Line Dance: Nonprofits, Campaigns and the Rio Grande Foundation

There’s a peculiar sidebar to the legal battle that has pitted Attorney General Gary King against New Mexico’s nonprofit organizations.  You know, that’s the one in which U.S. Tenth Circuit Court recently ruled in favor of two of the nonprofits – the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and New Mexico Youth Organized (NMYO) .

In a recent Albuquerque Journal op ed, Sara Berger, the attorney for the two nonprofits, explained the outcome of the case:

The Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling was a decisive and unambiguous decision — one that affirms the right of free speech for all nonprofits.

For the two groups involved in the lawsuit, the Tenth Circuit’s decision was a total vindication — and a firm rebuke to critics who publicly doubted any nonprofit organizations’ right to hold public officials accountable and to advocate for those they serve.

What constitutes political campaign intervention?

Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net also devoted an in-depth piece to the facts and issues in the 10th Circuit’s decision. In addition, he examined the specific activities that had prompted the allegations against SWOP and NMYO, and contrasted these to what another New Mexico nonprofit, the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), has been doing.

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It Ain’t Journalism, Folks

Have you noticed those Watchdog websites?

Maybe you have – New Mexico’s got one, after all. The ten state-based sites, which are funded by the free-market group The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, bill themselves as a “network of independent state-based journalists who investigate and report on state and local government.”

Since its launch late last year, many in New Mexico have noted that the reporting on the New Mexico Watchdog is thin and the motives behind the “scoops” it peddles to the  mainstream media have seemed…well…partisan at best.

But it hasn’t stopped the site’s main purveyor, Jim Scarantino, from boasting that he’s the only one with the “guts, determination and courage” to pull off his particular brand of investigation.

Yes, conservative investigative websites are now a trend – one that early on, some government watchdogs had hoped could be a way to keep investigative journalism alive in the face of a declining newspaper industry and the years of professional reporting experience that was disappearing with it.

However, a story in this month’s issue of The Washington Monthly concludes that perhaps the Watchdog clones and a number of other sites just like them could begin to perform that important function…if only the “investigating” on them was up to actual journalistic standards.

Journalist Laura McGann, an assistant editor at the prestigious Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University and former editor of the nonprofit news site the Washington Independent, takes an incisive look at the new trend in a piece called “Partisan Hacks: Conservatives Have Discovered the Virtues of Investigative Journalism. But Can Their Reporting Survive Their Politics?” (The Nieman Journalism Lab’s mission is to investigate and chronicle the changing world of journalism in the Internet age through original reporting, analysis and incisive commentary.)

McGann’s lengthy examination of the conservative investigative trend contains an embarrassing deconstruction of the “phantom Congressional district” story so widely heralded late last year by the New Mexico Watchdog.

From her story:

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Watching Tea Partiers Play “Spot The Black Person”

black guy tea party

Black Guy At A Tea Party

By Tracy Dingmann

Is the Tea Party finally waking up to the realization that they have a public relations problem when it comes to, you know, brown people?

It’s interesting, because lately I’ve been detecting some sensitivity on the part of Jim Scarantino, one of the biggest local Tea Party boosters around. You can catch Jim glowingly singing the praises of the Tea Party on TV and radio and blogging about it at a number of sites.

The other day, he posted the most fascinating picture on the New Mexico Liberty blog, which sponsors the local tea party and many of its events.

This is what the picture showed: It was a black guy at a Tea Party. You heard me right. An actual black guy at a tea party in St. Louis. Speaking, no less. And standing right behind him – another person of undetermined brownness. With a big crowd of white folks staring up at the both of them.

Scarantino gave the picture the sardonic headline: “Another Racist Tea Party; Scroll Down for Photographic Evidence from St. Louis.“

And that, my friends, is apparently all we should need  – one photo of a black guy at a Tea Party somewhere as proof positive that the Tea Party movement doesn’t have a racist bone in its body.

Sadly, since I’ve been a black person my whole life,  I know this game very well.  It’s called “Spot the Black Person” – and tea partiers have been doing a lot of it lately. And I understand why. Headlines like this and this can’t be good.  Not to mention this collection of wretched posters. Although to be fair, a couple of these pictures are not actually  racist – just incredibly offensive. We trust you’ll be able to tell the difference.

This flood of bad publicity is drowning the Tea Party movement as it celebrates its first birthday. And I think all the bad publicity is starting to make some of the people in the movement nervous.

Why do I say that? Because they’ve been whining a lot lately about how the racist incidents and kooky statements from some of their followers have overshadowed what they really stand for.

And they are doing damage control.

Check out this email from the Columbus, Ohio Tea Party, which features the admonition: “Actually, what your signs say matter a great deal.” (That’s in response to the many Tea Partiers who like to say, “It doesn’t matter what my sign says, you’re going to call me a racist anyway.”) Serious rehabilitation going on there.

But really, who are the tea partiers, and what do they stand for? A poll came out today that helped the rest of us delinate their demographics. According to this NYT/CBS poll, they are largely white, Republican, older and male. Fair enough.

The poll also shows they are more likely to think its okay to think violent action against the government is justified. Wow.

Yep, the Tea Party is in the midst of a public relations crisis over its identity…and I don’t envy it.

And Jim, I’m sorry – sending out pictures of lone black people at Tea Party events is not going help.

PS. Check out this hilarious blog from someone calling themselves Tea Party New Mexico. We found this blog by cruising the official NM Tea Party Patriot directory –  but this guy or gal is clearly a ringer.

Check out this quote from all-caps post called “A Response To My Critics:”

FIRST OF ALL FRED, THANK YOU FOR COMING TO MY WEBSITE, I DO APPRECIATE YOUR TIME, AND PLEASE TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS IF ANY OF THEM ARE MORE PATRIOTIC THAN YOU ARE THAT YOU THINK IT’S A REAL GOOD WEBSITE THEY OUGHT TO CHECK OUT. SECONDLY, THE TEA PARTY IS NOT A RACIST MOVEMENT. IF YOU HAD READ MY SITE WELL, INSTEAD OF JUST DISMISSING IT WITHOUT EVEN READING IT, YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN THAT AT THE MOST RECENT TEA PARTY MEET AND GREET MEETING HERE IN ALBUQUERQUE, WE WATCHED A VIDEO OF GLEN BECK FANS AND ONE OF THEM WAS BLACK AND HE GAVE A GOOD LITTLE SERMON ABOUT FREEDOM AND LIBERTY. THE TEA PARTY IS NOT RACIST, AND THAT IS JUST A FACT. NICE TRY, COMRADE.

Here’s another quote from a post called, “ I Can’t Stop Crying.”

I was going to write today about how it turns out Obama probably isn’t an android or robot or altered guy or whatever (though he is a Kenyan and a Muslim and a socialist and maybe the Antichrist), because my wife heard from a reliable conservative source that that guy James David Manning wasn’t right about that.

I was GOING to, but then when I went to type about it, I thought of some things about this once-great nation of ours, the United States of America…and Obama, and the Democrats, and that she-wolf Pelosi, and that traitor to our race Bart Stupak, and my daddy and his drinking, and how the Tea Party is working so hard to fight all that, and I just started crying and crying and I still can’t stop.

It’s taken me over an hour just to type these words through the tears and the shaking and, anyway, I guess I won’t be able to do a full write-up today.

Hopefully, tomorrow I will be feeling better.

UPDATE: I finally stopped. I’m okay now.

Read the rest …it’s a postively Swiftian takedown of tea partiers. (We thought he was real for quite some time. And then we laughed and laughed.)  Whoever this is – he or she gets the joke.