Progressive Choice: Where Are They Now?

For months before the primary, the group Progressive Choice made headlines around the state with controversial mailings, radio ads, and a constant stream of Twitter and Facebook attacks on Charlie Crist.  Estimates of the spending by this campaign vary, but considering the sheer number of ads, the figures have to be in the seven-figure range at the least.  All of the ads targeted Democratic regions of the state and many were in African-American neighborhoods, which raised flags and drew many to wonder about their motivations, including us here at the Squeeze.   While the ads seem to merely attack Charlie Crist’s progressive credentials, they targeted key demographics that he would need in the November election.   Everything about the group was kept secret, even after numerous groups tried investigating and countless newspaper articles were written. Moreover, no other issue or candidate was supported or attacked by them.   The group itself became an issue of hot debate all over the state and every major news outlet  seemingly had some version of “who are these guys?”  In time, even some of those who had defended the group initially, or had participated in something the group had done, backed away.

Progressive Choice Florida was self-defined as “a diverse coalition of fair-minded, forward-thinking individuals and organizations advocating for leadership that stands firm on progressive principles and genuinely reflects the interests of all progressives across the nation.”  Even though no other organizations came forward to admit they were part of this coalition, for months progressives argued about the effectiveness of their ads.  Up until August 26th, the group was active on social media and loud in their criticism of Crist.  Even though the group never mentioned Nan Rich, they were clearly supporting her candidacy, but in an insulting way that was clearly race-baiting.   Figures like Leslie Wimes praised the group through the constant rumors that they were paying bloggers for good coverage, yet no one every came forward to openly speak about who was behind them.

As soon as the primary finished, every outlet from Progressive Choice went silent.  This group, who claimed to care about the such issues as marriage equality in Florida, medical marijuana, LGBT rights, women’s healthcare issues, and other traditional progressive issues, fell dead silent.   The blog Progressive Choice ’14 went silent.   Their Twitter, Facebook, and website have been quiet since the primary and even the national group has had just two tweets since Aug 26th.  It seems that the entire organization does not intend to be active in one of the most important mid-term election in recent history.

There is just no reasonable answer to give the group any credibility.  This secretive group came forward and decided that attacking Governor Crist was the most important progressive cause in the county and when he prevailed in the primary, they just quit and gave up.   There is simply no logical explanation other than this was a Republican front group formed merely to attack Charlie Crist.   While the financial backers will probably always be unknown, the obviousness of the quick silence after the primary speaks volumes.  We may never have find concrete evidence linking Progressive Choice to the Republicans or Rick Scott’s special interest backers, but no proof exists that they were truly linked with “progressive” causes within Florida.

This also makes everything  Jamie Fontaine said completely false and brings her credibility into question.  Her quote in Talking Points Memo is now riddled with irony:

“I feel confident that as our work in other states on important progressive issues becomes more visible, any doubts about our credibility as a true progressive organization will fade.”

If you look at her organization, Fontaine and Company itself seems to have shutdown as well, with nothing posted on Facebook since June.   Jamie Fontaine herself, when looking at her own Facebook page, has absolutely no ties to any progressive group in Florida, which merely ads to the mystery.   While it appears she was a legitimate progressive activist at some point on LGBT issues, surely this deception was only used in appearance only when looking at her recent cases.  She has a long history of working for developers under the guise of grassroots activism and this isn’t the first controversial case that Fontaine has taken on where she would not disclose donors.   In 2012, she created another “grassroots” advocacy group to advocate for a politically-connected development plan:

“Documents surfaced in February showing that the pro-development advocacy group Neighbors for McMillan was crafted by Vision McMillan Partners, the development team selected by the city to rebuild the fenced-off sand filtration site. According to grassroots campaign files, developers assisted with the creation of Neighbors for McMillan to increase local support for the current redevelopment plan and provide “continuous political cover to local elected officials,” among other goals.

