When Pat Buchanan showed up to tout his new book on Tim Russert’s CNBC show, Russert asked about his recent lunch date with Lenora Fulani, former presidential candidate of the New Alliance Party. Russert described her as “a black-nationalist Marxist.” Buchanan narrowed his eyes. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Lenora Fulani,” he began.
Buchanan’s comic timing accomplished the deadpan demolition of a redbaiting reporter whose knowledge of Fulani was limited. But Buchanan’s emerging joint venture with Fulani and her guru, Fred Newman, could have a major impact on the 2000 presidential race. And Marxism has nothing to do with it. Should Buchanan make the leap into third-party politics, the Fulani faction, a psychotherapy-and-politics sect now a power center in the Reform Party, would provide a foundation for his nomination bid. But Fulani–whose past allegiances have boxed the compass from Jew-baiting Louis Farrakhan to Abe Hirschfeld, the Jewish New York real estate developer and former New York Post owner now on trial for hiring a hit man to kill his former business partner–may gain more than Buchanan from the deal. Already, Fulani has found media credibility as the ostensible left-winger in the Reform movement. Recently Fulani has framed Buchanan as “a mighty powerful spokesperson for issues of political reform” whose appeal is “beyond ideology–beyond issues of left, center and right.”
There are pragmatic reasons for this strange new alliance. Buchanan would like Fulani’s support; her Reform Party faction was strong enough to secure her 45 percent of the delegate vote in the party’s recent election for vice chair. But it isn’t just a case of mutual opportunism. The Buchanan-Fulani partnership exposes a dangerously corrupt corner of a third party founded on the promise of cleaning up US politics. It also reveals some of the ideological contours of Buchanan’s campaign, which should alarm those progressives who may have been wondering whether Buchanan, despite his right-wing social agenda, could emerge as an attractive populist challenger to corporate globalization.
The name Lenora Fulani has only the faintest resonance today. But in 1988 and 1992, Fulani gained minor celebrity running for President on the New Alliance Party line. Her re-emergence at Pat Buchanan’s lunch table calls for a quick refresher course on one of the longest-touring snake-oil shows in American politics.
What is now the Fulani faction within the Reform Party began life in the early seventies on New York’s Upper West Side as one of the many political sects active in the final days of the New Left. Fred Newman, a philosophy PhD, came up with the idea of bridging quasi-Marxist politics and encounter psychotherapy. Newman and a small cluster of his followers established an experimental therapy practice based on the idea of curing psychic ills through political engagement–engagement directed by Newman that involved recruiting clients and their checkbooks for the Newmanites’ own electoral campaigns and other enterprises, and intimidating and harassing critics.
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Newman has an unusual gift for seducing hot-button political leaders hungry for disciplined supporters. In the seventies the Newmanites briefly allied themselves with Marxist-turned-neofascist Lyndon LaRouche, then shifted to the more fertile ground of electoral politics, as well as to alliances with Farrakhan and nationalists of various persuasions. By the eighties Newman’s small but intensely motivated cadre–including, eventually, Fulani–had attached themselves and their morphing New Alliance Party to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and various elected officials, most of whom eventually denounced the Newmanites as opportunistic manipulators. The NAP fielded three national campaigns for President, with Fulani as the candidate in 1988 and 1992, when she qualified for more than $2 million in federal matching funds. In 1992 the party simultaneously provided foot soldiers for Larry Agran, mayor of Irvine, California, running in the Democratic presidential primary.
At the end of 1994, the Newmanites dissolved their New Alliance Party and began a long tango with Perot’s Reform organization, first effectively dominating the breakaway Patriot Party and then merging it, more or less, with the Reform mainstream [see Micah L. Sifry, “From Perot to Fulani,” May 30, 1994]. Fulani ran for lieutenant governor of New York in 1998 on the ticket headed by businessman Tom Golisano, and the Newmanites made themselves a major force in Golisano’s Independence Party. The ticket also included multimillionaire developer Hirschfeld, then running for state comptroller (he also gave $22,000 to Fulani’s campaign). All the while, the Newmanites built and maintained their “social therapy” practice, today operating in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta.
