Bullshit Detector Alert: Maxwell Frost
Updated: Aug 17, 2022
This cycle I’ve had lots of calls from lots of new candidates running for office. They want support from Blue America. And I’ve been so lucky to have met some amazing men and women in the process, people like Jason Call, Melanie D’Arrigo, Cristina Garcia, Shervin Aazami, Greg Casar, Daniel Lee, Vincent Fort, Christine Olivo, Summer Lee, Derek Marshall… But every now and then I get a call that sets off any bullshit detector at full blast. In the case of Orlando congressional candidate Maxwell Frost it happened twice. I remember hanging up and thinking, “does he think he’s fooling anyone with that bullshit rap?” Apparently he had every reason to think so, since many endorsements followed. But not one from Blue America. There are enough pretend progressives in Congress already without backing another empty suit like Maxwell Frost. I hadn’t heard from him in a while and had to laugh the other day when I saw he is fully in bed with conservative crypto-billionaire Sam Bankman Fried. Bankman-Fried didn't just max out to Frost's campaign, he also spent almost a million dollars on television ads trying to brainwash Orlando voters that this total fraud belongs in Congress representing "them."
And then, yesterday, one of the most poisonous GOP-type smears I’ve seem all cycle came from Frost’s campaign denouncing his progressive opponent, Alan Grayson, one of the best congressmen of the past two decades. Not everyone thinks Grayson was a great congressman; Republicans HATE him. And Frost dug up their talking points to use against him— and then went beyond that to claim Grayson has been endorsed by Alex Jones, a blatant lie which says more about Frost than about Jones or Grayson.
Everybody gets played at some point— especially in politics. But you learn from it. In 2006 Blue America was so badly hoodwinked by a hustler running for Congress, Chris Carney, that within 6 months of his victory, I had to apologize for asking our community to contribute to his election. It was a time when we were still cooperating with the DCCC and I wrote about how, on a blogger call with DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen I asked if he felt it was kosher for the DCCC to ask unsuspecting Democratic contributors to give to the Frontline program not knowing that their hard earned dollars would be going to Democrats like Jim Marshall (GA) and John Barrow (GA) who voted with the Republicans to sustain Bush's veto of the Iraq spending bill and like Carney (PA) who joined Republicans to vote against the Hate Crimes legislation the previous week. I noted that Van Hollen graciously suggested that it is up to the netroots to inform Democrats about where these congressmen stand on these issues.
In the course of the 2006 midterms, I had several relaxed and pleasant conversations with candidate Carney and, unlike other netroots groups, Blue America endorsed him. We encouraged our members to volunteer for his campaign and to help raise consciousness in PA-10 about Don "The Choker" Sherwood... and to donate money to the campaign. 722 of our members made donations to Carney's campaign. We even made a a radio spot (above) sung by Rickie Lee Jones and 2 of the Squirrel Nut Zippers to help focus northeast Pennsylvania voters on the issues at hand. And we were overjoyed when he won, convincingly, on election night. In the apology I explained that we don't expect the candidates we support to walk in lockstep with our positions. But even in the short time Carney had been in Congress, he had moved further and further away from all the other Blue America endorsees who won seats. In terms of supporting progressive issues in general, he has established himself at the bottom of the barrel. We were disappointed but none of us chose to castigate Carney. And then something happened that made us decide to speak up. We realized Carney flat out lied to us.
When he wanted our support he told us he favors equality for the LGBTQ community, something he also made clear to the folks at Project Vote Smart, when he checked the little box that indicates he would like to "Require that crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, and disability be prosecuted as federal hate crimes." So weren't we in for a surprise when Congressman Carney joined 13 of the most die-hard reactionary Democrats in the House-- near-Republicans who almost always support a reactionary social agenda-- to vote against the Hate Crimes bill. The bill passed 237-180 and all but 14 Democrats supported... well, supported exactly what Carney promised in his campaign he would support, "that crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, and disability be prosecuted as federal hate crimes." I felt betrayed-- like I had been kicked in the stomach. Based on my research and interview with candidate Carney, Blue America had endorsed him and hundreds of our members had donated effort and money to his campaign. Some of these donors are members of the LGBTQ community and others have friends and family who are part of that community and others just like to think that the candidates they contribute to will support equality as a core value. Chris Carney let us down, violently.
I asked Carney to return all 722 Blue America contributions to his campaign and published this letter from one of our members that was sent to him and cc-ed to me:
Dear Congressman Carney:
Apparently, we had a misunderstanding with regard to your support for equal rights for gay Americans when you sought Don Sherwood's seat last year. I supported your campaign, through BlueAmerica on the advice of Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny.com.
Now that you have voted, with some of the most reactionary Democrats in the House of Representatives, against the Hate Crimes Bill, I have reconsidered my previous support of your campaign. I would like to have my contributions returned, please. I am disabled and on a fixed income. I can only support candidates who support gay rights and, more importantly, keep their word to me and to those I trust to evaluate candidates.
I have provided my contribution information below and would appreciate your sending a check as soon as possible, as there are candidates who share my values who need my support. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.