Leaders of the Neighbors for McMillan project say the group was designed to educate Bloomingdale and Stronghold residents about the Vision McMillan Partners plan. “Our relationship with Vision McMillan Partners was never a secret,” said Jamie Fontaine, president of Fontaine & Company, a Baltimore-based grassroots advocacy firm hired by Vision McMillan Partners to educate the community about the project.”

She was hired to fight a real grassroots movement that was fighting against a large developer who was a friend of then Washington D.C. mayor Vincent Grey.  At the time, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development under Grey was Jeff Miller, who was former VP at Trammel Crow, who was the lead developer for the property, who were the ones that hired  her PR firm to “neutralize the opposition” to the development.   Jamie Fontaine, even after being asked repeatedly who was backing her campaign (likewise to Progressive Choice) refused to disclose her donors, but the relationship soon became clear.   Mayor Vincent Grey has since had six campaign officials plead guilty to conspiring to defraud the District of Columbia’s Office of Campaign Finance, with his epic land development plan being at the center of the controversy.

While she takes over as Supreme Ruler of the AstroTurf, Fontaine leaves behind some serious questions about the effectiveness of her tactics. In many ways, this confirms our suspicions all along.  Tony Fabrizio, one of Rick Scott’s advisers, even hinted that something like this in late summer of 2013.  Attacks from the left were expected, however, the effects will only be known after the election.

As progressives, this should serve as a powerful lesson about outside influence and manipulation.  Obviously, November will be the true measure if these tactics will work or not, yet if Rick Scott does manage to prevail it will give Republicans a powerful new tool in order to drive progressive activists apart.   If the secret to dismantling progressive power is simply to increase the infighting,  a serious weakness in the left has been exposed.  Progressives must be more effective in spotting these tactics.   Although many saw Progressive Choice for it was right away, many were fooled.   The comments on this blog are more than evidence that these can be harmful.  While a variety of opinions are important, AstroTurf progressiveness have no place here.

26 comments

  1. Democratic Guy · · Reply

    Very important article! Please share! Thank you Katy!

    Like

  2. or it could have been progressive money trying to influence the primary to highlight which candidate had a more progressive record.

    Like

    1. Good point Susan, but why let a plausible alternative explanation or a pesky thing like truth or facts get in the way of innuendo when you are trying to drum up a following. When Katy says that Progressive Choice did not support any other issues that is a flat out lie. I received mailers and emails from Progressive Choice supporting Amendment 2 and marriage equality. Their was also a very large social media push for both issues. In the end we don’t have enough information to really judge Progressive Choice, perhaps we never will, but I do know that Fox News journalism tactics don’t have place in the progressive movement either.

      Like

      1. Have you gotten anything since the primary?

        Like

    2. First, get it right. I didn’t praise Progressive Choice. I talked about the message. Unlike you, apparently, I focused on the message and not the messenger. It amazes me how some non African-Americans seem to like to determine what messages work or don’t work for us. Just because you have a thing for Charlie Crist certainly doesn’t mean everyone else has to have one. For OUR community, meaning African-Americans, there are issues that need to be addressed that stem from both Democrats AND Republicans. Oh, and your veiled attempt to try to insinuate that I was paid by anyone doesn’t work either. You should know, though,Katy, that actions like yours, attempting to smear those who would stand up for African-Americans, have been seen by us on the regular. Typical white privilege behavior.

      Like

  3. […] BLOG POST OF THE DAY — PROGRESSIVE CHOICE: WHERE ARE THEY NOW via The Florida Squeeze […]

    Like

  4. First, get it right. I didn’t praise Progressive Choice. I talked about the message. Unlike you, apparently, I focused on the message and not the messenger. It amazes me how some non African-Americans seem to like to determine what messages work or don’t work for us. Just because you have a thing for Charlie Crist certainly doesn’t mean everyone else has to have one. For OUR community, meaning African-Americans, there are issues that need to be addressed that stem from both Democrats AND Republicans. Oh, and your veiled attempt to try to insinuate that I was paid by anyone doesn’t work either. You should know, though,Katy, that actions like yours, attempting to smear those who would stand up for African-Americans, have been seen by us on the regular. Typical white privilege behavior.

