Secretive Arthur Finkelstein, Secret No More

By Charles Francis for Washington Blade

As Archive Activists, we eagerly awaited this year’s opening of Republican campaign consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein’s papers at the Library of Congress. Donated by Finkelstein’s husband, evidently to cement the man’s political legacy, the Finkelstein papers are loaded with the ideas and words of his candidates who attacked homosexuals to court the voters who fear them. Finkelstein pioneered the slash-and-burn campaigns of the 1980s, working for clients including Sens. Jesse Helms (N.C.), Bob Smith (N.H.), Don Nickles (Okla.), and Lauch Faircloth (N.C.) — senators who formed the core opposition to gay and lesbian-related legislation in the day. We recall when Sen. Nickles, in 1998 the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, declared Ambassador James Hormel unqualified to be named an ambassador because anyone who promotes “immoral behavior” should not represent the U.S.

Political commentary on Arthur Finkelstein is most always “de-gayed,” his homosexuality a footnote. When I ask people how Finkelstein could live with such dissonance — being gay with a husband, raising children and working for Helms, Smith, Nickles and Faircloth — one response rang most true: “Did you ever see his palatial estate?” It was not all about “compartmentalization” or “self-loathing,” just greed is good for Citizen Finkelstein?

“Arthur J. Finkelstein, Advising Leaders Around the World,” one flier proclaims. “It is said that no American political consultant has been involved in as many successful Senate races as AJF,” the promotional piece says about this secretive man who lived in a Tudor mansion at the end of a quarter-mile drive through a horse farm. “In the fall, visitors park their Bentleys and Rollses in the pasture. Dressed like plump extras in a Merchant-Ivory film gone wrong, they’re here for the annual fox hunt,” wrote Stephen Rodrick in a lacerating Boston Magazine profile that famously outed Finkelstein in 1996. “In the amoral world of big league politics … Finkelstein has worked for the chief gay-bashers on Capitol Hill while raising two children with his male live-in partner,” says the magazine’s press release. His archive, organized into 139 boxes, covers it all.

Through the anger of scrawled notes never released, Finkelstein expresses outrage at having to publicly reconcile his politics with his life. “This (Boston Magazine article) is a political hatchet job. It’s about destroying me politically. They are not after me for being gay,” he writes. “That we are gay is obvious — but they use it as a weapon meant to unleash the prejudices and hatreds that can bring me down … my strongest personal values are Liberterian [sic].” Jesse Helms, Don Nickles libertarians? He rails against the same “prejudices and hatreds” he helped his candidates unleash in scores of elections.

You can see in the archive his confusion at being confronted on the subject of “who really is this reclusive Arthur Finkelstein?” There are the handwritten scratch-outs on legal pads:  “I NEVER CHOSE TO BE A PUBLIC PERSON. I BELIEVED, AND STILL DO, THAT I HAVE A RIGHT TO MY PRIVATE LIFE.” Scratched out, “I am a libertarian conservative….I have never seen Eye-to-Eye with my candidate on all the issues!” He wrote, then scribbled over, “I thought, at least I hoped, we were past the point of persecuting people for their lifestyle.” Did Finkelstein see eye-to-eye with client Jesse Helms’ direct mail? “Do you resent—as I do—the corrupting of the word “gay”? These people are NOT “gays”— they are HOMOSEXUALS. Will you help me counter these latest attacks coming from the homosexuals,” Helms asks.   

In the archive is a memo to Finkelstein from Tom Ellis, described as the “architect of Senator Helms’ rise to political power.” “People vote on fears. The AIDS [sic] offers a fear … Can we show that the Haitians who are in the group that has AIDS were part of the mixture of people that now come into the United States from Cuba? I feel like I have seen some statistics that Castro shipped in a large number of homosexuals.” People vote their fears.    

In another note, Finkelstein vents, “I am a Milton Friedman Republican who believes in Lassize [sic]-faire government and not every gay person must be a Democrat or PERISH.” Milton Friedman’s bestseller “Free to Choose” was not about fears, but choice. To be fair, the archive documents reveal Finkelstein’s close working relationship with New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato who was “one of the strongest Republican voice (sic) of gays in the Military,” he writes in his own defense.

Finkelstein never “perished.” He went into international consulting for clients including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his party Fidesz that viciously targets LGBTQ citizens. Working with Orban for five years, Finkelstein also helped invent the now infamous anti-Semitic “enemy of the people” George Soros. Speaking this year in Dallas to the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC), Orban attacked Soros (“The globalists can all go to hell!”) and threatened LGBTQ citizens worldwide, “Leave our children alone,” he yelled. From Helms to Orban, this is the Finkelstein legacy.

The influence remains. There is this birthday note in 2000 to Roger Stone, then a Trump lobbyist: “Dear Roger, Have a happy next 1,000 years, and may Donald Trump be President for 900 of them. Best, Arthur J. Finkelstein.”