Guilt By Association By Association By Association

Over the last few weeks, I have followed and responded to the Left’s baseless attacks on its bete noir du jour, Koch Industries and its owners, Charles and David Koch. Of all of these attacks, perhaps the most bizarre is the one that seeks to associate them with prostitution and forced abortion.
At Think Progress, boy videographer Lee Fang took the first swipe on Tuesday:

In the late 90s, Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed and astroturf lobbyist Tim Phillips came together to create “Century Strategies,” a lobbying firm that specializes in generating religious support or opposition to legislation on behalf of corporate interests. … Later, it was revealed that disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked with Century Strategies to develop evangelical support for his forced abortion sweatshop clients in the Mariana Islands. The firm faded from public scrutiny as Phillips left to become president of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, and Reed made an unsuccessful run at statewide office in Georgia.

You may wonder what a “forced abortion sweatshop client” is. Hold that thought. At Forbes, someone called Rick Ungar upped the ante with a column headlined, Koch Brothers Key Political Employee Has Dark And Disturbing Past. This headline explains why anyone is still interested in these events of the 1990s: they are a convenient pretext on which to smear the Koch brothers. Ungar spins a lurid tale:

In 1997, [Tim] Phillips hooked up with Christian Coalition boss, Ralph Reed, to create Century Strategies, a political strategy and direct marketing group. …
[T]he firm entered the big time when Phillips and Reed joined up with notorious lobbyist and future convict, Jack Abramoff.
It was the Northern Mariana Islands, a small speck of land in the Pacific that provided Phillips and Reed with the opportunity to show what they could really do.
The Marianas are a U.S. protectorate and, as a result of their status, manufacturing done on the island qualifies the goods they produce to be labeled “Made In The USA.”
Unfortunately, the working conditions on the island brought the meaning of ‘sweat shop’ to unprecedented lows.
It wasn’t enough for the operators on the Marianas to pay their workers meager, unlivable wages. To boost revenues, Chinese women were forced by their employers into prostitution to satisfy the needs of the local sex-tourism industry and, when their forced labor resulted in pregnancies, they were then ordered to obtain abortions.
In response to the nightmare taking place on the island, a bill was introduced into Congress that would have imposed U.S. federal wage and worker safety laws on employers and, most importantly, bring an end to the terrible things being done to defenseless women.
Jack Abramoff was hired to stop passage of the bill. He, in turn, hired Phillips and Reed to execute on a unique strategy.
Mr. Phillips set out on a direct mail campaign , sending out flyers….

Perhaps the only true statement in that narrative is the first one: Ralph Reed and Tim Phillips did co-own a firm called Century Strategies. From there on, Ungar’s narrative is a tissue of lies.
First, the Abramoff connection: it is true that Ralph Reed had a business relationship with Jack Abramoff. Tim Phillips had nothing to do with Abramoff; in fact, he says, “I have never met or spoken with Jack Abramoff.” The Marianas Islands project, in which Abramoff’s firm subcontracted some grass roots activities to Century Strategies, was carried out by Reed. “I remember that project,” Phillips says, “but I didn’t work on it. However, it was perfectly good work and I had no problem with it.”
I take it as a given that Jack Abramoff did bad things, but that doesn’t mean that everything he did was bad. The Department of Justice closely scrutinized his relationship with Reed, and found no evidence of any wrongdoing of any kind by Reed or Century Strategies. So the basic point of this smear–trying to tie the Koch brothers to Jack Abramoff via Tim Phillips–is false.
But now let’s take a look at the work that Century Strategies did in connection with the Marianas. It is a useful case study in how liberals use innuendo and outright falsehood to smear their political opponents. The first lie in Fang’s post is his reference to “forced abortion sweatshop clients.” The duly-elected government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands was Century Strategies’ client, not any “sweatshop.” And, for what it’s worth, the Mariana Islands “sweatshops” produced clothing for Calvin Klein, J. Crew, Target, The Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi Strauss, The Limited, Brooks Brothers, Abercrombie and Fitch, and a number of other leading brands.
The next lie–I’m only hitting the high points here–is Ungar’s claim that “In response to the nightmare taking place on the island, a bill was introduced into Congress that would have imposed U.S. federal wage and worker safety laws on employers and, most importantly, bring an end to the terrible things being done to defenseless women [i.e., being forced into prostitution and being compelled to have abortions].” This is a fabrication. In fact, the legislation that the government of the Islands retained Abramoff’s firm to lobby against had absolutely nothing to do with prostitution or abortions–both of which, needless to say, had long been illegal in the CNMI. (A program to address these abuses through more effective law enforcement, in collaboration with American law enforcement agencies, was enacted in the mid-1990s with the support of CNMI’s government. This had nothing to do with the work that was later done by Century Strategies.)
Rather, the issue on which the government of CNMI hired Abramoff’s firm to lobby, and on which Century Strategies ultimately did grass roots work, was legislation to subject the Marianas to the U.S. minimum wage and worker safety laws (Washington Post, May 29,2006). This legislation was pressed by America’s labor unions, not out of any humanitarian concern, but in order to suppress competition from the lower-wage islands. Big Labor wanted to drive the Marianas garment industry out of business by driving up wage costs, and the islands’ government lobbied Congress to try to preserve the islands’ most important source of jobs.
Arguments over the minimum wage have raged for many years, and no doubt will continue to do so. The Marianas experience, however, supports the conservative view that such legislation is likely to be destructive. In 2007, when the Democrats took over Congress, one of their first acts was to raise the minimum wage in the U.S. As part of that bill, the minimum wage was applied for the first time to the Marianas and to American Samoa, phased in over time.
The result was economic devastation. In 2008, using a grant from the Department of the Interior, the Governor of CNMI retained the consulting firm Malcolm D. McPhee & Associates to analyze the effect of imposition of federal laws on the economy of CNMI. McPhee’s report, dated October 31, 2008, paints a revealing picture:

