Clinton Surrogate Chris Lehane Working to Break the WGA Strike

by: Matt Stoller

Thu Dec 06, 2007 at 03:05


The writers strike is taking an interesting turn of events.  Via Calitics, I see Clinton surrogate Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani are going to work for the Hollywood producers against the WGA.

Seeking to shore up its flagging public image, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has turned to veteran political advisors from both sides of the aisle to guide its public relations battle with Hollywood's striking writers.

The alliance announced today that it had retained Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, who have served as senior aides and advisors to President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore and other Democrats across the country.

Lehane is a longtime Clinton surrogate.  The Clinton campaign uses him periodically to put out negative information on Obama, as he did in June when commenting on Tony Rezko, a controversial and corrupt donor to Obama.

Campaign consultant Chris Lehane, who worked in the Clinton White House and for Al Gore in 2000, said it shows voters that Obama "puts his pants on the same way as any other politician" - something that "undermines the core Obama brand, that he is a different kind of leader."

Lehane's a Clinton machine guy.  He worked with former Glover Park partner and current Clinton communications director Howard Wolfsen to promote Michael Moore's films, through the Weinstein company that is controlled by major Clinton backer Harvey Weinstein.

Lehane has long been an unofficial surrogate for the campaign when it needs something out into the press.  His quotes leave no doubt of that.  Here he is on possible electability problems in 2005:

Matt Stoller :: Clinton Surrogate Chris Lehane Working to Break the WGA Strike

"Hillary Clinton has a good sense of self," said Chris Lehane, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked in the White House for President Clinton. "I don't think she makes this race unless she thinks she has a pretty good chance of winning the whole thing."

And another.

Three years ahead of the election she dominates the field and "is in the strongest position any non-incumbent presidential candidate has ever been in the modern history of the Democratic party" according to party strategist Chris Lehane.

Here he is spinning away Obama's $25M quarter.

"Anyone who can put together $25 million in a quarter comes off as a very serious and credible candidate," said Chris Lehane, who was the spokesman for Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000. "Enough people have been around the block in the Clinton world that they understand this is a marathon, not a sprint."

Here he is making the 'Hillary is inevitable' argument, just a few months earlier, based on Clinton's fundraising prowess.  Note that this is precisely the opposite chain of logic that he used when spinning away Obama's number.

In March, Democratic operative Chris Lehane, who has been a staffer on multiple presidential campaigns, likened this exclusionist fund-raising strategy to that undertaken by George W. Bush during the presidential campaign of 2000.

"He put together a financial infrastructure that laid the foundation for a presidential run and locked down the Who's Who of the Republican fund-raising community," Lehane said. "Hillary Clinton's ability to lock up fund-raisers is not only a positive for her, but also takes away those potential assets for others."

Here he is knocking John Edwards and Barack Obama on fashion.

For Mr. Obama and other candidates like John Edwards who have gone tieless in public appearances, the look could help convey youthfulness and openness to change, says political consultant Chris Lehane, who advised Bill Clinton. But "the downside is, does it reinforce any issues regarding whether he has enough experience or gravitas to be president?" he adds.

And here's Lehane hinting about his payback.

[Lehane] said remembering who your true-blue friends are is a must for a political winner.

"I think history is pretty clear that those folks who are loyal to the Clintons find the loyalty is really reciprocated -- and that is one of the reasons why so many people have stuck with them for so long,'' he said. "They really do respect and appreciate it when someone is loyal, and that manifests itself in many ways ... that is what good politicians do.''

Lehane is a Clinton surrogate.  He works to get her elected, the campaign feeds him talking points, and he uses them.  His track record on crisis management and in political campaigns is mixed.  While the recent California ballot initiative was defeated partially by his team, and he did good opposition research on Bush in 2000, his 2004 track record was a disaster.  He resigned from the Kerry campaign after Kerry took a dive in late 2003, moved to run the Clark campaign just in time for it to crash, all after working to unsuccessfully beat back the California recall of Gray Davis.  And California institutional Democratic politics, which is his home state, is quite weak, due somewhat to the antics of the consultants in the state.

Nevertheless, Lehane and Fabiani have great relationships with the California press, they are organized, and they can work a media strategy.  The strike is now heading into its 6th week, and I would be watching for changes in the studio PR work.  As for Clinton, this is just another version of the Mark Penn problem, her campaign consultant who works for union busters, Columbia death squads, etc.

