Sleeping With the GOP

A Bush Covert Operative Takes Over Al Sharpton's Campaign

Roger Stone, the longtime Republican dirty-tricks operative who led the mob that shut down the Miami-Dade County recount and helped make George W. Bush president in 2000, is financing, staffing, and orchestrating the presidential campaign of Reverend Al Sharpton.

Though Stone and Sharpton have tried to reduce their alliance to a curiosity, suggesting that all they do is talk occasionally, a Voice investigation has documented an extraordinary array of connections. Stone played a pivotal role in putting together Sharpton's pending application for federal matching funds, getting dollars in critical states from family members and political allies at odds with everything Sharpton represents. He's also helped stack the campaign with a half-dozen incongruous top aides who've worked for him in prior campaigns. He's even boasted about engineering six-figure loans to Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN) and allowing Sharpton to use his credit card to cover thousands in NAN costs—neither of which he could legally do for the campaign. In a wide-ranging Voice interview Sunday, Stone confirmed his matching-fund and staffing roles, but refused to comment on the NAN subsidies.

Sharpton denounced the Voice's inquiries as "phony liberal paternalism," insisting that he'd "talk to anyone I want" and likening his use of Stone to Bill Clinton's reliance on pollster Dick Morris, saying he was "sick of these racist double standards." He did not dispute that Stone had helped generate matching contributions and staff the campaign. Asked about the Stone loans, he conceded that he "asked him to help NAN," but attributed the financial aid to his and Stone's joint "fight against the Rockefeller drug laws," adding: "If he did let me use his credit card to cover NAN expenses, fine." The finances of NAN and the Sharpton campaign have so merged in recent months that they have shared everything from contractors to consultants to travel expenses, though Sharpton insists that these questionable maneuvers have been done in compliance with Federal Election Commission regulations.

illustration: Bill Mayer

Details

Post-Debate: Al Sharpton in the Spin Room
The Reverend Fields Oddball Questions From the Press (3 min. 4 sec.)

Stone's Miami-based Fairbanks Limited also set up an e-mail service called Sharpton-at-the-beach, which has issued dozens of releases highlighting campaign achievements before news of them was posted on the campaign website. His impact on strategy even included giving Sharpton the ax handle he wielded at the July NAACP convention, which Sharpton used as a symbol of former Georgia Democratic governor Lester Maddox, who became famous in the '60s by chasing blacks from his restaurant with one. Sharpton stirred the crowd, yelling from the podium: "Anytime we can give a party 92 percent of our vote and have to still beg some people to come talk to us, there is still an ax-handle mentality among some in the Democratic Party." Sharpton said he doesn't remember whether Stone gave him the ax handle. Stone declined to comment, but has boasted to friends that he came up with the theatrics.

Recruited in 2000 by his friend James Baker, the former secretary of state, to spearhead the GOP street forces in Miami, Stone is apparently confident that he can use the Democrat-bashing preacher to damage the party's eventual nominee, just as Sharpton himself bragged he did in the New York mayoral campaign of 2001. In his 2002 book, Al on America, Sharpton wrote that he felt the city's Democratic Party "had to be taught a lesson" in 2001—insisting that Mark Green, who defeated the Sharpton-backed Fernando Ferrer in a bitter runoff, had disrespected him and minorities. Adding that the party "still has to be taught one nationally," he warned: "A lot of 2004 will be about what happened in New York in 2001. It's about dignity." In 2001, Sharpton engaged in a behind-the-scenes dialogue with campaign aides to Republican Mike Bloomberg while publicly disparaging Green.

Sharpton recently rebuffed an appeal by DNC chair Terry McAuliffe to join a post-primary March 25 event to support the nominee, sending a letter saying he would attend but would also "continue to campaign vigorously until the last day of the convention." He has also repeatedly vowed that he would speak on prime-time TV during the July convention, saying party leaders would decide "whether that's inside the hall or out in the parking lot," threatening demonstrations unless granted exposure guaranteed to turn off many voters. Stone terminated a 45-minute Voice interview shortly after he was asked about any involvement he might have had with the letter to McAuliffe, saying he was "not characterizing my conversations with Sharpton," though he freely did in a recent Times interview.

