Journalist/developer. Interactive editor @frontlinepbs. Builder of @HomicideWatch. Sinophile for fun. Past: @WBUR, @NPR, @NewsHour.
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The new Trump plan to defund Planned Parenthood, explained

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New rules could leave low-income women without access to affordable birth control.

Women’s health clinics that provide abortions or refer patients for the procedure will be cut off from a key source of federal funding under new Trump administration rules expected to be released Friday.

Both the New York Times and Modern Healthcare report that the White House plans to issue new guidelines for Title X, the only federal program dedicated to paying for birth control. The new rule is expected to require a “physical as well as financial separation” between entities that receive Title X funds and those that provide abortions.

The new rule is the latest battle in Republicans’ years-long war to end Planned Parenthood’s public funding. The women’s health provider currently uses Title X funding to provide contraceptives to millions of low-income women. Planned Parenthood estimates that it sees approximately 41 percent of women who receive family planning services through Title X.

It is true that Planned Parenthood is the country’s largest abortion provider. In 2009, the organization performed just over 330,000 abortions, about 40 percent of all abortions that year.

But it’s also true Planned Parenthood is a key part of the American health care safety net and one of the largest providers of contraceptives in the country. More than one-third of low-income women who get birth control through Title X currently do so at one of Planned Parenthood’s 817 clinics.

The best research we have suggests that if Planned Parenthood is cut out of the Title X program, there isn’t a backup option. Low-income women who use Title X services at these clinics likely will not have another place to turn for birth control — and unintended pregnancies could rise as a result.

Title X provides birth control to low-income women. Lots of those patients use Planned Parenthood.

Launched in 1971, Title X was meant to fulfill President Richard Nixon’s promise that “no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition.”

Title X does not, and has never, paid for abortions. Federal law prohibits any government dollars from paying for the termination of pregnancies. Organizations like Planned Parenthood often use Title X grants to subsidize birth control, STD screenings, and other reproductive health services for low-income patients who may lack health insurance coverage.

The program grew steadily over the past 40 years, from a $6 million budget in 1971 up to $286 million in 2017. In 2014, an estimated 4,100 clinics used Title X funding to provide low-cost or free contraception to their low-income patients, typically those who lacked health insurance coverage.

Many of those Title X patients seek care at Planned Parenthood clinics.

This is partially due to the fact that Planned Parenthood exists in many places where other family planning clinics don’t: A new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute estimates that there are 103 counties in the United States where Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly funded contraceptives. In an additional 229 counties, Planned Parenthood serves the majority of women who are low-income and qualify for government help paying for birth control.

 Guttmacher Institute/Health Affairs

Separate research suggests that Planned Parenthood plays a unique role in catering to women’s birth control needs, providing greater access to family planning services than other clinics.

Eighty-nine percent of Planned Parenthood clinics, for example, report being able to provide their patients with emergency contraceptives, compared to 34 percent of federally qualified health clinics (which typically serve low-income patients and are also a major recipient of Title X funding). And 81 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics say they provide same-day access to intrauterine devices (IUDs), the most effective type of reversible birth control. By contrast, just 30 percent of other clinics do that.

 Kaiser Family Foundation

This new rule won’t end Planned Parenthood’s federal funding completely. The clinics actually receive three-quarters of their public money through Medicaid, the federal program that covers low-income Americans.

When Medicaid patients fill birth control prescriptions at Planned Parenthood or receive certain health care screenings, the insurance program reimburses the clinics for those services. This new rule won’t change that.

Instead, cutting off these funds would likely make it harder for Planned Parenthood to provide family planning services to women who lack health insurance coverage. This would be especially acute in the 18 states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving their low-income residents with few options to find affordable health insurance.

States have experimented with cutting off Planned Parenthood’s funding. Unintended pregnancies have gone up.

One former Republican president, Ronald Reagan, has implemented similar restrictions around the Title X program. Regulations issued under his administration in the late 1980s prohibited Title X health centers from sharing staff or a physical location with abortion providers. Opponents of the policy dubbed this the “domestic gag rule,” as it mirrored a separate “global gag rule” that banned international family planning clinics receiving American aid money from performing or discussing abortion.

President Clinton ended those restrictions in 1993, and clinics like Planned Parenthood have received Title X funding ever since.

More recently, Texas has experimented with cutting abortion providers out of state-level family planning grants. Recent research shows that this led to fewer women getting birth control, and more unintended pregnancies.

The Texas Policy Evaluation Project at the University of Texas used pharmacy claim data to understand what types of birth control women used before and after Texas cut Planned Parenthood from its public family planning program. This is a program that serves women who earn less than $1,800 a month if they are single (or less than $2,426 per month if they have a child).

Data published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated some very big changes that happened to Texas women in the counties that used to have Planned Parenthood as part of their networks.

