A prominent Washington lobbyist and longtime national Republican operative, now living in Vermont and working as an unpaid adviser to the campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Dubie, has become the latest prominent Republican to engage in strange, disproportionate bullying behavior towards someone deemed a political enemy (see Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell for another recent example). Former head of the Republican Governor's Association Paul Hatch has been caught engaging in a take-no-prisoners vendetta (with a disconcertingly obsessive flavor to it) against a county-level Democratic candidate who defeated his partner in the recent primary election.
Hatch, currently the Senior Vice President for Republican DC lobbying and elections firm Total Spectrum/Steve Gordon & Associates, has a remarkably deep history with national Republican politics. According to his bio at the Spectrum site:
In 1991, Paul served as Finance Director, Treasurer and Advisor for the gubernatorial campaign and political operation of former Utah Governor Mike Leavitt. In 1994, Governor Leavitt asked Paul to serve as Executive Director of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in Washington, DC. Paul provided gubernatorial candidates in all fifty states with political strategy, and helped them plan and execute fundraising events that raised millions of dollars. During his tenure at the RGA, the number of Republicans leading their state governments soared from 17 to 32 governors.
Paul also served as the governors' liaison to the leadership in Congress. He established valuable relationships with the leadership and members in the United States House and Senate, and has represented several current and former members of Congress.
The story thusfar: Hatch's significant other of many years, Laura Moore, was making a second run at a State Senate Seat from Washington County (which includes the state capital of Montpelier). Moore had previously gained the Democratic Party's nomination but lost in the 2008 General Election. This time, however, there was an open seat, but the county Democrats had a contested primary. Democrats may well have given Moore a second nod, but for the campaign finance report filed by the Republican candidate for Governor, sitting Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie. The report revealed a $450 contribution from Moore to the GOP standard bearer, who is strongly conservative by Vermont Republican standards, being opposed to both abortion rights and same-sex marriage equality.
The contribution became a hot topic in County Democratic circles, where it finally bubbled into the public arena on the left-wing community blog, Green Mountain Daily in a piece penned by GMD front pager and Washington County Democratic Party Chair, Jack McCullough (it should be noted that I am GMD's founder and current Publisher). From there it was picked up by the local newspapers, and it took little time for the bottom to fall out of Moore's primary support. Moore attempted to rally - and Republican big gun Hatch took the unusual step of posting on the Daily Kos-style Green Mountain Daily himself in her defense.
Moore finished last in the primary.
But Moore and her partner were not about to let it go. After unapologetic defenses of her contribution (and the peculiar spectacle of a candidate waxing victimized because of her party rank and file's displeasure with her support of the other party's candidate for the top office), Moore and Hatch apparently launched a plan for payback, focusing their ire on the candidate who did win the nomination insiders have suggested she felt "entitled" to: former State Representative Donny Osman. Osman's campaign was being informally advised by McCullough's fellow Green Mountain Daily contributor John Ryan (who blogs under the name "JD Ryan"). Ryan, on his own Vermont-based blog fivebeforechaos.com, expressed his feelings a bit more bluntly than McCullough in a piece entitled "Laura Moore: Lovin' Herself Some Republican Ass". FBC is a more personal site than GMD, where Ryan shares his thoughts on politics, movies, religion and other topics, and as such receives around 100 visitors per day only.
The first sign of what was in store was the appearence of Moore at a post-primary town Democratic meeting, where Moore was decidedly uninterested in party unity. There, she made a teary eyed public condemnation of Ryan and Osman, quoting the title of the blog post and claiming it had gone "viral."
Osman responded afterwards with an effort at conciliation that also separated himself from the post:
I have to say that I think what happened at the Barre Democratic meeting was unfair to me, not helpful to the causes we Democrats believe in and not appropriate discourse for a meeting of fellow Democrats. I have never made nor will I ever make a personal attack for political gain. The assertion that I did attack you is simply wrong.
For the record, I asked John (Ryan) to keep his views far away from my Senate campaign. John Ryan offered to help me because he wants my political points of view to be heard when formulating the policies of Vermont. John is a very independent guy, not my employee who holds strong sometimes caustic views. He does not ask or consult me about expressing those views.
I am truly sorry that you got hurt and I hope it is clear that I did not hurt you or direct anyone to do so. I would welcome the chance to sit with you, put this incident behind us and focus on the work of getting Democrats elected to the legislature. I will understand if you want to withdraw from the process. However, I ask in the name of Democratic unity that you not be public in expressing anger or any personal distain for me.
Laura, our political opinions are very much in sync. I hope that we can agree that it vitally important to elect Democrats so that we can move Vermont forward. It is my sincere wish that you would join in helping me get elected since we share so many of the goals for our state. My experience in politics has showed that people who seemed our adversaries yesterday are often our vital allies of today and tomorrow.
