"All I have to do is turn the spigot on and the money just flows," Alan Gottlieb once told a reporter. Every month, Gottlieb reaches out to 10 million of his closest friends, asking for contributions or votes. A prominent leader in both the pro-gun and anti-environment Wise Use movement, Gottlieb is likely one of the most powerful men in America.
"I am the premier anti-communist, free-enterprise, laissez faire capitalist."
He seems a careful man.
There's not a displaced hair on his head or his Groucho Marx mustache. His clothes also are impeccable -- brown loafers, an unobtrusive bow tie, and a perfectly ironed shirt with the initials AMG embroidered on the pocket. The same initials are stamped on the vanity plates of the black Corvette parked below the window of his Bellevue, Washington office complex. AMG stands for Alan Merril Gottlieb, a name a lot of environmentalists, gun-control advocates, and members of Congress wish they had never heard of.|
Gottlieb has his own plans for changing the balance of power in Congress. His American Political Action Committee (AMPAC) raised $265,000 towards unseating congressional incumbents who voted for the Brady bill and the crime bill. Gottlieb claims that his first victim was long-term Democratic incumbent Mike Synar of Oklahoma. Synar was defeated in the September primary by an unknown retired school principal. In his home state, Gottlieb targeted four House Democratic incumbents: Reps. Jay Inslee, Mike Kreidler, Maria Cantwell, and Speaker Tom Foley. All lost re-election.
Gottlieb sounds like part buccaneering entrepreneur and part political gunslinger. He has a remarkable knack for cashing in big on right-wing causes. "I am," he says, "the premier anti-communist, free-enterprise, laissez faire capitalist." He is also:
"He's a direct-mail genius. I know political skill when I see it and I respect it," says David Williamson, national spokesman for the Nature Conservancy and no friend of Gottlieb's.
Gottlieb carries his power
and responsibilities nonchalantly. Coming out from behind his desk for our first interview, he gives us firm handshakes, seats us comfortably, and offers coffee.|
"I've put everything on hold so take as much time as you need," he says affably. He is as good as his word, refusing all messages and phone calls for a nearly four-hour interview during which his energy never flags. If anything he becomes more animated as the interview progresses.
"That was fun," he says at the end, and agrees to three more half-day sessions. In a still photograph, Gottlieb's neat appearance, receding hairline, and glasses make him look deceptively sedentary -- a youthful accountant or midlevel executive.
Gottlieb is as incapable of stillness as a hummingbird. He almost vibrates with energy. During the long interviews, he manages to keep from pacing up and down, but his hands keep roaming around the desk searching for a physical outlet for his vigorous enthusiasm. He squares up the message slips sitting on his penholder. He arranges and rearranges a half-dozen pens and pencils in orderly geometric patterns. This energy is like his speech: rapid, precise, and straining to convey his enthusiasm.
When Gottlieb is enthusiastic -- and we never saw him otherwise -- he jams his words and sentences so close together that it is hopeless to interview him without a tape recorder. He is a commanding conversationalist, never relinquishing a subject until he has made all of his points. It is a talent that must be very useful in the numerous radio and television appearances he makes every month.
Gottlieb is a workaholic, sometimes working through the night, according to his wife, Julie. Even his two hobbies, collecting stamps and small antique pistols, are sublimated businesses. He values the privacy that comes with collecting. "It's the only time I can be one on one with Alan Gottlieb," he says.
"I have a fantastic gun collection," Gottlieb tells us. "I collect what is known as suicide specials -- old, antique handguns." Small and easily concealable, they would fit in a lady's muff or a riverboat gambler's boot. When we ask if we can see his gun collection, he refuses. "I don't show my guns or my stamps. I don't want anyone to know where they are. They are very valuable." Some of them were owned by famous or historical people. Who, he won't say.
Gottlieb describes himself as "a very private person," so his decision to grant these marathon interviews is surprising. Although Gottlieb appears almost daily on radio and television newscasts and/or shows, he generally talks about gun or environmental issues and rarely about himself.
