Three years ago, Baron Hill, a lawmaker from Indiana and a leader of the Blue Dog caucus of conservative House Democrats, went out on a limb. He appeared in Michael Moore’s movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, to talk about bank pressure to vote for the bailouts. He made a tough vote, months later, to support extending health coverage to 31 million of his fellow Americans by supporting the Affordable Care Act. He was bullied by right-wing hecklers, and pummeled by hundreds of thousands of dollars in deceptive attack ads sponsored by corporate lobbyists. Some of the fronts airing ads against him, like the US Chamber of Commerce, turned out to be financed by the same insurance companies Hill moved to regulate with his ‘aye’ vote on healthcare reform.
K Street’s assault on Hill was part of an orchestrated effort to take out as many Democrats as possible and replace them with reactionary Tea Partiers. Todd Young, a far-right former Heritage Foundation staffer, defeated Hill with the help of a wave of corporate-funded attack ads. And Hill’s Blue Dog caucus was the biggest casualty in the last election.
The stinging electoral defeat—only 23 of 54 Blue Dog members were reelected—taught them one thing: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Earlier this year, a pack of retired Blue Dog lawmakers now working as K Street lobbyists, led in part by Hill, formed an organization called “Center Forward.” The group is the latest manifestation of a think tank created in 2010, the “Blue Dog Research Forum,” purportedly designed to “find commonsense solutions to America’s greatest challenges.”
As the Washington Post’s Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam reported this week, Center Forward is pouring nearly $4 million this cycle into broadcast media to help elect conservative House Democrats, as well as three right-wing House Republicans. Some of the ads are posted on this YouTube channel.
GOP blogs have complained that Center Forward is some type of partisan “Super PAC.” But Super PACs are largely disclosed. Center Forward is actually organized as a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy group, meaning the group can behave like a political committee without revealing its donors.
Rather than being an independent think tank, as the Center’s website implies, tax forms reviewed by The Nation reveal that the organization is closely tied to a variety of corporate lobbying firms now occupied by ex–Blue Dog members of Congress.
The Center is registered to 325 7th Street NW, Suite 400, a Washington, DC, address shared with a lobbying business called the C2 Group. The C2 Group, which represents Comcast, AXA Financial, PepsiCo, the US Chamber of Commerce and YUM! Brands, among others, specializes in peddling influence to conservative Democrats. The website sells the firm’s lobbying expertise and its “close working relationship with the Blue Dog Coalition.”