I hope to hear from you.
This is where an otherwise pedestrian sore-loser episode started getting stranger.
According to several people, the former RNC Deputy Director Hatch began an active whisper campaign to make Osman pay for his victory over Moore, and began promoting the theory that Osman was the mastermind behind a concerted effort to destroy his partner's political career. Whisper campaigns, too, are fairly pedestrian - but Hatch has taken his vendetta straight to the Osman campaign with threats to continue. In an email to Osman Campaign Manager Nick Charyk dated 9/28/2010, Hatch wrote:
From: Paul Hatch
Date: Tue, Sep 28, 2010 at 3:16 PM
Subject: Donny and Me
Dear Nick -
I don't believe that we have had the pleasure of meeting, but my name is Paul Hatch and I was immortalized in one of J.D. Ryan's blog posting. Yes, I am the Republican Ass that Laura Moore is Lovin'. The posting continued in a downward spiral and contained crude and vulgar language and ideas. And of course, J.D. was Donny's campaign manager at the time and remained so for six more weeks.
While Ryan was Osman's Campaign Manager in an unsuccessful bid for office in a previous cycle, Campaign Manager Charyk is - and has been - Osman's only staffer for this election.
Laura tells me that you are a very decent guy who is just getting a start in politics -- I am truly sorry that it is with Donny Osman. Laura also tells me that you have assured her on a couple of occasions that Donny would apologize for his shameful character attack on her in the primary election. Instead, he chose to send her a letter which represents yet another attack because she had the temerity to tell the Barre Area Democrats that she would not be supporting your candidate. At least she did so right out in the open (as they say, in front of God and everybody) whereas Donny engaged in a cowardly whisper campaign to delegitimize her (and directed his campaign manager to post ugly blogs). As I am sure you know, his behind-the-back attack declared her guilty by her association with me because I have held some top staff positions at the Republican Governors Association and Republican National Committee.
Anyway, with that introduction, down to business. Because you are apparently a pretty good guy, I decided to give you a heads-up. I am raising a few dollars from Republican sources to run some radio ads and send a couple of pieces of direct mail against Donny's candidacy. Following is the gist of what I am putting together. (By the way, Laura knows nothing about my campaign against Donny or about this email; she would rather I not get involved, but you see, Donny attacked me too, and I am not inclined to just let it go).
I am going to tell the entire county that a prominent, current Democratic legislator thinks that Donny lacks the "mental capacity and emotional stability" to serve in the Vermont Senate.
Here is the background: Laura heard from a number of people that three sitting members of the Vermont House were engaged in the aforementioned whisper campaign (along with your boy and (4th place Washington County Senatorial Candidate) Kim Cheney). So, being the direct and upright person that she is, she confronted all three of the legislators. Two of them were big enough to admit that they had been involved and she had very productive discussions with them. The third adamantly denied any involvement whatsoever. I was present (at the Montpelier Farmers' Market) in this third discussion and had the foresight and good luck to record the conversation on my iPhone Voice Memo application. Great little device, the iPhone.
Several conversations with insiders have yielded nothing but confusion about what Hatch references, and in fact, the contribution was very much an open topic of discussion, rather than a "whisper" among Democratic voters in the region of Montpelier, where - as a state capital - such conversations are inevitable. By the time the topic hit Green Mountain Daily, it had migrated to listservs and Facebook pages and was already a full-on scandal among many in Democratic circles.
According to a source close to his campaign, Hatch's "mental capacity" comment, however, is a direct attack on Osman's past struggles with Depression, despite the fact that this history nver emerged as an issue during his successful tenure as a State Representative or the campaigns for that office. Nevertheless, Hatch's threat to use personal funds to make that history a local campaign issue out of spite is a difficult one to ignore. He continues:
Anyway, when the House Member denied involvement in the attacks on Laura, she asked him if he was supporting Donny in the race, to which he said no and went on to say that "sadly, Donny lacks the mental capacity and emotional stability to serve in the Vermont Senate". As a campaign operative, you agree, I am sure, that in this case, using the legislator's own words (and voice!) in a radio ad will have the most impact.
I contemplated just going ahead with the effort without my fingerprints on it, but like Laura, I try to be an upfront and direct person.
I will also be at Donny's event for (Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate) Pete Shumlin next Sunday (Pete is a good friend of mine). I hope you and Donny won't mind if a wear a sticker on the back of my jeans that says: "Laura Moore was here".
It is too bad, Nick, that a simple apology from Donny to Laura and me would have gone a long way to smooth things over. But instead, your candidate chose to attack her again. I must say that when I read Donny's letter it seemed irrational and frankly, a bit crazy, to me. Apparently that legislator is on to something . . .