While Bush forces like the Club for Growth were buying ads in Iowa assailing then front-runner Howard Dean, Sharpton took center stage at a debate confronting Dean about the absence of blacks in his Vermont cabinet. Stone told the Times that he "helped set the tone and direction" of the Dean attacks, while Charles Halloran, the Sharpton campaign manager installed by Stone, supplied the research. While other Democratic opponents were also attacking Dean, none did it on the advice of a consultant who's worked in every GOP presidential campaign since his involvement in the Watergate scandals of 1972, including all of the Bush family campaigns. Asked if he'd ever been involved in a Democratic campaign before, Stone cited his 1981 support of Ed Koch, though he was quoted at the time as saying he only did it because Koch was also given the Republican ballot line.

Just as Stone has a history of political skulduggery, Sharpton has a little-noticed history of Republican machinations inconsistent with his fiery rhetoric. He endorsed Al D'Amato in 1986, appeared with George Pataki two days before his 1994 race against Mario Cuomo, invited Ralph Nader to his headquarters on the eve of the 2000 vote, befriended Bill Powers when he was the state GOP chair, and debuted as a preacher in the church of a black minister who was also a Brooklyn Republican district leader. The current co-chair of his presidential campaign gave as much to Bush-Cheney as he did to Sharpton, and many of the black businessmen supporting this campaign or NAN have strong GOP ties. His conduit in the Bloomberg campaign, Harold Doley III, was the son of the first black with a seat on Wall Street. A major NAN backer over the years, Doley Jr. was appointed to positions in five Republican administrations, including Bush's.

Stone, whose Miami mob even jostled a visiting Sharpton during the recount, said recently in The American Spectator that if Sharpton were to run "as an independent" in the 2006 Hillary Clinton race, she would be "sunk," implicitly suggesting that this operation may be a precursor to another Stone-Sharpton mission. In his book Too Close to Call, New Yorker columnist Jeffrey Toobin exposed Baker's tapping of Stone, as well as Stone and his Cuban wife Nydia's role in firing up Cuban protesters, with Stone calling the shots the day of the shutdown over a walkie-talkie in a building across the street from the canvassing board headquarters. The Stone mob was chanting Sharpton's slogan "No Justice, No Peace" when the board stopped the count, which was universally seen as the turning point in the battle that made Bush president.

The Washington Post recently reported that the Bush campaign was planning a special advertising campaign targeting black voters, seeking as much as a quarter of the vote, and any Sharpton-connected outrage against the party could either lower black turnout in several key close states, or move votes to Bush. Both were widely reported as the consequences of Sharpton's anti-Green rhetoric in 2001, a result Sharpton celebrated both in his book and at a Bronx victory party on election night.

A Mysterious Marriage

The Stone involvement in the Sharpton campaign began in early March at a lunch at Gallagher's, a midtown steak house that Stone frequents. Stone and Sharpton do not disagree that two mutual friends, Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf and anti-Rockefeller-drug-law activist Randy Credico, helped to arrange it. Sheinkopf and Credico say Stone asked them to arrange the meeting, and Credico recalls "repeated pressure" from Stone to put it together. Stone says both are "mistaken" and that Sheinkopf suggested it to Sharpton and that Sharpton sought the meeting. Sharpton was scheduled at one point to fly to Miami for the get-together, says Credico, but canceled. Sheinkopf says it was "certainly Stone who initiated it," though he agreed that "Sharpton needed to talk to people who know how to do presidential campaigns."

Sharpton, who brought lawyer Sanford Rubinstein and NAN director Marjorie Harris Smikle to the lunch, said everyone present—including Sheinkopf and Stone—believed he needed to hire experienced staff. Stone discussed the daunting requirement of raising at least $5,000 in 20 states to obtain federal matching funds and outlined some of "the things he had to do," according to Sheinkopf, to achieve it. Credico recalls that Stone "mentioned Halloran's name," dumping on the inexperienced consultant, Roberto Ramirez, who Sharpton was then using. "They had a natural affinity," Sheinkopf said, "and agreed to continue talking."

Credico said Stone explained his interest in working with Sharpton by saying that they had "a mutual obsession: We both hate the Democratic Party." Stone told Credico that he "would have some fun with Sharpton's campaign" and "bring Terry McAuliffe to his knees." Stone, Credico, and Sheinkopf walked to Stone's apartment after the lunch, and Stone was elated with the tenor of the meeting.

