Brothers in Arms, But Sisters at Odds

Steve Moore is no longer attached to the Club for Growth or the Free Enterprise Fund, which are squabbling.
Steve Moore is no longer attached to the Club for Growth or the Free Enterprise Fund, which are squabbling. (By Frank Johnston -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Steve Moore's children don't get along.

When Moore, a longtime anti-tax activist, joined the Wall Street Journal editorial board earlier this year, he left behind two Washington political groups he started: the Club for Growth and the Free Enterprise Fund. The two groups have been squabbling, acting out and showing other signs of sibling rivalry.

Moore formed the Club for Growth in 1999 after seven years with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and about 10 with the libertarian Cato Institute. The club, known as a 527 organization under federal campaign finance law, became a powerful player in the 2004 elections, fueling conservative primary challenges to moderate Republicans.

But after the voting, the club "kind of imploded," as Moore put it, in a boardroom fight that led to Moore's ouster and the split in December of two "sister organizations," as Moore calls them. But they were not sisterly. The Club for Growth threatened to sue Moore's breakaway group, the Free Enterprise Fund, for stealing its membership list. And neither can say anything nice about the other.

Now at the Journal and removed from both groups, Moore says the Club for Growth had been reduced to "ashes" and that its complaint about the donor list was "extremely frivolous." The new head of the Free Enterprise Fund, businessman Mallory Factor, says the "club was built around Steve Moore" and has lost its importance. Factor suggests the club is little more than a perch for its current leader, former representative Pat Toomey (R), who "wants to run for governor" of Pennsylvania.

Toomey, however, said that "things at the club are going terrifically well," with a record number of donors and a list of five endorsed candidates for the 2006 elections. Toomey said he will not run for governor next year, and has decided not to pursue a lawsuit against the Free Enterprise Fund because the list "probably was legally obtained." Toomey said his budget is "well into the millions of dollars already this year."

The Free Enterprise Fund has problems of its own. Factor acknowledged that he took the position at the fund "to prevent it from folding." And the fund is, evidently, starved for public attention.

A PR firm the fund retained, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, sent out a pitch this month to reporters saying Factor "just replaced Stephen Moore as the president of Free Enterprise Fund. Big shoes to fill! But did you know he is the heir to the Max Factor Makeup fortune? And now he runs one of the must influential policy groups in DC!"

Quite a story line: eyeliner to advocacy, rouge to riches. Except it's apparently not true. When asked about his ties to Max Factor, Mallory Factor said he knew of no link. He said it's possible "someone in the family way back" was related, but he's no heir. "I grew up in low-income housing in Bridgeport, Connecticut," Factor said. He blamed the PR firm for the bad information. The PR firm blamed Factor's "handlers."

Meanwhile, Moore worries about his offspring. "When the whole thing blew up, donors said: 'A pox on both your houses,' " Moore said. "It can be a fatal wound."

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