, Doris $750
Southwest Airlines $626
Planet Kelly $375
Constant Contact $260
Bank of America $117
Federal Express $77
US Postmaster $42

Not really all that much to shake a schtick at, is it? Actually kind of pathetic for any sort of “national players” in the independent expenditures game. $165,982? People spend more on that on individual ballot measures in Oregon and Washington State. For a PRESIDENTIAL election? Are you kidding me?

Their contributions are equally anemic and weirdly astro-turfey, just like all those “bundled” contributions that Club for Growth likes to collect. Take a look here, $ from all those different states.

The point being this: According to the most recent reports, they are spending $50,000 on “Thank You Sarah Palin” ads this Thanksgiving. This would be their second-highest expenditure of the political season … AFTER the election.

It screams, WHY?

I’ll tell you why because I’m not a talking head and have no “journalistic ethics” to pretend to adhere to as a way of not telling you what I actually think or suspect.

These guys are WIRED in to the Pentagon, the War, and the old Ronnie Ray-gun puppetmaster bucks. They were supposed to “swift boat” Barack Obama, and planned Reverend Wright ads.

But now they’re going to spend almost a THIRD of what they spent in the general election to “thank” Sarah Palin. WTF? According to today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune [emphasis added]:

Despite her many on-camera blunders, there are groups who adore Palin and think she is the future of the embattled Republican party. The Our Country Deserves Better PAC has gone so far as to spend $50,000 on “Thank You” ads, to run in Alaska, paying tribute to Palin.

It’s obvious she still holds plenty of news value, right? Why else would some of the major networks (NBC’s “The Today Show” and FOX News’ “On the Record w/ Greta,” for example) have sit-down interviews with Palin after her VP loss?

Yeah. What the heck is going on here?

Well, try this hypothesis which is one explanation of the available data points: somebody with deep pockets has launched a well-connected, well-coordinated media blitz to “rehabilitate” Sarah Palin’s image, in which they have, evidently, invested heavily. She’s their “horse” in this race, and needs to be reinvented quickly and desperately before she permanently becomes lodged in the American mind as Dan Quayle with tits.

You know, Mr. “Potatoe” Head?

Sarah Palin isn’t the point or the issue here. What IS at stake is someone’s investment in a spokesmodel for their (hidden) agenda. And that “somebody” is who we need to be concerned with here. The Russo/Kaloogian gang are basically political prostitutes: ready, willing and able to marshal their P.T Barnum stunts in service to their ideological (and more importantly, their financial) masters.

This morning, they’ve got Palin out there in Georgia campaigning for Chambliss. (But, I doubt that it’s as much for Chambliss — the infamous morpher of Vietnam vet Max Cleland into Osama bin Laden in 2002 — as for Palin.) Evidently she’s torn herself away from local Turkey Massacres and spinning thereon long enough to dash to Georgia’s red dirt.

We’ve never had such an outrageously unqualified candidate foisted on us so transparently swathed in lies (remember: She “Stopped” the “bridge to nowhere” until it was revealed that not only was she in favor of it, when running for governor in 2006, but KEPT the money for Alaskan pork, after the bridge became politically radioactive. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.), nor have we had such a powerful witches brew of propaganda and public relations (more polite terms for lies) thrust in front of us immediately following a presidential election.

Something stinks to high heaven here, and the “Our Country Deserves Better PAC” is only the tip of a particularly noxious iceberg.

And I’ve only scratched the surface of OCDB-PAC here.

Interesting that these “American Patriots” decided to register their domain quasi-anonymously … with a Melbourne, Australia firm, isn’t it?

Created On:30-Jul-2008 21:48:15 UTC
Last Updated On:29-Sep-2008 03:50:36 UTC
Expiration Date:30-Jul-2009 21:48:15 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Melbourne IT, Ltd. dba Internet Names Worldwide (R52-LROR)
Registrant ID:D121744559679866
Registrant Name:Salvatore Russo

Remember what I reported about MAF in 2005:

Note the phone number on the above [WHOIS] record, 9164416192. It’s actually the phone number of a BAR in Sacramento called “The Downtown Purgatory”! The FAX number 1.9164416057 is the FAX number for Russo Marsh & Rogers

ANOTHER UPDATE – The DNS record for has been changed yet again to remove all names. Nothing is left now but the name server lookups and the registration company. The registrar’s name has been removed.

Sal Russo himself is still listed on the MoveAmericaForward site.

Slick. Boy, they were sure on the up and up then.

As I’m sure they are … now.


BUT WAIT! There’s MORE! Go directly to Part 2, the senses-shattering conclusion, “Thanking Sarah Palin” ‘Nuff said!


cross posted from his vorpal sword

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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One Response to Moving America Bass-ackwards

  1. Leishtek says:

    slimy b*stards will always be slimy b*stards. Well then, good for the investigative journalism. Too bad idiot voters will trust these types of organizations because of the “message” they put out. Perhaps there really is crack in the water supply in some places…