Hillary Rodham Clinton is facing a powerful new antagonist–one who calls himself a “prophet of doom” and has pledged to raise “whatever it takes” to destroy her Senate candidacy.
Howard Ruff, the Utah-based investment guru and conservative political activist, has built a national cult following with his predictions of global economic apocalypse. Now he’s sounding dire warnings about another imminent calamity: the election of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In coming weeks, new anti-Hillary TV and radio ads, paid for by Mr. Ruff’s political action committee, will air in upstate New York, a critical battleground in the Senate race between Mrs. Clinton and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The new TV spot, paid for by Ruffpac, opens with a shot of babies and puppies frolicking in Central Park. Cut to a shot of Mrs. Clinton glowering down at them.
“What do these babies and puppies have in common?” an announcer intones gravely. The punch line: “They have all lived in New York longer than Hillary Rodham Clinton.” The script calls for the ad to close on an image of the puppies nipping at the First Lady’s ankles.
Mr. Ruff’s excursion into New York politics is another measure of this highly charged race’s appeal to interlopers of all ideological stripes and hues–particularly social conservatives, who so despise Mrs. Clinton that they are sending checks to keep her out of the Senate. Mr. Giuliani has cheerfully exploited those sentiments with a broad fund-raising appeal to out-of-state donors.
Mr. Ruff said he’s running his ad campaign independent of Mr. Giuliani; any collusion between the two camps would be illegal under campaign finance law.
Over the years, Mr. Ruff’s various political groups have poured money into right-wing causes, aiding anti-Communist rebels in Mozambique and Angola, pushing to topple powerful Democrats like former Speaker of the House Thomas Foley and launching direct mail and radio ads to assist the infamous national campaign that linked Michael Dukakis to furloughed rapist Willie Horton.
A devout 69-year-old Mormon with 48 grandchildren, Mr. Ruff pens his financial newsletter–aptly named The Ruff Times –from his home in a small town in Utah, his basement stocked with nine months of emergency supplies. He has called for a return to the gold standard, recommended the hoarding of bullets for bartering purposes and advised followers to stockpile dehydrated food to prepare for the coming economic catastrophe.
“I am assigning Ruffpac the job of defeating Hillary,” he wrote in a fund-raising appeal in the Feb. 28 issue of The Ruff Times. “It’s a lot easier to kill a 12-inch baby snake than to kill a 12-foot king cobra. We need to stop this woman before she gets into an official position of power. We traditionalists are an embattled minority in a war we are losing that we hardly know is going on!”
“The money has just started to trickle in,” Mr. Ruff told The Observer . If necessary, he added, he will do whatever it takes to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance further attacks on the First Lady. The Clinton and Giuliani campaigns had not returned calls by press time.
“She’s a threat to our freedom,” Mr. Ruff told The Observer from his home in Springville, Utah. “She’s going to expand the powers of government to intervene in our lives and in those of our children.”
In addition to funding the puppies and babies ad–110 spots of 30 seconds each, to be launched in the Albany area–Ruffpac expects to air 59 spots of another 30-second TV ad in the Utica market. The second ad shows the Statue of Liberty morphing into Mrs. Clinton, a terrifying image of the First Lady usurping America’s symbol of freedom. That ad, funded by Ruffpac, ran briefly earlier this year.
Ruffpac also plans to air a wave of anti-Hillary radio ads upstate in coming months. And Ruffpac has already paid for a full-page fund-raising appeal in The Washington Times , a conservative daily. Mr. Ruff said he intends to use his newsletter to launch an aggressive fund-raising drive to pay for future ads and mailings.
Tammy Lyles, the president of Ruffpac, told The Observer that she had already launched 7,000 pieces of direct-mail fund raising, and will mail out a new batch every three weeks. “As long as this race remains close, we plan to do everything possible to defeat Hillary Clinton in November,” Ms. Lyles said.
Mr. Ruff may seem like a harmless enough character–a dilettante who in his cheerier moments belts out upbeat patriotic songs, and once worked as a singer, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and recording an album called Howard Ruff Sings with the Osmonds. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton dismisses him at her peril.
For one thing, the race is expected to be so close that Mr. Ruff could wield a measure of influence over its outcome. For another, Mr. Ruff is a formidable political foe when the spirit moves him. One of his lobbying organizations, Free the Eagle, helped rally members of Congress behind Lieut. Col. Oliver North and the contra cause. Free the Eagle lent office space and public relations advice to anti-Communist freedom-fighter movements in Mozambique and Angola in the mid-80′s, according to Ms. Lyles.
Mr. Ruff boasts that he and Mr. North persuaded President Ronald Reagan to send Stinger missiles to the Afghan freedom fighters, who were battling the Soviet army in Afghanistan in the mid-80′s.
“[We] basically turned that war into a stalemate,” Mr. Ruff said proudly.
Ruffpac also engineered the write-in victory of Representative Ron Packard in California in 1982. It launched a campaign against the Rev. Jesse Jackson during his bid for the 1988 Democratic Presidential nomination. And the political action committee pounded away mercilessly at Speaker of the House Jim Wright of Texas in 1989, who eventually resigned.
According to Ms. Lyles, Ruffpac has raised and spent more than $25 million since 1981 on various causes and candidates.
But Mr. Ruff has run into trouble. The Federal Election Commission has twice fined Ruffpac and once fined Free the Eagle for illegal activities on behalf of Senator Jesse Helms and Senator Orrin Hatch, among others.
Yet Mr. Ruff’s stealth campaigns tend to be so covert that even beneficiaries sometimes remain unaware of his involvement. “Until you mentioned Howard Ruff’s name, I didn’t know who he was,” said one former Representative from the Midwest who benefited handsomely from Ruffpac’s largesse. “I always thought Ruff was some kind of acronym.”
If Mr. Ruff makes good on his vow to raise hundreds of thousands to defeat Mrs. Clinton, he could become the Sam Wyly of the New York Senate race. Mr. Wyly, a Texas businessman, caused a stir by secretly financing $2.5 million of TV ads assailing Senator John McCain’s environmental record as he was gearing up to challenge Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican front-runner in the New York Presidential primary.
Yet Mr. Giuliani is far more moderate on social issues than Mr. Ruff. For instance, Mr. Ruff disagrees vehemently with Mr. Giuliani’s advocacy of gun control–to a point. “I think gun control is probably one of the stupidest ideas that ever came along,” Mr. Ruff said. “I live in a community where there really aren’t any murders. And everybody has guns. They’re all hunters out here. And I think hunting is stupid. I mean, I don’t want to shoot anything. Heck, I even cry when Dumbo’s mother gets locked up when I go to the movies. And Bambi tears my heart out every time I see it–even though I know what a propaganda piece it is.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Ruff doesn’t fear Mr. Giuliani. Like other social conservatives, his disdain for the Clintons has helped him overlook the social liberalism of Mr. Giuliani, who supports immigration and gay rights.
Mr. Ruff is eagerly awaiting the end of the Clinton era. He has relentlessly assailed President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton in his writings and elsewhere. In his latest book, How to Prosper During the Hard Times Ahead , a guide to surviving Y2K, he argued that the Clinton sex scandals had brought America to the brink of ruin.
“The public’s reaction to Clinton’s admitted behavior scares the wits out of me,” he wrote. “How many 15-year-old boys are saying, ‘Now I really want to be President. You get to have sex with foxy interns’?”
For the time being, Mr. Ruff is preoccupied with the First Lady. In a recent Ruff Times , he assailed Mrs. Clinton for leading a movement whose “agenda is to redefine family and gender to incorporate lesbians [and] homosexuals … and to remove the traditional patriarchal family from its position of honor. And they will use the power of the state, or states, to enforce their policies.
“Make no mistake,” he wrote. “Her goal is to return to the White House, only this time as President.”