Gottlieb's communications empire is headquartered in a two-story, L-shaped building hidden in a pleasant grove of fir trees just south of a Coca-Cola distribution center. The property, which King County currently assesses at $696,000, is all Gottlieb's. In addition to the one anti-environmental and the two pro-gun nonprofit organizations, Liberty Park houses these three other Gottlieb organizations:
In direct mail, fear, hate, and revenge go a long way
gets direct-response mail, letters from charities, political campaigns, and all sorts of other causes asking the recipient to mail back a donation. Often they appeal to one's charitable instincts or sense of civic responsibility. That's not Gottlieb's tact. "The letters he composes," says Outside magazine, "are not long on subtlety or literary polish, but they are extremely adept at pinpointing the recipients' deepest anxieties and eliciting floods of righteous indignation." Gottlieb does not disagree. In the 1993 book Trashing the Economy, Gottlieb and co-author, Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise executive vice president Ron Arnold, write with startling frankness: "The message of the direct-mail letter must appeal to three base emotions: Fear, Hate, and Revenge. . . . "[The] fund-raising mailer must present you with a crisis -- a problem won't do. . . . That crisis must frighten you. . . . If you are not frightened, you won't send money. . . . Then the direct-mail letter must present you with a bogeyman against whom to focus your anger. . . .|
"Once you've been frightened and made to hate the bogeyman, the successful direct-mail appeal must offer you a way to get revenge against the bogeyman -- the payoff for your contribution. The more soul-satisfying the revenge, the better the letter pulls.
"All this must be dressed up in an appeal that appears to have a high moral tone, but which -- without you realizing it -- works on your lower emotions." Gottlieb and Arnold are describing environmental direct-mail pitches, but Arnold, in an interview on the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, also tells us that "in direct mail, fear, hate, and revenge go a long way."
Apparently, a little deception also goes a long way. In June, Gottlieb sent a mass mailing that appeared to come directly from Republican Rep. Philip M. Crane of Illinois, though the postmark was Bellevue. The envelope bore a replica of the congressional seal and in large, bold letters identified the sender as: the Honorable Philip M. Crane, Member of Congress. The return address, however, was Bellevue. The letter inside bore Congressman Crane's signature. "Dear Friends," the letter started off, "I recently asked Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, for the names of a few selected Americans with whom I could communicate directly on a matter of great importance to our gun rights. "Yours was one of the names Alan gave me.
"Will you join with me and US Sens. Bob Dole, Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott, Don Nickles, and other distinguished Americans as a member of the National Advisory Council of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms?" After telling the reader that "over a 100 members of the United States Congress serve" on the advisory council, the letter warns in upper case that "ANTI-GUN FORCES NOW CONTROL THE WHITE HOUSE AND BOTH THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE UNITED STATES SENATE."
"I'm amazed," reads another paragraph, "that many gun owners I talk to don't seem to understand that handgun-ban laws are the first steps toward stripping Americans of their right to own and use all firearms." The Crane letter contains an intimidating questionnaire, which, among other things, demands an "X" before one of two questions:
Of the $24 million that his direct-mail marketing takes in, $5.5 million goes into Gottlieb's three foundations. Another $6.6 million goes to organizations (outside of Liberty Park) for which Gottlieb is either a director or a board member. These include ultraconservative groups such as the American Conservative Union, Young Americans for Freedom, American Political Action Committee, and the Council for National Policy. The remaining $12 million in direct-response revenue is raised for clients who contract for his services. Gottlieb prefers not to name them though they most probably consist of conservative organizations and candidates.
