Lobbyist Firm In De Blasio Scandal Has Repeated Shady Dealings In Past

vlcsnap-2016-02-20-16h25m56s160As the Bill De Blasio scandal continues to unfold, the New York City mayor is taking accomplices down with him. DeBlasio is trying to keep certain ally’s communications with his office from becoming subject public records laws. One such group is the consulting firm Hilltop Public Solutions, which, as it turns out, has had their hands in many shady dealings throughout recent years.

The lobbying and PR firm has been very active in many states in recent years, including Oregon, Montana, and New Hampshire. The organization was involved with staging a press conference fluff session on behalf of Gabby Giffords’ anti gun group, Americans For Responsible Solutions, and an Oregon based anti gun group called Gun Owners For Responsible Ownership, where only invited media was allowed in to hear public officials discuss public policy matters relating to gun laws, and other media was ejected by Hilltop’s Colin Cochran and Jake Weigler, who has also has his hands all over other anti gun groups in the state, such as the Oregon Alliance For Gun Safety, and appearing at forums to discuss the matter.

Hilltop had their hands all over the John Kitzhaber scandal and the controversy over Oregon’s clean fuel bills. The Oregonian reported:

Despite the cost and complexity of the fuel standard, removing the 2015 sunset date has continued to be a priority of the environmental left, Kitzhaber and a nonprofit that sent tens of thousands of dollars fiancée Cylvia Hayes’ way. An adviser to Kitzhaber’s 2010 campaign helped create a $118,000 fellowship for Hayes through the Clean Economy Development Center, Nick Budnick and Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported recently. Of that sum, the nonprofit Energy Foundation contributed a total of $75,000 in 2011 and 2012. The foundation expected Hayes to develop communication strategies and build support for clean energy policies in the Northwest.

The Energy Foundation was focused specifically upon Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard during a period in which it also was sending money to Hayes.

This fellowship has received much attention because the money was not accounted for fully on tax returns Hayes provided to The Oregonian/OregonLive. But the Energy Foundation gave another $25,000 to the Clean Economy Development Center in 2013. The CEDC’s role this time, says the Energy Foundation, was to oversee the work of a public affairs firm, Hilltop Public Solutions, to “help us achieve our goal of educating businesses, economic development organizations, and policymakers about the economic benefits that a continuation of the Clean Fuels Program would bring to Oregon communities.”

The Energy Foundation, in other words, was focused very specifically upon Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard during a period in which it also was sending money to Hayes, who served as an energy policy adviser to Kitzhaber. In 2014, curiously, the governor decided to finish writing administrative rules for the low-carbon fuel standard even after lawmakers declined – again – to remove the sunset date.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 2.13.04 AMWeigler also runs his own campaign management and consulting outfit called Path To Victory.

Hilltop was also one of the consulting firms hired for 2014’s “No On 92” campaign, to oppose GMO labeling in Oregon. It was one of the most expensive campaigns in Oregon history, with Big Ag corporations such as Monsanto, Pepsi, Kraft, General Mills, DuPont, Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Dow AgroSciences, and others kicking in several million dollars. According to Orestar, Hilltop Public Solutions profited $76,496 from the evil corporations that left wing groups are supposed to hate.


Some of the campaign finance reportings involving Hilltop Public Solutions in Oregon. Someone's getting rich!

Some of the campaign finance reportings involving Hilltop Public Solutions in Oregon. Someone’s getting rich!

Apparently Colin Cochran, the Oregon liaison for Hilltop, couldn’t even put together a proper press conference and sent out botched releases. The day after the 2014 election, the Portland Mercury reported:

In fact, Oregon’s result could be closer than the Washington and California measures. As I write this, the Secretary of State shows the measure losing by just 16,330 votes.

That might seem too close to call, particularly since Measure 92’s boosters were relying on late vote totals. But the O has quoted supporters who apparently acknowledge defeat (our calls haven’t yet been returned), and a group with the anodyne name Coalition for Safe Affordable Food just sent out a press release hailing the result. Oh, and here’s a newly sent statement from the No on 92 Coalition’s Colin Cochran. It appears to be a draft, because this is the first sentence.

“Oregon voters have [decisively] rejected Ballot Measure 92, which would have mandated a food labeling system in Oregon that doesn’t exist in any other state, and would have required misleading labels on some foods produced with genetic engineering.”

