Judging by the fierce electoral contests currently being waged around the country, the nebulous political “center" isn't the most popular place to be.
But that's where Michelle Dorothy, chief of staff to La Jolla House Democrat Scott Peters, headed off for last month at a posh Virginia resort, courtesy of Center Forward.
"America is neither right nor left," proclaims the corporate-funded nonprofit on its website. "Republican nor Democrat. Red nor blue. The solutions that will move us forward come from where they always have — the center."
Last summer, Center Forward put out a white paper touting the virtues of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial free-trade deal.
"It’s not just large businesses either that could benefit from the [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. In 2011 (the latest data available), U.S. small and medium-sized businesses were responsible for over a third of exports in the region ($247 billion)...removing barriers to trade in the fast growing Pacific Rim will open up new markets to countless American small businesses."
In June, the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Washington spearheaded a successful push to expedite such agreements, an effort that has created a fierce backlash along the presidential campaign trails of both parties.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has used the issue to bash his opponent, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. During the Michigan primary, Sanders said, "The people of Detroit know the real cost of Hillary Clinton's free trade policies," in a tweet accompanied by pictures of crumbling buildings. He later told CNN, "Those trade policies as much as any other set of policies has resulted in the shrinking of the American middle class."
Peters and his key political patron, billionaire Irwin Jacobs, cofounder of Qualcomm, are major Clinton supporters, and Peters voted for the free-trade measure. He is expected by some to play a major role in Clinton's upcoming California Democratic primary battle with Sanders.
According to the March 29 disclosure report for Dorothy’s March 17–19 trip, she received free lodging worth $250 and meals valued at $275 at the Salamander Resort in Middleburg, Virginia.
"This is a rare, much-needed forum for Dem and R members and staff to collaborate on policy issues impacting San Diegans," she wrote. "I am the chief of staff and handle financial services policy for the office."
Based on the documents, the agenda and participants covered political strategy for the contentious presidential election year.
On Thursday, March 17, the group was greeted at an evening welcoming reception at Middleburg’s Red Fox Inn by Jeff Murray, a Center Forward boardmember and managing director of FTI Consulting Government Affairs, a multi-national Washington lobbying outfit that counts among its clients Porsche Cars of North America.
Center Forward’s chairman, Robert “Bud” Cramer, is an ex-Democratic House member from Alabama who now works for FTI as a managing director in “strategic communications.”
The topic of Center Forward’s dinner on March 18 was "Why the Center Will Hold in 2016." The speaker for the evening was Jonathan Allen, co-author of the 2014 book HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton.
In a February 24, 2014, review for the Guardian, Naomi Wolf opined, "This is the turgid, enumerative, cheerleading voice of political talking points and White House press aides."
"Not a single harsh quote from the many prominent Hillary detractors? Not a single unspun mistake, not a single raw regret, not a single frank criticism? Instead the reader gets torrents of unnamed sources recasting, as speechwriters and opposition researchers are highly trained to do, her every potential false move, that could be a liability on the campaign trail, from Monicagate to the Benghazi attack in Libya, in bulletproof language. I don't know how the text got to be in this condition; I do think it raises real questions.”
Adds Wolf, "Indeed, you cannot really call HRC a book. It is a 400-plus-page advertorial for Mrs Clinton's presidential campaign, masquerading as an unauthorized biography, and being published and marketed by Random House as unauthorized."
March’s session was not the first Center Forward conclave Peters aide Dorothy has attended. In February 2014, she traveled to Philadelphia at the group's expense to attend an "issues retreat" at the Four Seasons hotel costing $1090.
This coming July 25th, Center Forward boardmember Murray, an ex-government affairs director for the American Gas Association, is organizing a big-money fundraising bash during the Democratic convention in Philadelphia for the Future Forum Caucus of the Democratic National Committee.
According to an invitation posted online by PoliticalPartyTime.org, "Silver" sponsorships including six general admission tickets and two VIP tickets will cost $15,000. The $30,000 "Gold" level includes 12 general admission tickets, six VIP tickets, and two "Talent photo ops (subject to artist availability)."