Speaking of David Axelrod and "Astro Turf," for years, Mr. Axelrod has run a firm in Chicago, ASK Public Strategies, that specializes in creating fake grass roots support for projects/big deals that clients are having trouble selling to the public (he was supposed to divest himself when he went to the White House in 2009, but somehow he got around the laws, stayed control of his firm, and had business dealings with the firm's clients while in the White House). ...
BTW, Axelrod and David Plouffe also run a political consulting firm called AKPD Message and Media. Among AKPD's past clients is former Ukranian president Yulia Tymoshenko, who before being imprisoned, lost the presidency in 2010 to the now-deposed-and-in-hiding Viktor Yanukovych (a.k.a., the most evil, despotic tyrant in the world for the moment).
As luck would have it, the interim president sprang Ms. Tymoshenko out of prison on Saturday, and she's free to run in the upcoming impromptu election.
Such ineffectiveness first became apparent in 2008, when NATO could not decide whether to offer Georgia a clear invitation to join. Russia immediately took advantage of the situation, going to war with Georgia to “protect” the breakaway region of South Ossetia and forcing the country to back off its rapprochement with the West.
By KENNETH P. VOGEL & BEN SMITH | 11/18/09 1:20 PM EDT
In Kiev and Kharkiv and other cities in Ukraine, American political consultants who worked against one another in Iowa and New Hampshire and then in the general election are facing off again in a somewhat surreal Eastern European replay of the 2008 campaign.
The firm headed by Hillary Clinton’s former chief strategist, Mark Penn, is helping run incumbent President Victor Yushchenko’s campaign. Meanwhile Paul Manafort, whose firm worked on Republican John McCain’s losing effort, and Tad Devine, a top strategist on the Democratic presidential campaigns of Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, are consulting for Victor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian frontrunner in the polls.
Clinton was the Secretary of State in 2009 and Kerry is the Secretary of State in 2014.
For Penn, Manafort and Devine, foreign elections have been a lucrative source of business for years. But for the Chicago-based media consulting firm AKPD [founded by Axelrod and Plouffe, among others], the contract to help guide Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s campaign is part of a new, growth area of business that presented itself after the firm helped Barack Obama win the White House last fall.
Also assisting Tymoshenko is John Anzalone, a pollster who worked on the Obama campaign. And Obama's lead pollster in the campaign, Joel Benenson, also worked briefly in Ukraine this year, helping supporters of a rival presidential candidate, former Parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who courted comparisons with Obama (and whose billboards bear a faint resemblance to the iconic posters of Obama by Shepard Fairey).
The Ukraine race is hardly the only international opportunity available for consultants who had a hand in the Obama campaign. Since Obama's historic election in November, AKPD and Benenson Strategy Group alone have advised candidates or parties in Argentina, Bulgaria, Romania, Israel and Britain and have turned down offers to work in many more countries around the globe.
The attraction is easy to understand. Foreign campaigns typically pay more than domestic ones do, and they are lower risks for consultants coming off the image-enhancing boost of a presidential campaign, according to James Carville, the former Clinton strategist and talking head, who has worked for candidates in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan (where he worked this year on Ashraf Ghani’s second-tier presidential campaign along with Devine’s firm).
“If you help elect a president and then you get involved in a governor’s race and you lose, it’s going to be a little bit damaging to your reputation,” he said. “But if you go to Peru and you run a presidential race and you lose, no one knows or cares. So why go to New Jersey and lose for 100 grand when you [can] go to Peru and lose for a million?”
What exactly does James Carville know about Peruvian politics that makes his insights worth a million bucks? There are technical aspects to campaigning (e.g., how big a sample size you need for opinion polls), but most of that expertise is well-known to corporate market researchers in Peru. So, what exactly are you paying Carville for, other than he was a close associate of Bill Clinton, who in 2009 was married to the American Secretary of State?
American presidential campaign consultants have been earning huge fees from international campaigns since at least 1969, when Joe Napolitan — a Democratic consultant who worked on John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign and was credited with engineering Hubert Humphrey's surprisingly narrow 1968 loss to Richard Nixon — helped reelect Ferdinand Marcos as the Philippines’ president.
After helping elect Bill Clinton in 1992, consultants Carville, Stan Greenberg and Paul Begala went on to work for candidates in Israel, South Africa, Greece and the United Kingdom, just to name a few. And Penn's expansive international practice got a boost when he began polling for President Clinton, who recommended Penn to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who then became a longtime client.
It’s difficult to track foreign campaign payments to American consultants, since they don’t fall under U.S. campaign finance or lobbying reporting requirements and most countries lack rigorous disclosure rules, but Ukrainian politics are thought to be particularly lucrative.
Manafort’s and Penn’s firms have been involved in campaigns there for years. In fact, during last year's U.S. presidential campaign, Obama's allies at the Democratic National Committee highlighted Manafort's business partnership with McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and suggested their firm’s work for Yanukovych conflicted with McCain’s criticism of Yanukovych’s ties to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The upcoming presidential election in Ukraine is being watched closely given its geopolitical significance in U.S.-Russian relations.
AKPD client Tymoshenko was once seen as such a reliable American ally in a regional battle for pipelines and strategic influence that Russian prosecutors put out a warrant for her arrest on smuggling charges. But she’s since made her peace with the Kremlin and is seen as playing a more complex game with both sides — which may help explain her choice in American consultants.
"In the Ukraine and in other post-communist countries, they have this misconception about Washington politics: They think that somehow if you sign up AKPD or other former Obama people, you sign up the support of Obama," said Taras Kuzio, a senior fellow in Ukraine studies at the University of Toronto who has done political consulting in Ukraine.
"They don't understand the separation of business and politics, which doesn't exist in the Ukraine or in these other post-communist countries," said Kuzio.
But these kind of arrangements break down the separation of business and politics in America. The government needs foreign entanglements in places like Ukraine because that's how people like David Axelrod, Mark Penn, and James Carville cash in. If the U.S. minded its own business more, why would random foreign political parties hire them?