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Arthur Finkelstein: Out Of Sight But In Control

By Jonathan Karl/CNN


NEW YORK (AllPolitics, Oct. 10) -- He is the stuff of Hollywood: A man who can topple even the most powerful foes, yet so secretive that few have ever seen him. As actor Kevin Spacey said in "The Usual Suspects," "I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Kaiser Sose."

Republican strategist Arthur Finkelstein's style has been compared to Hollywood's villainous character, Sose, who was so secretive that some doubted whether he really existed. There has only been one photo of Finkelstein to surface during 20 years of consulting Republican candidates. Even his Westchester County, N.Y., office doesn't bear his name.

Says Stephen Rodrick of Philadelphia Magazine, "It's almost to the point of whether or not he really exists. He has all this impact, but no one has ever seen him."

Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.) is one who has seen Finkelstein. D'Amato has tapped the mystery man for what may be Finklestein's biggest challenge yet: helping direct Republican strategy in the 33 Senate races this year.

"Arthur Finkelstein is probably one of the brightest, cutting-edge political scientists I've ever met," said D'Amato.

Scientist, strategist or mystery man, Finkelstein has orchestrated stunning upset victories for many of his clients including Sens. D'Amato and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), and New York's Republican Gov. George Pataki. His unseen hand also helped Benjamin Netanyahu oust Shimon Perez in the Israeli elections earlier this year.


Finkelstein's signature style emerges through the ads he creates. Two recent adds brand Democrats as liberals: "Call liberal Paul Wellstone. Tell him it's wrong to spend billions more on welfare," one ad states.

"That's liberal," says another. "That's Jack Reed. That's wrong. Call liberal Jack Reed and tell him his record on welfare is just too liberal for you."

"That's the Finkelstein formula: just brand somebody a liberal, use the word over and over again, engage in that kind of name-calling," said Democratic consultant Mark Mellman.

The August issue of Boston Magazine revealed something that might have surprised some of Finkelstein's more conservative clients: he's homosexual. In his Massachusetts mansion, he lives with his long-time partner and their two adopted children. Stephen Rodrick, now with Philadelphia Magazine, wrote the article.

"As recently as September 10th, four of Finkelstein's clients voted against the anti-gay discrimination bill -- Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C), Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Sen. (Bob) Smith (R) of New Hampshire," said Rodrick.

"Homosexuality is wrong, it's immoral and it shouldn't be condoned and it certainly shouldn't be elevated to a special protected status by the federal government," declared Nickles (R-Okla.) in a Senate speech.


"I think it's clear that there is an element of hypocrisy where he lives this kind of sedate, gay lifestyle while making millions of dollars off of candidates who bash gays," Rodrick added.

Finkelstein and his anti-gay clients would not comment, but D'Amato, who supports homosexual rights, did. "I don't think a person's sexual orientation, his private life -- a person's private life should be brought up and I think the question is offensive, it's wrong. He's a wonderful, decent person and whatever his sexual orientation is, that's his business," stated D'Amato.

Finkelstein may be the Republicans' invisible man, but his campaign ads painting Democrats as liberals will bombard television sets across the country from now until Nov. 5th.

This story originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics."

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