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Fred Karger profile in Mother Jones

Fred Karger profile in Mother Jones

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Published by Chino Blanco
The Lone Ranger getting ready for his next battle ... Profile of Fred Karger by Stephanie Mencimer in the March + April issue of Mother Jones magazine.
The Lone Ranger getting ready for his next battle ... Profile of Fred Karger by Stephanie Mencimer in the March + April issue of Mother Jones magazine.

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Published by: Chino Blanco on Mar 18, 2010
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03/17/2010

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march/april 2010
| mother jones
1
42
features
 
28
 
Age of Treason
By Justine sharrock
 Inside the rising movement o soldiers, cops, andsheris who believe it’s their constitutional duty toresist a tyrannical Obama administration
special report on human rights
 
36
 
For Us Surrender IsOut of the Question
By mac mcclelland
I’d signed up to teach English to Burmesedemocracy activists. Little did I know that their realmission was far more dangerous—and that the USconsidered them terrorists.
plus
: 
The killer apps inside your iPhone
 
52
 
Blood and Treasure
By adam hochschild
The people o Congo might not be so poor i their country weren’t so rich.
66
 
Dr. Clooney, I Presume?
By dave gilson
Madonna, Oprah, Brangelina, and Paris battle or control o Arica’s most precious resource: publicity.
 
68
 
Cash on Delivery
By scott carney
Everything can be outsourced to India, evenpregnancy. Inside the rent-a-womb business.
plus
:
 
Tracing hair extensions to their roots
 
76
 
Game Changer
By stephanie mencimer
How a master o the political dark arts went romshilling or Big Tobacco and George H.W. Bush tofghting like hell or gay marriage
 
80
 
A Place for Us
photographs By erica mcdonaldtext By Jennifer gonnerman
Will New York’s mentally ill adults ever get thehomes the state promised them?
volume
35
, number
2
 
76
March 
;
 April 2010
photograph by bryce duffy
 
March/april 2010
| mother jones
77
in
 
the
 
summer
 
o 2008, Fred Karger was keeping aclose eye on the Caliornia ballot initiative known asProposition 8, the measure that would eventually out-law gay marriage in the state. He didn’t have much back-ground in the marriage-equality movement—hell, he’donly really been out or a ew years. But ater retiringrom 30 years in politics he wasn’t quite ready to giveup the game, and Prop 8 struck a nerve with him. Hechecked out the campaign nance reports or the mainorganization backing the initiative, ProtectMarriage.com. Polls had shown that the initiative was likely toail, and the undraising records dovetailed with that—Prop 8’s supporters weren’t raising nearly as muchmoney as their Hollywood-backed opponents.But then, in midsummer, Karger noticed some-thing new. Suddenly, money started pouring in toProtectMarriage.com, and by August, the group wasraising about $500,000 a day. Karger wondered whereall the money was coming rom. Most o the donors,he soon realized, had never made a political contri-bution beore. Some had given to just one candidate:Mitt Romney. Quite a ew were graduates o BrighamYoung University. It wasn’t hard to connect the dots:This was Mormon money.Once he knew what to look or, Karger ound Mor-mons everywhere in the Prop 8 campaign: as actorsin the TV ads, as volunteers, organizers, and politicalconsultants. Just as intriguing, he would discover even-tually, the group that had done the lion’s share o thework to get Prop 8 on the ballot to begin with, theNational Organization or Marriage (
nom
), also haddeep ties to the Mormon Church—and the church it-sel had been engaged in a campaign to block gay mar-riage across the nation or more than a decade. Whathe was looking at, he realized, was a stealth campaignmuch like the ones he’d run during his long career as aRepublican political operative.As a political proessional, Karger—who or decadesworked or one o Caliornia’s premier campaign con-sulting rms, a shop that had helped invent modern op-position research—was grudgingly impressed with whatthe Mormons were doing. “They completely altered thelandscape,” he says. “They took over every aspect o thecampaign.” Karger estimates that Mormons ultimatelycontributed $30 million o the $42 million total raisedin support o Prop 8, which passed easily in November 
He Was One f the gop’sT Dark-Arts Oeratrs.Nw He’s Ridin Int Battle t
 
