John McCain’s manifest impotence in his dealings with the North Carolina GOP’s dog-whistle ad campaign has, predictably, been translated in MediaSpeak into further evidence of his "maverick" status — and just as predictably, he’s being criticized in some quarters for even protesting the ads in the first place.

Bruce Hawkins,
tax scamster/Obama hater

But the GOP’s ad is only part of the picture regarding what’s happening in North Carolina. For the bigger picture, we need to talk about Floyd Brown and Bruce Hawkins.

You see, in addition to the Wright ad, there’s a right-wing operation titled "ExposeObama.org", operated by our old friend Brown, running ads on North Carolina stations that are even more incendiary, even more obvious in their dog-whistle nature — overtly associating Obama, through imagery and implication, with black criminals.

And as Joe Conason adroitly observes, McCain has remained strangely silent about these ads — no doubt because he can claim that this is an independent conservative 527 organization with no official ties to the GOP. His hands are clean.

Which is how this scam is supposed to work. As we’ve explained, that’s exactly how Brown has operated over the years, ever since the days of the Willie Horton ad, through the Clinton "conspiracies" and the swiftboating of John Kerry: Do the dirty work for the GOP, tossing in the grenades. Give them the chance to look noble disavowing you, at which point the media will play the ad endlessly. Worked wonders for the North Carolina GOP, just like it has for Brown & Co. in the past.

Along the way, Brown not only indulges in dog-whistle race-baiting, but he also consorts with all kinds of racists and extremists. Conason details, for example, Brown’s long association with the ardent segregationist "Justice" Jim Johnson, who fed him a steady stream of baseless smears of Bill Clinton that then made their way into the mainstream press.

The sleaze at ExposeObama.org doesn’t end with just racially incendiary ads. There’s also an element of good ol’ right-wing rip-off snake-oil sleaze along for the ride.

The group’s executive director, Bruce E. Hawkins, was in fact disbarred in 2006 for peddling tax-fraud schemes of a distinctly far-right odor. And in 2007, the Justice Department filed suit against Hawkins to prevent him from peddling the schemes even after his disbarment.

Hawkins presents himself, in his role at ExposeObama, as a "political expert" mostly by touting his role as the Washington state campaign coordinator for Pat Robertson in 1988 and for Pat Buchanan in 1996. A Bill Berkowitz piece about the group describes his role:

The ExposeObama team includes Brown, who is also president of Excellentia Inc., which according to Brown’s bio is "a consulting company specialising in non-profit organisational strategy, development and the marketing of ideas"; and executive director Bruce E. Hawkins, "a highly skilled political strategist" who has worked for such conservative leaders as Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee.

At ExposeObama, Hawkins’ bio touts more of his high political skills:

As Washington State Director for Pat Robertson, Hawkins delivered Robertson’s only Super Tuesday victory in 1988. As National Field Director for Pat Buchanan in 1992, Hawkins organized all of the states outside of New Hampshire. As Washington State Director for Pat Buchanan in 1996, Hawkins managed to win half the delegates for Pat with no money, no budget and no paid staff. As Straw Poll Manager for Mike Huckabee’s Iowa Campaign, Hawkins helped stun the world with a powerful second place finish and propel Huckabee into the top tier of major candidates. Governor Huckabee recently said of him, “He was exceptional in not only understanding, but having the ability to create and execute a very effective plan for us to compete despite being outspent by an estimated 20-1 from other candidates.”

But back in June 2006, Hawkins was permanently disbarred by the Washington Bar Association for selling classic old "Patriot" style tax scams. You can see the sleaziness in the Bar’s description of the operation:

Hawkins associated with several nonlawyers who maintained websites that promoted a program to reduce or eliminate consumer credit-card debt through private arbitrations based on the premise that national banks could not lawfully issue credit cards. Debtors throughout the United States made "applications" to the "program" through the websites. They paid fees and were referred to a private arbitration service organized to facilitate the "program." Hawkins stipulated that he knew that since 1996 the Department of the Treasury, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had decided it is well established that national banks can issue credit cards. He stipulated that of the approximately 100 clients he represented, he knew of none who achieved the promised zero credit-card balance. He stipulated that debtors following his program achieved the goal of having accounts closed with a "paid as agreed" notation in about five percent of his cases, and that he would consider such cases "a mistake on the part of the bank." He also stipulated that many attorneys called him to "make huge accusations of fraud and illegality."