Hillary Clinton herself is mostly supportive of the writers, though comparing the statements shows that Clinton actually says less than either Edwards or Obama.  The pushback I'm going to get on this post from the Clinton campaign is going to be along the lines of 'Clinton supports the WGA', though I find the people she associates herself with incredibly distasteful.

Strike breaking is not ok.  Clinton knows this.  And that's why she should sever all ties with Lehane and Fabiani and put out a statement announcing this.


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You have to be kidding (4.00 / 2)
Give me a break.

This self-righteous indignation is beyond pale.

David Geffen is one of the most powerful studio heads and member of "management," as well as a well-documented, outspoken, mega fund raiser and supporter of Barack Obama.

When is Obama going to sever ties with Geffen who is working to get his studio the best deal and chunk out the writer's best he can?

You think Geffen and his million dollar fundraiser's for Obama is looking to shave his till and picket with the writer's?

Let's get real here...

And if you go through Barack's list of donors I can assure you there are even more people he'll be owing favors to from the Hollywood limousine liberal "management" set.

Oh but I guess Lehane "was" a "surrogate" and so Clinton should sever all ties (what is she going to do, hang him and "cut" the cord?) but Obama can frolic at these Hollywood elite mega fund raisers with PLENTY of people looking to screw the writers and rake in the cash.

This is the most absurd Hillary-hater inspired faux outrage I've ever seen.

We can connect dots from here to high heaven for every candidate.

Oy vey...



Maybe... (4.00 / 2)
For your logic to be tenable, I think it really depends on the nature of the relationship of Lehane and the Clinton campaign. Unless he shows up on the payroll, he can't really be considered an official part of the campaign, although we really aren't in a position to say that there isn't some sort of mutual understanding that he'll be returning to the White House (or receive any other benefits) after the campaign is over. From what Matt has laid out, it certainly does look like he's communicating with the campaign on a strategic level. He may be good (and even that is questionable, given his track record), but to be able to make the statements he did, it seems highly unlikely that he's so good as to be able to spin so well for the campaign without doing a significant amount of pro bono work on his own.

You seem to be giving him credit for coming up with all of that stuff Matt cited, independent of the campaign and without any understood future incentive to do so. I don't really buy that that's the case for a man whose time is so valuable.

As far as Geffen goes, I really doubt anyone at the Wolfsen level of the Obama campaign (Plouffe, Axelrod, etc.) is working in any close capacity to make sure Geffen is saying the right things when he sounds off to the media about the campaign. I doubt even more that there is any possibility of an arrangement for Geffen to become Deputy Communications Director in an Obama White House.

So, yeah, that's pretty much why I think you're wrong to equate the two (Lehane and Geffen), and why I think the relationship Matt is implying is real and significant.


[ Parent ]
Hmmmmmmmmmmmm........... (0.00 / 0)
So Geffen and maybe Oprah cozying up to Senator 'Waffle' is supposed to be significant?

The Hollywood culture is essentially  useless to progressives aside from them throwing trivial amounts of money at us once in a blue moon. Or being a hand straw man for the ReichWing with Goober from Georgia.

All just more 'cult of the Obama' bullshit that ties into the worst aspects of identity politics and is sooooooooo handy for sidestepping issues of policy and social justice. You don't see John Edwards brownosing this patheticly self-absorbed Holleywood 'elite' as Clinton and Obama are so fond of doing.

I note you didn't discuss how Jay Leno is 'supporting' the WGA. Guess that don't fit the narrative.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.


[ Parent ]
Please read comments before replying (0.00 / 0)
I only addressed Geffen in response to the original commenter. I agree with you that he and other celebrity endorsers have little strategic impact on the campaigns they "join." That was one of the main points of my arguments about why it is appropriate to distinguish between Lehane and Geffen--while Geffen is doing no actual work for the Obama campaign, from what Matt lays out it seems Lehane has contact with the Clinton campaign and is working closely with their communications shop.

Your response seemed very trite and, frankly, canned. I've almost entirely stopped participating on blogs during the primary season, partly because I'm very busy with schoolwork but also because it seems like every discussion rapidly devolves into an exchange of talking points peppered with the occasional expletive. Talk about narrative.


[ Parent ]
You 'agree' with me yet... (4.00 / 1)

....feel moved to qualify what I was saying as 'canned'. I suggest you get back to your homework and let the adults thrash this out.