For example: Prescriptions for long-acting, reversible contraceptives including IUDs and birth control implants plummeted by 35.5 percent in counties where Planned Parenthood clinics shuttered after the new law. When Planned Parenthood was part of the Texas program, 1,042 women used this type of birth control over the course of three months. Afterward, it was 672.

 New England Journal of Medicine

The Texas women’s health program had about 8,000 women using the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera, which requires a shot every three months for the medication to remain effective. Even before Planned Parenthood was cut from the Texas network, only 56.9 percent of patients in counties with Planned Parenthoods would return for an on-time follow-up shot every three months.

Numbers fell much lower, though, after the 2013 cuts. Counties previously served by Planned Parenthood clinics saw a 21.2 percentage point decline in women returning for on-time shots — while numbers in counties that had never had Planned Parenthood clinics essentially held steady.

 New England Journal of Medicine

Less access to birth control correlated with an uptick in births among certain Texas patients.

This design of this part of the study is a bit complex, and you can read more about it in the paper itself. It essentially involves comparing women who were using the Depo shot at the end of 2012 — right before the Planned Parenthood cuts — to women who were using the Depo shot at the end of 2011 and experienced no such disruption.

Researchers found that the women who lived in places affected by the Planned Parenthood cuts had 27 percent more births than the women using Depo in the year prior.

This was not just a sudden increase in Texas women having babies. Births among women who’d never had a Planned Parenthood clinic in their county to begin with actually decreased slightly over the same time period.

“This directly contradicts the claim that other providers will simply take up the slack and that they’ll meet the demand currently being met by Planned Parenthood providers,” Amanda Stevenson, who led the Texas study, told me when it was released last year. “We can say, after this study, that isn’t the case in Texas.”

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2 days ago
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Trump Flipped an Entire Party’s Core Beliefs

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Jim VandeHei: “Reversing one of the basic assumptions of politics, Trump has shown you can radically change a political party’s core beliefs and brand overnight. Only six years ago, the GOP’s Romney-Ryan ticket was preaching the evils of Russia, the virtue of free trade, the sin of deficits. With no debate and little resistance, Trump has flipped an entire party’s core beliefs. Turns out, voters are far more malleable than we thought — and candidates and presidents can change minds overnight.”

“We always assumed party affiliation was a prerequisite for leading a political party, and some political experience a must. Trump was a liberal Democrat and he hijacked conservatism. The hunger for something different is unmistakable, partly because a big chunk of voters have had it with conventional politics and politicians. No reason another exotic Republican — or third party, or even a surprise Democrat — couldn’t do the same.”

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8 days ago
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It seems more like the main belief was actually white supremacism with its associated religious trappings, and the rest of that was window dressing. The scared-of-brown-people crowd never cared about free trade as much as sending a message that they were in power, and there were a lot more of them than the business guys.
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Goodbye, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine.’ And thank you.

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10 days ago
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Taking Children from Their Parents Is a Form of State Terror

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When my kids were fifteen and twelve, we lived through a period during which the Russian government was threatening to take children away from queer parents, and, specifically, threatening to go after my kids. I sent my son, who is adopted, to boarding school in the United States while the rest of us got ready to emigrate. My biological daughter was less at risk, perhaps even at no risk, and yet the question of whether social services would come knocking sent me into a panic.

One day, about a month and a half before we left Moscow, as I was about to go on a short book trip, my daughter asked what would happen if social services came while I was away. “Will you go crazy?” she asked. I reassured her that a small army of lawyers, activists, and embassy officials stood at the ready and would protect her.

“I know I’ll survive,” she responded dismissively. “I mean, Will you go crazy? Will you lose your mind?”

A twelve-year-old was asking me if I had the mental capacity to survive having my child taken hostage. It was the right question.

Hostage-taking is an instrument of terror. Capturing family members, especially children, is a tried-and-true instrument of totalitarian terror. Memoirs of Stalinist terror are full of stories of strong men and women disintegrating when their loved ones are threatened: this is the moment when a person will confess to anything. The single most searing literary document of Stalinist terror is “Requiem,” a cycle of poems written by Anna Akhmatova while her son, Lev Gumilev, was in prison. But, in the official Soviet imagination, it was the Nazis who tortured adults by torturing children. In “Seventeen Moments of Spring,” a fantastically popular miniseries about a Soviet spy in Nazi Germany, a German officer carries a newborn out into the cold of winter in an effort to compel a confession out of his mother, who is forced to listen to her baby cry.

Last weekend, independent Russian-language media published hundreds of photographs from protests that preceded Monday’s inauguration of Vladimir Putin, who has claimed the office of President for the fourth time. In many of the pictures, Russian police were detaining children: primarily, preteen boys were having their arms twisted behind their backs by police, being dragged and shoved into paddy wagons. According to OVDInfo, a Web site that has been tracking arrests since anti-Putin protests began, six and a half years ago, a hundred and fifty-eight minors were detained by police during the protests, accounting for just less than ten per cent of the day’s arrests.