Gottlieb also generates income from publishing Wise Use and anti-gun control books. The Free Enterprise Press (CDFE) and Merril Press (a for-profit operation) together carry 16 titles. Gottlieb said that he sells a total of 200,000 copies annually. The retail cost of the books, which are distributed by Merril Press, ranges from $9.95 to $19.95 a copy. Gottlieb did not reveal his total book revenue but did mention that the profit margin on one of his titles was 50 percent. If this holds true for all his titles then his book profits would be well over a million dollars a year. However the CDFE's 990 (Exempt from Income Tax) form for 1993 shows that revenue for Free Enterprise Press, which publishes three-quarters of the titles, was only $30,615. In 1992, Gottlieb raised only a pittance -- $339,289 -- for CDFE, the mother organization of Wise Use. That same year, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms garnered $2,318,804, and the Second Amendment Foundation, $2,533,427. CDFE's mailing list is only 5,600, as compared to the 875,000 for the two gun organizations.
Gottlieb also gets some additional revenue from the Wise Use issue. His Merril Press distributes the books published by the CDFE, and he gets royalties or other payment for books he edited or co-authored. On recent tax returns for CDFE, $54,343 is listed as expenses associated with the "book program/royalties/speaking expense." He collects fees for traveling the country and giving political-action and fund-raising seminars to Wise Use groups at fees of up to $3,000 a day. He instructs the groups on how to conduct direct-response cash drives of their own, as well as how to recruit new members and use the media.
Although Alan disapproved of students protesting the Vietnam War, he was no more anxious than they were to get into it.
has come a long way from the unpromising kid who grew up in Los Angeles and Queens. He was born the first child to Seymour and Sherry Gottlieb on May 2, 1947 in Los Angeles. The Gottliebs were not a very political family. "My dad worked for the government in a very, you know, minor position for the Department of the Army, a warehouseman," Gottlieb says. "My family basically were Democrats. I can't say they were liberal Democrats, 'cause they didn't even know what liberal meant, or conservative meant. It was just the way it was."|
The Gottliebs lived in Maywood, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. Seymour led the Cub Scout pack and managed Alan's Little League team. Alan was, says his dad, a very good player and "he still loves baseball."
In a telephone interview, Seymour describes his son as "happy-go-lucky, really not troublesome, you know. And, ah, pretty smart."
When Alan was 10, the Gottliebs returned to their neighborhood in Queens where many of their relatives lived. Seymour again took a warehousing job with the military. Alan attended Public Elementary School 205 and later Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High School, where he was a lackluster student. "He never applied himself," his mother, Sherry, says tartly, and then more resignedly, "Listen, he was ok. I wasn't looking for a genius."
She wasn't looking for a rebel either. "I was a fussy mother," she says flatly. "You had to be clean, you had to be neat. You had to follow the rules of the house. When he was a teen-ager, there was always a curfew. I wanted to know where he was and who he was out with."
"My mother was fairly strict," Gottlieb confirms, "but she lightened up after my brother came." Not, however, before she had drummed into Alan that neatness counts. Gottlieb's Liberty Park desk, like his dress, is a paragon of tidiness. A stack of papers sits on his desk, at least 2 feet high, and its sides are absolutely vertical, without one page even a quarter of an inch out of line. He knows what is in the pile and where, too, because in our first interview it took him about 15 seconds to extract a one-page document he wanted to show us.
As Alan neared high school graduation, he started getting serious about himself and his world. He put up campaign signs for John Lindsay, a liberal Republican who was running for New York City mayor, and began worrying about how he was going to get into college. "I guess everybody grows up," his mother says.
"He wanted nuclear engineering," Seymour says, "and you know, with that average he had from high school . . . in the high 70s [laughs]. But he was adamant about going and he took the [American College Test] exam [at the University of Tennessee]. He did very well, and they allowed him to go. Actually, he has a photographic mind. That was his problem. He didn't do much homework because he knew what he had in his mind already and so it wasn't really worthwhile doing homework."
Gottlieb enrolled at the University of Tennessee in 1966 when the Vietnam War and student protests were heating up. His mother believes the anti-war movement's tactics shocked her son so much that it turned him into a conservative. "I think it was all the riots that were taking place on campus with the Vietnam War," says Sherry. "He disapproved of the manner in which they were rioting and carrying on."
