Our Country Deserves Better PAC

Background

The organization was founded in 2008 by Howard Kaloogian and Sal Russo.   Kaloogian served as a member of Congress from 1994-2000 (R-CA), and Russo operates the public relations firm Russo Marsh & Rogers

According to its website, Our Country Deserves Better PAC is dedicated to championing Reaganesque conservatism.  This would include low taxes, strong military, small government, and honouring the family as the core strength of America.  Additionally, this conservative organization promotes offshore oil drilling as well as the development of nuclear energy as key aspects to achieving energy independence; and, as such, they should be priorities, along with alternative energy, in America’s energy policy.

In terms of action, Our Country Deserves Better is committed to defeating Democratic candidates in the congressional election in 2010, as well as the presidential election in 2012.

Tea Party Express

Our Country Deserves Better was a sponsor of the Tea Party Express–a national bus tour which highlighted leaders in the fight against higher spending, higher taxes, and government intervention in the lives of Americans.  Such issues championed by the Tea Party Express included rejecting the national health care plan and the American Clean Energy and Security Bill.

Russo Marsh & Rogers has done public relations work for the National Tax-Limitation Committee, a sponsor of the Tea Bag Express.

Kaloogian and Political Controversy

He was the figure of controversy in 2006, while he was running in a special election for a California Congressional seat.  During the special election, Kaloogian posted a story that he “just returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq.”  The story went on to say that Kaloogian’s experience there was “absolutely counter” to what the “old-line media” has been reporting about Iraq.  To validate his statements, Kaloogian also posted a picture of “calm and stable Baghdad.” 

However, both the story and the picture were false–an apparent attempt to hoodwink voters.  It turns out that Kaloogian had taken his trip to Iraq in July 2005, nine months before the story was posted.  Furthermore, the key picture of “serene” Baghdad was actually a shot of a street corner in Istanbul.  When Kaloogian was questioned by TPMMuckraker about the holes in his story and the picture, he responded:

[on the fact he did not just return from Iraq] “I talk about my trip that way.  I speak to groups that way–I didn’t mean I did it this week.  That was my trip last year.”  In another attempt to clear himself Kaloogian said he wrote the piece the year before, when he started his run for the congressional seat.

[on the Istanbul photo]  He didn’t actually take the picture, even though his website stated “we took this photo.”  Kaloogian did not travel through Istanbul on the trip.  His explanation for the photo was:  “everybody in the group, we all shared pictures.  I’m sorry, I don’t know who took it.”

When TPMMuckraker conducted the interview, Kaloogian said:  “You’re being really picky on this stuff.  It’s not that big a deal.  It was a mistake.  I am sorry.” 

It should be noted that Sal Russo was the key strategist for Kaloogian’s 2006 congressional campaign.

Russo Marsh + Associates and the Tobacco Industry

Before being renamed Russo, Marsh & Rogers, the firm was known as Russo Marsh + Associates.  In an undated document, RMA submitted a proposal to the Tobacco Institute to help it fight against the “extreme anti-smoker laws that threaten the rights of all” in California.

In the proposal, RMA said that tobacco was not a “real” problem, and that the Toxins Initiative, which called for tobacco companies to warn people of the toxins they would ingest by smoking a cigarette, as well as Proposition 99, which increased the tax on cigarettes were the result of a change in perception and attitude, not science.

RMA listed real problems as, “failed schools, inadequate water, poorly planned growth, polluted air, serious drug abuse, near gridlock traffic congestion, etc…”

In its proposal, RMA said the most important thing is that “Tobacco must win” this fight, and that public affairs and grassroots campaigns would be key to this victory.  RMA quoted their fee for this public relation campaign for the Tobacco Institute as $10,000 per month plus travelling expenses.

Also, RMA worked on behalf of oil, chemical, and tobacco companies in fighting the Toxins Initiative in California.

Move America Forward

Russo and Kaloogian have also partnered in another endeavour–Move America Forward (MAF).  Move America Forward is a non-profit organization committed to supporting America’s military efforts to defeat terrorism and other national security threats. 

The organization runs out of the same office as Russo Marsh & Rogers.  Also, according to SourceWartch, Russo Marsh & Rogers also does all the public relations work for MAF.

Kaloogian’s infamous 2005 trip to Iraq was sponsored by Move America Forward.  Russo also was on the trip.  The purpose of the trip was to take members of America’s media to Iraq so they could report on “the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you’re not hearing from the old line news media.”

Interestingly, while on the trip, Russo’s PR firm, RM&R signed a contract with the Kurdish government to promote the interests of Kurds in the post-Hussein era back in America.  It was a “political-advertising contract to [produce] advertisements that run in the U.S. seeking investment in Kurdistan.” 

There seems to be a large conflict of interest here:  a board member of a non-profit, charitable organization, which is promoting supporting American soldiers and America’s efforts to protect itself, is also signing business contracts and making profits off the war effort, and its “selfless” advocacy of it.   Ironically, the Move America Forward trip to Iraq was called the “Truth Tour.”

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