Ella Paneyakh, a Russian sociologist who studies law-enforcement practices, observed in a Facebook post that the police had clearly been directed to target children. A possible explanation, she suggested, is that social services, which will process the minors, is even less accountable than the regular courts are. While Russian activists have learned to make the work of the courts difficult, filing appeals and regularly going all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, there is no role for defense attorneys and no apparent appeals process in the social-services system. The threat is clear: children who have been detained at protests may be removed from their families. At least one parent has already been charged with negligence as a result of his son’s detention at one of the demonstrations last weekend.

Another possible explanation is that Putin and the system he has created have consistently, if not necessarily with conscious intent, restored key mechanisms of Soviet control. The spectacle of children being arrested sends a stronger message than any amount of police violence against adults could do. The threat that children might be removed from their families is likely to compel parents to keep their kids at home next time—and to stay home themselves.

A few hours after Putin took his fourth oath of office, in Moscow, Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed a law-enforcement conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. He pledged to separate families that are detained crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you,” Sessions said. The Attorney General did not appear to be unveiling a new policy so much as amplifying a practice that has been adopted by the Trump Administration, which has been separating parents who are in immigration detention from their children. The Times reported in December that the federal government was considering a policy of separating families in order to discourage asylum seekers from entering. By that time, nonprofit groups were already raising the alarm about the practice, which they said had affected a number of families. In March, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the hundreds of families that had been separated when they entered the country with the intention of seeking asylum.

The practice, and Sessions’s speech, are explicitly intended as messages to parents who may consider seeking asylum in the United States. The American government has unleashed terror on immigrants, and in doing so has naturally reached for the most effective tools.

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10 days ago
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The Case for Having a Hobby

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The irony of all this is that hobbies do make you more productive, in a way. A 2009 study showed that more time spent on leisure activities was correlated with lower blood pressure, lower levels of depression and stress, and overall better psychological and physical functioning. Hobbies can also jump-start your creativity, or allow your mind to wander and look at problems from a new angle.

Still, framing hobbies this way compounds the original problem: We’ve professionalized and productized our respites from the working world.

“For me, I like to think of leisure in its purest sense — that is, it is time away from work, not facilitating it,” said Thomas Fletcher, chairman of Leisure Studies Association and a senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University in Britain.

“In thinking about the relationship between work and leisure, I would argue that rather than thinking about how leisure can promote greater productivity at work, a more important consideration is about how work inhibits our leisure time,” Mr. Fletcher said. By viewing work as something we do to support our leisure time, rather than our hobbies as something to lower our stress so we can get back to work, we can actually start enjoying our lives. (I know, wild idea.)

It’s worth mentioning that for many people, there are structural impediments to hobbies and leisure time. It’s easier to have a hobby if you have things like a steady salary, affordable rent and reliable child care. If you’re working two jobs and are on food stamps, you’re a lot less likely to take up watercolors.

But there’s a reason that even those of us with vacation time aren’t taking all of it, and that instead of clocking out at 5 p.m. we’re checking email and Slack until we fall asleep.

“There is this achievement-oriented culture,” said Ms. Schulte, that teaches us that our only purpose is to produce. Why pick up the guitar if you’re not going to become the best at it? Why make something if you can’t sell it? Better spend your time doing something that actually has value. “You get busy and you feel like you don’t deserve it and you need to earn it,” she said.

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11 days ago
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He Was Accused Of Attempted Rape. He Became A Progressive Star Anyway.

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On April 28, 2008, Sarah Schacht received an email that terrified her. The Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency group, had invited Schacht, the head of a budding good-government nonprofit, to join a conference call. There on the invitation list was Clay Johnson — a man she says once tried to rape her.

Reeling, Schacht called a friend at Sunlight, who told her the foundation had just hired Johnson. Within an hour, she said, she was on the phone with Sunlight’s executive director, Ellen Miller.

Schacht said Miller received her story with a stern voice and a battery of excuses: “Well, I’m sure there was some confusion, it was so long ago, he was so young at the time, and now he’s in this great relationship,” Schacht recalls Miller saying. In her disbelief, Schacht blurted out that she wasn’t Johnson’s only victim, but that didn’t seem to faze Miller either. “I left the phone call shaking,” Schacht said.

Although Miller insists no such call ever happened, the conversation Schacht remembers must have been repeated many times. For more than a decade, women have accused Johnson, a leader in the world of political technology, of physical and verbal abuse. They’ve complained to some of the most powerful people in Washington’s nonprofit and progressive circles — only to watch, horrified, as Johnson became a powerful figure, too.

During Johnson’s first job in politics, on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, Schacht and a fellow campaign worker separately accused Johnson of sexual assault. Word of both women’s complaints reached several of Dean’s top deputies. But Johnson kept his job, and his work on the campaign became his ticket to a high-profile career.

