During Bill Clinton’s first-inaugural festivities, a 14-year-old girl from Kentucky presented the new president with an honorary bouquet of red roses at the base of the Lincoln Memorial.
Two decades later, that girl, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is a candidate to become Kentucky’s first female senator. And Clinton — an uncle figure whom Grimes counts as a friend, mentor and adviser — is playing a starring role in her campaign and will appear at a sold-out Grimes fundraiser Tuesday.
As Grimes weighed whether to run for the Senate, Clinton took nearly an hour out of a visit last year to Owensboro, Ky., to huddle privately with her. Hillary Rodham Clinton provided her counsel as well. They both offered their unconditional support and talked about how much fight it will take for a Democrat to unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a wily campaigner known for vilifying his opponents.
“I think what the Clinton family, from President Clinton to Secretary Clinton, and I have in common is that we don’t scare easy — no matter the bully,” Grimes said in an interview. She added that Clinton’s presidency left an indelible impression on her and that she is now “a strong Kentucky woman” hoping to follow his lead.
Celebrated as a star recruit in an otherwise troublesome midterm election year for her party, Grimes is living proof that the Clintons, both now out of office, remain the first family in Democratic politics. At 35, Grimes is just 15 months older than their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, and is practically the Clintons’ political offspring. A win in November would demonstrate the appeal of Clintonian centrism in Republican territory.
While President Obama’s approval rating in Kentucky is in the mid-30s, Bill Clinton — with his Southern roots and love of college basketball and horse racing — is popular in the Bluegrass State, which he carried in both of his presidential elections. Tuesday’s Louisville fundraiser for Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, will be Clinton’s first campaign event for 2014.
“He’s got a big following there, as does Hillary,” Kentucky’s Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, said in an interview. “It’s a big boost for Alison to have President Clinton come in for her.”
Obama, on the other hand, is unlikely to campaign in the commonwealth, he said. “My guess is that he would say to Alison Grimes, ‘You know, I’ll be for you or against you, whichever will help you the most,’” Beshear said.
For more than two decades, Clinton has collected and tended to political friends in Kentucky — chief among them, Jerry Lundergan, Grimes’s father. They got to know each other well in the 1980s when Lundergan was a state legislator and state Democratic Party chairman and Clinton was the governor of nearby Arkansas, laying the early groundwork for a presidential run.
Friends of both men said Lundergan was a gregarious go-getter who raised money, recruited volunteers and whipped up votes for Clinton’s campaigns.
“Jerry is like a person who would attempt to sell anything,” said family friend Dave Cartmell, the mayor of Maysville, Ky., Lundergan’s hometown. “There’s an old term that we use around here, hucksterism, and I use that in a good sense.”
Friend John Morgan, a Kentucky-born trial lawyer and Clinton fundraiser, said of Lundergan, “You just meet him and, boom! He’s explosive, in a good way. He’s got a million-dollar smile, he’s never met a stranger and he is a true man in full.”
Clinton also was drawn to Lundergan’s rags-to-riches tale: He grew up manning the family’s lemonade stands at carnivals and county fairs and turned the business into a hospitality empire that caters lavish affairs, including Pope John Paul II’s 1987 trip to Texas, multiple presidential inaugurations and Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in 2010.
“It’s all a Bill and Jerry thing,” said Al Cross, a longtime political columnist at the Louisville Courier-Journal. “You have a couple of guys who believe in old-fashioned Democratic principles of working hard and playing by the rules — and if you skirt a rule a little bit, we’ll just wink at you and move on. They’re both believers in redemption.”
For Lundergan, his daughter’s campaign is the ultimate redemption. In 1989, he was forced to resign from the General Assembly under a cloud of scandal. Lundergan violated ethics laws by accepting a no-bid state contract for his catering company, Lundy’s, although he avoided a prison sentence.
Lundergan’s deep political network has been helpful to his daughter, but his past record cuts both ways. Asked about Lundergan, McConnell’s campaign shared a negative research dossier titled, “A CONTROVERSIAL FATHER.”
