If you want to see the personification of how the Citizens United decision is playing out in this campaign, look no further than Karl Rove. Yes, that Karl Rove, the political strategist once known as Bush's Brain.
Rove was a big winner in 2000, when the court's conservative majority gave the presidency to his client, George W. Bush. Rove went with Bush to the White House as his political czar, but left seven years later as damaged goods. He was enmeshed in the president's failures and in scandals of his own, including millions of missing emails, congressional hearings, and a near indictment over leaks that outed covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and exposed her to danger.
But then the five conservatives on the Supreme Court -- three of whom had been appointed by Rove's two Bush patrons, Bush the First and Bush the Second -- came down with the Citizens United decision, giving Karl Rove a second lease on life as a bagman -- the biggest in town. You could see him at the Republican National Convention, backslapping and glad-handing plutocrats and politicos. He told a private breakfast meeting during the convention that the super PAC he helped create, American Crossroads, plans to spend $200 million dollars on the presidential race and another $100 million dollars on this year's Senate and House campaigns.
Then there's his affiliated nonprofit, Crossroads GPS, that's a 501(c)4 where all donations are anonymous, perfectly cozy and covert. Just a few days ago, Crossroads GPS bought $2.6 million worth of TV ads in Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, three states where Republicans hope to grab Senate seats, and bring them that much closer to the permanent GOP majority of Karl Rove's dreams.
Bush's Brain has become Boss Rove, virtuoso of what BusinessWeek calls "partisan money management," the undisputed maestro of the politics of plutocracy.
How does he do it? Investigative journalist Craig Unger has been on the case for years. The author of two books on the Bush dynasty, he's now written this account of an astonishing comeback, "BOSS ROVE: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power."
Craig, welcome to the show.
CRAIG UNGER: Thanks for having me, Bill.
BILL MOYERS: You've taken on Karl Rove in this latest book. What prompted that?
CRAIG UNGER: It was really, once the Citizens United came down, I saw him go into action. And I could see what was happening was not being followed by the mainstream press. And I thought, "Here is going to be one of the great untold stories of the 2012 election." And we saw it start to play out in 2010. And the Republicans won, I believe, with 63 seats in that. It was a tremendous victory for them.
And this was at a time when Rove was supposedly out of it. And there he was behind the scenes with these super PACs, with American Crossroads. And I could see that he was preparing himself for 2012. And not just 2012, but beyond. That he was something other than people had thought he was. Most people thought he was a creature of the Bush family. And I think he's a force that's more powerful than that.
BILL MOYERS: I actually mapped the connections where you place Rove. From the Republicans in Congress to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest business lobby in America. To multi-billionaires like the Koch Brothers, to the Tea Party, to the Christian Right, Ralph Reed. To Grover Norquist. To the National Rifle Association. To Rupert Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal. Fox News, to the super PACs, by which he directs multimillions of dollars. How does he hold it all together? What's his secret?
CRAIG UNGER: Well, a lot of it, you know, I go back to the early days in the '80s, when he was really sort of a nobody. And the Texan Republican party was not powerful then. The big business people in Texas said, "Well, why should we give to the Republicans. The Democrats are doing everything we need." And Rove made his entree there through the issue of tort reform.
BILL MOYERS: He was actually working for Phillip Morris back in nineteen, the late '70s, early '80s. And you say in here and outline how he, in effect, transformed the Texas State Supreme Court into a pro-corporate, anti-tort court. And that became, as you say, a cash cow. How did he turn this tort campaign into a cash cow?
CRAIG UNGER: He went to big companies and said, "Look, you risk billions and billions of dollars in product liability lawsuits. Let me help you out. All you have to do is contribute a few million dollars to political action committees for my candidates."