Josh Marshall has been following the story of how the New Hampshire Republican party hired a Northern Virginia telemarketing outfit -- GOP Marketplace -- to jam the phone banks at the offices of the New Hampshire Democratic Coordinated Campaign and the Manchester Firefighters' Union Local on election day last November. Today he reports on one of the men behind GOP Marketplace, a fellow named Chris Cupit. Cupit has ties to former Texas Congressman Steve Stockman. As Marshall says:
Back in the glory days of the Republican Revolution, according to two articles which ran in The Hill in May 1996, Cupit ran a consulting firm called Political Won Stop, which did a lot of work for Stockman and also happened to run out of Stockman's house. (The FEC later meted out a $40,000 fine to Stockman for shenanigans related to the Political Won Stop operation.) During the same campaign, according to an October 30th, 1996 article in The Houston Chronicle Cupit was also Stockman's campaign manager. So clearly he's sort of a jack-of-all-trades.
Photographer Nicole Fruge and I drove to Friendswood to do some on-the-scene investigation of Political Won Stop, a business registered in Brazoria County that operates out of Stockman's residence and has received $126,000 in payments from the congressman's campaign since January. One of the listed principals of the firm, Chris Cupit, just happens to be the Republican nominee for tax assessor-collector of Jefferson County, a position that has been vacated by Democrat Nick Lampson, who is now running for Congress against Stockman.
Cupit apparently has no official campaign office of his own in Jefferson County, raising questions about whether resources from his and Stockman's campaigns are being commingled in the rather cozy spaces of the Whitman Way residence. That would be a violation of federal election law. And The Hill, a D.C.-based weekly that covers Congress and first reported on the Political Won Stop operation, has questioned whether Stockman's campaign keeps the appropriately legal "arms-length" distance from the consultants, whose phone number is the same as Stockman's and who presumably use the facilities available to others in the Stockman household.
Press calls to the house and Cupit and partner Jason Posey (who had identified himself as a Stockman "volunteer" to The Hill) went unreturned, so the only option seemed to be an on-site inspection. After I followed Stallworth into the living room of the Stockman domicile, I met several volunteers who claimed Cupit was not there. But the 1995 Saturn that was reposing in Stockman's driveway at the time is registered to Cupit.
The front of the intensely claustrophobic house, where windows might otherwise be found, is sealed by planking, and the only vista to the street is a pinhole in the worn wooden front door. It hardly seems a residence fitting for a U.S. congressman, even one whose employment history prior to his 1994 election was rather spotty.
The living room, cluttered with campaign signs and literature, opens on the right into a garage office, where Political Won Stop apparently does its work. A hallway on the left presumably leads to some sort of sleeping quarters, where Patti may or may not have been crouching in fear while I was in the front room.
Upon my entry, Stallworth summoned a dark-haired young man from the garage office, who proved far less friendly. "You'll have to leave," he announced in a rather whiny, nasal voice. (The following day, the Press called Chris Cupit at his home in Groves and discovered that he possess a whiny, nasal voice identical to that of the man who ordered me out of Stockman's residence. But perhaps everybody who works for Stevie whines. On the phone, Cupit flatly denied being present at Stockman's house during my visit. Before we could ask what his car was doing in Stockman's driveway, Cupit said he had to go but promised to call us back shortly. He never did, of course.)
At the Stockman compound, the Cupit sound-alike denied that Political Won Stop operated out of the house, but tried to change the subject when I reminded him that Stockman's own campaign finance filings list the company as based there. "I know, but we have rights, too, and you've got to honor our rights," he whined. He seemed especially terrified that photographer Fruge, who was just outside the front door with her camera, might get a shot of his face. He tried to close the front door, and another volunteer then slammed it shut and pressed his back against it, barring any exit. I asked the head whiner what he was so afraid of. "We're not afraid of anything," he insisted, rather unconvincingly.
After being ordered once more to leave, I replied, "Well, fine, open the door. And don't hide too much. You guys are pathetic." And with that, my alleged "invasion" of the congressman's castle was over. Minutes later, several young Stockman volunteers drove up, and I asked them to locate Chris Cupit for me. Once inside the house, they didn't come back out before Fruge and I departed.
Fruge took a few more shots of Fort Stockman from the street while I went to interview neighbors. [Stockman staffer Cory] Birenbaum would later claim she took photos through the windows of the Stockman abode. The problem with that particular lie is that there are no windows accessible from the front yard to take photos through.
As usual, tracking Stockman's financial trail through Federal Election Commission filings requires the skills of a Wild West scout. His latest liaison is with Houston lawyer Mark Brewer, who is using a $559,846 loan to himself to fund his race for the Seventh [Congressional District, left open in 2000 by Bill Archer's retirement]. Brewer's initial campaign report listed contributions but no expenditures. After the FEC began asking questions, Brewer filed an amended report that offers some tantalizing entries.
The filing shows Brewer made two $100,000 payments to General Media Consultants of McLean, Virginia, a firm not listed in the phone directory and unknown to GOP consultants contacted by the Insider. On the same day of those transactions, the Brewer campaign made a $50,000 payment for media consulting to Stockman, who listed an address in Friendswood.
Later, Stockman and his wife, Patti, gave $1,000 each to Brewer's campaign in June. They listed their address as 8180 Greensboro Drive in McLean, the same address as the previously unknown General Media Consulting group. It's all too reminiscent of the mid-'90s, when the former congressman used his home as the base for an equally unknown political consulting firm that received big bucks from his campaign account.
Consultant Allen Blakemore has worked for GOP westside kingmaker Dr. Steven Hotze. Blakemore is no stranger to the fine art of funneling campaign cash through the good doctor's network of companies and political action committees. He finds the cash outlay to Stockman outlandish.
Blakemore cites fees charged by leading GOP consultants, including Herb Butrum, Sue Walden and Karl Rove. None of them remotely compare to payouts for Stockman. "It is beyond the pale -- just the $50,000. And then $200,000? The question is: What the hell is going on?" The question is of more than passing interest to Blakemore, who represents Cathy McConn, former Republican National Committee member and Seventh District candidate.
For what it's worth, this new venture of Stockman's is mostly known for causing a big ruckus in that GOP primary for Archer's seat. He's also drawn complaints from Dubya and Rove for some slimy push polling. Guess that if there is a connection to GOP Marketplace it means they're equal-opportunity dirty tricksters.
On a personal note, until this year the one time I ever gave money to a political campaign was to Nick Lampson in 1996 to help him remove Stockman from office. Best money I spent that whole year.Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 11, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack