Be Careful Who Your Friends Are, Occupy Wall Street

Over at the Huffington Post, Clint Reilly writes a post in support of the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. It’s not a bad piece; Reilly is a gifted writer, and his heart appears to be in the right place. In fact, it’s hard to disagree with much in Clint’s article. I say Reilly’s heart “appears” to be in the right place, though, because I have some experience with who and what Clint Reilly actually is. It’s going to become increasingly useful – no, essential – in the coming months to remember who’s who, especially as we prepare for false flag operations against Occupy Wall Street or whatever movement it may become. Activists will need both to stay focused and to remember who their friends are, in order not to get distracted or diluted from the core message of Occupy Wall Street,.

For example, Mr. Reilly here built both his fortune and his name as a political consultant selling himself – literally – to the highest bidder. These days, he’s comfortably wealthy enough himself to pass himself off as a limousine liberal, the kind of guy who might be a member of the millionaires group who’s urging Obama to raise their taxes. But back in those heady days when Clint was young(er) and hungry (in other words, when the chips were down), things like taking principled stands in support of workers’ and consumers’ rights weren’t so important to Clint. Back then, it was “show me the money,” pretty much regardless of who got screwed in order to do it.

In 1988, Clint’s firm at the time, Clint Reilly & Associates, were the primary paid campaign consultants for the California insurance industry’s unprecedentedly large-dollar campaign of deception and pushback against true insurance reform which was on the ballot in the form of Proposition 103, a campaign to limit the legalized collusion of the insurance industry under the McCarran-Ferguson act. Prop. 103 stripped the insurance industry in California of their comprehensive exemption from antitrust laws, an exemption which had (along with the requirement that all CA drivers must purchase insurance, by law) allowed the insurance industry to reap windfall profits — a lot like the banksters of today who Occupy Wall Street are protesting used various legal loopholes and political influence to avoid regulation and fleece the public.

Of course, the insurance industry didn’t want the gravy train to stop. But insurance rates in California had gotten so out of control that the language and goals of Prop. 103 consistently polled quite strongly. So the industry hired the best mercenary political operative they could find: Clint Reilly. Reilly did some focus groups and found that there was literally no amount of money the industry could spend on simply opposing Prop. 103 that would be enough to defeat it. It was that popular. So instead, the industry devised a strategy of creating several other propositions designed to confuse voters about which ballot initiative was real reform. The insurance-industry-sponsored ones, of course, were lengthy, opaque, confusing measures where the real effect of it – mainly rearranging the deck chairs and above all protecting the insurance industry’s ability to continue fleecing thirty million Californians – was buried deep in the fine print.

That was their goal: baffle people with too many confusing, competing propositions, and bombard them with 30-second TV spots designed to heighten that confusion until the average voter was so overwhelmed that they threw up their hands in frustration and voted “no” on everything. That would mean there would be no change at all…which was what the industry REALLY wanted. All of this was at Clint Reilly’s direction, remember.

In the end, due to a statewide, grassroots organizing effort – much like the one growing day by day at Occupy Wall Street, which Mr. Reilly tries to laud here – Prop 103, the real reform initiative, narrowly passed, and all the other insurance-industry-sponsored measures failed. But it was only because a bunch of young, fed-up kids (and many older people) went door-to-door night after night after night for nearly a YEAR, setting the record straight and countering the blizzard of expensive and intentionally deceptive TV ads the insurance industry paid Clint Reilly to run.

In the end, the insurance industry’s battle to defeat Prop. 103 and to pass their own industry-slanted measures (mostly Prop. 104) became the most expensive ballot-measure campaign IN HISTORY, a record I believe it still holds today (though I haven’t followed every state that closely since then).

The above link, from November, 1988, pegs the total expenditures by the insurance industry at $76 million. It was hard to calculate accurately, but many onlookers pegged the real figure as even higher than that, after the dust had settled. And most of that was funneled through Clint Reilly and Associates. Estimates at the time were that as the owner of the firm, Mr. Reilly took home somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000,000 (five million) dollars himself, PERSONALLY, for his yeoman’s (but ultimately unsuccessful) work for the insurance industry’s attempt to continue to screw California ratepayers.

So, I guess what I’m saying is: always take good advice and well-wishes…but be skeptical, too: lets not forget to check why someone might be offering advice or whether their own past matches what comes out of their mouth in the present. Mr. Reilly has literally made both a career and a fortune by figuring out what people want to hear and then manipulating what his paying clients want him to say into something that sounds like those things that people want to hear…even when they’re very different.

How do I know all this? Well, many of the articles are still available online, of course. But the real reason I know is because I was one of that army of kids (and a few older folks) who went door-to-door all over California during the spring, summer and through the fall of 1988, getting the REAL story out and counteracting the deceptive advertising cooked up by Clint Reilly and his crew. And, on election night, 1988, the Prop 103 race became a nail-biter. It went into the wee hours. All the other initiatives had been defeated; the only thing that remained was to see if all our hours of hard work had paid off. Finally – I was in San Diego at the time – at something like 2am, KNX radio out of LA (which was the only station we could find that was still reporting election news that late into the next day) came on with a “flash” that it appeared, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, that Prop 103 had scored a narrow victory of 50.4 percent.

We went crazy, as you can imagine. We’d slain the dragon, after all – at least temporarily. But in the celebrating, I remembered that we certainly wouldn’t be the only ones up that late listening for results of our efforts. Without thinking too much about what I was doing, I walked away from the hoopla, back to the campaign director’s office and shut the door. I picked up the phone and called San Francisco information. Got the number for Clint Reilly and Associates. Dialed it. I’d half-expected to get an answering machine, but – somewhat surprisingly – the phone was picked up after only a couple of rings: “Clint Reilly and Associates,” said a male voice. “Yeah, let me talk to Clint, please” I said with probably what sounded like laughably false bravado. “This is Clint Reilly” came the immediate response. Holy crap, I was talking directly to the boss. Taking a quick deep breath, I said “Mr. Reilly, my name is Lars Olsson. I’m a staffer at Voter Revolt in San Diego. I’ve been working since spring on the Prop 103 campaign, and I’ve spent the past four days and three nights campaigning and leafletting without sleep. I just wanted to ask you one question: does all the money you made make up for having been the captain of a $75 million sinking ship?” There was a pause that seemed to go on for decades though in truth it was probably only two or three seconds, followed by a deeply tired sigh. And then Clint Reilly said “thanks for calling, Lars.”

Remember that night, Clint? ‘Cause I do.

And though of course it’s true that people can and do change all the time, it’s equally true that none of us can erase our own history — and we shouldn’t be able to elide it, either. These protesters at Occupy Wall Street are on the cusp of something huge here: the ingredients are all in the right place now. But they’re gonna get baited and kneecapped and marginalized and every dirty trick imaginable is gonna get used against them, in direct proportion to how likely the power structure thinks it is that they might actually succeed in helping people. You know that full well, because you made your own name and fortune by creating and trafficking in just such tactics, at the behest of whoever paid you the most. In 1988, it was the insurance industry. Today, if it’s not you, there will be plenty of other people willing to fill your former role by taking gobs of cash from the banksters and those opposed to not just Occupy Wall Street but to any reform whatsoever. So, stay strong, protesters, but above all, stay vigilant: make sure you lift up the rocks to check what’s underneath. Good luck.