Through the 1990s, Lundergan tried but failed to win back his state House seat. He returned as state party chairman in the mid-2000s, frequently inviting the Clintons to Kentucky to raise money.
“You’d be talking to Jerry and his phone would ring and he’d say, ‘Oh, this is Bill, I’ve got to take this,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s President Clinton,’ ” said state Rep. Joni Jenkins, who served under Lundergan as state party vice chairwoman.
In 2008, Lundergan chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Kentucky. She beat Obama decisively in the primary, carrying 118 of 120 counties. Bill Clinton stumped all across Kentucky for his wife, and Lundergan was constantly at his side.
During one long day of campaigning, Lundergan arranged for Clinton to stop by a Dairy Queen near Maysville, population 9,000, according to several people who were there. The campaign did not publicize the visit, but after Lundergan called to alert the restaurant, word blew through town and hundreds of folks gathered in the parking lot.
But Clinton’s Secret Service agents did not want to stop at the Dairy Queen and drove straight through to the next event, a rally in Morehead. Lundergan, furious that they would skip his hometown, persuaded Clinton to order his security detail to turn the motorcade around.
Clinton soon pulled into the Dairy Queen and ordered a Blizzard. He shook hands with the kitchen staff and plucked french fries straight out of the deep-fryer basket. (This was before he became a vegan.) Then he walked out to the parking lot and stirred up the crowd.
“He can sing the Kentucky song,” said Terry McBrayer, a former Democratic politician and Clinton friend who introduced him that day from the bed of a pickup truck. “People down here relate to Bill Clinton. It’s one of those natural fits.”
In recent years, Clinton has made several visits to Kentucky to help the Lundergan family, including appearances at charity benefits for Jerry and at a youth environmental forum that Alison addressed as secretary of state.
“Even if he visits and just gives a speech, [Clinton and Lundergan] usually get a game of cards in,” said Jack Conway, Kentucky’s Democratic attorney general.
Clinton’s Kentucky friendships extend beyond the political realm. John Calipari, coach of the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, said he has been close to Clinton since 1994, when the team he was coaching then, the University of Massachusetts, upset the president’s beloved University of Arkansas in an early season game.
Calipari, now living in Lexington, sees Lundergan at Mass each morning at Cathedral of Christ the King. In 2012, after Kentucky won the NCAA championship, Clinton visited with the team. “He was so gracious to us that we got him one of our national championship rings,” Calipari said.
The next year, when the University of Louisville basketball team took home the NCAA championship, Clinton reached out to another old friend: Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, who over the years has brought in Clinton for locker room pep talks.
“I had 168 text messages and 34 phone messages, and I only kept one,” Pitino said. “It said, ‘Hey, Rick, this is Bill Clinton. I’m in Abu Dhabi and I set my alarm at 5 in the morning to watch the game. It was wonderful. We’re so proud of you and the team.’ I remembered every line.”
The latest list of big lobbying spenders contains a surprising name: George Soros.
Well, not the billionaire himself, but the Open Society Policy Center, the Washington-based advocacy affiliate of his Open Society Foundations.
Soros and his generous support of liberal causes, through his philanthropy and his personal political spending, have long been the subject of conservative ire. But, until now, he hasn’t done much on the formal lobbying front, and the group’s huge increase in reported spending — it hit $11 million in 2013, more than triple the $3.25 million it spent the previous year — has drawn remarkably little notice.
The big jump placed the Soros group 27th in a recent year-end lobbying tally by the Center for Responsive Politics — just below defense giant General Dynamics and ahead of corporate powerhouses Dow Chemical, Chevron and Microsoft.
Large companies like those tend to rely on healthy in-house government relations teams and legions of outside lobbyists. But the Soros group takes a different approach: Most of its advocacy millions were spent in grants to activist organizations that do their own lobbying.
“A bunch of things that we’ve worked on forever have moved into the legislative phase,” said Stephen Rickard, executive director of the policy center, explaining the big increase. He mentioned several areas, including criminal justice reform, national security issues and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered last year.
