Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Dissecting a Claim: Perkins v Blumenthal

In my last post about the Louisiana Family Forum, I repeated a claim that Max Blumenthal made in a Nation article. The claim was that Tony Perkins, founder of the Louisiana Family Forum and now head of the Family Research Council, had bought David Duke’s mailing list in 1996 while running the Senate campaign of Woody Jenkins. Blumenthal wrote:

In 1996 Perkins paid former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke $82,500 for his mailing list. At the time, Perkins was the campaign manager for a right-wing Republican candidate for the US Senate in Louisiana. The Federal Election Commission fined the campaign Perkins ran $3,000 for attempting to hide the money paid to Duke.

Joe Carter, who is the webmaster for the Family Research Council, left a comment pointing to Perkins’ response to Blumenthal on the FRC website. That response said:

Tony Perkins was the manager of the 1996 U.S. Senate campaign of Republican Woody Jenkins in Louisiana where Impact Media was contracted to make pre-recorded telephone calls for the campaign. In 1999, an unrelated federal investigation uncovered that David Duke had a financial interest in the company, which he did not report to the IRS, resulting in his conviction on federal tax evasion charges. This connection was not known to Mr. Perkins until 1999. Mr. Perkins profoundly opposes the racial views of Mr. Duke and was profoundly grieved to learn that Duke was a party to the company that had done work for the 1996 campaign.

These facts have been widely reported in Louisiana and the reports appearing now in various partisan media are not accurate. In 2003, Mr. Jenkins published a letter in the major daily in Baton Rouge responding to a critical article that resurrected the same distortion. “[I]t is unfortunate,” Jenkins wrote, “for you to smear a good man like [then-] Rep. Tony Perkins. There is absolutely nothing about the matter that should taint Rep. Perkins. His intentions were entirely honorable, and neither he nor I have ever been ‘in bed’ with David Duke as you so crudely and unjustifiably allege.”

The assertions made by Mr. Blumenthal are untrue and a distortion of the facts.

After further research, aided in particularly by Gerard Harbison finding the FEC filing referred to by Blumenthal, strongly suggests that both versions of this story are inaccurate. It is important to note, I think, that this filing was a settlement agreement, which means that both sides are legally stipulating that the information it contains is accurate, which makes it definitive in this situation. Here’s what it says:

After the 1996 primary election in Louisiana, David Duke contacted Woody Jenkins and recommended that he use the services of a computerized phone bank system run by Impact Mail. Jenkins purchased several rounds of calls from Impact Mail. After the first round of calls, Jenkins began hearing complaints that Duke’s name would appear on the caller ID when a phone bank message would arrive. At that point, Jenkins tried to cancel the transaction but was unable to because Tony Perkins, his campaign manager, had signed a contract with Impact Mail. Subsequently, Jenkins instructed Perkins to put a stop payment on the check issued to Impact Mail and directed that Impact Mail be paid through Courtney Communications, the campaign’s media firm…

V. Respondents knowingly and willfully filed false disclosure reports showing Courtney Communications as’the vendor that provided services to the Jenkins Committee, in violation of 2 U.S.C. S 434(b)(5)(A). VI The Commission has detemined that a civil penalty of $82,500 ordinarily would be appropriate in this matter, but the Commission has agreed to accept a $3,000 civil penalty in settlement of this matter, based on documentation and representations made by Respondents concerning their present financial circumstauces. Respondents agree that the Commission’s acceptance of this conciliation agreement is conditioned on the truthfulness and completeness of the infomation they provided.

I think this reveals that both versions of the story are inaccurate in different ways. It does not appear that any mailing list was bought at all; rather, a contract was given to Duke’s company to make phone calls on their behalf. And the $82,500 figure that Blumenthal uses was not any fee paid to Duke but was the figure that the FEC said would be the usual fine for the violation of FEC regulations in the case (though they settled for only $3000).

Perkins’ version of the story is also inaccurate, but it’s inaccurate in ways that are clearly more important to the substance of the complaint. It isn’t true, as Perkins claims, that Duke’s ownership of Impact Mail – not a mere “interest in” the company, but actual ownership; the phones were in his name – was only revealed by an unrelated investigation. Duke’s involvement was known by Woody Jenkins from the very start because Duke asked him personally to hire his company.

Is it possible that Perkins did not know that? Yes. Joe Carter tells me that Perkins did not know it at the time and also says that Woody Jenkins has confirmed that he never told Perkins that Impact Mail was Duke’s company when he instructed him to sign the contract with them. I have no reason not to believe Carter; we may disagree on virtually everything, but I have never known him to not be honorable and honest. I have no doubt that this is exactly what Perkins has told him.

Could Perkins be lying? Of course. And we know that Jenkins was lying when he said that he had never been involved with David Duke. The filing makes clear that Duke asked Jenkins personally to hire his company. So we know that Jenkins knew it, at the very least. And there is more that we can surmise.

We can certainly reason that Perkins found out about Duke’s involvement, at the very least, at the time that the cover up began. It stretches credulity considerably to believe that 1) he didn’t know about the complaints that Duke’s name was showing up on the caller IDs once the calls began; or 2) he didn’t bother to ask Jenkins why he was to launder the payments for Duke’s company through another company.

So it seems all but certain that even if Perkins did not know that they were using Duke’s company at the time he was told to sign the contract with them, he must have known that after the first round of calls took place, the complaints came in about the calls showing Duke’s name on the caller ID and Jenkins told him to start laundering the payments to that company to cover up that fact. And after that, Perkins was a part of the illegal cover up of that fact.

So in the end, while Blumenthal’s article was inaccurate on the minor things, Perkins’ response is inaccurate on the big things. None of this proves that Perkins is a racist, of course; it’s certainly plausible that he didn’t know about Duke’s involvement initially. But it certainly shows that he has some serious ethical problems, both by going along with the cover up and by, now, lying in telling his side of the story.