He went on to co-found a pathbreaking political consulting firm. Powerful groups and people sought his thoughts on the future of tech in politics; his Twitter banner shows him cracking a joke to a roomful of government officials including President Barack Obama. Despite Schacht’s warning about his behavior, the Sunlight Foundation chose him to head its flagship technology division. He left amid a staff insurrection over his lewd and menacing behavior. And still, he rose higher.

His reputation seemed to be an open secret.

“People would go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Clay,’” said Erie Meyer, a tech worker who said Johnson harassed her at a 2013 conference. “And I’m thinking, ‘How have you all been letting him wander the halls of progressive power and know he’s like this?’”

HuffPost spoke with more than two dozen of Johnson’s former supervisors, peers and colleagues, many of whom talked on the record, in search of an explanation. The answer implicates not only Johnson as a serial abuser but a constellation of progressive and good-government groups that failed to put their values into action. On the eve of the most consequential midterm election in a decade, it also raises grave questions about how prepared politicians are to protect the people who get them elected. Nearly 20,000 people will work in the local and national campaigns this year, and as many as 5 percent of all registered voters will volunteer. Should they face harassment or abuse, few of them will have any recourse.

“We just pass creeps from campaign to campaign,” said Meg Reilly, vice president of the Campaign Workers Guild, a new union seeking to organize political workers across the country. “The excuse becomes, ‘We’ll deal with this once the candidate gets elected.’ People tell themselves that if they’re working for this candidate who’s really fantastic, who opposes sexism and racism, then everyone on the campaign is immune from committing the same sins.” Once the election ends, little prevents abusive employees from starting a second act in government, political advocacy or nonprofits.

Johnson, in interviews with HuffPost, described his history in the workplace as “awful” and said it filled him with shame, hurt and regret, although he disputed the details of most of his accusers’ stories. 

“I don’t know the answer to that,” he said when asked if he had sexually assaulted two women on the Dean campaign. “What I can tell you is, I had two women complain to management on the Dean campaign about sexual harassment, and I was given a warning.” Later, he said his memory of his encounter with Schacht didn’t include anything he would describe as “assault.”

“My entire career was littered with treating people very poorly,” he continued. “Whether that was the Sunlight Foundation, the Dean campaign, or anywhere else I worked. I did not behave appropriately. I was awful to people, to nearly every single person, and I really wish I hadn’t been.”

In the summer of 2003, the Howard Dean campaign felt electric with promise. Although the former Vermont governor’s presidential bid would later be remembered for the Dean Scream, at the time people noticed the groundbreaking way his supporters met and organized online. Schacht, who was raring to work in political tech, joined the campaign as an intern in New Hampshire. “I thought, wow, I really want to work with those guys, on that team,” she said. “I wanted that experience to be the start of my career.”

Specifically, Schacht wanted to work with Clay Johnson, who had joined the Dean campaign earlier that year, first as a volunteer and then full-time in the Burlington, Vermont, headquarters as its lead programmer. Johnson, who is more than 6 feet tall, had a domineering personality and usually spoke without a filter. But he struck Schacht as smart and ambitious. When he said he could look for an opening for her on his team, Schacht recalled, she moved to Vermont. She spent 10- and 12-hour days doing odd jobs as a volunteer for the finance and youth outreach teams. At night, she crashed in one of the Dean campaign’s ubiquitous group houses.

One night in late fall, she was staying at an apartment that Johnson rented. She was sleeping on an air mattress in the living room when he woke her up by stumbling against the walls, she said. Schacht recalled worrying that he was sick or so drunk he might hurt himself, and she got up to ask him if he was all right.

“He kissed me, and I was surprised. But before I could say anything, the next thing I remember is I was pinned on his bed,” she said. He was trying to have sex with her. “I’m saying ‘No!’ I’m saying ‘Stop.’ I’m saying, ‘Don’t do this, stop.’”

Schacht said she brought her knees to her chest and with all four of her limbs tried to shove Johnson away. She doesn’t know how long she held him off, she said, but it felt like an excruciatingly long time. He didn’t let up until he passed out drunk, she said, and she pushed him off her.

The morning after Johnson’s alleged assault, Schacht said, she abandoned the air mattress and checked into a hotel.

Johnson said his memory of that night is “radically different”.

“It’s not a recollection that would involve the word ‘assault,’” he said. “That said, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that she has pain over this encounter, and I have caused her that pain.”

I asked Johnson if he was saying sexual assault is a matter of interpretation.

“I think that there is a clear line, but the line gets much less clear after 15 years of memories,” he replied.

Later, in an email, Johnson claimed he and Schacht never discussed the idea of her joining his team but that they went on several dates “with what I believe to be romantic intent” before the night in question. “On our first date, she stopped me on the way into a restaurant and kissed me. I started to avoid Sarah after that.”

