MoveOnForAmerica.org is a "527" group (named after the section of the IRS code they fall under). It registered with the IRS on September 3, 2004 and planned to begin running TV ads on September 9.
MoveOnForAmerica.org founder Stephen Marks told Associated Press the group's name was chosen "just to get the press's attention" - not to confuse potential supporters. "We want to kind of do what Moveon.org has done, but on the other side," he said. "We actually admire what they've done."
According to its September 7 press release, media attention led to the group's website receiving 522,363 "hits" over Labor Day weekend (September 4-6). The group's stated goal is to raise $10 to $20 million to run a series of TV ads in "key swing states... non-stop until Election Day." Marks told Associated Press on September 4 that "his group has already raised $200K and aims to 'surpass $1 million by the election.'" Marks told Associated Press, "We'll hopefully be successful like the Swift boat people," referring to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But the New York Daily News was skeptical: "So far, they can be found only on the Internet, raising suspicions Marks is seeking buzz while shopping around for a big-bucks donor to pay for airtime."
MoveOnForAmerica.org's founder is Stephen Marks, a Republican political consultant who served as press secretary to President Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, during his Florida gubernatorial campaign in 1994; other clients have included the National Republican Senatorial Committeeand the National Republican Congressional Committee. Marks' specialties include "opposition research and media"; he "created TV ads in 2000 spotlighting Al Gore's record" (see below) and has appeared as a commentator on the Fox News shows The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes.
Other Marks credentials listed in the group's press release include his having been "an investigative journalist" for Penthouse and New York Newsday, and currently hosting "The Stephen Marks Show" on on KFNX Radio in Phoenix, Arizona.
MoveOnForAmerica.org's website states that the group "was created due to the Bush campaign's largely timid ads against Mr. Kerry." The site says, "Our first ad exposes John Kerry's role in securing the freedom and parole of a would-be cop killer who escaped a Massachusetts prison during a furlough, just like Willie Horton!!!"
Another planned ad will focus on "the political alliance John Kerry has forged with Al Sharpton, focusing on Mr. Sharpton's history." The group charges Sharpton with "anti-American, and anti-Semetic words and deeds," including "blaming America for the 9/11 terrorist attacks; calling Adolph Hitler 'a great man'; urging college students to kill cops; and leading the picketing of a white-owned store in Harlem (calling the Jewish owner a 'white interloper'), resulting in the store being burned down by one of Sharpton's followers, killing seven people." In the ad, according to New York Daily News, "Kerry is seen shaking hands and embracing the black leader [Sharpton] and a narrator asks fearfully what role he might have in a Kerry administration."
The last planned ad claims that Kerry raised "political funds from known leaders of the Cali drug cartel, as well as other unethical [and possibly criminal] behavior by Kerry regarding his finances when he was dead broke between his two marriages."
The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized, "The [MoveOnForAmerica.org] ads get their edge through innuendo, leaps of logic and guilt by association." According to the New York Daily News, Sharpton remarked, "This is Willie Horton all over again," when told about the ad campaign.
Willie Horton Redux
The Augusta Free Press challenged the veracity of the group's first ad:
- The ad details how Kerry, as a private attorney, worked on the 1982 case of George Reissfelder, who escaped in 1974 while on furlough from a 1967 murder conviction.
- Reissfelder was later returned to prison, where questions surrounding his murder conviction eventually led to his case being reopened by a Massachusetts judge, who assigned the matter to Kerry's law partner, Roanne Sragow, in 1980.
- The work of Sragow and Kerry led to the judge's order for a new trial two years later - and Reissfelder's release from prison when prosecutors declined to retry the case after evidence including a deathbed confession from a prison inmate cleared Reissfelder of any wrongdoing.
A May 2004 New Yorker article also detailed the case: "One night during the trial, in July of 1967, a lawyer from Reissfelder's defense team, John Costello, met the head of homicide investigations for the Boston Police Department. The officer made an astonishing revelation: he knew Reissfelder was innocent. 'He told me, "We know your guy wasn't there,"' Costello said."
The New York Daily News noted further problems with the Reissfelder/Horton comparison: Horton "raped and tortured a suburban couple while on furlough"; Reissfelder "tried to grab a cop's gun" when captured, three years after having escaped while on furlough.
The Boston Phoenix newspaper and the Somerville, Massachusetts chapter of the human rights group Amnesty International, among others, include Reissfelder on lists of "wrongful murder convictions in Massachusetts."
MoveOnForAmerica.org's second ad, "linking" Kerry to Al Sharpton, seems to be a re-run of an anti-Gore ad made in 2000 by Stephen Marks:
- Americans Against Hate, a newly formed group run by G.O.P. consultant Stephen Marks, is up in four states with a spot linking Gore with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton, says the announcer, admires Hitler (flash to photo of the dictator) and defends rapists and cop killers (video of Willie Horton-style mug shots). The ad asks, "Mr. Gore...what kind of unholy alliance will you have with Al Sharpton?"
- Howard Witt and John McCormick, "Agile '527' groups lead well-funded hit-run war," Chicago Tribune, September 10, 2004.
- Jeffrey Toobin, "Kerry's Trials: What the candidate learned as a lawyer," The New Yorker, May 10, 2004.
- FindLaw Newsmaker Profiles: John Kerry