Seymour says that the rioting was part of the reason for his son's conversion, but that "mainly it was the SDS in school, the Students for a Democratic Society, the Communists. . . . You know they wanted to close the school at one time, and he didn't like that because here was his father working two jobs so he could go to college." So, Gottlieb and a couple of other students successfully sued to keep the school open.
Although Alan disapproved of students protesting the Vietnam War, he was no more anxious than they were to get into it. "We kept him out of it," says Sherry. "Yeah, we got him into the National Guard. My husband did." Seymour says he "didn't exactly get him into the Guard, but you know, I worked for the government, and a lot of sites had openings."
Alan joined the US Army National Guard in 1968 and was assigned to a Nike-Hercules missile site on Long Island near Farmington. He served only one weekend a month and an annual two-week training period, so his tour did little to impede his other activities. These included joining William F. Buckley's Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative political organization that supported the Vietnam War.
Buckley, according to Seymour, had heard about Alan's role in forcing the University of Tennessee to remain open. "He asked him [Alan] to come to New York for a talk, and they did," Seymour recalls. Seymour says that Alan joined the YAF at Buckley's request in 1969 and organized support for a war he did not intend to fight in himself. He worked hard at it, too, and the very next year he was elected to the YAF's national board.
Turning the gun movement into more of a civil-rights cause
Gottlieb faced a crisis
in 1971 and he says that more than anything else it transformed him into the conservative activist he is today. He graduated that summer, after a five-year course, with a degree in nuclear engineering, but couldn't find a job because the Department of Energy was scaling down its new nuclear-energy projects.|
Gottlieb took the government cutbacks personally. "I got involved [in conservative causes] because I watched government picking on me and my future," he says bitterly. "Nuclear energy was the wave of the future to insure an energy-free and independent America. Here I am with a dream, my father works two jobs, my parents go into debt for it. I bust my tail in college and lo and behold, the rug is pulled out from underneath me. Ultimately by government, by government getting involved in my life."
That same year, 1971, Gottlieb was working as a press secretary for Rep. John Duncan of Tennessee. "It was a pretty boring position," recalls Gottlieb, who was unhappy because, of all things, there wasn't enough to do. "I had this guy who got 80 percent of the vote, and he says, 'Alan, the less they know the better.' Well, great, what am I supposed to do?"
In 1972, Young Americans for Freedom gave Gottlieb a bigger job, this time in Seattle. He was responsible for running the 11-state region for YAF. He also directed the national office of an ad hoc YAF group called the Students Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. At the time, Gottlieb thought there was a vacuum in the gun movement. The NRA didn't even have a registered lobbyist in Washington, DC. "The NRA considered that lobbying was that you write an article in your magazine and that . . . would get . . . [the readers] all excited and [they would] write Congress," recalls Gottlieb.
Guns now became an important part of Gottlieb's political life. His Students Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms started to take up so much time that Gottlieb was asked in 1973 to split it from the Young Americans for Freedom, changing the name to the Citizens Committee. In his Liberty Park office, he recalls that "YAF felt a little awkward. . . . So what YAF did was, like -- 'Alan you're trying to build something bigger than the parent organization. . . . How about you go independent now?'"
The parting between the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the Young Americans for Freedom was friendly, and Gottlieb became (and still is) a member of the YAF's national advisory board.
Gottlieb, as the sole incorporator, created the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, the first of his three nonprofit organizations, on January 30, 1974. In a 1986 amendment of the articles of incorporation, the word "membership" was removed from the incorporation papers by Gottlieb's board of directors. Other changes turned the committee from a membership organization into a closely controlled corporation. Thus, there are no members of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. It is simply a corporation comprised of the board of directors that receives donations without extending any rights to participate in the operation of the corporation: a committee with five members that asks for money.
