Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Confessions of a Political Hitman: My Secret Life of Scandal, Corruption, Hypocrisy and Dirty Attacks That Decide Who Gets Elected by Stephen Marks

From Publishers Weekly

Part memoir, part industry exposé, Marks's account relates how he became a Republican Party operative digging up dirt on Democratic candidates. His field goes by the name opposition research. It is mostly legal, according to Marks, but usually secretive and, by his own evolving standards, frequently immoral. Marks drifted into the field during the first half of the 1990s and became a true believer in the GOP cause. The book names names and cites examples, from local races to statewide campaigns (Jeb Bush vs. Lawton Chiles) and includes contests for the U.S. Senate (Jesse Helms vs. Harvey Gantt) and U.S. House of Representatives, as well as presidential elections (Bob Dole vs. Bill Clinton and John Kerry vs. George W. Bush). Marks began writing the book after coming to doubt his vocation's ethics. Despite this turnabout, he is not an admirable whistleblower with a likable personality. Marks's tone and language drip with sleaze heightened by passages about his womanizing. In fact, that and often poor treatment of candidates and staff members might lead readers to conclude that Marks fell lower than his clients. Marks has written an important book that fills a gap in the popular literature about American politics, but it is not a pleasant read. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The public professes to hate it, advocates of civil dialogue deplore it, yet no political campaign unilaterally dispenses with digging up derogatory dirt on its rivals. Describing how such research is conducted, Marks illustrates the process through his political adventures on behalf of the Republican Party from the 1990s forward. Reading files in county courthouses and newspaper back issues in libraries makes up the basic legwork, Marks explains, and then higher-ups in the campaign strategize if, how, and when to drop the load on the target. To these vocational elements, Marks adds his personal political migration from liberal Brooklynite to Reaganite Republican to independent—disillusioned, he says, by Republican hypocrisy on family values, among other disappointments. Marks’ vantage point within the Republican ascendance from 1994 to 2006, along with his raft of war stories, will entertainingly educate politicos about the underside of battling their adversaries. --Gilbert Taylor

Confessions of a Political Hitman: My Secret Life of Scandal, Corruption, Hypocrisy and Dirty Attacks That Decide Who Gets Elected Book Review

The most influential people in a political race aren't the campaign managers, the strategists or even the candidates themselves. In fact, you won't even find them on a campaign's list of official members or volunteers.

Enter the world of the political hitman. Few know that these operatives exist, and campaigns go to great effort to distance themselves from the people who dig up their dirt. But political hitmen wield a secretly powerful position in today's American politics, where scandals derail campaigns and negative campaigning decides who gets elected and who doesn't.

For the past twelve years, Stephen Marks has worked silently behind the scenes as one of the country's top opposition researchers: a political hitman and an assassin of reputations. Confessions of a Political Hitman is Marks's intensely personal and explosive story through more than a decade in the underbelly of American political campaigns.

From his early days in politics through his rapid movement into the secret world of opposition research, Marks discovers a talent for digging up dirt and uncovering political liabilities. His work involves a wide scope of American politics, from state governments to presidential elections to the Republican Revolution. But the exciting work soon leads to disillusionment as candidates he believed in turn out to be worse than expected, and hypocrisy abounds on both sides of the political fence. Eventually Marks finds himself living in the shadows, both politically and personally, and searching for escape.

In Confessions of a Political Hitman, Marks reveals the fascinating and incredible details of what really goes on behind the scenes in American campaigning-including the political realities behind the campaigns, careers and attack ads of some of Washington's heavy hitters, including George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jack Abramoff and countless others.

Confessions of a Political Hitman is one man's story about secrets, lies, hypocrisy and influence-painting a troubling picture of whom we elect and how they get elected.

About the Author: Stephen Marks

Stephen Marks has been an opposition research specialist for more than 12 years, beginning with the historical Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 through the equally historic Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006. He has appeared on numerous television programs, including The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes and Fox and Friends.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Chapter One: The Beginning of the End: Jack Abramoff, John Kerry, and Al Gore

"You're up all night and down every day"

It was the day after Election Day 2004. Despite only twelve years in a successful career as a political hitman-and doing for those twelve years what I believed at the time to be the first truly constructive endeavor in my life-I had become disillusioned with the entire political process, and to make matters worse, my physical health was deteriorating more rapidly than my political idealism.

"Stephen, this has got to stop. You cannot continue doing this for a living," Dr. Butler told me in frustration. "It's killing you physically and mentally, and not only that, you're way too high-strung for this type of work."

Shooting back in knee-jerk fashion, I responded sarcastically, "And what type of work is that, doctor?"

"Working on the dark side. You living in the shadows, digging up dirt on politicians. Living out of a suitcase, skulking around the country from state to state, keeping crazy hours at night, and feeling like a wild man every day.