The Covenant worked well in the first several decades for the CNMI. The federal application of the minimum wage and immigration provisions of the Covenant is now destroying the CNMI economy in contravention to the Covenant itself. Obviously, something has gone seriously wrong. [Federal immigration laws were applied to CNMI in separate legislation in 2008.]
The CNMI could revert in large measure to the subsistence economy it was before the Covenant. Furthermore, after its stunning economic success, the CNMI is now on a path to become one of the lowest standard of living and most federal dependent territories in the US system. …
[T]he Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs [retained the Northern Marianas College] to conduct a comprehensive study of the CNMI economy which was completed in 1999…. This report evaluated the economic impact of the CNMI’s garment industry and warned of a serious economic downturn when the CNMI garment industry began to decline, which could happen as early as 2005. This report warned against any change in federal policy regarding immigration and the minimum wage in the CNMI without a clear determination of how such change would affect the CNMI’s economy. It stressed the importance of local control over immigration and minimum wage levels in responding to this decline and future economic recovery. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) published its assessment of the CNMI’s economic situation in 2000, essentially citing and agreeing with the NMC study economic impacts.
Despite these serious admonitions, Congress acted to apply the federal minimum wage and immigration laws to the CNMI at the onset of its economic depression. Unfortunately, little thought appears to have been given to the effects of this legislation on the CNMI’s economy.

Of course not. The point of the legislation, from Big Labor’s point of view, was to destroy CNMI’s garment industry. The consequences were catastrophic:

In 2007, apparel jobs dropped to 5,280, less than one-third the number at the industry’s height in 2004. As a consequence, total CNMI employment plunged from 40,420 in 2004 to 26,010 in 2007, a 35.6 percent decline. Thus, in just three years the CNMI lost one-third of its economy, one that took more than twenty years to build.
Other statistics paint the same distressing picture. Adjusted for inflation, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell 32.0 percent and personal income declined 38.1 percent over the three-year period. Real per capita personal income decreased 28.0 percent.

When Century Strategies tried to help the government of CNMI in the late 1990s, it was to avert precisely those economic consequences. But Big Labor and the Democratic Party eventually won this one. They succeeded in destroying the economy of the Mariana Islands and driving thousands of people into poverty.
So, to recap:
1) The Koch brothers have nothing whatsoever to do with either Jack Abramoff or the Mariana Islands.
2) Tim Phillips was once a business partner of Ralph Reed, but had no personal involvement with either Abramoff or the Mariana Islands project.
3) The legislation which Century Strategies opposed, on behalf of the government of CNMI, had nothing to do with abortion or forced prostitution, but rather sought to raise the minimum wage in the islands.
4) With hindsight, it appears clear that the government of CNMI was right to oppose Big Labor’s effort to put its garment industry out of business by raising the minimum wage.
So Rick Ungar’s claim that Tim Phillips “lobbied to continue forced prostitution and abortion” is an absurd lie. Ungar concludes: “When you lay down with dogs you will surely wake up with fleas.” One wonders: why on earth would Forbes employ someone who can’t either get his facts straight or write a grammatical sentence?

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