Gottlieb sees his role in gun issues as having an influence on the NRA. "I'm kind of the gun lobby's lobby. I prod them a whole lot. What happens is that things get innovated here, and the NRA is then forced to copy it. A good example is the whole woman [sic] and guns issue," says Gottlieb. (His wife Julie edits the magazine Women & Guns. ) He says another example is turning the gun movement into more of a civil-rights cause.
CDFE would become the spawning ground for the anti-environmental Wise Use movement.
The same year,
1974, Gottlieb also became (and remains) the national treasurer of the American Conservative Union, one of the New Right groups, like the YAF, that formed after the 1964 Barry Goldwater presidential campaign. Founded by 100 right-wing, anti-communist conservatives, an ACU statement of principles supports "capitalism . . . [as] the only economic system of our time that is compatible with political liberty." Closely allied with the YAF through the Conservative Political Action Conference, the ACU lobbies Congress on conservative issues and publishes "scorecards" on how well congressional members have responded to conservative stances.|
At the same time he was making the Citizens Committee a thing of his own, Gottlieb formed two other companies in his fledgling empire. The Citizens Committee was a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, a tax- exempt classification that allows lobbying, but donors can't take a tax deduction for a contribution. When individual contributions are deductible, they are usually a little larger. Gottlieb's Second Amendment Foundation solved this problem with its 501(c)(3) status, which allowed contributors a tax deduction. Like the Citizens Committee, the SAF had Alan Gottlieb as its sole incorporator. Forming a second organization gave Gottlieb a way to solicit donors twice. He estimates that this overlap in the two organizations is about 40 percent. Like the Citizens Committee, the Second Amendment Foundation has no members, only a board of trustees.
To actually handle the mail, Gottlieb formed Merril Associates, a private firm comprised solely of himself. Because it is not incorporated, Merril Associates and Alan Gottlieb are one in the same. It receives and holds assets, such as mailing lists, at Liberty Park.
In 1976, Gottlieb established the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. It was intended to fight the Carter administration's regulatory posture by "protecting free enterprise and private property rights," as Gottlieb put it. Like all of the other nonprofits, the sole incorporator was Alan Gottlieb.
The purpose of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise is described in Article IV of the incorporation documents: ". . . to engage in . . . [the] study of . . . governmental regulatory bodies and their interaction with business; engaging in . . . litigation which tests the constitutionality of legislation and administrative rulings affecting the freedom of individuals to operate in the marketplace. . . ." In 1984, eight years after it was incorporated, CDFE would become the spawning ground for the anti-environmental Wise Use movement.
With Reagan's election ushering in new policies and personnel that gutted federal regulatory efforts, CDFE went into a decline. "The need for the center to be involved in that area was diminished," says Gottlieb. "We grew rather fast in [Carter's administration] and then watched ourselves, both in activities and finance and everything, decreasing."
In 1982, the property that would become Gottlieb's headquarters was purchased in a complex deal later challenged in court. The Bellevue property that Gottlieb would call Liberty Park was purchased from the Buchan Brothers Construction Co. The statutory warranty deed, dated June 1, 1982, lists the purchasers as the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms; the Second Amendment Foundation; Alan M. Gottlieb and Julianne V. Gottlieb, husband and wife." According to records at the King County Department of Assessments, the sale price was $760,000. Liberty Park was assessed in 1983 at $630,000.
On November 7, 1982, the Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee filed a quitclaim deed that gave Alan and Julie Gottlieb the buildings on the property. On the same day, Alan and Julie Gottlieb filed a quitclaim deed that gave the land to the SAF and the Citizens Committee. Now the Gottliebs owned the buildings and leased office space to each of the nonprofits at around $4,000 a month. According to documents filed with the IRS, the lease agreement "includes requirements for payments of property taxes, insurance, maintenance, and other related expenses by the Foundation during the term of the lease." Gottlieb describes the leases as "a good deal" for the nonprofits.
The law banning the armor-piercing ammunition began the separation of police groups and the gun lobby.