Having to be so secretive, since you can't let anyone know what you're doing . . ."
The good doctor was now foaming at the mouth. "Who in their right mind does this kind of crap for a living? The stress will kill you, not to mention your asthma."

He had a point.

***It was November 2, 2004, early in the morning after Election Day, when John Kerry finally called George W. Bush and gracefully told him "Congratulations, Mr. President." Bush had unbelievably once again pulled the rabbit out of the hat- déjà vu all over again as America stayed up all night while a single state decided Bush's fate and his place in history.

These were heady times for Republicans in the nation's capitol, who for the first time in fifty years (with the exception of a brief five-month period in early 2001) would take complete control of the White House and both houses of Congress. But times were not so flush for me. Despite my success as a political hitman, my life was unraveling.

Up to that date, I had built a successful career in a mostly unknown field. I was "re-born" as a political hitman in 1994 for the sole purpose of helping to elect a Republican Congress, the first in my lifetime, which we did on Election Day 1994. I did my part by digging up dirt on Democratic political opponents for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

I continued in this line of work for ten more years, working for the Republican National Senatorial Committee and dozens of other political clients as a private consultant, helping more politicians (mostly Republicans) get elected and re-elected with the help of the dirt I dug up on their political opponents. I also wrote a political expose on the Pat Buchanan Presidential campaign that would reveal political corruption to the American people. I also dug up dirt for corporate clients to use against their competitors, no different and no less dirty than political dirt-digging.

Why did I do this work? Dr. Butler was quite correct about the negative impact that being Oppo Man was having on my mental and physical health. But the doctor was dead wrong in his belief that I was the man "in the shadows," living "on the dark side." While this may have been true in the literal sense, in a much more important and deeper sense, it's the politicians and most of the press who cover them that really live in the shadows. It is the politicians who deceive at best and lie at worst about where they really stand on the issues and about their private and professional lives.

So, who is left to expose them? The press sometimes does, but usually can't because of their lack of resources. There are many excellent journalists and investigative reporters in America, but the average political press man or woman doesn't have an entire month to research a politician's veracity about his voting record in Congress, as Oppo Man does.
Other times, the press is just plain lazy. For instance, when Congressman X sends out a press release boldly bragging that it was he, the great congressman, who was responsible for sponsoring the great legislation that was going to put away thousands of pedophiles, how many members of the media will actually look at the first three lines of the legislation, where they could clearly see that Congressman X did indeed sponsor the legislation-along with two hundred other members of Congress? How many members of the press will follow that up with a full research package on every one of that same congressman's votes over x number of years to see how he really votes on all the issues? How many members of the press will find that, ten years prior, that very same congressman who now brags about sponsoring tough-on-crime legislation had in fact voted against key anti-crime legislation, which resulted in thousands of dangerous criminals walking the streets, including the pedophiles he now brags about putting away?

If the only "news" the public gets about politicians is from the politician's bogus press releases, and the press is working under the handicap of not having the resources to research the truth, who is left to tell the public what's really going on?

You guessed it. The political hitman.

A political hitman is forced to live in the shadows in order to uncover the truth that will eventually lead the American public out of the shadows; to force politicians into the light of truth.
I know what you're thinking:
- Is all this negative political stuff really good for America?
- Is it really good for America to know all the personal foibles of every politician?

These are excellent questions. Each reader must come to his or her own conclusions after finishing this book. But you must keep one important fact in mind. Saying the public should not be privy to certain sensitive matters regarding those that represent our democracy is an insult to America's collective intelligence. Armed with all the facts, the public can generally figure out which are relevant and which are not. We saw this in 1998, when President Clinton's popularity rose during the Monica Lewinski fiasco. Not only that, the backlash against the hypocrisy of the Republicans attacking Clinton at that time resulted in the Democrats gaining congressional seats in 1998, less than two months before Clinton was impeached in the House of Representatives.

In retrospect, the voters had it just about right regarding Clinton, and in the end, his historical accountability and punishment were also just about right. The Republicans were correct in their assertion that Bill Clinton lied under oath in a federal courthouse and obstructed justice, and therefore deserved impeachment. But the Democrats were right, too- it was all about sex, so he didn't deserve to be removed from office. This historical result came from congress' actions (impeachment in the House, acquittal in the Senate), made possible largely as a result of the public's wishes.

Thus, while most Americans didn't believe the president's transgressions were serious enough to warrant his removal from office, the public still had the right to know about those transgressions. So unfortunately, the investigative reporters and political hitmen who bring all this negativity into American politics are a necessary evil if the public has "the right to know" the truth before they can make educated votes regarding who their leaders will be.