Cochran would do well to take that “decisively” out of brackets, and out of the thing altogether. Same with a quote from another campaign flack saying voters had “soundly rejected” the measure. This was no mandate.

Update, 11:40 am: I spoke with Cochran, the No on 92, spokesman. He acknowledged his statement’s wording was too strong, and said “someone in our campaign pulled the trigger a little bit early.” A new statement should be coming out shortly.

I also asked Cochran about the spare, overtly corporate (see photo in our Live Blog from last night) “media availability” room the campaign set up last night, rather than a proper campaign party where supporters might commingle over booze. He wouldn’t talk to me about it.

In 2012, they were responsible for a deceptive ad campaign in Montana, in which a phony pro gun and fishing organization, called Montana Hunters and Anglers, which was really just a left wing front group, created to sway outdoorsman voters to vote for democrat Senator John Tester.

ProPublica reported:

Many liberal groups active in Montana, including Montana Hunters and Anglers, were connected through Hilltop Public Solutions, a Beltway consulting firm.

Barrett Kaiser, a former aide to Montana’s other Democratic senator, Max Baucus, is a partner at Hilltop and runs its office in Billings. The Hilltop website notes that Kaiser helped with Tester’s upset Senate win in 2006. Kaiser is also a good friend of Messina, the manager of Obama’s 2012 campaign, who also once worked for Baucus.

Kaiser was on the board of the Montana Hunters and Anglers dark money group. Another Hilltop employee in Billings served as the treasurer for the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC.

Hilltop partners in Washington also helped run two other darkmoney groups that spent money on the Montana race: the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund and the Partnership to Protect Medicare.

The League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana paid management fees to Hilltop.

No one from Hilltop returned calls, but Nayak and Love said they worked with Hilltop independently of other groups.

Outside groups are allowed to coordinate with each other or use the same consultants — they’re just not allowed to coordinate with a candidate. By working together, groups can disguise who is actually behind an ad.

In early July, for instance, the League of Conservation Voters gave $410,000 to the Montana Hunters and Anglers super PAC — almost all the money the group raised as of that date.

When the super PAC spent the money on TV ads against Rehberg later that month, the spots were paid for by what appeared to be an organization of Montana hunters, not some Washington-based conservationist group. Nayak said that was not a coincidence.

“We figured having a local brand like that and partnering with them on local issues made more sense than having a D.C. brand,” he said.

Equally deceptive, Hilltop Public Solutions was also behind the astroturf movement against free tax filing, which, as it turns out, was being funded by Intuit, the company that runs Turbo Tax. In 2014, Business Insider reported:

Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic.

Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn’t have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he “shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society.”

“It’s alarming and offensive” that the IRS would target the “the most vulnerable Americans,” two other letters said. The concept, known as return-free filing, is a government “experiment” that would mean higher taxes for the poor, two op-eds argued.

The letters and op-eds don’t mention that, as ProPublica laid out last year, return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Or that, under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. Or that the concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe.

So, where did the letters and op-eds come from? Here’s one clue:

Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat.

What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.

“I wish she would have told me that,” Dorff told ProPublica.

Another instance in which CCIA solicited a letter wasn’t successful. Angela Martin, director of an Oregon nonprofit, said a PR professional gave her a sample anti-return-free filing letter last year for her organization to send to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Martin knew the caller, Colin Cochran, who works for the firm Hilltop Public Solutions.

Cochran used “a lot of words that advocates would be sympathetic to, like ‘oh, it’ll hurt people with English as a second language,'” Martin said.

Martin was skeptical. So she asked Cochran who he was representing. He said he was working for the CCIA and, when asked, said yes, that Intuit is a member.

Cochran confirmed the details of his discussion with Martin, including that he was working for the CCIA. His firm boasts on its website of a “winning grasstops approach” 2014 “grasstops” is industry lingo for recruiting the support of community leaders.

Two other letter-writers told ProPublica they were approached by lobbyists, though it’s not clear who the lobbyists were representing.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, The Granite Grok blog gave a warning back in 2014:

Hilltop Public Solutions has been implicated in connection with illegal electioneering, dark money, and other questionable practices in Montana, Missouri, Connecticut, and Oregon…perhaps Michigan as well.  That will all come out in the next few days and weeks, maybe even months.