But, Rickard said, the majority of last year’s spending increase was due to the group’s support for comprehensive immigration reform, and its largest grantee was the Alliance for Citizenship, a broad-based coalition of labor, immigration, community and faith-based groups and a leading voice in the debate.
The Alliance for Citizenship organized hundreds of events across the country in August, hoping that its town halls, prayer vigils and sit-ins would propel action on immigration. While momentum has stalled, the organization is still at it , marching and meeting with members of Congress and their staffs.
The Open Society Foundations reported last summer that it had spent more than $100 million on immigrant rights in the United States since 1997. But private foundations like Soros’s are prohibited by the tax code from lobbying, and the grants they make generally include similar restrictions. Instead, through its advocacy affiliate — donations to which are not tax deductible — they can lobby and support others.
“There’s only so much you can do [with money from a private foundation] when it comes to a straight-out legislative push,” said one leading immigration activist. But the lobbying grant “frees up advocates considerably to talk straight about what’s happening, what needs to happen and who’s blocking it.”
The Open Society Policy Center isn’t required to provide a complete list of its grant recipients until about a year from now, with its tax filing. But Rickard said its largest 2013 grants outside domestic policy went to Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the U.S. International Council on Disabilities.
The group currently lists one staff member — Lora Lumpe, who works on human rights and foreign military assistance — as an active lobbyist. And it had small contracts last year with two outside shops: the Mitchell Firm, paid $90,000 for work on corrections and sentencing reform, and Orion Strategies, which received $20,000 for work on democracy and human rights issues in Burma, Malaysia and the region.
(It’s worth noting that Americans for Prosperity , the conservative advocacy group backed by those other billionaires, Charles and David Koch, last week filed its first lobbying registration forms. But soon after The Hill noticed the paperwork , a spokesman for the group said it intended to de-register, after realizing that a staff member who visits Capitol Hill doesn’t in fact spend 20 percent of his or her time dealing with policymakers, the threshold for registration.)
It’s too soon to know whether 2014 lobbying spending will be up or down, Rickard said, but he doesn’t expect a big increase like last year’s.
The picture may be clearer on the political front. While Soros was slow to start spending on politics in 2012, he has jumped in this time around — with a candidate who hasn’t even announced. Soros agreed in October to be a co-chairman of the national finance council for Ready for Hillary, a super PAC mobilizing support for a possible White House bid by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Army Capt. Gordon W. Gilkey had traced the missing art to a train that left Berlin for the Czech border two weeks before the German surrender.
The train had been strafed en route by American fighter planes, but the art had survived. At the end of the line, a Nazi official and his wife had carried much of it over a mountain trail and hidden it in an abandoned cabin.
And there, at the close of World War II in Europe, Gilkey found it stashed under the attic floorboards, tattered and mouse-eaten.
This was not the famous art the Nazis had looted from collections across Europe, the stolen treasure the Monuments Men sought to return to its owners.
The art Gilkey was assigned to hunt was German-produced — portraits of Adolf Hitler, pictures of German fighting men, Nazi propaganda.
The allies believed this art had to be removed from Germany to the security of the United States.
Now, almost 70 years after the war, dozens of the pieces still remain in an Army facility at Fort Belvoir.
As the new movie about the heroic Monuments Men opens and its creators make the rounds of Washington, little mention has been made of Gilkey’s parallel program to root out Nazi art.
Most of it was not Nazi propaganda and was later returned to Germany, Army officials said. But 456 pieces remain in the Army’s Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir.
They include a huge painting on plywood of a mounted Hitler clad in shining armor holding a Nazi flag. The work is marred by a hole in Hitler’s face and scratches where an American soldier thrust his bayonet.
On the record card Gilkey prepared for the painting, which is titled “Der Bannertrager,” or the “Standard Bearer,” he described the bayonet damage as “deletions” by the U.S. Third Army.
Another large work is titled “Hitler at the Front.” Based on a visit to the eastern front in 1942, it shows the smiling Nazi leader in black necktie and leather coat as he is mobbed by happy and attentive German soldiers.