Within weeks, Schacht told several of her colleagues about the incident, including a Dean campaign employee, Amanda Michel, who let Schacht share her rented bedroom once the hotel became too expensive. (Schacht slept in the walk-in closet.)

Michel confirmed to HuffPost that Schacht told her about Johnson’s alleged assault; in all, HuffPost spoke to six people who said Schacht told them Johnson had assaulted her. Michel also said that a second woman told her Johnson had sexually assaulted her and that Schacht and the other woman did not seem to be aware of one another at the time. (Michel was director of HuffPost’s OffTheBus project in 2007 and 2008. The second woman declined to speak for this article; HuffPost is withholding her name because it does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.)

Alarmed, Michel told her boss, Zephyr Teachout, who was the campaign’s director of online organizing and nominally Johnson’s supervisor on some projects, although Teachout didn’t believe she had the authority to fire him. Teachout doesn’t recall being aware of the second accuser. But she alerted at least two members of Dean’s inner circle — Bob Rogan, the deputy campaign manager, and Joe Trippi, who oversaw the entire operation — that Johnson faced a serious allegation of sexual assault. Two former Dean staffers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they got word of the second accusation to Rogan.

Teachout asked what the accuser should do. Trippi essentially waved her aside, Teachout said. “My impression was that he had no plans to do anything about it and no suggestions for what an accuser should do,” she said. Rogan, whom she met with separately, was more diplomatic but no less evasive. “I left feeling like nothing would be done,” Teachout recalled. “It was totally demoralizing and radicalizing and unacceptable. I had nothing to tell anyone about what they could do with accusations, no recourse, no process, no recognition. It haunted me.”

Schacht was in a daze. “I just didn’t know what to make of what had happened to me,” she said. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I had fought him off. I just didn’t know where to go or what to say.” She realized her future could depend on being part of Dean’s team. She decided to stay with the campaign and take a new, paid position in Iowa. She was 24.

That winter, Schacht said, she received calls from a lawyer for the Dean campaign and a female campaign official. They asked questions about her encounter with Johnson that made her deeply uncomfortable. “I ended up reporting that he had attempted to rape me.”

Johnson couldn’t recall anyone asking him questions about his behavior. But there had been one repercussion, he said: Rogan, in the presence of his co-deputy campaign manager, Tom McMahon, gave Johnson a warning. “They were like, ‘This complaint has come in, so like, cool it,’” Johnson said. “I would say it made me more defensive. I’m not sure I would say it altered my behavior.”

They were like, ‘This complaint has come in, so like, cool it.’ I would say it made me more defensive. I’m not sure I would say it altered my behavior. Clay Johnson

Rogan, who is now the chief of staff for Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), said he didn’t recall any discussions he may have had about Johnson. Neither did McMahon. Trippi, who has worked on dozens of Democratic campaigns since, didn’t recall a conversation with Teachout either. But he doubted it would have lasted very long. “It would have gotten like a nanosecond of me even recognizing what she was saying,” he said. “I dealt with the bigger strategy. If it was about money or people, it would have been, ‘Go talk to Bob.’”

The Dean campaign was not unique in lacking a process for dealing with complaints of harassment and abuse. Unless the people in charge make a conscious decision to put rules in place, chaos is a campaign’s default setting. Political campaigns are short-lived organizations where every dollar and body is applied toward the singular goal of winning. The pay is low, the hours are grueling, and the whole operation collapses after Election Day. Typically the only people willing to work under these conditions are true believers — young ones whose expectations about work are still unformed.

The Dean campaign, former staffers recall, combined all these factors. Dean’s was the Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama campaign of 2004 — the one attracting scores of 19- to 25-year-olds who had never worked in politics. A former official recalled pleading with staffers not to drink and drive through the streets of Burlington. “You’re wearing shorts and T-shirts,” said one Dean campaign worker. “Your furniture is whatever you pulled out of the garbage. You’re not doing it for the money, so you don’t see it as a job … although it is.”

I regret to say that I didn’t know what to do when she told me. Sarah Schacht’s supervisor on the Dean campaign

That campaign worker was one of the first people Schacht spoke to about Johnson’s alleged attack. In the chaos of the campaign, he was loosely considered Schacht’s supervisor. He asked for anonymity to be candid about how he responded to her report.

“I regret to say that I didn’t know what to do when she told me,” he said. “Maybe because I’d never had a real job — I was always on campaigns — I really wasn’t sure what you do. … I almost felt like I was in college and somebody told me they’d had somebody cross the line. But looking back now, Jesus Christ, it’s pretty simple, you do A, B, C.”

Dean, by all accounts, was never involved in any of the discussions about Johnson. “This is the first I’m hearing of it,” the former candidate said.

He said if a campaign receives a complaint, it ought to fire the accused campaign worker immediately. It’s possible the person being fired did nothing wrong, he continued, but it’s more important to keep the campaign running smoothly. “In politics, unfair things happen to people sometimes,” Dean said. “There’s a greater cause [at stake], and it’s the campaign.”