In February 1983
-- the year after the purchase of Liberty Park -- Gottlieb became embroiled in another controversy, after attending a conference put on by an organization called CAUSA. CAUSA (Spanish for "cause") stands for the Confederation of Associations for the Unification of the Societies of the Americas. Founded in Mexico City by Col. Bo Hi Pak (chief lieutenant of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church) and Kim Sang In, the former Korean Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Mexico City, CAUSA was the Rev. Moon's multinational anti-communist and political organization. It also served as Moon's vehicle to fund the New Right, including staging 15 major conferences around the country to support, in part, the Reagan administration's military build-up and its cause celebre, the Nicaraguan Contras.|
Gottlieb says, "The only thing I ever did with CAUSA was attend one of their conferences. I was invited to, all expenses paid, a conference in Jamaica [in February 1983] that discussed the threat of communism in South and Latin America and had leaders from all political persuasions, all parties, all religions, all sorts of ministers. . . . About the only thing I remember was that my seatmate next to me was Eldridge Cleaver."
The Rev. Moon is known mostly as the religious leader accorded "divine status," holder of mass weddings, and someone with a reputation for running a mind- control cult. But he is much more than that. Moon is the quasi-chief of state of a multinational organization that has all the characteristics of a nation except territorial sovereignty.
Many people have attended the Moon conferences, but Gottlieb still rankles over a February 12, 1989 Seattle Times article tying him to Moon. "You know, here, the liberals are supposed to be tolerant, right? Who are against discrimination," he says. "I'm not going to discriminate against anybody on a religion when we are working on a political issue, because of a crazy religion they might have, and personally, I think their religion [the Unification Church] is extremely crazy. OK? The bottom line is that's their business, and I'm not going to discriminate against them on their religion."
The way that Gottlieb sees it, all of the attention to the Moon organization and Wise Use has come from the environmentalists. He explains the mention of the Moon tie by saying ". . . other journalists will read the environmentalist publications and take that and regurgitate it, pop it back."
Shortly after the 1983 CAUSA conference, Gottlieb became involved in another far more important matter -- a watershed gun-control controversy. A proposed federal law would have banned armor-piercing pistol ammunition - dubbed "cop killer" ammunition because the Teflon-coated bullets could penetrate the equivalent of four Kevlar bulletproof vests. The bullets were popular with some sports shooters because of the higher muzzle energy and velocity, which made them ideal for silhouette-target shooters. Gottlieb opposed the legislation, telling the Seattle Times, "Most people who propose gun-control legislation know absolutely nothing about guns or ballistics." Gottlieb's position is very straightforward: he is against gun control. "It's not that we're against protection for cops," Gottlieb said, "but this is a backdoor approach to gun control."
Law enforcement authorities, which had been gun-lobby allies, favored the new law. In the same Times article, Sgt. Fred Hill of the Seattle Police Department stated, "It's an emotional issue with policemen because they feel it's one more thing that can be used against them." The law banning the armor-piercing ammunition passed. It began the separation of police groups and the gun lobby.
The following year, 1984, was not a good one for Gottlieb. For openers, a federal grand jury indicted him on two counts of filing false income-tax returns and neglecting to pay $40,000 in taxes for 1977 and 1978. He eventually admitted to underpaying by $17,000. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 366 days in a minimum security jail in Spokane. As jails go, it wasn't a bad place. He was released every morning to do work-release fund raising for the local YMCA, although according to the branch director of the Spokane YMCA, Mary Harnetiaux, he had little success.
Wise Use became a grassroots anti-conservationist movement that would be funded by industries fighting environmental regulations.
Meanwhile back at Liberty Park,
things were happening that would make jail time seem like a paid vacation. In Gottlieb's absence, seven employees had been going through his books and had concluded that for some time he had been defrauding the Second Amendment Foundation. Speaking in a telephone interview, Greg McDonald, former executive director of the SAF, tells how he and all the SAF employees attempted to "ask the court to appoint a court receiver to manage the foundation." They later filed a suit in King County Superior Court to appoint a receiver, and when more information came to light, they filed a federal civil suit against Gottlieb for "racketeering and conspiracy to defraud" contributors.|
In court, one of the contested issues was the purchase and subsequent transfers of ownership involving the Liberty Park property. The court battles continued when Gottlieb was released in March 1985. Gottlieb filed a countersuit charging McDonald and the other ex-employees with defamation. The trials and appeals lasted 18 months, but in the end Gottlieb emerged victorious.
