Conservative Groups, Donors Became Targets in 2008: 'We're Going to Put Them at Risk'

Bob Bauer may become a very well-known and infamous figure by the time we get to the bottom of the Obama scandals. Kim Strassel reports today that he spearheaded the widespread harassment of conservative groups and donors way back in 2008.

On Aug. 21, 2008, the conservative American Issues Project ran an ad highlighting ties between candidate Obama and Bill Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground. The Obama campaign and supporters were furious, and they pressured TV stations to pull the ad—a common-enough tactic in such ad spats.

What came next was not common. Bob Bauer, general counsel for the campaign (and later general counsel for the White House), on the same day wrote to the criminal division of the Justice Department, demanding an investigation into AIP, "its officers and directors," and its "anonymous donors." Mr. Bauer claimed that the nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), was committing a "knowing and willful violation" of election law, and wanted "action to enforce against criminal violations."

AIP gave Justice a full explanation as to why it was not in violation. It said that it operated exactly as liberal groups like Naral Pro-Choice did. It noted that it had disclosed its donor, Texas businessman Harold Simmons. Mr. Bauer's response was a second letter to Justice calling for the prosecution of Mr. Simmons. He sent a third letter on Sept. 8, again smearing the "sham" AIP's "illegal electoral purpose."

Also on Sept. 8, Mr. Bauer complained to the Federal Election Commission about AIP and Mr. Simmons. He demanded that AIP turn over certain tax documents to his campaign (his right under IRS law), then sent a letter to AIP further hounding it for confidential information (to which he had no legal right).

The Bauer onslaught was a big part of a new liberal strategy to thwart the rise of conservative groups. In early August 2008, the New York Times trumpeted the creation of a left-wing group (a 501(c)4) called Accountable America. Founded by Obama supporter and liberal activist Tom Mattzie, the group—as the story explained—would start by sending "warning" letters to 10,000 GOP donors, "hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions." The letters would alert "right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives." As Mr. Mattzie told Mother Jones: "We're going to put them at risk."

Bauer had run similar schemes against Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the 2008 primary, raising the possibility that even Obama's victory over them is tainted.

The "risk" to the president's enemies is real, and the action Bauer and his cohorts took amounts to SWATing conservatives via government harassment. Years later, we have Gibson Guitar raided, Catherine Engelbrecht harassed by IRS, FBI, OSHA and ATF, and everyone from Tea Party groups to pro-life and pro-Israel groups queried by the government about their donors, members, and even the content of their prayers, across the 2010 midterm and up to and past the 2012 election. Even Politico admits that the IRS harassment of the president's enemies "easily influenced" the result of the election.

Bob Bauer is emerging as a very consequential figure, in the 2008 intent to attack and possibly in the actual attacks that followed after Obama's inauguration. Bauer was President Barack Obama's White House counsel until July 2011. He resigned that post at that time to join Obama's re-election campaign, as its general counsel. Kathryn Ruemmler replaced him in the White House. Barack Obama selected Bob Bauer to be his White House counsel, of course, and then selected Ruemmler to succeed him.

Ruemmler emerged earlier this week as a possible IRS abuse figure herself, as she met numerous times with Treasury Department Chief Counsel Christopher Meade as the IRS was investigating itself over the abuse.