November 26, 2009

The Rabble Rousers

In my last post (written a few eons ago) I promised to blog a bit about some of the locals who are rousing up the crazies. This blog is not about issues, it more of a behind-the-scenes look at two local rabble rousers  and how they derive personal income from their political and charitable activities.

The first rabble rouser is Gary Kreep.  Kreep is a long-time political activist for conservative causes. Kreep was even a teabagger way back in 1975. 

Back in the mid 1970s, Gary Kreep spearheaded a national tea bag-based movement to protest the Ford Administration's tax policies, he confirmed to TPMmuckraker today.

"To protest unreasonably high taxes, people stapled tea bags to their tax returns," explains Kreep, now director of the United States Justice Foundation, but then a law student and an officer in the California chapter of the Reaganite Young Americans for Freedom.
When the the 2009 teabagger movement began to emerge earlier this year, Kreep thought: "It's deja vu all over again."

In 1975 the top income tax rate was 70%, today the top rate is half that, 35%.  That is very nearly the lowest rate  that the top earners have had to pay in the last 80 yrs.  Since 1960, federal taxes (income taxes, capital-gains taxes, payroll taxes, estate taxes, gift tax and corporate tax) have decreased for low earners, risen slightly for middle income earners and dramatically dropped for high earners.  Distribution of wealth? Well, of course.   But shhh!!! Don’t tell the crazies. It stupefies ‘em. 

Kreep is also engaged in the lunatic fringe’s refusal to recognize that Obama is the legitimate president of the United States.  Kreep and birther queen Orly Taitz filed a lawsuit in Orange County, California on the day the president was inaugurated, claiming that Obama was not born in Hawaii, but rather in Kenya.  As “evidence” they produced Obama’s purported Kenyan birth certificate which is now acknowledged to be a fake.

It took just 48 hours to definitively expose Taitz's find as a forgery, and for the document that it was apparently based off of to surface. It's a certified copy of a birth certificate for one David Jeffrey Bomford, born in South Australia in April 1959.
Images of both certificates can be viewed below -- for comparison purposes, you can see a larger, more legible version of the forgery here. The similarities are striking; they bear the same seal, have the same document numbers at the top left and top right corners and have identical book and page numbers. The names of the registrar and district registrar listed on each document are remarkably similar as well -- the source has the registrar listed as "G.F. Lavender," while the forgery names him as "E.F. Lavender." In the original, the district registrar is "J.H. Miller;" in the forgery, it's "M.H. Miller," and the M is slightly askew, overlapping the period.

The source material was indisputably published prior to the revelation of the forgery; it was available on a family genealogy Web site and popped up in Google image searches. (The Web site is no longer accessible, apparently due to the sudden increase in traffic prompted by the exposure.)

You can join the fun and make your own forged Kenyan birth certificate .

Lucas Smith, the witness who purported “found” the fake birth certificate now claims that Taitz asked him to lie to the court, as did Larry Sinclair, another witness, who was claiming to be Obama’s homosexual lover.

Smith also reveals that Taitz stopped speaking to him after he told people that she was sleeping with Charles Lincoln, a member of her legal team. And he describes in detail Lincoln, who has been disbarred in three states, relating his opinion of Taitz's sexual performance.

Folks, it is not a freakin’ reality tv show. It’s the courts. You are all batshit crazy. And you are wasting the taxpayer’s money with your frivolous court suits. Judge Carter dismissed this case. In another birther case (also dismissed), the judge fined Taitz $20,000 for abusing the courts. She says she is not going to pay. Ohhhkaaaay. Let's see just how much longer until Taitz is disbarred.

I’ve met Gary Kreep. He has defended the Minutemen, anti-abortionist Connie Youngkin, and the cranky (but harmless) Poway octogenarian-government-watchdog Ed Carbonneau. He is a true believer in conservative causes. Why he would team up with Taitz I have no idea. Well, maybe I do. For a while there, the birther delusion was just hot, hot hot, and it was a great hook to keep the money rolling in.

Kreep is the executive director of the US Justice Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks “to advance the conservative viewpoint in the judicial arena”. US Justice Foundation makes money several ways: by charging clients or winning their case and collecting attorney’s fees or by asking for donations.  This fall, USJF was running a “birther infomercial” in several selected southern states.  At the end of the infomercial which featured Kreep and Bill Keller (a fundamentalist who was imprisoned in the late 1980s for an insider trading conviction) viewers are asked to send in a donation. In return the donees get their name on a petition and a bumper sticker. 

As I said, the USJF is a nonprofit group. They file a Form 990 every year with the IRS. The documents are available on guidestar

In 2005, Kreep was the only paid officer for USJF. He was compensated $299,000 and an additional $9,000 went into his deferred compensation plan. Stirring up the crazies can be lucrative. So, to sum up, Kreep's message seems to be, "Don't pay your taxes, send your money to me, Gary Kreep, instead."