In April 1986, Judge Frank D. Howard exonerated Gottlieb of all but one of the allegations by Greg McDonald and the others. The court ordered McDonald and the others to cough up $30,000 in damages. Gottlieb, who knows how to crow, says his ex-employees paid for his black Corvette with the AMG vanity plates.
Currently, SAF and the Citizens Committee have leases with Gottlieb that run through 1996. According to an audit report provided by Gottlieb, the Citizens Committee is also "responsible for operating costs associated with the property." These two leases pay Gottlieb slightly less than $100,000 a year. CDFE gets much lower rent, paying only $8,421 a year. It may be an even better deal than it looks, since it apparently includes the CDFE office in Boise, Idaho. The total income from the nonprofits' leases was slightly more than $106,413 in 1993, according to audit reports and tax returns that Gottlieb supplied to for this interview.
Early in 1984, Ron Arnold, a tall, muscular ex-Texan with a Mennonite beard, contacted Alan Gottlieb with an idea looking for a sponsor. Arnold's idea became the Wise Use movement. "He [Arnold] came to me with the Wise Use stuff and in sitting and talking with him a light bulb went on over my head," says Gottlieb. Arnold wanted to create a grassroots anti-conservationist movement that would be funded through Liberty Park by industries fighting environmental regulations.
More than four years of planning and organizing went into the project's launch. It would take two more years for the payoff to materialize. In the meantime, Gottlieb gave Arnold freelance writing jobs and later appointed Arnold executive director of the Center for the Defense for Free Enterprise. Just as Gottlieb was a fallen-away liberal, Arnold was a "former environmentalist."
"I was a board member of the Pacific Northwest chapter [of the Sierra Club]" Arnold tells us. "I took Brock Evans' seat when . . . he went out to Washington, DC, to become their lobbyist and I was elected to occupy his seat, which I did until I resigned in 1971." Pauly Dyer, a founder of the Pacific Northwest chapter, says the organization did not have board members during that period.
Evans, now vice president of the Audubon Society, remembers Arnold trying to sell the group a slide show about the Cascades in the middle of the battle of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. "And we said, 'Ron, we'd love to, but we can't pay. Everybody here just works for nothing. Why don't you just give it to us?' And he got really pissed off and left. So the next thing I know there he is giving speeches to the Logging Association saying how awful we are and how he knows because he's one of us." Dyer also remembers Arnold's slide show. "As far as I'm concerned, he's been in the industries' pocket ever since."
Arnold likes to point his finger at the high salaries collected by environmentalists and offers his unsalaried position at CDFE as a counterexample. He writes and edits books and has his own business, Northwoods Studios: "I write contract books for shameless amounts of money . . ." Arnold says. "I've got a lot more money than a lot of their [corporate America's] CEOs."
Arnold kept CDFE going until Gottlieb was released from prison in 1985. That same year, Gottlieb joined the Council for National Policy. He is proud enough of his membership to list it in Who's Who in America.
The property-rights branch of the Wise Use movement gained so much power that its congressional advocates blocked every major piece of environmental legislation but one
The Council for National Policy
is one of the nation's most powerful and secretive right-wing organizations. The CNP first came to national attention during the Iran-Contra scandal, when Lt. Col. Oliver North's remarks to a CNP Nashville gathering -- about how the failure to support the Nicaraguan rebels would lead to US citizens being gunned down on their own streets -- were leaked to The Washington Post. In the ensuing controversy over North's fund raising for the Contras, numerous members of the CNP were involved.|
The group's secrecy has only slowly been peeled away. The CNP was started in 1981 by former Rep. Larry McDonald, a Democrat from Georgia, and Californian William Cies, both leaders of the John Birch Society. They in turn recruited Dr. Tim LaHaye, a leader of the Moral Majority in California, to be the first president. CNP members must be approved by a unanimous vote of the current executive committee. Ordinary CNP members pay dues of $2,000 per year, but Gottlieb is a member of the elite board of governors with annual dues of $5,000.
