Politics & Other Mistakes: Putting a label on No Labels

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Guess who was among the earliest supporters of forming a Maine chapter of No Labels, a political party allegedly based on reforming government and avoiding extremism. Here’s a clue. He was recently convicted of possessing a huge cache of child pornography.

That’s right, Eliot Cutler, the former independent gubernatorial candidate.

Al DiamonBack in 2011, shortly after Cutler narrowly lost his first bid for the Blaine House, he was the star attraction at a Portland meeting to form a local branch of No Labels. There’s a certain irony in that, considering the labels currently attached to the disgraced politician, such as “registered sex offender” and “secret creep.”

It might be unfair to characterize the entire No Labels movement as morally reprehensible simply because of its long-ago association with Cutler. On the other hand, it might not. In the dozen years since he was the group’s poster boy, No Labels has flirted with an odd assortment of ethically questionable reptiles.

I’ll get to them in a moment, but first let’s look at what No Labels has been up to since its glorious debut with Cutler. In this state, it didn’t do much for a long time, in spite of its early promise to start running candidates in local races. Nationally, it’s sputtered along, claiming questionable credit for forming the Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, a 40-member group most notable for failing to solve problems.

Now, though, things are different. No Labels suddenly has lots of money and is using it to get itself certified as an official party in every state, ahead of maybe running a presidential candidate in 2024. Where did all that cash come from? I’ll get back to that in a moment.

To become a recognized party in Maine, organizers needed to convince at least 5,000 voters to register as No Labelites. This spring, the group collected about 7,000 names of alleged enrollees. So, they’re on the ballot, right?

Maybe not. In early May, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows sent No Labels a cease-and-desist letter charging that its workers had misled many signers by telling them they were merely putting their names on a petition, rather than changing their party registration. Bellows cited complaints from municipal clerks and several voters as evidence of wrongdoing. She sent notices to all who had signed giving them the option of rescinding their switch.

No Labels leaders denied they’d done anything wrong, and complained that Bellows, a Democrat, might be acting in a partisan fashion to thwart their efforts. If their registration drive is rejected, they said, they might contest her decision in court. Unfortunately, attorney Eliot Cutler is currently unavailable for that task, but they can probably afford somebody else.

That’s because No Labels has in recent years attracted some major contributions. How major? It’s hard to say because No Labels is structured in such a way that it doesn’t have to disclose the sources of its funding — which seems strange for a group that advocates for open government. Or maybe not so strange, since leaked documents and some excellent investigative reporting by the New Republic, ProPublica and others have shown No Labels gets its most significant donations from a series of short-lived political action committees supported by right-wing Republicans.

Among the biggest donors to these PACS are Harlan Crow, the guy who pays for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ vacations; Peter Thiel, billionaire investor and pal of deceased sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein; and the late David Koch, industrialist and force behind the appointment of right-wing judges to the federal courts. That’s led to speculation that No Labels has become a front for the GOP to lure away moderate Democratic and independent voters, allowing the Republican presidential nominee to squeak out a victory next year.

Does any of this nasty behind-the-scenes maneuvering conflict with No Labels platform? No, because it doesn’t have a platform. Its website promises there’ll be some sort of policy statement later this year, but right now, most of what the group has supported has been mushy blather about avoiding anything extreme — by which they seem to mean anything definite.

Can’t wait to see its position on child porn.

Label me any way you like by emailing [email protected].

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