All the best,
Paul D. Hatch
101 Strategy Partners
101 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Hatch followed up on the 29th with another email:
Thank you for your email.
You missed a few subtleties and nuances in my initial note. A few observations:
Although JD Ryan and his blog are an elegant metaphor for the assault on Laura, this is not about him; it is about Donny Osman and the lying, sniveling legislator who is as much a target of my I.E. campaign as Donny.
If you want an intelligent dialogue, don't waste my time and insult my intelligence with this nonsense about JD not being the manager. After the controversy peaked, several people told Laura that JD was Donny's campaign manager. And, oh, there is the fact that JD was introduced as Donny's manager at the unity breakfast. I have confirmed that with the host of the breakfast. If JD wasn't "officially" the manager, why was he widely portrayed as such?
Please don't complain that I am finding Donny guilty by his association with JD. The entire smear campaign against Laura was based on her association with me and the lieutenant governor.
Yes, it is true: I deplore the politics of personal destruction. But, your campaign set the ground rules. If I should walk away because it is the "right thing to do" by your definition, it means that your boy suffers no consequence for his actions. And make no mistake, he acted. At least half a dozen people told Laura that Donny (not JD, not the legislator, not Kim Cheney) had some very ugly things to say about her. If that many people knew her well enough to say something to her about it, it of course begs the question: to how many dozens or hundreds of people did Donny malign Laura?
I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that your plea that I not execute my campaign is motivated by idealism and is not a cynical, cold calculation designed to play on what little idealism I have left. But, isn't it easy to take the moral high ground now that Donny's attack has done its damage and the primary is over?
You may not have an emotional investment in this, but I do. I still hear nearly every day about how Donny ruined Laura's political career.
I am happy to meet with you and discuss this. However, understand that Donny will pay a consequence of some kind. It might be as simple as an apology or it could be the negative campaign that I have outlined -- your choice. If our meeting does not start with that premise, we need not waste one another's time.
All of this has caught Osman offguard. When asked if he had any history before this election with Hatch, he replied simply "I do not know this man Mr. Hatch. I think at a party we were introduced, said hello and that is the full extent of my relationship with him. I have never attacked Laura in public or in private. I did not and would not be a part of a whisper campaign to besmirch a person's character." He added "I do believe that making a $450.00 donation to Dubie's campaign is not what a Democratic candidate for State Senate should do," a sentiment clearly (and understandably) shared by a majority of county Democratic voters.
His campaign moved to get ahead of the story, saying in a press release:
Unfortunately, my participation in a spirited primary has made me the object of a smear campaign. In an email sent to my campaign, Paul Hatch, a Washington, D.C.-based Republican operative and adviser to Brian Dubie describes secretly taping a Vermont legislator and has threatened to use the dishonestly obtained tape in radio and print mail. He has promised to reach out to Republican money sources to pay for the vicious attacks. Voters in Washington County deserve to know about this vendetta by Mr. Hatch as it introduces into Washington county the politics of personal destruction, made famous by Mr. Hatch and his allies in Washington. This type of politics of personal destruction have no place in Washington County or Vermont. I ask that Vermont voters join me in standing up to this type of unethical action by national Republicans in Vermont.
In truth, it's likely that the whole business will only serve to help Osman since has campaign has attempted to take control of the discussion. Osman suffers from poor name recognition, and a narrative of being bullied by national, out-of-state interests combined with the pronounced sense of entitlement Moore and Hatch seem to exude towards the nomination could easily work to his advantage.
Putting aside the rather loathsome promise to incorporate the Democratic candidate's history with depression into a smear campaign, all of this would be little more than an entertaining "news of the weird" episode if not for the fact that Hatch is hardly a small town crank, but is someone who has been a major player in national Republican politics for decades. Complicating matters for the state Republican Party is the fact that he is also a highly placed adviser to gubernatorial candidate Dubie. Dubie is already under fire for his uniquely atypical (for Vermont) slash-and-burn style attack campaign headed by the recently defeated Campaign Manager for former US Representative Thelma Drake (R-VA), Corry Bliss. The campaign has drawn criticism for going negative right out of the gate against Democratic nominee Peter Shumlin, including repeatedly propogating demonstrably untrue claims designed to cast the Democrat as soft on crime. Dubie himself has already been fingered twice for false statements on the campaign trail, and the Republican Governor's Association (at one time headed by Hatch) has been credibly charged with illegally coordinating its activities directly with the Dubie campaign.
The news that a chief architect of the campaign is engaging in a personal political vendetta in a way that seems more than a little obsessive comes at a bad time for the state GOP.
To the rest of the country, it simply stands as the latest example of behavior by a prominent Republican that can be characterized as eccentric and creepy.