LINCOLN, Neb. – Rachel Maddow was nearly giddy as she described how the Nebraska Legislature took down the death penalty: An obscure conservative group that opposes it took on the powerful, rich governor and won the day.
The truth is, the conservative group she praised is more of an Astroturf organization with ties tracing back to one the nation’s largest liberal foundations formerly run by a protégé of George Soros, a well-known left-wing financier.
Maddow portrayed Nebraska Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty as an obscure new organization akin to David taking on a Goliath in the form of "well-financed, well-connected new Republican governor" Pete Ricketts. Rather, the NCCDP was spun off by a longtime group called Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty in 2012 to target conservatives.
The group existed largely on paper, with no lobbyists, no staff, no board of directors. It was essentially composed of 21-year-old Matt Maly of Omaha.
The group hired Maly in January, started a Facebook page in March and had a whopping 135 Facebook "likes" as of Wednesday.
But to hear Maddow tell it, this obscure little group got the repeal rolling with an April 15 news conference she described as perhaps "the most obscure political event in the nation." In an 11-minute segment, she credits the NCCDP and Maly with taking on the governor and winning.
"They weren’t just talking smack," she said. "They also had a ground game lined up."
Maly said he didn’t register as a lobbyist because he mostly does community organizing, public speaking and work with conservative leaders.
"It’s a project of NADP," he said in an interview. "We don’t have our own formal board or anything like that."
It’s also not entirely clear how much of an impact the new group had on the death penalty outcome. Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, D-Omaha, appeared to cast doubt on Maddow’s premise. What tipped the scales, he said on her show, was a group of fiscal conservatives in the Legislature who view the death penalty as a wasteful government program.
Nordquist said Sen. Colby Coash, R-Lincoln, deserves a great deal of credit for working behind the scenes to get the bill passed.
NCCDP is affiliated with Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which debuted at an annual gathering of conservatives, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in 2013. CCDP says it questions whether capital punishment is consistent with conservative principles due to its inefficiency, inequity and inaccuracy, but it’s also a project of Equal Justice USA, a nonpartisan group "working to build a criminal justice system that works."
Equal Justice says it’s nonpartisan, but it has been given $6.43 million since 2006 by Atlantic Philantropies, a large liberal foundation formerly run by a Soros protégé.
Atlantic Philantropies, based in Bermuda, has supported universal healthcare coverage and comprehensive immigration reform.
It’s one of five major foundations, including Soros' Open Society Foundations, that have donated millions to reform California’s criminal justice system, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Maly said he’s a lifelong Nebraskan and libertarian-leaning conservative.
"I’m very young, so I’m just kinda getting my start in politics," he said.
The NADP recognized that to get anything done in Nebraska, "you have to work with Republicans," he said.
Did Maddow give his one-man show too much credit for getting the death penalty repealed?
"There’s been a lot of people from all sides of the political spectrum working on this for years," Maly said.
He confirmed his group is affiliated with CCADP, a project of Equal Justice, but he professed ignorance about Equal Justice’s connections to Atlantic Philantropies. He said his group did not get money from Equal Justice but rather was funded by the NADP, which basically paid his salary. Two national coordinators from CCADP helped with the Nebraska effort, he said.
"This is absolutely a Nebraska effort," he said. "I’m not getting direct funding from Equal Justice USA. My work is with everyday Nebraskans."
He plans to continue to fight an effort to return the death penalty.
"I think it’s frankly just a waste of their time," Maly said. "I agree with the governor on a lot of things (but) we don’t have to agree on everything."
The original story can be found here.