The applicants found one of the websites and paid $200 to "apply." They were referred to Hawkins. They paid him a fee of $5,722. Hawkins sent the applicants documents for the arbitrations, and he referred them to an arbitration service without disclosing that he had a financial interest in it. The applicants paid the arbitration service $139 for each arbitration and received five "arbitration awards." Hawkins then advised them to hire another lawyer to "confirm the awards." They did so, but when they filed the "awards," two of the banks filed oppositions and won. In the other two, after the banks communicated with them, the applicants stipulated to dismissal. The Committee approved payment of $6,417 to the applicants representing the $5,722 in fees paid to Hawkins plus the five payments of $139 paid to his arbitration service.

Hawkins also was sued by the Justice Department to stop him from soldiering on, as he did after his disbarment, with any further tax-scheme promotion:

Justice Department attorneys filed a civil suit to try to stop a disbarred Gig Harbor lawyer from promoting what they claim are tax-fraud schemes. Federal attorneys claim that Bruce Hawkins helped customers set up bogus corporations in the West Indies through which customers could claim their money was being held by foreign companies and was not taxable. The civil injunction suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, asks that Hawkins be ordered to disclose to the Justice Department his customers’ names, addresses and other information so back taxes can be collected where warranted. The government claims that Hawkins, who was disbarred in September, had been promoting several types of schemes since 1997 regarding allegedly fraudulent offshore tax shelters and corporations. Hawkins has not been charged with a crime. In the complaint, government attorneys allege that Hawkins also promoted the schemes at seminars; over the Internet; and in CDs, DVDs and a book. Hawkins "actively promoted, assisted and advised customers" to establish these fraudulent companies, partly through setting up Prosperitas Internationale Credit Union in Nevis, West Indies, which boasted supposedly tax-free, interest-earning accounts, the complaint said.

And in August 2006, the federal courts indeed enjoined Hawkins from promoting these schemes in any fashion, legal license or no.

Meanwhile, Hawkins gave us a clear look at the kind of extremist politics he promoted with a Seattle P-I op-ed that called for a Republican agenda that would, among other things, repeal the 16th Amendment (providing for a federal income tax), "Root out political correctness in all our armed services," withdraw the U.S. from the U.N., institute racial profiling at the borders and ports of entry, enact mass deportations, and make English the official language.

The John Birch Society agenda, in a nutshell.

And right there at the front page of the ExposeObama site, you’ll see a prominent link to a piece by Hawkins that compares Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Black Liberation Theology to the Ebola virus. Charmingly eliminationist, don’t you think? (And coincidentally, it also significantly bolsters Wright’s claim yesterday that the attacks on him are really about attacks on "the black church.")

The ExposeObama ad campaign makes the North Carolina GOP ads look tasteful in comparison — which is clearly the point. Pushing the envelope is a right-wing nutcase tradition, and it works like a charm in moving the public discourse so far to the right that any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.

In a way, it’s probably just as well that McCain hasn’t publicly denounced the Brown ads yet — because the moment he did, Fox, CNN, and MSNBC would begin playing them in an endless loop, just like they did the Wright ad. And really, we don’t need that.

But if the NCGOP ad is really so odious that it requires denunciation because it would "hurt Republicans," the ExposeObama ads should earn far worse, since comparatively they take the campaign straight into the racial sewer. For a supposed Straight Talker like McCain — who loves to peddle an image of flinty integrity, which is what the meaningless North Carolina spat was really all about — it would be good know where he stands. Indeed, it’s important.

Even if it is just the McCain of the Moment.