But the same mentality makes it difficult for campaign workers to report abuse. “What if it goes public and takes down the campaign?” Michel said. “No one wants to be the story or be part of the story that takes down their candidate. Not when you’ve sacrificed so much.”

Asked how future candidates could change that mentality, Dean had little to offer. He suggested that candidates make their values clear and post rules of conduct in the campaign office.

“Look, you just don’t have time to straighten these things out,” he said. “Campaigns are chaotic. … There’s not going to be a campaign where there’s going to be a process.”

Johnson said something similar. “Campaigns are strange creatures,” he said when asked if he was surprised he wasn’t fired. “They don’t live very long. There’s not a lot of time for investigation and fact-finding.”

Later, he emailed to say he’d reconsidered the question. “Yes,” he said, he was surprised. “If anybody that worked for me acted the way I did on that campaign on any given day, but especially given those allegations, I would fire them.”

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The Dean campaign collapsed in February 2004, but its reputation for revolutionizing politics online endured. Buoyed by this legacy, Johnson and three other Dean alums — Joe Rospars, Jascha Franklin-Hodge and Ben Self — founded a lucrative consulting firm, Blue State Digital.

The firm easily attracted top-tier clients, such as the Democratic National Committee (where Dean was elected chair in 2005 and McMahon became his executive director) and a presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama. But multiple former Dean staffers — men and women alike — said they passed up opportunities to work with Blue State Digital because of Johnson’s reputation. Their hesitancy seems warranted. Two of Blue State’s early employees said Johnson was an unmitigated bully. One of them recalled witnessing Johnson tell a pregnant Blue State employee, “You’re going to push that baby out under the conference table because that’s as much maternity leave as I’m going to give you.”

“I don’t believe I said that,” Johnson said. “I did say, ‘I’m glad that we’re not eligible for FMLA.’ I made an obnoxious comment, but not that obnoxious comment.” (FMLA refers to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers of a certain size to provide eligible workers unpaid leave for the birth of a child.)

You’re going to push that baby out under the conference table because that’s as much maternity leave as I’m going to give you. Johnson’s alleged remark to a pregnant Blue State employee

Blue State said it wasn’t aware of Johnson’s “unacceptable” comment and that it has always offered paid parental leave, including to that employee.

While Johnson launched into the next phase of his career, some of his former Dean colleagues continued to agonize over his abusiveness. “I felt like we had totally failed,” Teachout said. She felt hesitant to tell Johnson’s future employers about an accusation she had heard secondhand and thinks it’s even possible she provided a positive reference. Occasionally, she and Michel discussed how to stop serial abusers from moving from one campaign to another and wondered why the national party didn’t have a hotline or a system in place. (“Yeah, there could be a role for the party,” Dean said.)

At the end of 2007, Blue State Digital forced Johnson out. “Clay was asked to leave the company because his partners didn’t want to work with him anymore, not because of any allegations of inappropriate behavior,” the firm said in a statement. “Clay would not be hired today, we’re glad we fired him over a decade ago and we regret he was ever associated with the company.” The firm wouldn’t provide further details.

By spring 2008, Johnson had been quietly hired by the Sunlight Foundation — at the time, the center of gravity for the open-government movement. Johnson started work at Sunlight that summer overseeing its digital technology lab. He gave the impression that he’d left Blue State a wealthy person, several former Sunlight employees said, and it was clear from the outset that he played a significant role in helping the nonprofit raise money and attract grants.

Schacht had fallen into Sunlight’s orbit, too. In the years since she worked on the Dean campaign, she had founded a small but scrappy nonprofit, Knowledge As Power, that offered a free legislative tracker to local governments. “Thinking about her capabilities, and planfulness, and knowledge, I kind of view her as a visionary,” said Gary Pollack, who worked for KAP starting in 2010. “She has this vigor and this capacity to keep the forest and the trees in her sightline.” In January 2008, Sunlight extended KAP a small grant. More significantly, Ellen Miller, the foundation’s executive director, gave Schacht glowing introductions to numerous potential donors and collaborators.

But Schacht claims there was an abrupt change in the relationship after she told Miller that Johnson, Sunlight’s star new hire, had once attacked her. The flattering introductions stopped, and Schacht got the impression she no longer had Sunlight’s imprimatur.

It started with the email inviting Schacht and Johnson to a conference call. The call was to discuss an upcoming Sunlight conference, and Schacht contacted a friend at Sunlight, John Wonderlich, to make sure she and Johnson wouldn’t share any panels. Schacht heard Wonderlich gasp. Sunlight had just hired Johnson, he said. Wonderlich, who is now Sunlight’s executive director, said he felt obligated to tell Miller, and he arranged for Miller and Schacht to speak. By then, Schacht had spoken directly to Johnson’s other accuser from the Dean campaign, and she told Miller both of their stories.