Save Gay Marriae
 
—and Unmaskthe Mrmn Church.
game changer
by stephanie mencimer photograph by bryce duffy
 
78
mother jones |
March/april 2010
2008. (By contrast, anti-Prop 8 orces raised$64 million.)But i the opponents o gay marriagewon the battle, they also ensured them-selves a big headache. In Karger, they gal-vanized an adversary who has now dug into ght or the long haul—and who bringsa dramatically dierent skill set than therest o the marriage-equality movement.As Karger notes, most o the prominentgay-marriage advocates are, well,
married 
people: risk averse and unschooled in thepolitical dark arts. “I’m a dierent kind o gay activist,” he says. “I’m a little wilder.”
he
s
 
 also
 
a little more, well, Republican.At 14, growing up in Glencoe, Illinois,Karger took the train to Chicago to work phone banks or Nelson Rockeeller. Hewas deputy campaign director or ormer Caliornia governor George Deukme- jian and spent 27 years with the DolphinGroup, one o the country’s most sought-ater Republican consulting rms. The rmdid a lot o work with Lee Atwater, the latebad boy o Republican politics. As part o Atwater’s most inamous play, during the1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis,Karger personally tracked down the victimso urloughed murderer Willie Horton andtook them around the country or pressevents. “We made a huge splash,” he notes.“This is kind o my niche.”Another o Karger’s specialties at Dol-phin was setting up Astrotur groups onbehal o corporations like Philip Morris—aphony restaurant trade group, or example,that lobbied against indoor smoking bans.Dr. Stanton Glantz, director o the Center or Tobacco Control Research and Edu-cation at the University o Caliornia-SanFrancisco, helped expose Karger’s rontgroup, which he recalls slowed down smok-ing bans signicantly. “Anybody who doesthat kind o work is a bad guy,” he says.“It’s deceitul.” But he concedes that inthe secretive gay-marriage oes, Karger hasound the perect oil. “He’s very well posi-tioned to out these guys because he knowshow they work it.”I Glantz thinks o this kind o covertwork as sleazy, Karger views it as a wholelot o good un. Movie-star tan and bu enough to proudly go shirtless at 60, he hasan expansive sense o humor about poli-tics that masks just how ocused he is ongetting results. (He’s been known to handout three-dollar bills with pictures o Rick Warren, or photos o himsel dressed as theLone Ranger.) A earless and inveterate gate-crasher, Karger isn’t araid to pull o nervystunts, like masquerading as a restaurantlobbyist. In 2006, he waltzed into
VanityFair 
’s exclusive Academy Awards party witha ake Oscar statue and our hot chicks he’dmet on the street, claiming to be part o the
 King Kong 
special eects team.Karger says he honed his creative, cha-meleonlike qualities early in lie out o necessity—to hide his sexual orientation.As a young man, being gay was his “deep-est, darkest secret. I grew up thinking I wasmuch less o a person than my riends andcounterparts. Twenty-seven years ago, noone was out. Growing up I had two choic-es: I was either going to be like Liberace or like Paul Lynde [a.k.a. Uncle Arthur on
Be- witched 
and a regular on
Hollywood Squares
].Neither was out.” He did have long-termrelationships, including one that lasted 11years. But his partner had to hide all thephotos and fee the house when Karger’samily came to visit.His ather, a Chicago stockbroker, hadexpected him to work in the amily rm,but Karger—iguring his secret wouldget out eventually i he stayed in town—moved to Los Angeles. Through contactshe made at the 1972 Academy Awards(which he’d crashed as part o a rat und-raiser), he ended up appearing in commer-cials, including a amous shaving cream addirected by the late John Hughes. He ap-peared in ’70s shows like
Owen Marshall:Counselor at Law 
and was on the verge o minor stardom when he won a top role inthe pilot or a spin-o o 
Welcome Back, Kotter 
. But the show was canned, so Karger ound work on a political campaign anddiscovered his true calling.
karger
 
insists
 
there was never conlictbetween his sexual orientation and hiscampaigning or Republicans. The Dol-phin Group, he says, worked mostly withsocially moderate candidates. Even RonaldReagan, he recalls, had an inner circle thatwas “very gay. Nancy was very gay-riendly.He was a wonderul politician, a wonder-ul man.”
 
