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Profile: America Votes

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America Votes was a participant or observer in the following events:

According to OpenSecrets.org, Sproul & Associates—a political consulting firm run by 32-year-old Nathan Sproul, a former Christian Coalition activist and one-time director of the Arizona Republican Party—receives $812,864 from the Republican National Committee to do voter outreach and $736,665 for political consulting. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/28/2004; Center for Responsive Politics, 1/19/2006] During the months preceding the election, the firm is accused of instructing its workers to register only Republican voters, and in one case actually destroying registrations forms filled out by Democrats. The alleged activities reportedly occur in Nevada (See October 12, 2004), Oregon (See Early September 2004, October 2004, and (October 12, 2004)), Pennsylvania (See Before September 6, 2004, October 19, 2004 and October 19, 2004) and West Virginia (See Before August 20, 2004). The company—which operates under several names, including Voters Outreach of America, America Votes and Project America Votes—denies these charges. [Mercury News (San Jose ), 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, America Votes, Sproul & Associates, Nathan Sproul

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

Sproul & Associates, a Republican-financed consulting firm, contracts a temporary employment agency in West Virginia to hire people to register only Republicans. The hirees are provided with scripts that encourage deceptive practices and are told little about the consulting firm for whom they will be working. One of those initially hired for the job is Lisa Bragg, a 37-year-old resident of St. Albans. Responding to an ad for a “customer service” position, she visits Kelly Services, a national temp agency, in August 2004 and is offered a job. At first, the company doesn’t provided any details about the job. But the next day, when she attends an orientation, she learns that she will be registering Republican voters. Though another voter registration group in the same community which registers people of all political persuasions pays canvassers only $5.50 an hour, this job is paying $9 an hour. She and the other applicants will be canvassing at One Stop convenience stores throughout the Charleston region. According to a script provided by Kelly Services, the canvassers will approach One Stop customers and ask whether they support George Bush or John Kerry. If they indicate that they plan to vote for Bush, the canvassers should ask if the person is registered to vote and then offer a voter registration card if the person answers no. However, if the person is a Kerry supporter, they should only say thank you and provide the person with a registration card if asked. If anyone asks questions, the firm advises, “Only state you are there to conduct a simple field poll to see what neighborhood support is… a nonpartisan registration drive” If the person becomes angry, they should quietly listen and remember, “The goal is to register Republicans and to remain positive.” The canvassers are also told that people will be checking up on them in the field. Bragg later says in interviews with the press that she thinks the purpose of the monitoring was to make sure the canvassers keep to their script and avoid registering Democrats. The script is printed on Sproul & Associates and America Votes letterhead. But Sproul & Associates is not affiliated with America Votes. Kelly Services does not divulge information about Sproul to the canvassers. According to Bragg, instead the temp agency advises,“[T]he less you know about the company, the better off you are, especially if the media would come asking questions.” Bragg, a Democrat, declines the job and instead tells her story to the Charleston Gazette and Salon. [Charleston Gazette, 8/20/2004; Salon, 10/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Sproul & Associates, Lisa Bragg, George W. Bush, John Kerry, America Votes, Kelly Services