The second rabble rouser is Steve Vaus, the Poway resident who is leading the recall of city councilmember Betty Rexford. Although Vaus was an unknown entity in local politics before the recall, he is hardly a political neophyte. He has a long history of political activism. In fact, Vaus once ran for office. Way back in 1986, when he was living in the city of San Diego, Vaus ran for a seat on the school board. He campaigned for “back to the basics” and also against school health clinics (that might dispense birth control paraphernalia). Although an early favorite, Vaus lost; he came in 5th out of 8 candidates.  Afterwards, he compared his loss to a woman losing an unborn child late in her pregnancy:[1]

"I really think I understand what it's like for a woman to have a miscarriage," Vaus said. "You go along for so long-in my case, eight months-nurturing this dream, then all of a sudden, it's just not there anymore. You're left with an emptiness that's very hard to deal with."

Ummm...right. After the election, Vaus resumed writing jingles for ad campaigns and sound tracks for movies. And he started writing “political” songs. The first was an ode to Oliver North, written in 1987, and inspired by North's testimony during the Iran- Contra hearings. [2]

Titled "The Ballad of Lt. Col. North," the song extolling the Marine officer as the "kind of man who built the USA" made its debut on local radio and television shows.
Vaus, 35, said he wrote the song because North impressed him during his testimony "with his honesty and his clear-sighted action in supporting his superiors and the country he loves deeply."
"He looks like a hero," said Vaus, who lives in Scripps Ranch and runs Steve Vaus Productions, a company that churns out songs for local advertisers at its Kearny Mesa offices.

I guess Vaus and I differ on our definition of heroes- mine don’t secretly sell American weapons to Iran.

In 1992 Vaus wrote another politically inspired song, “We Must Take Back America”. The song was a fundamentalist pitch for prayers in school. For about a month, the song was hot, hot, hot and Vaus was a rising star.  RCA records wanted the song and sent Vaus on a promotional tour.  Then the song crashed. Vaus blamed the dive on “liberal radio stations” that refused to air his song because it was "too patriotic". Jack Weston, vice president and general manager of RCA in Nashville saw it differently.[3]

JWeston, who signed Vaus, says his decision to drop the singer was motivated by economics, not political pressure.

Despite its Top 100 chart appearance, "We Must Take America Back" sold fewer than 25,000 copies and obtained airplay on fewer than two dozen of the nation's more than 200 key country radio stations.

Music industry insiders say that it is not uncommon for a label to drop a new artist if the performer's debut does not receive substantial airplay or sell records.

"Sometimes you see the writing on the wall and you try to cut your losses as quickly as you can," Weston explains. "When we first heard Mr. Vaus' music, we thought that, given the election and the current political climate, it might appeal to a lot of folks out there. But we were wrong.

"Radio programmers said they didn't think their listeners wanted to hear somebody harping about all these causes in such a preachy manner. Fact is, the record just didn't sell."

Vaus has recently re-released “We Must Take America Back” with new lyrics. The school prayers appeal has been cut.  There is still plenty of dark, patriotic doom and gloom in the new lyrics, along with a lament against pols who “stick and bleed us” and who are “not even fit to hold office". The new lyrics are a general, all-purpose, whiny angst, perfect for a tea-bagging event or a recall.

This post is not an attempt to discuss (or debate) the merits of the Rexford recall. But I do find it ironic that in 1998, Vaus teamed up with Roger Hedgecock to do a hit piece on president Bill Clinton. Yes, I said  Roger Hedgecock, the same Roger Hedgecock who was the mayor of San Diego from 1983 until he was forced to leave office in 1985 after being convicted of taking illegal campaign donations from none other than Nancy Hoover and J. David Dominelli.  Dominelli was kind of the “Madoff of the 80s";  he ran a company that scammed millions of dollars from some very wealthy, high-profile investors. His investment company collapsed because it was really a ponzi scheme.  Hoover and Dominelli ended up in prison. Hedgecock was luckier. Most of his convictions  were later overturned by the California Supreme Court.  One remaining charge was reduced to a misdemenor, for which  Hedgecock merely served probation. 

Four days after he resigned his mayorship, Hedgecock took a giant leap to the political right and re-invented himself as a talk radio host. It was on Hedgecock’s KOGO show that Vaus introduced his“Wrong is Not Right” anti-Clinton song and ad campaign in 1998. The ad campaign consisted of several 60 second radio spots that featured letters from children writing to the president for advice on how to get away with lying to their parents.  Vaus asked people to send donations so that he could raise a million dollars to run the ads on various radio stations.  Vaus asked people to send the money to him at a P.O. Box. No PAC or political group is mentioned on the website, so I have no idea where to find an accounting of how much money was raised or how it was disbursed.