Miller seemed unmoved, Schacht said. Later that year, Schacht claims, Sunlight shut down KAP’s request for a larger grant, and it announced plans to launch a legislative tracker that Schacht felt was in direct competition with hers.

Miller said there was no chilliness and no such phone call. Sunlight made hundreds of small grants to groups like KAP, she said, but rarely, if ever, gave out larger sustainable grants. It’s true that she stopped introducing Schacht to potential donors, but that’s because there were only so many donors to introduce.

“It only happens once, at the beginning of the process, and that’s all there really is to the story,” Miller said. As for the phone call: “I simply do not recall either a phone call or an interest in having a conversation with her about Clay Johnson. I would have remembered a serious accusation like that one, I would remember that, and I would tell you I remember that.”

In response to Miller’s denial of the call and Johnson’s claim that their relationship was ever romantic, Schacht said, “Their statements do not match my interactions with them.”

She’s perhaps the one person I can think of in the world that has a real issue with me. Johnson in a 2008 email to Miller referring to Schacht

Johnson said he wasn’t aware of any hasty phone call between Miller and Schacht. But he emailed Miller in June 2008 to warn her that he and Schacht had a history from the Dean campaign. “She hates me,” he wrote, in an email he shared with HuffPost. “Absolutely despises me. Happy to talk to you about it in person, but it’s mainly gossip, innuendo, stale and old. It is weird, I’m happy to talk about it with you. But the short story is: It was a presidential campaign, it was Vermont. She was like 22, I was 26 and we were both shamefully less professional in the workplace. You can put the rest of that story together. I promise there’s not a long slough of disgruntled female campaign staffers in my closets. But there is one, and it is her.”

Johnson added that Schacht was very talented and smart and that Knowledge As Power was an impressive project. “That being said, she’s perhaps the one person I can think of in the world that has a real issue with me.” 

Johnson claims he told Miller in person that Schacht had filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Dean campaign. Miller insists this isn’t true: “He didn’t say anything about a sexual harassment claim against him at the Dean campaign, I’m certain.”

Many of Sunlight’s staff members would come to have issues with Johnson as well. Johnson routinely made obscene comments toward his co-workers, according to multiple former Sunlight employees. Nisha Thompson, one former employee, described him as “leery” and “a bully.” Once, she ran into him at a bar outside of work. As soon as she said hello, she claims, Johnson replied, “I’m going to fuck you in the ass.” He sought her out at work the next day to say he’d been blackout drunk, Thompson said.

Johnson’s most frequent target was a young digital designer who reported directly to him. Her desk was next to Johnson’s, and other members of the labs team said she was the butt of all his lewdest comments. In summer 2010, he said something so inappropriate that the team, in dramatic fashion, dragged her desk away from his and surrounded her with their own desks. No one could recall the exact comment. But both the designer and a former Sunlight employee, Hafeezah Abdullah, said the incident involved Johnson spraying the designer in the face with a can of compressed air used for dusting keyboards. The designer and at least one other team member told HuffPost they complained to the head of operations, who was Sunlight’s de facto HR rep.

Johnson didn’t recall his barside run-in with Thompson. It was possible it happened while he was blacked out from drinking, he said; he’s now in recovery. He remembers spraying the designer in the face, but he doesn’t remember making a lewd remark. “I can see how my actions toward her made her uncomfortable,” Johnson said. “I looked at her like a kid sister. I made comments like, ‘Hey, those are great shoes,’ and I probably did so too frequently. … I’m really sorry that in our professional relationship, I did not treat her with the respect of her talent that she deserved.”

Sunlight didn’t ask Johnson to leave over the spray-can incident, he said, but it gave him a warning. He quit the next day out of anger and defensiveness after seeing the rearranged desks. Sunlight, he said, “asked me to stay.” Former staffers said Sunlight never addressed the staff about his behavior or departure. The foundation, saying it could not discuss personnel matters, declined to respond to a list of detailed questions.

Multiple former employees said Sunlight’s failure to address Johnson’s behavior emboldened other men whose conduct also crossed lines. “Because of Sunlight’s lack of response, things escalated,” an ex-employee said. Said another, “It became a totally permissive culture.” A few of the senior men on staff hit on new female hires as a matter of course, two former employees recalled, and made sexually inappropriate comments. On a work trip, one senior staffer told a young female employee he had a genital piercing.

Sunlight struggled with these issues long after Johnson was gone. “An issue I was very disappointed to encounter at Sunlight was the lack of clarity around how to handle hostile work environment or sexual harassment issues,” an employee wrote in a 2015 exit memo obtained by HuffPost. “It became clear to me that, as colleagues came to me with examples of these issues they actively faced at Sunlight, they did not feel there was anyone in the organization they could turn to for addressing the issue.”