So why should New Hampshire care?  Several members of their leadership team, including Pete Kavanaugh and Greg Wassestrom,  joined the lefts crowded pantheon of out-of-state Democrat vote-sealers from the 2012 election in New Hampshire.   They presented themselves as domiciled here for voting purposes from a residence in Manchester.   Hilltop Public Solutions has also been giving money to Jeanne Shaheen.  In past years their leadership has  donated to John Lynch, Andrew Hosmer, and Donna Soucy.   So they’ve expressed some interest in our elections and were very active for Obama in 2012.   That should concern you.

Granite Grok followed that up with another article just three days later, going into some detail:

The accusations against Hilltop Public solutions go something like this.  They set themselves up in a state, and along with third party and non-profit groups–many of which they create and direct–funnel tens of thousands of dollars from other Democrat groups into specific support for candidate campaigns, well…here’s an example.

Meanwhile, back in Montana, Hilltop was also hired for another politician, Kendall Van Dyk, in 2013.

Unfortunately for Van Dyk, many of the same national media outlets that mentioned him as a possible replacement for Baucus, also cited emerging scandals involving Schweitzer’s ties to dark money groups as a probable reason for the governor withdrawing his name from consideration for the post.

How this relates to Van Dky lies in his own ties to groups like Hilltop Public Solutions, which is currently under investigation by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

In February of this year from the floor of the Montana State Senate, Senator Van Dyk derided conservative-leaning dark money group, American Tradition Partnership, while calling for the passage of legislation in the state requiring the full disclosure of anonymous donations to such groups.

“We shouldn’t be beholden to these shadowy outfits” said Van Dyk.

Unfortunately for Van Dyk, many of the same national media outlets that mentioned him as a possible replacement for Baucus, also cited emerging scandals involving Schweitzer’s ties to dark money groups as a probable reason for the governor withdrawing his name from consideration for the post.

How this relates to Van Dky lies in his own ties to groups like Hilltop Public Solutions, which is currently under investigation by the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices.

In February of this year from the floor of the Montana State Senate, Senator Van Dyk derided conservative-leaning dark money group, American Tradition Partnership, while calling for the passage of legislation in the state requiring the full disclosure of anonymous donations to such groups.

“We shouldn’t be beholden to these shadowy outfits” said Van Dyk.

And rounding it out with another trip back to Oregon, turns out Colin Cochran had been involved with the anti gun zealots back in 2013, as he was mentioned in an email from anti gun state Senator Ginny Burdick:

Many people have also asked how they can get involved. You can do four things to help in the effort to pass sensible gun safety legislation:

1) Come to the gun safety lobby day at the Capitol on April 4!

2) Have your neighbors, friends and family contact the state senator and state representative from their district and ask for their position on the bills. Urge them to sign onto the legislation and support it if it comes up for a vote. Members listen to constituents. You can find your legislator by entering your address here:http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/ . Sign up for newsletters. Attend town halls for your legislators and bring up the issue of gun safety at every opportunity.

3) Get involved in groups supporting gun safety. Ceasefire Oregon is a great organization and would love additional support. http://www.ceasefireoregon.org/cfo/index.html[email protected]. One Million Moms 4 Gun Control is another great organization that would love additional [email protected] and (503) 610-2749. You can also check out the Facebook page of a new advocacy group, Oregonians for Gun Safety at https://www.facebook.com/#!/OregoniansforGunSafety.

4) If you are a member of law enforcement or a gun owner who is looking to make a difference, please contact Colin Cochran and let him know you are interested in getting involved. Email him[email protected].

Their ties to the green mafia don’t end with the Kitzhaber scandal. A supposed electric car lobby, Drive Oregon, has apparently brought Cochran on to assist with PR:

The Outreach and Communications Workgroup, the latest addition to the Energize Oregon Coalition, is chaired by John MacArthur of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium and Colin Cochran of Hilltop Public Solutions, on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Tasked with promoting the benefits of electric vehicle technology and accurate information about vehicle and charging options, this evolving group is presently working to mobilize public support for the Clean Car Bill, while also working to coordinate more general EV outreach activities and information.

If Hilltop is the “solution” for the public, perhaps we’d be better off with the problem instead.

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