Hedgecock also pitched Vaus’ anti-Clinton ad campaign fundraising request on one of the 2 min commentaries he did for  KUSI TV news. And he got "indefinitely hiatused" for it. [4]

Hedgecock says he had permission from KUSI management to tell viewers to send money to a local musician who's trying to place commercials on radio stations around the country urging the removal of President Clinton from office.

Rawdin, and station owner Mike McKinnon, says he violated their orders not to air the live commentary.
Hedgecock, who was paid $250 for each of his two-minute KUSI commentaries, says he's frequently done fund- raising for local charities in his commentary, but Rawdin responded: "We don't do political fund-raising through our newscast."
Said Hedgecock: "Under my contract, if they don't like a script I've submitted, and this one was submitted, the remedy is not to air it.

"Not only was it approved by the producers, but the production staff assisted in making the (graphic) board which was put on screen which asked for the money.

"They allowed it to be aired, and after the fact, they censored me by putting me on suspension indefinitely because Mike McKinnon didn't like it for some reason."

Which is not the way Rawdin remembers it.

Rawdin says he instructed Hedgecock's representative, Jimmy Valentine, that Hedgecock should not deliver his pitch for Vaus. "He didn't follow our procedure," Rawdin said. "He was told by me not to do that. Then he did it.

"The word `suspension' was never used. Roger violated. . . explicitly what I did not want (him) to do. Since then, I've put Roger on hiatus while we evaluate his violation of our procedures."

Gotta wonder if Hedgecock is another one of Steve Vaus' heroes.

I’ve never met Steve Vaus in person, but I did have a phone conversation with him in Sept. Steve had left a comment on my blog and somehow got my email address and asked me to call him. After the call, I started getting group emails and news updates about the recall from Steve although I had never asked to be placed on any list. About a month later, I got an email about a Christmas concert promotion called “Carols by Candlelight” that Vaus produces. The email asked for my help “keeping Carols afloat” and it stressed that “the sole reason that Carols exists is to raise money for LOCAL children’s charities". A link from the email mentioned that this was the first year in 19 yrs that Carols did not have a title sponsor chipping in $25,000, so they really needed some angels to send money to them. Could I be an angel and send them $250- $25,000?
Carols by Candlelight 2

Two friends who were also getting unrequested recall emails from Vaus, got the Carols by Candlelight email too. Was Vaus using the recall to phish for email addresses so he could pump Powegians  for donations to finance his concert? It seemed that way to me.
Ken Leighton, who covers the music scene for the San Diego Reader, raised my query up a notch or two. He wanted to know  just how much money Steve gave to charity from his concert. He called Vaus and asked him, but Vaus couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say how much money the concert gave to charity in 2008.

After I read Leighton’s piece and the comments that were posted. I called Make-A-Wish foundation on Nov 11th and asked “Rachel” just how much they got. Rachel said they got $25,000 from Carols last year, but she would not specify if the money came from a corporate sponsor or if Vaus cut a check to her.

$25,000. That is how much an event sponsor pays. What happened to all of the other angel donations and the proceeds from the ticket sales. (Tickets cost $30-$100 this year). Why didn’t this concert have more proceeds? Where was all the money going?

Vaus has been doing his “Carols by Candlelight for 19 yrs.” Although Carols by Candlelight  is purportedly being done for charitable purposes, Vaus does not have a nonprofit foundation handling the donations and expenses of producing the showing. If he did, the corporate sponsors, the private donors and the public would be able to see how much of the money  goes to pay expenses, how much goes to pay Vaus and how much goes to a charity.  None of the donations are tax deductible either, unless they are given directly to the charity although the original email I got from Carols by Candlelight doesn’t mention that.

I know that there are “for profit” fundraising companies out there. I mean, someone doesn’t just give cookies to the Girl Scouts to sell for free. But, I can find out just how much goes into the bakers pocket and how much goes to the girl scouts. And the cookie makers don’t solicit angel donations to help cover  their production costs. Not so with Vaus’ fundraisers.

