Craig Robinson is perhaps the most influential politico in Iowa today, having turned his years of GOP activism into a basis for the creation of a highly read and respected publication. The former Iowa GOP State Political Director founded the “Iowa Republican” website in 2009, a site that is now frequented by media and activists alike who are looking to get a finger on the pulse of the Hawkeye state leading up to the caucuses. Robinson’s star has risen tremendously in the past two presidential cycles, as he is frequently quoted in outlets such as Fox News, The Washington Post and CBS News among many others. If you ask reporters covering the election who they turn to when they want an insider perspective on the first in the nation caucus, Robinson’s name will likely be the most frequent one brought up.
It is due to this prominence that a shocking new report from Bleeding Heartland, an Iowa progressive website, may prove to be the October surprise of the 2016 Iowa Caucuses. The report details Robinson’s work for Global Intermediate, a direct mail company which he became president of in 2014. The company was founded by Nick Ryan in 2011, who came under scrutiny for earning over $1.2 million dollars from contracts with a pro Rick Santorum PAC (Ryan had been a Santorum campaign advisor until shortly before he founded Global Intermediate). Robinson then became president in 2014, yet has managed to avoid the scrutiny that plagued Ryan despite arguably engaging in more questionable behavior. As Bleeding Heart’s Laura Belin outlined with brutal efficiency, Robinson’s organization has accepted over $500,000 in November-January alone from “Pursuing America’s Greatness”, a pro Mike Huckabee PAC run by Nick Ryan. The money was spent on several pro Huckabee mail orders, as well as some anti Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio mail orders.
Now, some may be asking at this point “Why is this important?” and saying “Craig Robinson has the right to earn money however he wishes”. But there is no way even a high information voter can be reasonably expected to read through these FEC reports and connect the dots back to Robinson, and he makes no effort of his own to disclose this massive financial gain in his commentary pieces. Likewise, I have not seen one media outlet which has quoted Robinson disclose these connections. The result is that a man who many in the media view as a revered Iowa insider (with some justification) has the appearance of a conflict of interest while making these comments and writing these pieces. Activists and members of the media turn to Robinson expecting an objective take on the caucus, yet his extensive business dealings with Huckabee in particular cast a huge cloud of doubt over that objectivity. Craig Robinson has a moral obligation to his readers to disclose when he financially benefits from doing business with a candidate whom he is expected to cover as a journalist. To fail to do so makes one question the objectivity of his writings on Mike Huckabee, as well as other candidates he has accepted money from such as Donald Trump.
This line of thinking is only exacerbated when you examine Robinson’s writings (which, I must mention again, Laura Belin did a masterful job of chronicling). Whether on social media or his website, you will clearly notice that the coverage of Mike Huckabee has been nearly universally positive over the course of time. While I can come up with example after example after example of things Robinson has said about Huckabee that are positive, I cannot seem to find one criticism. This is despite Huckabee’s abysmal 2.9% in the Real Clear Politics polling average of Iowa.
Contrast this with Senator Ted Cruz, who has been on the receiving end of over $120,000 in negative mail orders from Robinson’s company. Robinson has written a string of hit pieces on Cruz that would rival any author (including myself) in both number and hostility. Robinson has claimed that a Cruz presidency is an existential threat to social conservatism, that he would allow states to legalize polygamy, that his opposition to the RFS is hypocritical, and that he flip flopped on immigration . He even implied that Steve King’s endorsement of Cruz was not very important.His praise of Cruz, who is currently running 2nd in the Real Clear Politics polling average in Iowa, has been sporadic and guarded at best, despite Cruz’s coalescing of the social conservative movement in the state. Cruz is the #1 recipient of attacks from The Iowa Republican, meanwhile Robinson’s company makes more from attack mail against Cruz than any other candidate.
When this entire picture is brought into focus it brings up a very important question: Is Craig Robinson a man who shapes his views based on who is paying him? These are questions that every journalist who has quoted Robinson needs to be asking themselves, as the integrity of the election process demands it. We must hold everybody involved in the process to the highest standards of honesty, especially journalists. Robinson has a major following in Iowa and his writings over the last several months have no doubt swayed many caucus goers in Mike Huckabee’s direction and away from Ted Cruz. This is a major benefit to the Huckabee campaign that comes at no cost. When your writing begins to resemble an in kind donation whilst you are taking six figures from the candidate on the receiving end of that positive press and disclosing nothing it rises to the level of scandal, especially when you are as prominent as Robinson. Voters across Iowa should be outraged and demand an explanation.
When I reached out to Craig Robinson for comment he was gracious enough to give me a response to three questions:
Rocco Lucente: Ms. Belin put together a fairly comprehensive history detailing a string of pro Mike Huckabee and anti Ted Cruz postings on your website and comments to national media. Was this at all influenced by the PAC money received for the separate pro Huckabee and anti Cruz mail orders?
Craig Robinson: Actually if you read Ms. Belin’s piece she really doesn’t take issue with what I say to the media or what I publish on my website. I’m not a fan of Senator Cruz, and have some problems about his positions on a number of issues. My opinions are my own, in fact my positions are very consistent from 2009 before anyone was even aware of Mr. Cruz.
Rocco Lucente:Thank you for the detailed response, sir. Just to quickly follow up, Ms Belin did describe your relationship with the Huckabee PAC as “all too cozy” and insinuated that you were not an independent analyst in the final sentence of her piece.
Rocco Lucente: How would you respond to the accusation Ms. Belin levies of an undisclosed conflict of interest between yourself and Pursuing America’s Greatness as well as Donald Trump’s Campaign?
Craig Robinson: First off I would argue that I have not hidden anything. Ms. Belin cites my LinkedIn page and website of the company, which clearly notes my position. Reporters sometimes call my office, or send emails to my business email address. Furthermore, I’ve hosted NBC, Fox, and CNN in my office multiple times.
Rocco Lucente: Do you plan to disclose your firms work for Pursuing America’s Greatness PAC and the Donald Trump campaign in the future when writing pieces on their campaigns?
Craig Robinson: There are a number of changes coming to TIR, which will be announced in short order.
Craig Robinson: Final note. Global Intermediate is a direct mail marketing and printing business. Our door is open to whoever would like to use our services. My focus is on my business, not any one particular campaign. If they need something printed and mailed I’m glad to assist, but in no way would I every describe my involvement as being part of their campaign.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article listed Robinson as a former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. He was in fact the state political director, not the chairman.