He refused to return the money and cursed name out on the phone. Before spending six figures to help defeat him in 2010, these are some of the posts I wrote about him:
August 20, 2007- Chris Carney— A Democrat Gone Bad, Really Bad
January 15, 2008- PA Democratic Party Is High On Carney— Even Though He Votes Like A Republican And Endorsed One For President
Mat 2, 2008- Retroactive Immunity Rears Its Ugly Head Again— Steny Hoyer And Chris Carney Working To Give Bush What He Wants
June 24, 2008- Is Chris Carney Jumping The Fence?
August 25, 2008- Chris Carney Boasts That He’s Anti-Choice And Always Has Been
September 10, 2008- What To Do About Chris Carney
A few years later my worst suspicions about Carney were confirmed when one off his staffers, who was in the room with him while I was interviewing him for the Blue America endorsement, told me that all during the call, he kept flipping me off and making faces at the phone— a pre-Zoom universe. Just before Carney was defeated for reelection we had a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president. The Republicans didn't have much-- other than K Street and the billionaire class. Obama and the Democrats seemed determined to deal with Climate Change. They failed. Ed Markey was just elected senator from Massachusetts because of his leadership in this struggle. He and Henry Waxman put together the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a cap-and-trade bill that limped through the House-- passing 219-212 and got destroyed by the Senate. When the House voted, 44 Democrats crossed the aisle and voted with the GOP, including Chris Carney and a whole slew of ConservaDems, most of whom then became victims of the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse of 2010. Democrats just did not turn out to vote for these conservatives who were disappointing them. Carney lost his seat that day. So did two dozen others just like him. And the Republicans regained the House. So why single out Chris Carney? Yes, he was one of the worst and most corrupt of the Blue Dogs elected in the 2006 anti-Republican tsunami and, yes, he certainly deserved to lose his seat. But I singled him out for another reason altogether. Investigative reporter Lee Fang examines how K Street cash warps the system in his book, The Machine, and he begins by discussing a letter Carney got from an astroturf GOP front group.
"We ask you to use your important position to help protect seniors and other consumers in your district from higher electricity bills," wrote Helen cast of the Dunmore Senior Citizens' Center, in a letter requesting that Congressman Christopher Carney (D-PA) oppose Waxman Markey, the cap-and-trade legislation making its way through Congress in the summer of 2009. Helen Cast, however, didn’t exist. The senior center in Carney's district had no position on climate change and energy policy.
Similar letters, using almost identical language and formatting, were sent from local chapters of the NAACP, the Erie Center for Health and Aging, the American Association of University Women, and nearly half a dozen other organizations, to congressmen in competitive districts before the vote on the bill. Staffers working for freshman Congressman Tom Perriello, a recipient of the anti-cap-and-trade faxes, decided to call some of the groups. They discovered that the letterhead was fake, the names made up, and the letters forged and sent without the consent of the groups. In fact, the letters were written by Bonner and Associates, a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. that was working on behalf of the coal industry.
The lobbying coalition behind the forged letters, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, also funded a $28 million campaign of targeted advertising, rallies, and organizing around congressional town halls in 2009. A loophole in lobbying law, however, ensured that none of this spending was recorded or disclosed at the time.
Perriello ultimately voted for Waxman Markey, but two other Democrats who received the fake letters voted no. The onslaught of lobbying slowed and watered down the legislation until it could be killed in the Senate months after it barely passed the House of Representatives.
The window of opportunity to deal with global warming closed largely as a result of the failures associated with Waxman Markey. Despite widespread belief in action on climate change among the American public, near consensus in the climate science community on the urgency of action, and the job-creating and utility rate–cutting benefits of clean energy policy, the bill still failed in a Democratic Congress with a Democrat in the White House. The coal and oil lobby proved to be too strong.
The secret to the failure to act on global warming lay in the dramatic expansion in what is known as “outside lobbying.” This type of influence peddling seeks to manipulate the public into pressuring regulators and lawmakers. In many cases, like the coal industry’s forged letters, corporate interests construct the perception of public support using deception and coercion. But this type of lobbying isn’t registered, because registered federal lobbying only applies to firms that spend over 20 percent of their time speaking directly to lawmakers.
The work of integrating grassroots groups, orchestrating letter-writing campaigns, rallies in support of corporate lobbying goals, and phony studies published by think tanks is typically tasked to public relations companies that work in tandem with traditional K Street firms.
Managing public opinion has been a key component of lobbying since the early twentieth century. Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud living in America, developed some of the first major corporate campaigns to shift policy through public relations. For Mack Truck, for instance, Bernays set up conferences in the Waldorf Astoria and created front groups like the Better Living Through Increased Highway Transportation to influence the development of the interstate highway. His tactics remain the basis for an industry that is exploding in growth inside the Beltway.
Is Maxwell Frost another Chris Carney? Obviously, I hope we never find out but my guess is that he’s much, much worse-- and far more dangerous and without an ounce of personal integrity. A Trumpian kind of guy.