Gilkey’s project was part of the overall post-war effort to de-Nazify Germany, scholars said. The idea was to cleanse the country of national socialism, which had infected Germany for more than a decade.
“The Nazis were obsessed with controlling the visual,” said Cora Sol Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of California at Long Beach, who has studied post-war Germany. “They thought art was propaganda. They used art. So it makes sense that in ’45 the Americans had to do something about all the Nazi iconography.”
According to Gilkey’s report, he was acting under U.S. military regulations that stated in part: “All collections of works of art relating or dedicated to the perpetuation of German Militarism or Nazism will be closed permanently and taken into custody.”
But Gregory Maertz, a professor at St. John’s University in New York, has argued that Gilkey went too far.
Maertz interviewed Gilkey before the former officer died in 2000. Maertz argued that Gilkey confiscated German art that had little to do with the war and that his effort was essentially a “looting campaign” conducted by the U.S. Army.
Chris Semancik, chief of the collections branch at the museum support center, said, “I think as the war ended, the U.S. Army was the proper repository.
“As the world moves forward and grows in its understanding of events that took place during the 20th century, a different venue may be chosen” for what the Army still has. “But for now, it stays here.”
Puzzling effort to hide art
Some paintings in the Army collection were designed by the Nazis to demonize the Russians and Communism.
One apocalyptic piece, titled “The Red Terror,” depicts a red-robed skeleton riding a white horse across a fiery sea in which victims appear to be drowning.
It was painted by Willfried Nagel in 1942. Sarah G. Forgey, art curator at the Museum Support Center, said he seemed to have been a landscape painter before the war.
Other works bear titles like “Mass Hanging in a Public Park,” “Jewish Prisoners from Ukraine” and “Drunken Russians in Infantry Attack.”
One striking pastel portrait depicts a Frenchman, Rene Fayard, who joined the German army. After the war, he escaped to Argentina and was tracked down and assassinated there by French secret service agents, Forgey said.
These were just a few of the pieces rounded up by Gilkey during his seven-month operation, she said during a recent review of the German collection.
Most of the art had been hidden by the Nazis in the closing months of the war.
Gilkey “found pieces that were hidden behind other works of art. . . . He found pieces that were rolled up and disguised as stage curtains,” Forgey said.
In a report for the Army, Gilkey wrote that he found German art stashed in the bins of an Austrian salt-refining plant.
He also found a load of German art that had been taken from a disabled truck and put in the second-floor dance hall of a bar in St. Agatha, Austria.
It is not entirely clear why the Nazis were hiding their art — out of shame, for posterity, or in hopes of rekindling their movement?
Officer’s haul sent to U.S.
Gilkey was 30 when he joined the Army Air Corps in 1942. He was a native of Oregon, the son of a rancher and the grandson of a prospector, according to an Oregon State University oral history interview.
He said he had worked as a mule skinner and cleared land to earn money for college. He later became an educator, a creator of a renowned collection of prints, and a leading arts figure in Oregon.
His Army report described how he used German train schedules to figure out where the shipments of art had gone. It describes how he tracked down Luitpold Adam, a German World War I artist who headed Hitler’s combat art program.
It was Adam who had hidden some of the art in the cabin, carrying a load of it from the train each night for ten nights with the help of his wife and a local boy.
Gilkey’s haul was brought to the United States in 1947, Forgey said. Over the following decades, the U.S. government returned all but the 456.
Images that showed Nazi leaders; the Nazi symbol, the swastika; or overt propaganda were kept.
In addition, the German government agreed to let the Army keep about 200 as a sample of German combat art during the war, Forgey said.
In the conclusion of his Army report, Gilkey wrote: “Perhaps the (German) combat artists were sincere. Working artists are simple people.”
“But behind (the German combat art program) was always Adolf Hitler and . . . his dreams of super-race built upon the bones of destruction of all who opposed him in his mad drive to rule the world.
“If his plan had succeeded, the suicide of the creative arts would have followed,” he wrote. “My work of the past year has attained the removal from Germany of this monument to their baseness.”