The CNP sees itself as the conservative alternative to the establishment's Council on Foreign Relations. Fred Clarkson, a political researcher for Planned Parenthood of America, describes the CNP as the "central leadership network of the far right in the United States." The CNP's current president is former Reagan attorney general and confidante Edwin Meese III. Oliver North is on its executive committee, as are Holland "Holly" Coors, Edwin J. Feulner (head of the Heritage Foundation), Howard Phillips (of the US Taxpayers Party and the Conservative Caucus), and Richard DeVos (president of the Amway Corp.). Former presidents of CNP include Thomas Ellis, Nelson Bunker Hunt, Richard DeVos, and Pat Robertson.
Meanwhile, the first stirrings of the nascent Wise Use movement came in early 1987, when Gottlieb, Arnold, and CDFE member Charles "Chuck" Cushman launched a lawsuit seeking to stop the distribution of a report by the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors. The report's preliminary summary called for "greenways" across the country using abandoned rail lines, riverbanks, and other land. Another provision would have created an endowment that would provide $1 billion dollars annually to acquire public property. Gottlieb told the papers that the proposals were "an incredibly bad idea" that would impede commercial development. "This sounds like a goody-two-shoes thing for the environment, but in fact they need to see what the long-term impact is," said Gottlieb in a Seattle Times article.
From this initial and little noted effort, Wise Use would, within a few years, mushroom into an anti-environmental movement with groups in every state, and indeed, almost every county in the nation. By 1992, Audubon magazine was describing the ubiquitous movement this way: "In the Northeast, Wise Use groups represent property owners in the Adirondacks. . . . Wise Users include Louisiana shrimpers, who oppose the use of turtle-excluder devices, which they claim release some of the catch, even as they free endangered sea turtles. Midwestern farmers opposed to wetland regulations have found a place within the movement, as have loggers, miners, and ranchers in the West. . . ."
Nobody ever said Gottlieb didn't know how to make money. He also knows how to make political hay. The property-rights branch of the Wise Use movement gained so much power that this year its congressional advocates blocked every major piece of environmental legislation but one, the California Desert Protection Act, which created the largest wilderness protection area outside of Alaska and was passed by a single vote.
By contrast, a half-dozen linchpin environmental measures failed. They included grazing protections and higher fees, mining reform, Superfund reauthorization, and renewing the Safe Drinking Water Act.
"In any given election, if you're going to mobilize 5 percent of the electorate, you're going to win"
Gottlieb's main political
support, however, comes not from anti-environmentalists but from anti-gun-control advocates. "I guess I hate to say it," Gottlieb sighs, "but I'm almost an elder statesman in the gun movement now."|
Gottlieb says he "shares intelligence" with the National Rifle Association when it comes to targeting pro-gun-control members of Congress -- especially those who won their seats last election by 5 percent or less. He estimates the combined membership to be approximately 4 million, after overlapping memberships are deducted. Their mailings, he says, "touch on a monthly basis anywhere from 8 [million] to 10 million people. That's not counting the public media. In the media we reach a lot more, but so does the other side.
"In any given election, if you're going to mobilize 5 percent of the electorate, you're going to win," says Gottlieb. "A lot of times people don't realize it doesn't even matter what a public opinion poll shows on an issue. Our people are activists, organized, who get upset about something and go out and do something."
"The bottom line is," Gottlieb says, "we have better organization and we're bigger and stronger and better financially than we've ever been."
Paul de Armond is a writer living in Washington state.
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