What could possibly attract the militant conservative Buchanan–Nixon speechwriter, Reagan communications director and on-the-right CNN host–to such an oddball crowd? On the most superficial level there is a two-word answer: ballot access. Over the past fifteen years, Fulani and the Newmanites have become the undisputed kings of third-party ballot lines, mastering the intricate and varied laws of all fifty states and repeatedly challenging punitive restrictions in court with the help of their core of perhaps 100 key supporters. This matters to Buchanan because the Reform Party is currently on the ballot in only twenty-one states; according to party rules any candidate hoping to qualify for the presidential nomination (and the $12.6 million in general-election financing that the nomination brings) must be on the way to winning ballot lines in the other twenty-nine states. It is a job cut out for the Newman-Fulani organization. In addition, Buchanan’s principal padrone within the Reform Party leadership, 1996 vice presidential candidate Pat Choate, has forged a working relationship with the Fulani team–even opening his address to this year’s Reform Party convention with fulsome praise of a Fred Newman play he had attended at the group’s Castillo Cultural Center in New York.
Pat Buchanan is not only getting into bed with Fulani and Newman’s unusual psychopolitics, he’s also signing a contract with some of the sleaziest operators on the independent political scene. The Newmanites have always practiced a complex financial shell game, leveraging psychotherapy into campaign contributions [see Shapiro, “Dr. Fulani’s Traveling Snake-Oil Show,” May 4, 1992]. As Fulani once told adherents, “The more you give, the more you grow.” A review of campaign finance and legal records shows that since 1992 Newman and his followers have become even more adept at juggling numerous political, cultural and psychotherapeutic enterprises to skirt and sometimes overstep the boundaries of election law and the tax code.
Not so adept, however, that they can’t get caught. In 1994 a former Fulani campaign worker named Kellie Gasink went to federal officials with tales of massive fraud by the 1992 New Alliance presidential campaign. According to Federal Election Commission records, Gasink charged that “campaign manager” Newman “used a network of 13 vendors and other entities he controlled to funnel committee funds to himself” and had “embezzled” other money by lining his pockets with staffers’ paychecks. When the FEC investigated, Newman and his campaign treasurer invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and Fulani’s campaign staff stonewalled, refusing to release key records until the FEC enforced a subpoena.
The FEC came to the conclusion that Gasink’s allegations were true, and it ordered Fulani to repay a total of $612,000–more than 25 percent of all the matching funds she had received. Fulani appealed and eventually the FEC–still laboring without the benefit of cooperation from Newman or the campaign treasurer–agreed to lower the repayment to $117,000, including more than $43,000 used to “purchase” bulk orders of the National Alliance newspaper at more than twice the bulk rate and $73,000 in paychecks to individuals “that cannot be traced.” Fulani petitioned to block the FEC, but in June 1998 her petition was dismissed by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with Judge Charles Silberman slamming Newman and company for working to “frustrate and delay” the FEC’s inquiries. No wonder Newman decided it was time to retire the New Alliance Party brand name.
Unlicensed and Untaxed
The FEC investigation has not inhibited the Fulani-Newman operation’s creative bookkeeping, if more recent records are any indication. At the center of the smoke cloud stand two private entities: the East Side Center for Social Therapy and the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, both based in New York. As unincorporated businesses, both are shielded from detailed public disclosures.
The East Side Center (even the name involves some smoke-blowing, since its address at 500 Greenwich Street is about as far west as you can walk in Manhattan without falling into the Hudson River) provides sliding-scale individual and group therapy. According to the New York State Board of Regents, neither Fulani nor Newman nor a majority of the “clinical staff” listed on the center’s Web site–who describe themselves as “therapists” on federal campaign contribution disclosure forms–are licensed as psychologists or social workers. (New York law permits anyone to hang out a shingle advertising psychotherapy, but only those psychologists or social workers licensed by the Regents can describe themselves as certified.)
Sharing the center’s address–and with boards of directors largely drawn from the center’s staff–is a cluster of tax-exempt nonprofit entities: the East Side Institute for Short Term Psychotherapy, the Castillo Cultural Center (which exists largely to produce Newman’s own didactic plays), the All-Star Talent Network and the Community Literacy Research Project. According to IRS records, the Institute for Short Term Psychotherapy and the Castillo center attracted nearly $2.5 million over the past four years in contributions, fees at public events and grants. Their staff and boards, too, kick in to the Fulani presidential and state-office campaigns.
Between Fulani’s campaigns and the Newmanites’ nonprofit enterprises stands only the sheerest of veils–even though federal tax laws prohibit nonprofits from electioneering and impose stringent restrictions on nonprofit board members and staff who might be perceived as acting on an organization’s behalf. The 1999 campaign finance disclosure forms for the still-active Fulani for President committee list eight of the nine directors of the East Side Institute as substantial contributors, along with seven of eight directors of the Castillo center. Several of these directors, along with key members of the for-profit East Side Center’s psychotherapy staff, report outside employers to the FEC but not their jobs in the Newman-Fulani orbit, perhaps to make the campaign’s revenue stream seem more diverse than it really is. And they are joined in their contributions by two dozen employees of various Newmanite enterprises. This is a wall of separation so thin you can read the tax code through it.
