Interview request to Ohio mayor sets off alarms for Bloomberg, Media Matters

Jesse Hathaway Research Fellow, Heartland Institute
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Before responding to a May 2012 interview request from conservative news organization Media Trackers Ohio, an employee of Columbus, Ohio Mayor Michael Coleman forwarded the request to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and a liberal D.C. consultant, who immediately alerted liberal organization Media Matters for America.

The Coleman staffer, R. Lee Roberts, is the Ohio chairman of Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), a pro-gun control lobbying group. Coleman, a Democrat, receives a salary from MAIG but works from Coleman’s office and participates in a taxpayer-funded retirement plan.

Media Trackers has since used public records to prove Roberts coordinated with Bloomberg employees and left-wing Ohio nonprofit, ProgressOhio, to advance MAIG’s policy agenda using the January 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, and a February 2012 school shooting in Chardon, Ohio.

On May 23, Media Trackers emailed Coleman’s press secretary to request an interview regarding Coleman’s involvement with MAIG. The press secretary forwarded the email to Roberts, who in turn sent it to MAIG leaders Janey Rountree, Mark Glaze and Christopher Kocher, noting “FYI…pretty nasty conservative blogger.” Rountree and Kocher work in Mayor Bloomberg’s office; Glaze is a D.C. lobbyist and the national director of MAIG.

That night, Glaze forwarded the email from Roberts to Matt Gertz, the deputy research director at Media Matters for America.

“Hey Matt — you familiar with this organization?” the D.C. consultant asked Media Matters, seeking information about the Media Trackers Ohio.

“If it actually breaks into media [it] would be great if we could talk,” Glaze added in his email to Gertz.

Gertz replied in less than 15 minutes, writing, “As it happens I just read a profile of them — they’re a right-wing oppo [opposition] research org [organization] with small teams working out of several states.” As evidence, the Media Matters deputy research director included a May 21 Mother Jones story about Media Trackers.

Glaze forwarded the Media Matters response and the story by left-wing magazine Mother Jones to Roberts in Coleman’s office half an hour later. Roberts immediately forwarded the message to Coleman’s press secretary.

Emails obtained by Media Trackers show that Roberts often uses a private email account for official business, possibly in an attempt to circumvent open records laws that would require the content of the emails to be made public. However, many of the communications between Roberts and MAIG leadership in New York were eventually sent to, or forwarded from, a government email account, as was the case in this instance.

Two days before Media Trackers Ohio requested an interview with Coleman, Bloomberg staffer Christopher Kocher emailed a story by a Florida blogger to Glaze, Roberts and several other MAIG regional coordinators. Kocher warned MAIG leaders that Sean Caranna, the president of Florida Carry Inc. — a pro-Second Amendment organization — had published a story criticizing Orlando MAIG coordinator Linda Vaughn.

Caranna found that a grant from the left-wing Joyce Foundation — which is managed by Bloomberg’s office — was insufficient to cover Vaughn’s salary. He reported that MAIG was leveraging taxpayer funds to reduce its overhead costs, by installing MAIG lobbyists in mayors’ offices nationwide — effectively using public dollars to lobby for gun control.

Kocher preceded Caranna’s story with a note instructing MAIG coordinators: “if anyone contacts you about the article or if anything like this has come up previously for you, please let us know.”

In a response to the Florida story, Roberts noted that his “personal goal is to make Buckeye Firearms’ top 10 threats this year.” The Buckeye Firearms Association is a pro-Second Amendment PAC based in central Ohio.

Jesse Hathaway is a reporter for Media Trackers Ohio.