By Helen Fessenden - 01/18/08 12:01 AM EST
Allen Raymond had spent a decade working to elect Republicans when he signed up his telephone service vendor firm, GOP Marketplace, to take part in a phone-jamming operation in the 2002 New Hampshire Senate race. The client: James Tobin, New England regional political director for the Republican National Committee (RNC). The goal: Disrupt Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts.
But things went downhill quickly starting on the morning of Election Day, when Raymond was told by Tobin’s man at the New Hampshire Republican Party, Chuck McGee, to promptly shut down the operation. An FBI investigation ensued, and Raymond ultimately pleaded guilty to charges related to phone harassment. In February 2005 he was sentenced to five months in prison, which was eventually reduced to three.
Raymond’s decision to cooperate with federal investigators spelled bad news for both Tobin and McGee. McGee served seven months in 2005, while Tobin was found guilty in December 2005 of conspiracy to commit the commission of interstate telephone harassment and aiding and abetting the commission of interstate telephone harassment.
Tobin will not face a judge again until this February, however, because his lawyers won an appeal granting a new trial. The RNC has spent around $3 million on Tobin’s defense team, which has argued that Raymond was a rogue operator.
Not so, says Raymond in his book — he got orders from Tobin himself. “My political party and my former colleagues not only threw me under the bus but then blamed me for getting run over,” he writes.
But the book is not only payback. He dishes out the details of his rise as a GOP operative, the art of legal-but-dirty tricks, and how voters effectively condone the rigged system by reelecting the politicians who live and die by these tactics.
Q: Now that you have written this book, what is your relationship with the Republican establishment?
A: We’re estranged. [Laughs] There is no relationship. And that’s fine by me — I’m not looking to go back. I still have some personal friendships going back and I keep tabs on what’s going on, but I’m not engaged in Republican politics.
Q: Do you plan to write more on politics?
A: It really depends on whether there’s demand. Writing the book was great for me, though. It started out as a vindictive rant but turned into a fun exposé about politics.
Q: What would you have done differently back in 2002? You suggest in the book that, belatedly, you suspected the RNC would use you as a disposable fall guy for an operation that they thought about trying later on, on a grander scale.
A: You can always replay what you did, but in the end you have to take responsibility for your own decisions. That’s the Republican credo, right? There are no victims. I knew I’d be the fall guy when the party said I was a rogue operator, but I accepted that. I resolved to take the hit as long as it stayed a political scandal. But when it turned into a criminal investigation, everything changed. That’s when I began to cooperate with the FBI.
Q: Do you think politics has gotten dirtier in recent decades? And if so, what drove that?
A: Not really, things have pretty much always been the same. Politics is not a sorority pillow fight. The stakes are high, and there’s a lot of money — so the competition will always be rigorous. It’s about destroying your opponent so you can win. The one difference now is the Internet. It’s a virtual town green where anyone get can up on his soapbox and shout, but there’s no fact-checking. So all sorts of things proliferate.
Q: What do you see in the current election as especially dubious?
A: Well, a lot of stuff happens now that bothers me that didn’t bother the old me. Look at what’s being thrown at Barack Obama — and it’s not just by the Clinton campaign. Anytime anyone says Barack Hussein Obama, you might as well throw a beard on him and call him Osama bin Laden. And what’s going on right now in the South Carolina Republican primary, targeting Mitt Romney and John McCain, is really nasty stuff.
Q: There’s the argument that ethics played a big role in the 2006 election. Do you agree, and do you think that has extended to broader concern about the ethics of campaigning?
A: No, and no. Both sides have always had their scandals. Whoever is in power will try to monetize government. There will always be patronage, and the majority will always try to make a buck off of government. And if you’re in the majority, you’ll always be a target for the minority to attack.
Q: Let’s get to the horse race. Who will be the Democratic nominee?
A: Obama has done a tremendous job with his balancing act on gender and race, but he would have to be consistently that good every day to win. I still think Hillary Clinton will get it. She has the whole presidential infrastructure behind her — it’s like having the fastest car. That can do wonders for a campaign. Just look at George Bush.
Q: And the Republicans?
A: Well, I bet twice that Bush wouldn’t win, so don’t take my word. The field is so wide open, but I’d say Mitt Romney will eventually get it because he has the biggest checkbook. You need money to compete long-term in the states that have the delegates. Even if McCain does well in South Carolina, I’m not sure it will give him overpowering momentum in Florida.
Q: In your book, you often write disparagingly of the GOP’s Southern wing and religious conservatives. Do you see any opening for a revival for Northeastern moderates, like the kind you often worked for?
A: No. Just look at Rudy Giuliani — he’s dying on the vine. As for McCain, given that he’s a moderate on immigration, I don’t think this is his turn this cycle. It’s a really potent issue with a long half-life.