The Committee for a Unified Independent Party is an even more shadowy entity. Co-founded by Fulani in 1994, it appears to be the continuation of the New Alliance Party’s political operations. CUIP officially describes itself as “part think-tank, part training institute, part media and communication center for the independent movement.” The committee seems to be a vehicle for the former NAPers, who are consulting for allied campaigns like that of Hirschfeld, as well as a conduit for campaign expense money into Newmanite pockets: According to New York State campaign finance records, for instance, last year the CUIP pocketed about $15,000 from the 1998 Fulani campaign, which rented office space from CUIP. The whole cash machine is powered even further by a bewildering series of large-scale, interest-free loans to and from Fulani campaigns by individuals associated with Newmanite enterprises: In 1998 these included more than $40,000 in loans to the Fulani presidential committee, still alive even though she hasn’t run for eight years.
“My rackets,” Al Capone once said, “are run on strictly American lines, and they’re going to stay that way.” It’s a philosophy Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani would understand.
If it matters that a faction with such a documented record of corruption is central to Pat Buchanan’s Reform ambitions, what matters even more is the emerging ideological bargain between Fulani and Buchanan. Buchanan’s attacks on global trade and his opposition to US military adventures abroad have led some influential voices on the left to wonder whether this is a bargain they could join. Some in the Naderite orbit, for instance, now argue privately that Buchanan will not center his campaign on social issues in the 2000 election, and that a platform based on his corporation-bashing might be worthy of support.
Chip Berlet, a longtime scholar of American authoritarianism, recently pointed out on Public Eye, the Web journal for Political Research Associates (www.publiceye.org), that Fulani first edged across the floor in Buchanan’s direction after his 1996 victory in the New Hampshire primary. At that time she praised him as a grassroots populist who “tapped into the anti-government, anti-big business, pro-people sentiments of a significant portion of the American people.” But opposition to global corporations is not the real source of affinity between Buchanan and Fulani. Rather, beneath their seeming differences of ideology creep repeated hints of a shared worldview.
Both are nationalists, albeit in different arenas. And both Buchanan and the Newmanites enjoy provoking Jewish outrage with rhetoric that steps up to the threshold of anti-Semitism. Buchanan’s well-known sins in this area, enough to persuade William F. Buckley of his fellow conservative’s Jew-baiting streak, have their parallel with Fulani and the Jewish Newman, whose writings and speeches over the years have described post-Holocaust Jews as “stormtroopers of decadent capitalism” and used other choice epithets. The political identity of both is rooted in declared reverence for deeply authoritarian institutions: In the case of Buchanan, the most reactionary faction of the Catholic Church, which is nostalgic for the days before women could read from the altar or deliver Communion; in the case of Fulani, her “guru” Newman and a system of psychotherapy famous for giving Newman personal control of the most intimate aspects of clients’ lives. Right or left, Buchanan and Fulani offer variations on the same nationalist, scapegoating and authoritarian impulses.
Pat Buchanan’s anti-immigrant, antigay, antifeminist, antiglobalist rhetoric is not peripheral to his “people first” economic vision but rather lies at its very heart–just as it does in the case of the reactionary French populist Jean-Marie Le Pen as he builds right-wing unions in Europe. As Berlet has observed, Buchanan descends from the populist tradition known as “producerism”: Buchanan portrays his followers as hard-working Americans beset from above by an intellectual and political aristocracy and from below by the shiftless poor and immigrants.
Any progressives contemplating Pat Buchanan as a populist challenger to global corporations should also contemplate his 1987 analysis of Joe McCarthy, which eerily prefigures his flirtation with Fulani and the Reform Party. Americans supported McCarthy, Buchanan wrote, “not because of precisely what he said, but because of what they understood him to be saying.– McCarthy was cheered because for four years he was daily kicking the living hell out of people most Americans concluded ought to have the living hell kicked out of them.”
This is the Buchanan-Fulani project: an authoritarian, bigoted populism in which resentment matters more than overt content. It is a tradition, going at least as far back as the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings of the nineteenth century, that has repeatedly scapegoated immigrants, the poor, intellectuals and the left. Buchanan and Fulani propose a phony populist coalition in which the only “leftists” to gain a foothold will be those willing to sell out all the gains of feminism, gay liberation and civil rights in return for a narrow economic nationalism. This is the meaning of the new Buchanan-Fulani alliance–an axis that can only divide, not unite, America’s disaffected and disempowered constituencies.