Today Karger considers himsel a“Schwarzenegger Republican,” noting thatthe Caliornia governor supports gay mar-riage, “unlike President Obama.”Still, it was only ater leaving Dolphinin 2004 that Karger became involved ingay causes—or, to be precise, the cause o a historic gay bar in Laguna Beach, theOrange County surer town where helives part time. In 2005, billionaire StevenUdvar-Hazy was seeking to shut down the43-year-old Boom Boom Room to build aluxury hotel. Karger thought it might beun to try to save the Boom.It wasn’t an easy decision—he’d onlybeen out to amily and close riends, andby joining this ght he’d announce hissexuality to the world. Still, ater somesoul-searching, he threw himsel into theproject with the fair o an actor and thechops o an oppo-research man.He took out a
Variety
ad appealing toGeorge Clooney and Brad Pitt to save theclub (the actors had been rumored to be in-terested in buying it) and picketed their ap-pearances at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Tohelp engage the locals and raise a little mon-ey, he ran a male calendar contest, using La-guna Beach’s primary natural resource: hotyoung guys. He delivered wheelbarrows ullo petitions to the City Council and nallywon its support or the campaign. In theend, the Boom ended up closing anyway,but Udvar-Hazy’s hotel plans have stalledand the building is up or sale, leaving thepossibility o a resurrection.The Boom campaign taught Karger anunexpected lesson. Ater years o depend-ing on gobs o money and powerul alliesor his campaigns, it turned out that all hereally needed was the Internet. “I didn’thave to raise any money! Which is o course the least enjoyable part o politics,”he says with a laugh.A ew months later, Karger read a news-paper story about the push to put Prop 8 onthe Caliornia ballot. A couple o wealthySan Diego businessmen had contributeda lot o money to
nom
, the Mormon-connected group that had been largelyresponsible or gathering the signatures toqualiy the initiative. One o them, TerryCaster, who the paper reported had givenmore than $160,000 to the eort, said that“without solid marriage, you are going tohave a sick society.”For Karger, who’s happily single, gay mar-riage is a bit o a theoretical concept. But hethinks a lot about the hurtul messages gaykids hear growing up, and Caster’s commentmade him mad. So he red up his laptopand launched Caliornians Against Hate, a
game changer
March/april 2010
| mother jones
79
one-man shop dedicated to publicizing thenames o major Prop 8 donors. “I wanted tomake it socially unacceptable to take awaythe rights o a minority,” he explains—to, asit were, push such behavior into the closet.In July 2008, he held his rst rally in ronto a San Diego hotel owned by Prop 8 do-nor Doug Manchester, calling or a boycott.It caught on, and soon major clients weremoving their meetings away rom Man-chester’s properties. By last spring the hotel’snew, gay PR guru let it be known that Man-chester would be donating $25,000 in cashand up to $100,000 in hotel credits to any
lgbt
group that applied. (Few takers so ar.)As the battle over Prop 8 raged, Karger continued to expose donors and work thepress. He tipped o the
Wall Street Journal 
 about the Mormons’ involvement, and inSeptember 2008 the paper broke the story.And he kept nding new ways to hound hisadversaries: In monitoring post-electioncampaign nance reports, he noticed thatthe Mormon church was only reporting$2,078 in nonmonetary contributions tothe Prop 8 eort. That didn’t square giventhat the church had mobilized a huge num-ber o volunteers (many o them ormer missionaries with ample door-knocking ex-perience), brought in busloads o support-ers rom Utah, arranged satellite broadcastso church leaders, and produced a host o slick ads plus a top-notch website.Karger led a ormal complaint with theCaliornia Fair Political Practices Commis-sion, a move that prompted a spokesmanto claim that the church had spent “zerodollars” on Prop 8. Two months later thechurch led a new report saying it hadgiven $190,000 worth o nonmonetarycontributions in the ew days beore theelection (ater the ling deadline or theearlier report). Caliornia election ocialsare continuing to investigate.As he made a name or himsel in theProp 8 ght, Karger began getting anony-mous tips about the church leadership. Oneo those tips led him to a treasure trove o internal church documents that laid out aremarkably organized campaign to ght gaymarriage nationwide. The church, Karger realized, had been involved in this ght—quietly, but very eectively—or much lon-ger than he’d thought.
the
 