Sharpton was already negotiating a deal with Frank Watkins, who ran both of Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns, so he took no immediate action on Stone's suggestions. Halloran was busy anyway with another Stone- arranged assignment—running the parliamentary campaign for the United Bermuda Party, ironically the white-led party seeking to unseat the island's first black government. Halloran had also managed a Stone-run campaign in New York in 2002, spending nearly $65 million of billionaire Tom Golisano's money and getting the Independence Party candidate a mere 14 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial race. Stone, whose firm represented the prior Bermuda government, did initial work in the 2003 race there and left, recommending Halloran. Sharpton says that when the Bermuda job was over in September, he hired Halloran to work under Watkins, but that when he discovered that Jackson and Watkins were "sabotaging my campaign" and were really with Howard Dean, he replaced Watkins with Halloran.

Halloran is a capable operative who claims he did advance work in the first Clinton campaign, and that he worked as a consultant in a statewide Democratic race in Georgia and as a volunteer for Al Gore during the recount battle. He has become so close to Stone over the last two years, however, that he stays at Stone's 40 Central Park South apartment when he's in New York working for Sharpton. Halloran and his wife celebrated Stone's 50th birthday with him and his wife last year, and the two operatives talk virtually every day. By his own account, Halloran made so much money in the Golisano and Bermuda campaigns, he has so far worked for Sharpton since September 4 without receiving a single cent in pay.

Sharpton's latest FEC filing lists him as collecting nearly $5,000 in expense reimbursement. The campaign also owes him $50,000 in pay through December 31. It's the only time he can recall running a campaign on trust. Since Sharpton 2004 now owes ($348,450) almost as much as it's raised ($382,766), and since the Rev has left a notorious trail of other liens in his wake, it's a peculiar level of trust.

Angels for Al

The same paucity of payments is true for a collection of other Stone-Halloran associates working in the campaign. Ernest Baynard, another Golisano campaign veteran who helped set up the Sharpton-at-the-beach e-mail address and does press and research for the campaign, hasn't been paid a cent and is listed as a $20,000 debtor. Ironically, while working for Sharpton, Baynard's Meridian Hill Strategies has been simultaneously retained by another campaign Stone helped launch, arch-conservative Larry Klayman's run for the U.S. Senate in Florida. Two other ex-Golisano consultants, Joe Ruffin and Andre Johnson, ran Sharpton's campaign in the Washington, D.C., primary last month, and unlike Halloran and Baynard, were actually paid for it, a total of $12,900. (Johnson is owed an additional $3,500.)

The Archer Group, a San Francisco– based consulting company that reeled in $246,000 from Golisano, dispatched its two top executives, Michael Pitts and Ron Coleman, to New York back in September. In all this time, the company has only been paid $5,000 by the campaign for "logistics." The campaign filing lists the company as owed only another $5,000 for "rent"—on an office/ apartment at 50 West 34th Street, where the company used to run its Sharpton operations. Pitts, whom Stone gratuitously described as "a 300-pound black Democratic operative," says they were recruited by Halloran "to do a national field operation plan." Admitting that it makes him "uneasy" that Stone is so involved in the Sharpton campaign, Pitts says he nonetheless participated in at least five strategy sessions with Stone to plan field operations, labeling him a "Mr. Know-It-All Kind of Guy." Calling Stone's involvement "sinister," Pitts simultaneously dismissed it, saying Stone "just wants to be disruptive" and "likes to be in the shit."

All the other payments to Archer were made not by the campaign, but by NAN, which Stone has reportedly been quietly subsidizing. Pitts acknowledged that they signed a $20,000-a-month contract with Sharpton, but says the price was subsequently reduced. He says they were paid entirely by NAN until December, ostensibly to run a voter registration operation. But Pitts concedes that all they did was a registration plan, never any registration, and that they began "to focus more on scheduling" for the Rev, saying that many of the events they scheduled across the country were "shared events," part campaign and part NAN.

"We knew some of these things were commingled," he said. "We heard from Charles that it had been ruled that our arrangements had gotten a bit too hazy." Was there, he asked, "a hazy thing" about being paid by NAN to do scheduling for the campaign? "Yeah, you get caught up in the middle of it."

