Liberal Political Operatives, Worried About GOP Oversight, Seek to Discredit Rep. Darrell Issa

One gained the reputation as “Dr. Death” for his political tactics. He is joined by political operatives who worked for Democratic candidates such as Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and Jerry Brown, and lent their know-how to the unsuccessful campaign to legalize marijuana in California.

These political operatives have launched a campaign to discredit House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Members of the San Francisco-based political strategy firm SCN Strategies started an organization called Third Lantern, with a Web site,, which purports to show already public documents about Issa’s past.

“The Third Lantern is a new organization formed to warn fellow patriots of a new threat to democracy from Mr. Issa’s deeply partisan investigation,” the Third Lantern press release said. “The Third Lantern will shed light on Mr. Issa’s misuse of taxpayer funds and show he is not qualified to be a credible investigator.”

The organization plans to run TV ads in the future, but thus far is not saying who is financing the initiative. SCN Strategies has been heavily involved in Democratic politics, but has traditionally worked on behalf of a candidate or group.

During the 2010 campaign season, many Democrats alleged that Issa would engage in partisan witch hunts of the Obama administration. However, since becoming chairman, all the investigations Issa has announced have had a nonpartisan flavor.

The committee has announced plans, for example, to investigate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s contribution to the housing crisis in 2008, the administration’s response to the Freedom of Information Act and corruption in the Afghanistan government. The committee most recently subpoenaed information about Countrywide VIP mortgage loans.

The president of Third Lantern, according to the group’s press release, is Averell “Ace” Smith with SCN Strategies. Sean Clegg and Dan Newman, also of SCN Strategies, are overseeing the anti-Issa project, as is Jeff Millman of Los Angeles. Millman began his career in 2005 as an aide to Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn. He went on to be the press secretary for the California Democratic Party in 2006.

None of the four returned phone calls to on Thursday or Friday. But Newman, in an interview with Politico, declined to say how much the organization would raise and spend on the effort targeting Issa.

Smith worked for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008, and helped her win the California and Texas Democratic primaries that year, according to several news reports.

The San Francisco Chronicle marveled at his and his firm’s ability to go after opponents, with its tongue-in-cheek “Chronie Awards” on Nov. 5, 2010.

“The Hot Political Shop Award: To the Dr. Death of Political Opposition Research – Ace Smith – and his SCN crew (Dan Newman and Sean Clegg),” the Chronicle wrote.

“They had a hand in several major winning campaigns – Gavin Newsom, Barbara Boxer, No on 23, an anti-Whitman independent expenditure, plus they did ads for Harry Reid and prepped star Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg for his star debate performance in the UK elections. When you get a call from these guys in the middle of the night, answer it,” it added.

Democratic strategist Chris Lehane made Godfather-like comparisons about SCN in a Los Angeles Times article published on May 3, 2008.

“I believe that every life lesson in politics can be extrapolated from ‘The Godfather,’” Lehane told the L.A. Times. “Some people are Fredos; at game time they disappear. There are Sonnys, who yell and scream. The most effective ones are the Michael Corleones. Very quiet, they know under which rib to insert the knife. Ace is a Michael Corleone.”

A May 12, 2007 Chronicle story was headlined “Clinton’s man in California is pro at digging up dirt.” That story quoted Garry South, a former advisor to former California Gov. Gray Davis, who called Smith “the best op research guy in America on either side of the aisle. He digs under every rock.”

Most of the information on the anti-Issa Web site had been widely reported when Issa was a candidate for office, such as charges for car theft in 1972 that were dropped and questions about his business that burned down in 1982, for which Issa was never charged.

“As Congressman Issa begins his frivolous investigations, The Third Lantern, will conduct our own examination of Mr. Issa’s behavior and prove he lacks credibility as a congressional investigator,” Smith said in a statement. “The Third Lantern will release documents which will shed light on Mr. Issa’s history and demonstrate that he is solely motivated by partisan rancor of the lowest order.”

Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella said this is not in keeping with President Barack Obama’s call for “talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

“The American people are not interested in this kind of destructive politics-as-usual attack that only serves to advance an agenda of divisiveness and pettiness,” Bardella told

“It’s beyond hypocritical for the very people embarking on this misguided campaign to launch a McCarthy-esque fishing expedition against Chairman Issa, while refusing to disclose where their funding is coming from. At the end of the day, these political consultants will do whatever they’re going to do,” he added.

SCN Strategies worked for the defeat of Proposition 23, a proposal that would have delayed California’s global warming law to reduce carbon emissions until the unemployment rate had reduced to 5.5 percent.

Last year, proponents of the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010” hired SCN Strategies to campaign for the ballot initiative, the Sacramento Bee reported on Jan. 29, 2010. Voters rejected the initiative to legalize marijuana.

“This isn’t your teenager’s cannabis initiative,” Newman told the Bee. “This was carefully crafted to build a winning coalition of supporters.”

During the 2010 California governor’s race between Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman, SCN Strategies worked for the liberal group Leveling the Playing Field, which spent $441,691 to defeat Whitman, the Sacramento Bee reported on Aug. 2, 2010.

SCN Strategies also worked for Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democratic party candidate for British Prime Minister in 2010, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on May 5, 2010.

Smith contributed $1,000 to Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign in 2000, and $450 to her presidential campaign in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also donated $500 to New York Democrat Rep. Anthony Weiner’s campaign in 2010. Newman contributed $1,000 to Sen. Barbara Boxer’s 2010 campaign. There are no records of other members of the group giving to federal candidates.

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