My point is that it doesn't really matter what any of these self-aggrandizing folks, Geffen...Lehane et. al., think or say about the political process. Their hubris is only matched by their irrelevance.

It's all  the 'little people', the voters, who matter. Not folks who've got a good scam going and have lost touch with the economic realities of live in Amerikkka.


Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.


[ Parent ]
No. Again, please actually read what I write. (0.00 / 0)
You're not really getting the concept of the disagreement I have with what Greg was talking about. Go back and read it again.

[ Parent ]
C'mon (4.00 / 1)
I can't believe you are really being so naive to think that Geffen is any less a cog in the Obama machine than a person who worked for Bill and is NOT on the payroll now, but a supporter of Hillary.

Geffen may not have been on the payroll, but he sure as hell is funding it. That means influence.

Geffen has raised millions of dollars for Obama. And when Geffen spewed his usual self-righteous nasty crap against Clinton, Obama was fine with that.

He sure sounded like a high-profile surrogate with a big microphone (seem to remember that getting a LOT of coverage).

And Geffen still has a huge role in Dreamworks and he is no doubt looking out for his baby before any striking writers.

Let's make one thing clear -- I am in no way saying I like Lehane's history, but we could play tit for tat and two degrees of separation for any person's views that we don't like and wrap it around candidates.

And Geffen and people like Mclurkin who Obama have no problem breaking bread with are just as toxic. I would argue much more.

This story is almost as ridiculous as the "baby bonds" ad that uses Giuliani's opinion as a foundation for an argument.

We could play this game all day.


[ Parent ]
Yes we could (0.00 / 0)
But while it is unclear what Geffen's views on the WGA strike are, it is pretty clear that his veiws are irrelevant to the Obama campaign at large. Like I said, there is no way he ends up in an Obama Administration, and he seems to have been largely ignored since organizing a $2300/plate party last Spring. Lehane, as Matt pointed out, seems to be actively working for the Clinton campaign, even if he isn't being paid. There's your difference.

[ Parent ]
Chris Lehane did not run the Clark campaign (4.00 / 1)
I think you know that and made an error.

Yeah (0.00 / 0)
Lehane was influential, but he didn't run the campaign.

Join us at the Missouri community blog Show Me Progress!

[ Parent ]
no one (4.00 / 3)
I was there, and in reality, no one really had clear authority over that campaign.  It was a big power struggle, but one of the key players in the power struggle was Lehane, who pushed out Donnie Fowler as campaign manager.  Lehane was certainly an important figure whose circle of Clintonistas was running parts of the campaign.

[ Parent ]
Lehane's title was Senior Communications Counselor (0.00 / 0)
Paul Johnson was Campaign Manager. This was after Donnie Fowler was gone. I don't say Lehane didn't have influence.

[ Parent ]
Expect more Double Talk from Clinton (0.00 / 0)
She's too affiliated with the folks in that Alliance.  Haven't seen her walk a picket line yet. 

What will Lehane do first? (0.00 / 0)
Dredge up a Patric Verrone's kindergarten essay "Why I will never strike" or start blasting "David Weiss is a Muslim plant" emails?

I think this has a lot less to do with Sen. Clinton than it does with the entrenched Democratic consulting class. That they see no problem signing on to do PR for Rupert's union busting is despicable.


Halfway there (0.00 / 0)
Clinton doesn't support the studios, but she has a massive bully pulpit for the Democratic party. Telling the old guard of barely competent consultants who surround her that strike-breaking is unacceptable is something she should be doing without even thinking about it.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Lehane is a curse (4.00 / 1)
I thought he was blacklisted from Democratic consultancy.  He should have been.  He and few other Gore people really sank Clark (and Davis, and Kerry, etc.)

How I think Obama has a real chance at winning the nomination if Hillary Clinton let's Lehane have any power in her campaign. 

We should create a list of consultants/advisors/strategist like Lehane that are deal breakers for candidates with the Netroots. 

Truth over balance, progress over ideology


What if we launched (0.00 / 0)
a campaign to pressure Lehane to tell the AMPTP to offer the writers a fair deal? Part of his job is to give the studio heads an accurate assessment of the media landscape and what's possible in it. He doesn't decide when they negotiate for real, but if he tells them the studios need to wrap up the strike that will carry weight.

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