After Sunlight, Johnson moved into a covetable role as a Presidential Innovation Fellow, part of a group of tech luminaries enticed by a signature Obama administration program to dedicate six months to improving government technology. He published his book, The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, and became a fixture at conferences where lecturers spoke grandly about technology’s role in making government more transparent and accountable.

All this time, “his party trick was bringing women down a notch,” said Erie Meyer, the tech worker. At Personal Democracy Forum in 2013, Johnson humiliated her by saying to a group of CEOs she was meeting for the first time, “This is Erie Meyer. She’s Gray Brooks’ fiancée and she has herpes.” She was neither engaged nor did she have a sexually transmitted infection, but “this was Clay’s way of letting people know that I was a plus-one — I was not a person of note.” Meyer sobbed in a stairwell and skipped the rest of the conference.

A year later, Johnson became a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “We heard no reports of any kind of inappropriate behavior before, during or after Clay Johnson’s time at CAP and would have acted if the case was otherwise,” a spokesperson told HuffPost.

The Presidential Innovation Fellows program didn’t respond to requests for comment. No one provided evidence that either CAP or the fellows program was warned about Johnson’s behavior — although plenty wondered how his reputation could have escaped them.

Today, Johnson and his family live in his home state of Georgia. He worked as a senior vice president at the international volunteer organization Points of Light from 2016 to 2017 until, according to him, the commute into Atlanta became too long. He said he now mostly keeps to himself, writing Medium and Twitter posts for a sizable online following.

He said he regrets his past behavior and left Washington to get off the destructive path he was on.

Asked if he was surprised to have had a successful career despite that behavior, he said, “Am I surprised or shocked at what I was able to accomplish and how I was able to do it? I don’t know, I don’t have an answer.”

But he has been thinking about how politics could treat men differently.

“There’s no one that ever said to me in Washington, ‘Hey, Clay, you have a problem and you need to get some help.’ That’s not to say I’m not responsible for my actions, but [a cultural change] there, especially amongst young men, to watch out for this kind of behavior and to have the courage to say something could really go a long way.”

“Young men in particular are able to, in politics, ascend very, very quickly and with almost no executive coaching,” he continued. “I had never been through any training in sexual harassment. I had no idea how to treat women in the workplace. Most of the people my age that found power and success in that community were also the same way, meaning no one had any form of mentorship.”

I had never been through any training in sexual harassment. I had no idea how to treat women in the workplace. Johnson

I suggested that many of his former colleagues hadn’t required coaching to treat one another with decency.

“I’m not trying to defend myself,” Johnson said. “There are people who figure out how to run marathons on their own and there are also people who need help.”

“To the women that I know that have had issues with me, if they would have anything to do with me or want to be near me, I would extend an apology immediately, and I do not blame them for not” wanting to encounter him ever again, he said. “If these people are still feeling pain as a result of an encounter with me, or knowing me, or me being in their lives, even for a moment, that’s fucking awful, and there’s not an excuse for that. There’s not something I can do to make that go away.”

Although Johnson avoided self-destruction, he left a trail of devastation behind him. Numerous people recalled avoiding work opportunities — especially at Blue State Digital — that would place them in Johnson’s path. Because Schacht remained in the same industry, she was forced to see him occasionally, but she steered clear of events and projects where she might encounter him one-on-one. A few years ago, the lack of funding for Knowledge As Power forced her to shut it down. Johnson’s other accuser from the Dean campaign left politics altogether.

“The fact that I’ve seemed to encounter people across my career who think he’s problematic, the number of people who are concerned about him but are flies on the wall to his behavior, I find that so incredibly disturbing,” Schacht said. “To know that in the Dean campaign, to now know that there were two reports, and nothing was done? And that kicked off his career and led to all of these other things? It’s appalling.

I hope other organizations and people who are putting together campaigns take a lesson from what happened here,” she continued. “I’m a powerful person. I get shit done. For me, who was physically powerful enough to physically hold a massive man off of me, and overcome my fear, and find any opportunity to keep doing my work, but still have to dodge and weave this guy — that’s too much to ask of even the strongest of us.”

A change could take a while. After the incident at Personal Democracy Forum, Meyer emailed the most prominent CEO who had been present for Johnson’s herpes remark. “Why didn’t you say anything or stand up for me?” she asked. “What went through your mind?” At first, the executive, whose identity Meyer promised to keep secret, was dismissive. “Because in the 5 minutes prior he repeatedly called me a child molester,” he replied. “Like 5 times.” When she pressed him, he replied, “I took what he said to you to mean you were part of the circle, you were cool and I should pay attention to you. I actually thought *more* of you not less,” he wrote. But he added, “I understand why you were offended.”

That was several days following the conference. In the moments after Johnson spoke, nobody had said a word.

The story has been updated with comment from the Center for American Progress.

Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to describe Amanda Michel’s previous role at HuffPost more specifically.

HuffPost is dedicated to uncovering more stories about working conditions in political and mission-driven organizations. To reach Molly Redden, email

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