Meet the highly shady out-of-state characters influencing, and bankrolling, Top Two Primary in AZ

Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com

John Arnold and Jackie Salit
John Arnold and Jackie Salit

It’s no secret that “centrist” business leaders in the Central Phoenix corridor and their friends at the Arizona Republic are strongly backing the Top Two Primary initiative, which now has ballot language and is getting signatures gathered for it. Even political reporter Mary Jo Pitzl couldn’t help but make her lede look like a press release for it:

Unlikely allies want to shake up Arizona elections with proposals outlawing anonymous corporate political donations and replacing a primary system they say favors the extremes of both major political parties.

The proposed ballot measures are being spearheaded by two former Phoenix mayors who ran as Democrats for governor and the Republican political consultant who most recently backed Gov. Jan Brewer.

But Terry Goddard, Paul Johnson and Chuck Coughlin say they’ve found common ground in a quest that Coughlin describes as an effort “to reinvent the architecture of Arizona politics.”

Supporters cite the fact independents have become the largest voting block in Arizona and could propel both measures to success in November.

“A political system has to accurately represent the true picture of the electorate,” said Jackie Salit, president of IndependentVoting.org. And that’s not happening now, she said.

Leaving aside the head-shaking spectacle of Terry Goddard joining forces with Chuck Coughlin, who was the top adviser of then-Governor Brewer (and Terry Goddard’s opponent in the 2010 election) when she signed the despicable SB1070 into law, it’s disturbing to see the lack of vetting of the lesser-known people behind Top Two.

Jackie Salit, who was quoted in Pitzl’s story, is an author and political activist who resides in New York City. Salit claims to have run Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral campaigns though the Independence Party of New York. Salit was also part of an inscrutable (to me, but maybe you can figure it out) project called “Talk/Talk” with the late “public philosopher” Fred Newman. Salit’s bio describes her focus on “independent” voters and avante garde approach to politics:

Salit recounts independents little-known history and sometimes volatile impact as old political institutions and categories are becoming irrelevant—even repugnant—to many Americans. Salit, who has spent 30 years as an insider in this growing movement of outsiders, also reveals how independents underestimate their own power and how they can make the most of their newfound influence in American politics.

Note the use of the terms “repugnant” to describe existing political structures (which presumably includes grassroots partisan activity such as being a neighborhood precinct leader) and “volatile” to describe the way she appears to hope they will be dismantled. It is difficult to reconcile such – and there’s no better way to describe it – radicalism with the constant claim of Top Two Primary backers that the goal is electing “moderates”.

As for Salit’s Independence Party of New York, it looks to be a weird astroturf scam designed to dupe New York voters.

By the thousands, New Yorkers have mistakenly joined the Independence Party when enrolling to vote. Intending to have no political affiliation, these voters instead checked the “Independence Party” box — empowering the group to exploit an illusion of popular strength.

Still more seriously, Independence leaders have exercised the authority to back candidates by stocking legally mandated governing panels with the names of unwitting people, many of whom have no idea they are listed as party members.

Bearing the earmarks of orchestrated fraud, the tactics represent a distortion of the democratic process as it has been established by state law and court rulings.

That the party’s leaders are members of a cultish group steeped in a bizarre combination of Marxist philosophy and sex therapy puts an exclamation point on the illegitimacy of their influence over who gets elected mayor, controller and public advocate.

No New York official has built closer ties to Independence leaders or benefited more from their support than Bloomberg. He ran as their candidate in three mayoral campaigns, twice scoring votes on the Independence line that exceeded his margin of victory.

Such sensible moderates!

The other person from outside of Arizona (h/t to a Facebook friend who alerted me to him) whom Mary Jo Pitzl mentioned in her Republic article as a backer of Top Two she simply described as “Texas philanthropist John Arnold”. Well, if by “philanthropist”, you mean “philanthropically helped himself to the Enron implosion and hopes to do the same with public pensions”.

…Anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room and remembers those tapes of Enron traders cackling about rigging energy prices on “Grandma Millie” and jamming electricity rates “right up her ass for fucking $250 a megawatt hour” will have a sense of exactly what Arnold’s work environment was like.

In fact, in the book that the movie was based on, the authors portray Arnold bragging about his minions manipulating energy prices, praising them for ‘learning how to use the Enron bat to push around the market.’ Those comments later earned Arnold visits from federal investigators, who let him get away with claiming he didn’t mean what he said.”

As Enron was imploding, Arnold played a footnote role, helping himself to an $8 million bonus while the company’s pension fund was vaporizing. He and other executives were later rebuked by a bankruptcy judge for looting their own company along with other executives. Public pension funds nationwide, reportedly, lost more than $1.5 billion thanks to their investments in Enron.”

In 2002, Arnold started a hedge fund and over the course of the next few years made roughly a $3 billion fortune as the world’s most successful natural-gas trader. But after suffering losses in 2010, Arnold bowed out of hedge-funding to pursue ‘other interests.’ He had created the Arnold Foundation, an organization dedicated, among other things, to reforming the pension system, hiring a Republican lobbyist and former chief of staff to Dick Armey named Denis Calabrese, as well as Dan Liljenquist, a Utah state senator and future Tea Party challenger to Orrin Hatch.

As my friend put it, he “sounds like a peach of a guy who just wants Arizona elections to be better!” Arnold’s “charity” seems to be engaged in the project of convincing public workers to give up their defined benefit pensions in return for 401K-type plans, and then systematically funneling those plans into highly risky investment schemes that return massive profits to, you guessed it, hedge fund managers.

Wow, just typing that out makes me nostalgic for the more innocent time of approximately an hour ago when I just thought the whole Jacqueline Salit-Fred Newman-Michael Bloomberg connection was bizarre!

Per the Arizona’s Politics blog, our new friend from Texas plans to bestow his, uh, beneficence upon us in a big way to influence the upcoming vote on Top Two:

The national Open Primaries group, primarily funded by Texas philanthropist John Arnold, has made a $1M contribution to the Arizona joint effort, with hopes to raise $13M more. They promised that they will “over-disclose” who contributes to the effort, even though current laws do not require it, and pointed out that the opponents to the measure will not be disclosing.

Does it really matter if the backers are “over-disclosing” their names if no one but bloggers like myself and my Facebook friends are bothering to do a modicum of looking into who these people are?

4 Responses to Meet the highly shady out-of-state characters influencing, and bankrolling, Top Two Primary in AZ

  1. This post is why this blog is such a great public resource.

    Thank you Donna Gratehouse!

  2. AZ BlueMeanie

    Well done, Donna . . . doing the work that The Arizona Republic refuses to do.