faith
 
o a persecuted people, manyo whom starved to death on their trek to Utah, Mormonism has always empha-sized the role o marriage and childbearing(hence its early practice o polygamy) toboost its numbers. Mormons must marryand have children to achieve the highestlevels o divinity. There’s not much roomin that scheme or same-sex marriage, atleast not among a leadership dominatedby men in their 70s and 80s. In 1995, thechurch made its position ocial by issu-ing a proclamation carrying the weight o scripture that declared marriage between aman and a woman the bedrock o society.Even beore that, the church had beenworking behind the scenes to block gaymarriage nationwide—and aligning itsel with the Catholic Church, which, eldersnoted in internal memos, had “more re-spect” than the Mormons. To execute thatvision, the church used its public aairscommittee, a body organized much like apolitical consulting rm. Its leadership hasincluded high-ranking church elder Rich-ard B. Wirthlin, a legendary Caliornia po-litical consultant who was Ronald Reagan’spollster. Wirthlin was a major player in theProp 8 ght (some o his relatives even ap-peared in ProtectMarriage.com’s TV ads).The public-aairs committee or decadestracked gay-marriage eorts in every state,almost single-handedly blocked it in Ha-waii in the 1990s, and had a signicant rolein killing it in Alaska.The documents Karger obtained, someo which he has posted at mormongate.org,show that in Hawaii, the church went tothe trouble o creating a ront group tohide its role. Memos detail how the churchlooked or an “articulate middle-age moth-er who is neither Catholic nor 
lds
” to rep-resent the organization—which wouldclaim to also ocus on prostitution andgambling, but would, in act, be devotedsolely to abolishing gay marriage.The documents convinced Karger thatthe Mormons had also created a ront groupto ght gay marriage in Caliornia. Thatgroup, he believes, is
nom
, which has alsobeen active on the issue in Massachusettsand Maine, and which was primarily respon-sible or putting Prop 8 on the ballot. Itsboard had deep connections to the church,including a ormer Brigham Young Univer-sity proessor whose amily is part o the topchurch hierarchy.
nom
’s president is MaggieGallagher, the amily-values activist who wasexposed in 2005 or ailing todisclose payments she receivedrom the Bush administration.Karger began hounding
nom
 or inormation about its nanc-es, such as the tax orms everynonprot must make available tothe public. He contacted the
irs
,various
nom
oces, even sent an ally to thegroup’s headquarters in New Jersey—where,despite repeated visits, no one answered thedoor. He struck out.Brian Brown,
nom
’s executive director,says Karger is guilty o “religious bigotry.”There is, he says, no actual basis or hisclaims that
nom
is a ront or the MormonChurch. “Fred Karger has a history o be-ing untruthul and making alse attacks on
nom
and in general trying to intimidate andharass [
nom
] supporters. Frankly he’s anembarrassment to those who want to civ-illy debate the same-sex-marriage issue. Hehas no basis in reality. We see Fred Karger as someone who is wasting our time.”Yet Karger’s muckraking has clearlystruck a nerve with
nom
. In January2009, with the help o the Indiana-basedChristian right
 
law rm Bopp, Coleson &Bostrom, the group sued the state o Cali-ornia, challenging the law that requiresdisclosure o ballot-initiative donors.
nom
 alleges that the requirements prompt ha-rassment o donors—in good part, courtdocuments suggest, via lawn-sign thet.
 
It’s a serious case rom a group o lawyerswho have an excellent track record at over-turning campaign fnance laws. (James Bopp,one o the frm’s name partners, brought theoriginal lawsuit in
Citizens United v.
fec 
, theSupreme Court case that in a seismic Janu-ary ruling led the court to throw out ederallimits on corporate
A  ll , K l
goP
 k
L Aw
 j lk  Wll H  l l
G H.W. B.
[
continued on page 95 
]

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