    Like

    1. Frayed knot · · Reply

      Why do you feel the need to turn every fb post or blog thread about racism? Nobody is trying to keep anybody down. Our President has shown that politically we don’t vote based on skin color. Get over yourself. You are angry and bitter. I have googled you and know about your affair and exposing your ex lover. Bitter, bitter, bitter. Go away.

      Like

    2. Richard Block · · Reply

      What is wrong with you Leslie? You call everyone who disagrees with you a racist. The Democrats are trying to help the African-American community to vote, Republicans are trying to stop African-American’s from voting.

      Like

      1. Broward Bob · ·

        I don’t care what color Leslie is, she writes like a stupid little girl, a petulant child with a computer. Sad, really.

        Like

    3. Broward Bob · · Reply

      How strange, you have no credibility here, or anywhere else, even on your own teen-aged “look at me in my 20 years ago nightclub dress” blog. how many smart liberal women have you blocked there from posting? BOO!

      don’t go away mad, just, um you know the rest leslie,

      Like

  5. After it is all said and done it is pretty pathetic some folks still try a d defend a group that had ZERO footprint in the state of Florida abs was the very definition of astroturf.

    Well done Katy! You exposed the truth here and it hurts many to realize they were duped.

    Like

  6. OrlandoChris · · Reply

    Vote Adrian Wyllie for Governor! Also, Bill Wohlsifer for Attorney General and yes on 2.
    Why vote between 2 known liars? Florida, we are fortunate enough not to
    be stuck picking one liar or the other this time. We actually have an
    alternative. Take advantage of the opportunity. Adrian Wyllie deserves
    my vote. The other candidates both Republican and Democrat are owned
    and controlled by special interest, like puppets and will lie to your
    face to gain your vote, then continue the same old agenda that we
    complain about year after year. Time to get off this merry-go-round,
    election after election, thinking it will be any different. Take a
    stand Florida and stop voting for these ‘paid for’ career politicians that are
    only out for money and fame and have zero interest in us Floridians.
    Even if it’s just for honesty alone, vote for Adrian Wyllie instead of
    the other two (Scott/Crist) which are proven liars. The choice is yours
    and yours alone, if you want the same old corruption and slap in the
    face, go ahead and vote for one of the two puppets (Scott/Crist) OR do
    what is right for our (yours and your children’s) future and vote for
    Adrian Wyllie. Support him by donating to his campaign, spreading the
    word and contribute to the super brochure program which I think is very
    powerful. Visit his website today

    Like

  7. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    This article is right on the money! I’ve noticed how all these so-called “progressive” voices have fallen silent since Crist won by a 3 to 1 margin!

    Like

    1. If their goal was to influence the primary, why wouldn’t they be silent now? The primary is over.

      Like

      1. Wendy Sejour (not hiding behind a pseudonym) · ·

        Susan you are wasting your time. Katy and others aren’t interested in any other possibilities they just want to enhance their own reputations and don’t care about looking for solid data or facts before implying the worst, You notice that issue of the truth in message is never addressed, only an attempt to discredit the messenger using innuendo and guilt by association, typical “faux news” tactics. And for the record, I am one of those that does not care if Progressive Choice was a front group or not because every word they put out about Crist and the other issues was true.

        Like

  8. AstroTurf campaign is right. A complete fraud this was.

    Like

  9. Katy, I am a Gator alum and a Florida native. I am also very dear friends with Leslie Wimes so consider my post very closely. Leslie and I have worked on many projects together to advance the cause of women. As the president of your local NOW, this should be your first priority. Several months ago, she interviewed Nan Rich for her popular radio show. During that time, she found out that Emily’s List refused to even include Rich on their list, let alone endorse her. NOT EVEN INCLUDE HER. As an advocate for women, you should have done what you could to ensure that Rich got a fair shake in the party. Crist refused to debate her. This was tantamount to disrespect. Where was your voice? Crist ignoring a woman who was running for Governor, the first and the recipient of NOW’s Susan B. Anthony Award deserved better. Where were you? Leslie single-handedly kept Nan Rich in front of people and reminded Democrats why Nan Rich mattered. Where were you? When Will Weatherford humiliated her on a tweet “Are you still in the race?” and Debra Wasserman Schultz did nothing to get Rich support for Emily’s List, where were you? And, she’s a Gator. Charlie Crist is not pro-choice nor is he pro-gay marriage, both impt to the Democratic principles. Nan Rich has stood by both women and LGBT and both, including you, groups turned their backs on her. Not Leslie. Who is Leslie Wimes? She is an advocate for women. She stands by the principles of the Democratic party. You wonder why she brings up race? Seriously? Like women, blacks don’t have a voice in Florida. She is trying to change that by starting the Democratic African American Women’s Caucus. I’m helping her get the word out. I set up the Wikipedia page because I think it is incredibly powerful that she is giving a voice to black women when they YES THEY will sway your Democratic election and none of you have made any attempt to listen to what’s impt to them. Instead you say she’s talking too much about race. Any one of you that says that is a bigot and a bully because there is no way that you cannot acknowledge that race is an issue in America. And berating Leslie isn’t going to make it go away. Demeaning her will not make it go away. Calling her names doesn’t make it disappear. It only proves that you are intimidated by the conversation. And, just for the record Katy, perhaps your group could get behind the DAAWC because the Democratic Women’s Club is refusing to certify the caucus. She wants Leslie and her black friends to stay under the thumb of an all white executive leadership. This is again about giving women power. I will expect you to contact her to get this rectified immediately.

    Like

    1. Richard Block · · Reply

      Your dear friend, Leslie Wimes, calls everyone who disagrees with her a racist. Whats up with that?

      Like

    2. Dear 1000, you are ALL over the board, so I’m very confused exactly what you would like me to address. The role of NOW in Nan Rich? Or Ruth’s/Emily’s List? Because this post is about Progressive Choice . . . . That was the context I was addressing.

      But hey, let me try here. Shall I start with Nan Rich? NOW was the first group to endorse Rich and stood with her to the end. I printed off hundreds of voter guides with her name on them (which are visible on the Gainesville NOW Facebook page). NOW hosted her for countless events (I did here in Alachua last fall) and gave her NOW PAC money. If you’ll look up the vote distribution, she did almost 40% in Alachua county, drastically better than South Florida, no matter how many times Leslie Wimes mentioned her.

      Emily’s List and Ruth’s List have criteria for endorsement – most organizations do. Nan Rich failed to meet the criteria and the only person to blame for that is Nan Rich. Both organizations work to fight for the women who have the best shot and they do this by determining which candidates are the most viable. Everyone has be measured against the same criteria. Are you suggesting they rewrite all the rules for Nan Rich?

      Were you out knocking on doors for Geraldine Thompson, who had a primary battle? Did you go make phone calls for Barbara Watson? Are you up in Jacksonville helping the incredible slate of African-American women who are running for city seats in March 2013? Did you help any of the other dozens and dozens of women who ran for office in August? I didn’t think so.

      Like

  10. Richard Block, your are an ignorant man. I wonder about anyone who only hears one thing. You are the one that needs to check yourself.

    Like

    1. Richard Block · · Reply

      You are just as nasty as Leslie Wimes. In fact, I think you are Leslie Wimes hiding behind your fake name 1000 Girlfriends.

      Like

      1. Broward Bob · ·

        of course she is, that silly child. ‘popular’ radio show? maybe a dozen listeners? no probably half that. bwahaha.

        Like

  11. […] and the super-majority in the house.  Progressive Choice was a no show since the primary (as I wrote about here), clearly showing it was created to just attack Crist from the left.  If Republicans can […]

    Like

  12. […] the spring and summer Progressive Choice Florida caused quite a stir through Democratic Party circles. Speculation was that the organization that […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: