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Jon Fleischman's FlashReport is little-read but much-feared

The website is fiercely conservative, with a small but influential readership. It works to keep California Republican politicians in line.

March 13, 2012|By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times
  • Jon Fleischman is a mainstay of Republican circles and produces the FlashReport political blog.
Jon Fleischman is a mainstay of Republican circles and produces the FlashReport… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Like so many budget sessions in Sacramento, this one had stretched late into the night. When the four leaders of the Assembly and Senate finally agreed on a package of spending cuts and modest reforms, a six-week standoff — which had forced the state to suspend payments to child-care centers and nursing homes — seemed at an end.

Half an hour after legislative leaders left Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office, though, someone leaked word of the delicate bipartisan agreement to blogger-commentator-partisan Jon Fleischman.

In no time, his obscure but influential website, FlashReport.org, had slammed the deal as "fat" and "bloated" and likened it to "putting lipstick on a pig."

"I knew as soon as I saw the post go up that the deal would collapse," Adam Mendelsohn, then an aide to Schwarzenegger, said of the 2007 agreement. "Maybe an hour after that, we got a call: There wouldn't be a vote that night. Here we were in the biggest state in the union and important policy was being dictated by a blog post at midnight."

Torpedoing bipartisan compromise and shredding political moderation are among Fleischman's most cherished goals. His online compendium of news, gossip, commentary and advertising has become a virtual bonfire where the state's conservative faithful gather to gird for battle.

Although the FlashReport's traffic doesn't even register with major Web rating agencies, it's a good bet to be found on the computer screens of conservative activists across California. In Sacramento, legislators routinely huddle on the Senate and Assembly floors over Fleischman's online pronouncements.

Regular readers, including Democrats who want to keep an eye on the opposition, look to Fleischman for breaking news, morsels from supposedly secret meetings of Republican lawmakers and calls to action.

Although Fleischman doesn't always have his way — the "bloated" 2007 budget deal, for instance, was later resurrected — no one disputes his influence.

The site's conservative street cred was reaffirmed a few months ago by nemesis Jerry Brown. The Democratic governor accused GOP legislators of being held captive by a "League of Acceptability" consisting of the FlashReport and a few better-known influencers: Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and KFI-AM talk radio hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou.

The FlashReport and a few other sites, including middle-of-the-road Rough & Tumble (www.rtumble.com), offer an up-close view of California politics once available only from the mainstream media. Fleischman stands apart, though, because he both covers the establishment and works inside it as a former executive director of the California Republican Party and a consultant to myriad candidates and causes.

"I'm not only Jane Goodall, who's looking at the monkeys, I actually am one of the monkeys," Fleischman said in an interview at his Newport Beach office. "The monkeys will talk to another monkey before they will talk to a reporter."

His insider's niche enabled the FlashReport to be first on the story when, for instance, a clutch of GOP congressmen recently decided to leave office. It also helped Fleischman sniff out evidence that a Democrat who hoped to run for a Central Valley state Senate seat didn't live in the district.

Fellow Republicans praise Fleischman for dogged self-creation and ideological purity. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) described him as a bellwether on "the heart of conservative party activism."

Other party members see Fleischman as an opportunist with an ego as wide as the Sacramento River Delta who punishes opponents and props up those who support his business. They view him as an enforcer of the kind of ideological rigidity they believe has marginalized the California Republican Party and turned it into a regular loser of statewide elections.

After he cast a crucial vote in favor of a 2009 budget and tax increase proposed by Schwarzenegger, the FlashReport skewered then-state Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto) for clearing the way for "massive overtaxing" and waving "the white flag" of surrender.

Within hours, GOP senators had ousted the Central Valley lawmaker from his leadership post as minority leader, though Fleischman declined to take credit for the decapitation.

In a recent interview, Cogdill was still smarting, accusing Fleischman of "demagoguing" the tax issue to promote his website.

Former Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia), a onetime Fleischman ally, clashed with him over the same 2009 tax vote. He called the blogger "just another long-on-rhetoric, short-on-reason talking head."

Fleischman, 44, rejects the idea that moderation would spark a GOP resurgence.

"The minority party is not going to be able to become a majority party if it doesn't offer a clear, distinct, different point of view," he said. "I wanted and still want to play a role in stemming the growth of government in our lives. It's motivated me every day."

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