In early December, Pitts says they went on the campaign payroll. But by the end of December, the 34th Street office was vacated and Coleman was back in California. Pitts stayed with it, spending most of the last few weeks in South Carolina, and moving on this week to Michigan, where Sharpton plans a major effort. Elizebeth Burke, another Golisano aide, worked with Coleman and Pitts, first at Sharpton's campaign office at the hospital workers union, and then at the Archer apartment. She says the $5,000 payment to Archer is "laughable" compared to the amount of campaign work the company did. Burke was paid $1,000 a week, half by NAN and half by the campaign, and says she did "all the logistics" for him across the country, "working with debate organizers and creating campaign events."

Burke says Pitts and Coleman told her that Stone made "at least two loans in six figures to NAN, totaling well over $200,000"—and that they were all "stunned to hear about it" because Stone, she said, "has to know that he'll never get it back." She also recounted how in December, Sharpton personally wrote a $10,000 check for Archer's services that bounced. "We found out the account didn't exist; it was a closed account." The campaign and NAN, which she calls "a shell," were in such disarray that "the only way we were staying afloat was through other sources that might not be legal, Republican sources."

Credico, who's remained in close touch with Stone throughout the Sharpton adventure and who heard the Maddox story from him, says Stone told him he took a $270,000 promissory note from Sharpton. Stone also told Credico that Sharpton ran up $18,000 on his credit card last year, covering some of the costs of a California trip, including a fundraising dinner thrown by NAN. "I can't believe Roger's still involved with Sharpton," Credico said. "All he does is complain to me about Sharpton owing him all this money. Last time we had dinner, I told him, Why don't you just get out of it?" Credico has his own complaints about the campaign's finances, saying that Stone and Halloran promised to send him to Iowa but never did, setting him back the price of an airplane ticket from California when he rushed back to New York.

Asked about the $270,000 and the $18,000 by the Voice, Stone replied: "Go badger somebody else." Sharpton said the Voice should get NAN's IRS filings for the payments, knowing that they do not detail revenue sources and don't have to be filed for months. "That was our annual event in California," he said, insisting only that any possible credit card purchases by Stone were NAN-related exclusively. "I asked a lot of people to help." He said the same thing about the loans: "I asked him in terms of the network." The NAN loans are a potential illegal end-run around FEC limits, as are his donated services, which are an in-kind contribution to the campaign from a professional consultant.

The combination of the unpaid or underpaid services of Stone, Halloran, Baynard, Archer, et al., together with the NAN subsidies, paint a picture of a Sharpton operation that is utterly dependent on his new ally Stone, whose own sponsors are as unclear as ever. Stone is friendly with a number of Bush sidekicks, from Baker to powerhouse GOP Washington lobbyists like Wayne Berman and Scott Reed. Berman has received a seven-figure finder's fee from Carlyle, the D.C.-based equity engine that includes Baker. Former president Bush worked for the Carlyle Group until late last year. Halloran's wife, Chris Trampf, works at Carlyle, though Halloran insists she is merely a back-office staffer.

Blackface Bucks

Stone acknowledged that he "helped Sharpton" in the campaign's desperate attempt in November and December to reach the $5,000 matching-fund threshold in 20 states. "I collected checks," he said. "That's how matching funds is done. I like Al Sharpton. I was helping a friend." Sharpton was the last candidate to meet the December 31 deadline and is immediately seeking more than $150,000 in federal funding. If the FEC, which has been reviewing his application for a month, determines that he meets the threshold, Sharpton will be eligible for more.

But he only submitted 21 states, and at least one, Illinois, is unlikely to be certified, since it came in at $5,100 and contains two $250 contributions from the same individual. Only single contributions of up to $250 can count toward the threshold. That means Sharpton's funding—against which he has already taken a $150,000 bank loan—is the lifeblood of the campaign. Stone and Halloran allies, including staffers Johnson and Ruffin, kicked in the last four $250 contributions in D.C., all on December 30 and 31, that gave Sharpton a perilous $5,332 total.

