Craig Unger (submitted photo)
Craig Unger (submitted photo)
Friday October 12, 2012

GUILFORD -- After a recent encounter with Republican political operative Karl Rove, Craig Unger penned a piece for Vanity Fair that began this way: "Karl Rove doesn't like me."

That might be because Unger is an investigative journalist whose latest book, "Boss Rove," is an unflattering portrait of a powerful figure in former President George W. Bush's administration and the founder of a conservative "SuperPAC" that's investing heavily in federal elections.

Unger is scheduled to speak Sunday in Guilford about his new book and the powerful forces at work where money and politics intersect.

"Even though (Rove) is well-known, people don't know what he does," Unger said.

The Guilford event is the annual Harvest fundraiser for Kopkind Colony, which brings together journalists, filmmakers and others each summer in Guilford. The colony was founded in 1998 in memory of the late Andrew Kopkind, a Guilford resident and prominent journalist who wrote for magazines including Time, The New Republic and The Nation.

Tickets for the Sunday event, scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Organ Barn at 158 Kopkind Road, are $35 or $25 for students. Reservations are requested and available by calling 802-254-4859 or via e-mail at stonewal@sover.net.

John Scagliotti, Kopkind administrator, said the Harvest event is the only local fundraiser by the organization.

"We do a number of summer programs, which are free and open to the public," Scagliotti said.

Unger is an easy fit for Kopkind's 15th fundraiser: He was a friend of Kopkind's and, Scagliotti said, practices a similar brand of reporting.

"That kind of journalism is rare, but it's still around," Scagliotti said. "And Craig is one of the best."

Unger has worked as deputy editor at the New York Observer and editor at Boston Magazine. His is now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, in which he published some of his Rove research.

Having previously penned "House of Bush, House of Saud" and "The Fall of the House of Bush," Unger this time focused on Rove, who has been credited with engineering George W. Bush's rise to the presidency.

Rove resigned as Bush's deputy chief of staff in 2007, saying he wanted to spend more time with family. But he also had been linked to scandals including the firing of U.S. attorneys and the public disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

"I think a lot of people thought he was finished (politically) in 2008 when Bush left the White House," Unger said.

But Unger's Vanity Fair piece opens with a gathering of GOP "power brokers" at Rove's Washington, D.C., home in April 2010, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision had opened the door for non-profit and for-profit corporations to exert unprecedented influence on elections.

Unger wrote that Rove "would become arguably the single greatest beneficiary of the ruling" as co-founder of a so-called "super" political action committee called American Crossroads.

A SuperPAC "suddenly provided a medium through which unlimited sums could be raised from corporations and unions as well as wealthy individuals, and be spent with the express purpose of electing or defeating a specific candidate," Unger wrote.

Through the well-financed American Crossroads and the affiliated Crossroads GPS, Unger argues that Rove and his allies have taken control of the Republican Party and the presidential election.

"Rove was reinventing himself as a party boss," Unger said Wednesday in an interview with the Reformer. "This gave him an indirect way to really control hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars."

Unger believes Rove is manipulating the system with an aim toward "a historic realignment of America's political landscape." He also charges that Rove is at the forefront of controversial, Republican-led attempts to enact voter identification laws.

"Rove is sort of the father of voter suppression," Unger said.

In an attempt to uncover more information about Rove, Unger said he interviewed more than 100 people. He talked to some of those subjects dozens of times.

"It's very hard to get a former operative of Karl Rove to talk," Unger said. "And when you do, you sit down and have a lot of conversations."

He also traveled to places such as Chattanooga, Tenn., where a computer company called SmarTech is based. Unger reports on that company's handling of Ohio's 2004 presidential election returns and its role in the disappearance of millions of Bush White House e-mails.

Unger recounts attending a breakfast at which Rove was the keynote speaker during the Republican National Convention. Rove called Unger's book "an entertaining work of fiction."

But the author believes he has uncovered and illuminated some deeper truths about an influential force in modern politics.

"These are the unseen mechanics of power," Unger said. "I try to describe them and show how they work."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.