Vaus’ charity fundraising goes way back to 1989 when he produced a Christmas album titled “The Stars Come Out for Christmas”. The album was a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital. Some of the songs were sent to Vaus by the stars and others were recorded in his San Diego studio.  Although there is no formal accounting that is available to the public, articles in the newspaper shed some light on how the fundraiser worked. Star ATM System underwrote the manufacturing and related costs ($40,000). Eagle Limousine gave the stars free transportation and San Diego Marriott agreed to provide them with free accommodations. Taco Bell and Imperial Savings sold the albums at their sites. The album netted Chilren’s Hospital $160,000.[7]

In 1990, Vaus planned to do a bigger project, marketing the albums nationally and benefitting a lot more hospitals. And maybe benefitting his production studio with a little more, too.  But Vaus and Children’s Hospital Foundation didn’t see eye-to eye on the terms, so they dropped Vaus and hired someone else to produce a benefit Christmas album.[5]

The decision to sever ties with Vaus and find another producer was based on a "a whole variety of reasons," said Stuart C. Turgel, senior vice president and executive director of the Children's Hospital Foundation of San Diego. The primary one, he said, was Vaus' insistence on a $250,000 "production fee" for this year's album,substantially more than the $16,000 he charged last year, when the album was a local effort. This year, Turgel wants to expand marketing drastically and take it national.

"We don't believe an individual should enjoy financial gain, if you will, from this work," Turgel said. "The original idea was that all proceeds would go to the hospital."

Vaus, however, said his request for more money was prompted by necessity rather than greed.

"Let me shed a little light on that figure," he said. "The amount was to cover air transportation, lodging, and food for all the artists; roughly 1,000 hours of studio time; designing and printing the graphics; mastering and sequencing the tapes, and then promoting the album to 10,000 radio stations around the country.

"I'm not an independently wealthy person; I've got an operation to run and a staff to pay. And this year, we were talking about a significantly different animal, because it's no longer just a local project, it's a national project. It would have taken a whole year, from start to finish, and we would have had to bypass all our customary business, which generates well in excess of $250,000 in that same period."

Another reason for dumping Vaus, Turgel said, was the producer's demand for complete artistic control.

"We wanted a project that would represent Children's Hospital in the most appropriate way," he said, "and not having the ability to approve or disapprove certain artists, certain songs, was very problematic for us."

Said Vaus: "I'm in the business of music, they're in the business of fund raising, and it's difficult sometimes when the artistic world and the fund- raising world have to come together because you get people trying to do each other's jobs and it simply doesn't work."

In any case, Turgel said, "it became clear to us that we wanted to find somebody else to work with us," and that "somebody else` turned out to be Lloyd, who was not only willing to work for free, but didn't mind giving hospital officials final say as to what tunes would appear on the album."

Meanwhile, Vaus is busy working on "The Stars Come Out for Christmas 1990," which will benefit an undisclosed local charity and also be marketed nationally. The charity will purchase the entire stock at 50 to 60 cents per tape over the manufacturer's cost, Vaus said. The extra money will cover Vaus' expenses, including salary for him and his staff.

So basically, Vaus' idea of fundraising is that he will produce a product which the charity will have to pay for and then the charity can have the proceeds when it sells. Like girl scout cookies. Only, nobody knows if Vaus’ production costs are excessive or in line with what others would charge for the same work. And although there are claims about how much money went for charity in the newspaper promo pieces there are also blurbs like this one comparing Chrildren’s Hospital’s Christmas album and Vaus’ Christmas album[6] :

Once again, there are two star-studded Christmas benefit albums competing for San Diegans' generosity. You might remember the local "Christmas album war" of 1991, a quietly venomous battle for charity- minded dollars between two seasonal benefit recordings.

On one side was "The Christmas Album . . . A Gift of Hope, Volume III" which was produced in Los Angeles by Grammy-winning producer Michael Lloyd; featured a number of major recording stars; and eventually raised $300,000 (in San Diego alone) for San Diego Children's Hospital and its counterparts across the country.

In the other corner was "The Stars Come Out for Christmas, Volume III," which was produced locally by Steve Vaus. It also boasted a number of major recording stars. Nationally it raised $2 million. North County's Casa de Amparo center for abused children and families shared in the proceeds but were unable to disclose how much.

So is Vaus in this for the "charity" or for the benefit of Steve Vaus? Are his concerts just a hook to provide himself with a good living? There is no way to know without any disclosure. Just how many Poway angels forked over some cash thinking it would benefit Rady Children's Hospital? No way of knowing. But, if you were one of them, be careful. That donation was NOT tax deductible.

Kreep’s fundraising efforts may be cheesy and self-serving, but at least he is upfront about who the beneficiary is and how much he is paid. With Vaus, we just don’t know. 

[1] BARRY M. HORSTMAN. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Jun 15, 1986. pg. 1

[2] Bob Corbett. The Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jul 11, 1987. pg. A.6

[3] Chuck Philips.. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Sep 13, 1992. pg. 68
[4] ROBERT P LAURENCE. The San Diego Union - Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Jan 21, 1999. pg. E.6
[5] THOMAS K. ARNOLD. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: May 4, 1990. pg. 1
[6] JOHN D'AGOSTINO. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Dec 9, 1992. pg. 1

[7] THOMAS K. ARNOLD. Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext). Los Angeles, Calif.: Oct 2, 1989. pg. 1