In Florida, Stone's wife, Nydia; son Scott; daughter-in-law Laurie; mother-in-law Olga Bertran; executive assistant Dianne Thorne; Tim Suereth, who lives with Thorne; and Halloran's mother, Jane Stone (unrelated to Roger, he says), pushed Sharpton comfortably over the threshold, donating $250 apiece in December. Jeanmarie Ferrara, who works at a Miami public relations firm that joined Stone in the '90s fight on behalf of the sugar industry against a tax to resuscitate the Everglades, also gave $250, as did the wife of the firm's name partner, Ray Casas. Another lobbyist, Eli Feinberg, a Republican giver appointed to a top position by the Republican state insurance commissioner, did $250.

Clive and Lenore Baldwin, entertainers known for their impersonations of Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker, came in at the matchable maximum as well. Stone adopted their act years ago, producing a Clive Baldwin recording, and putting him onstage at the 1996 Republican National Convention. In a Times tale of a recent Baldwin appearance in Long Island, he wound up being "shown the door" after a "confrontation" with angry black caterers. (Apparently Stone could not locate Amos & Andy for a contribution.)

Two vendors for a current campaign assisted by Stone—the senate campaign of Larry Klayman—also donated in Florida, with public relations consultant Michael Caputo and Tasmania Productions owner Teddi Segal donating $250 (she says she doesn't know Stone). Caputo, ironically, was Stone's spokesman in 1996, when Stone was embroiled in the most embarrassing scandal of his career—the much ballyhooed revelation that he and his wife had advertised, with photos, for swinging partners in magazines and on the Internet. Caputo has, until recently, been handling press inquiries for Klayman, an evangelical who led the sex assault in Washington on Bill Clinton and is running a moral-majority, retake-Cuba campaign for senate. Stone volunteered behind the scenes for Klayman too, and several Stone-tied vendors, like Baynard and pollster Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates, have been retained.

In fact, the treasurer of the Klayman campaign, Paul Jensen, a top Bush administration transportation official, joined his wife, Pamela, in making $250 donations on December 30 to Sharpton, helping get him over the threshold in a third state. Jensen contributed to Sharpton, who favors a federal law certifying civil unions for homosexuals, even though the lawyer has filed suits in 16 states seeking to defrock Presbyterian ministers who've "violated their vows" by ordaining gays. Stone has been in frequent touch with Jensen and Klayman in recent months and said that he might have "told Halloran to call him for a check" or asked himself, as he indicated he might have with many others on this list of anomalies.

Though Sharpton conceded that he asked Stone to "help raise the matching funds," he said "everybody helped me qualify," adding that "it's ridiculous" to suggest that Stone's role, though he concedes it made a difference in some states, was of any overall significance. He insisted, accurately, that the bulk of his contributions were from black supporters across the country, attracted to his candidacy. But that does not make any less indispensable the critical, targeted fundraising Stone engineered. Halloran traveled through Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama in a last-ditch December effort to nail down enough to meet the threshold.

Sharpton and Stone are, in a sense, brothers under the skin, outlandish personalities too large to be bound by the constraints that govern the rest of us. Stone was the registered agent in America for Argentina's intelligence agency, sucking up spy novels; Sharpton was a confidential informant for the FBI, wiring up on black leaders for the feds. Stone is a fashion impersonator, dressing like a hip-hop dandy; Sharpton, having shed his gold medallion and jogger suits, now looks like a smooth banker. Stone was involved in Watergate at the age of 19; Sharpton was a boy-wonder preacher. Stone's mentor from the days of his youth was Roy Cohn; Sharpton's was James Brown. Sharpton is a minister without a church; Stone is almost as rootless, having left the powerhouse Washington firm he helped form years ago. Each reinvents himself daily, if not hourly, as if nothing in their past matters.

For all his brilliance and personal charm, Sharpton's political bombast has always been more spectacle than belief. He is so determined to reach Jesse's heights he's sunk lower than ever, mining black America for Bush's secret agent. He recently ate dinner in a Manhattan restaurant with Stone and found himself sitting opposite former FBI agent Joe Spinelli, who flipped him after picking him up in a mob video sting. All the ironies of his life are coming home to roost, just as he stands in a brighter limelight than he's ever enjoyed. The Rev needs to get some religion.


Related Article:
"Sharpton's Cynical Campaign Choice: Reverend Al Dumps Jesse's Best for Bush's Buddy" by Wayne Barrett


Additional research: Andrew Burtless, Tommy Hallissey, Cristi Hegranes, Brian O'Connor, Abigail Roberts, Catherine Shu, and Jennifer Suh

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