Yesterday I found myself in the backseat of a black sedan, squeezed in between Steven Law, the president of the Karl Rove–conceived super-PAC American Crossroads, and Ralph Reed, the evangelical leader of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. We were leaving Grover Norquist's right-wing tent revival and had a few minutes to reach the hotel, so Reed kindly suggested I buttonhole Steven Law until we arrived.
Ralph Reed: I think you should hammer Steve here with some tougher questions while we’re driving.
New York Magazine: Okay, here’s a question: The rhetoric on the left is that American Crossroads is a big pile of special interest money from the energy industry and if you guys win, then your man Romney goes in and deregulates the hell out of it and everybody makes a boatload of money. How is that not true?
Steven Law: Well …
RR: Steve, I really didn’t mean to tee that one up! Hahahahahaha!
NYM: I read Mitt Romney's interview with Fortune in which he was asked what sector of the economy he saw leading an economic revival, and he said oil and natural gas. Isn’t that exactly what the donors to American Crossroads want?
SL: I can tell you honestly, I’ve never had a donor tell me I’m interested in X issue.
NYM: They would have to tell you?
RR: And Joe, I have to tell you, I share some donors with Crossroads, obviously Steven gets a lot more than I do — I’m the parable of the gentile woman who wants the crumbs off the table — but I know these donors because they support me. They’re not giving to Crossroads because of some specific policy —
NYM: Of course they are.
RR: No, they’re philosophically motivated. I am telling you, I have met with these donors. and you know what they say to me? Steve will back me up on this — they say, unprompted, I want nothing. I don’t need anything. I’m done. A lot of these guys have made their money.
SL: Let me ask you this. What does the left say when organized labor says here’s our wish list? You had [International Association of Firefighters union president] Harold Schaitberger saying we’re not going to put any money in because we haven’t gotten enough out of this administration. The administration did three or four things and they said okay, now we’re going to be in.
RR: Or what about this, Joe: What about when Obama flip-flopped on marriage? — we’re tag teaming now! What about when he flip-flopped on marriage and Andrew Sullivan, who has great sources in this administration, said the reason was twofold: No. 1, they’ve got to rediscover the energy and the activism that they had, especially among young people, which was lacking, and No. 2, they needed the gay bundlers to get excited because they were falling short of their fund-raising goals and the gay bundlers were sitting on the sidelines!
NYM: That’s true, but what you're doing is ultimately about profits, not social causes.
RR: Not true.
SL: What, you don't think the unions are profit ventures? You don’t think they’re all about money? I can tell you, they’re all about money. That’s all they’re about, they're about money.
NYM: But is the energy sector going to create jobs?
SL: First of all, yes, I think they are. But I think it is natural for people to support causes and candidates they think are going to lead in a positive direction for themselves, that’s one thing. You can take your thesis and the best you can say is that people support candidates and causes that are consonant with their interests.
NYM: So you’re saying you're managing the relationship better because you’re not talking about it?
RR: No, it’s not true, I'm telling you flat out that the people who are contributing to me — I defer to Steven on his donors — the people who are contributing to me, for the most part, are done. They’re done. In other words, they're even out of the companies they used to run. It’s not true, Joe.
NYM: So it’s not true that energy donors are looking for deregulation under a Romney administration.
SL: That’s not what I've ever heard.