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.