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Turning the Tables on Right-Wing Attacks




In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times op-ed column, “LAANE Turns the Tables,” Jim Newton wrote about LAANE’s pro-active response to finding ourselves the targets of right-wing operatives.

This past May we learned that a major right-wing opposition research firm with ties to Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, and working for an unknown client, had set its sights on LAANE. MB Public Affairs had requested all records pertaining to LAANE from more than 70 elected officials and public agencies in the region. As Newton explained, “The inquiries were almost certainly aimed at unearthing some embarrassing tidbit that would, at best, make LAANE look bad or, at worst, cast some doubt on its tax-exempt status.”

The progressive movement has seen too many of these attacks in recent years, on individuals and organizations. Distortions and misrepresentations used in such attacks often aren’t set straight until after the damage has been done — and the worst of it widely broadcast through right-wing media outlets. That’s why at LAANE we decided to take the attack head-on and fight back, leading with our values and passion.

First, we spread the word that we were targeted. If any allegations or distortions did arise, we wanted to make sure the public and media would see them in the context of a politically motivated and manufactured attack. Our supporters carried our message online and wrote in to the Los Angeles Times. Many contributed to a special defense fund, so that the attacks wouldn’t succeed in draining the resources we use to carry our work forward.

The Alliance for Justice set up a petition, which garnered more than 1,000 signatures, demanding that the anonymous special interests behind the campaign step forward. They co-signed an open letter to MB Public Affairs with 26 other organizations, and the Daily Kos helped to publicize both. We also received coverage of the stealth attack in the Times, L.A. Observed, Pacifica Radio, The City Maven, AlterNet and others.

Next, we requested copies of everything that the more than 70 officials and agencies supplied to MB Public Affairs in response to its information requests. We made those documents available to members of the media in a library at our offices.

Jim Newton looked through those materials and concluded, “What these documents portray is a scrappy group of dedicated activists, none of them in it for the money, pressing a controversial agenda with energy, creativity and verve. Yes, it rubs some people the wrong way, but it wouldn’t be much of a cause if it didn’t.”

We know from experience that our work engenders critics and even enemies. You can’t make a real difference in the economy without threatening those who profit from pollution, poverty wage jobs and status quo politics. While we still don’t know who directed these inquiries into LAANE, or what particular threats they see in our work, we take it as a sign of respect that someone would invest serious money just to slow us down.

However, thanks to the help of our supporters, we have been able to defend ourselves at the same time we carry on the fight for a new and better economy. While opposition research firms dig through documents looking for anything they can distort to tear us down, we have continued to achieve victories – such as the Construction Careers vote at L.A. Metro 12 days ago, the first of its kind for a major transit agency – that will build a greener economy and bring thousands more good jobs to Los Angeles.

“Indeed,” Newton wrote, “about the only thing LAANE’s critics could be upset about, at least in these documents, is that the group often persuades public agencies to agree with it. Not only is that not embarrassing; it’s ennobling.”

We are learning, as a progressive movement, that to stand by and let our opponents take the initiative is to let them decide how we’re portrayed – never mind the facts. At LAANE, we’ve chosen to fight back, and do so in the open. We know this still leaves us open to criticism. But if criticism is based on the real work we do and the change we are able to achieve, we’ve already won.

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