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

In Medford, Oregon, Meghan O’Flaherty, the county librarian, receives a one-page fax from the Republican-financed political consulting firm, Sproul & Associates. The fax says it wants to hold a voter registration drive at the local library and claims to be acting on behalf of a nonpartisan group called America Votes. The fax reads: “Our firm has been contracted to help coordinate a national nonpartisan voter registration drive, America Votes!, in several states across the nation.” The fax also says it intends to “equally register all those who wish to register to vote.” The fax is sent to three other Oregon libraries as well. [Mail Tribune (Medford), 9/21/2004; CBS News, 10/14/2004] When Flaherty calls Kevin Looper of American Votes, she learns that the organization did not hire Sproul & Associates and that they had nothing to do with America Votes. [KGW 8 (Portland, OR), 10/13/2004] Nathan Sproul, owner of the consulting company, claims that it was an innocent mistake. “We were not trying to copy their name,” he says. Sproul also tells a Mail Tribune reporter, “You telling me that they even exist was really the first time I’d heard it.” He said his company, hired by a number of clients to register voters, came up with what he believed was a generic name. Yet Sue Noel, a temporary employee at Sproul & Associates, says the voter drive is called Project America Votes and she knew about the redundant name. “What we try to do is tell people we are not affiliated with America Votes,” she says. Looper expresses doubt about the company’s claim. You’ll have to forgive me for not finding it credible that they would not have heard of a group that is one of the largest in the country and is in every one of the 17 swing states and that could hardly be missed in any political circle.” [Mail Tribune (Medford), 9/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Nathan Sproul, Kevin Looper, Sproul & Associates, America Votes, Meghan O’Flaherty, Sue Noel

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Employees of the Republican-financed political consulting firm, Sproul & Associates, contact the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to request space outside its buildings to register voters. According to Holly McCullough, special assistant to the library director, a woman from the firm claims that she represents America Votes, a nonpartisan but liberal-leaning organization. McCullough agrees to provide the space on the condition that their activities are non-partisan and that there is “no issue advocacy.” But several days later, McCullough will receive a call from Ryan Hughes, director of the Woods Run library branch, saying that patrons have complained about the behavior of the canvassers (see September 7, 2004). [Philadelphia Daily News, 10/19/2004; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/20/2004]

Entity Tags: America Votes, Ryan Hughes, Sproul & Associates, Holly McCullough

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

At the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a library patron complains that canvassers registering voters in front of the library are asking people for whom they intend to vote. “There’s this person out there asking me who I was voting for,” the person says. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/20/2004] The canvassers are working for Sproul & Associates, a firm that claims to be non-partisan (See Before September 6, 2004). When librarian Holly McCullough calls the company to complain, she’s told that the workers are asking people about their political affiliations “because they were doing some market analysis in the area.” In response, McCullough counters they were only supposed to be doing registrations, not market analysis. Then Sproul claims that the temp agency is at fault because it is not following the rules. When asked if the firm is really with America Votes, they claim, “We’ve always represented that we were Sproul, and America Votes is a non-partisan group we’re working with,” adding that there “is another, partisan America Votes, and we’re not affiliated with them.” McCullough then tells them that they are no longer welcome at her library. [Salon, 10/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Sproul & Associates, Holly McCullough, America Votes

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Kevin Looper, the Oregon State Coordinator for “America Votes,” informs Oregon Jackson County librarian Meghan O’Flaherty that a person who had contacted her purporting to be from American Votes (See September 16, 2004 or before) does not work for his organization. He says in an email to her: “Here is what I know: We do not have a Harry Miller in our employ. This organization is absolutely not representing America Votes, and my National leadership is initiating action to get them to cease and desist representations that infringe upon our rights and mislead voters.” [O'Flaherty, 9/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Kevin Looper, America Votes

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

A group of Democratic donors, shaken from the defeat the party suffered in the November midterm elections, meets in a Washington hotel to discuss how to counter the huge influx of corporate spending that helped defeat dozens of Democrats and give control of the US House of Representatives back to Republicans. Outside conservative groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network (see Mid-October 2010), and American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS outspent Democratic groups by more than a two to one ratio. The donors are split on whether to try to emulate their opponents by raising as much money as possible from wealthy corporations and donors, or continuing down their traditional path of funding their campaign efforts via labor unions and organizations such as the Sierra Club. If they decide to pursue corporate cash, some argue, they will be viewed as hypocrites in light of Democrats’ almost-uniform opposition to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which “opened the floodgates” for unlimited corporate and labor donations (see January 21, 2010). One of the fundamental problems, Democrats note, is that while unions are allowed to contribute unlimited funds just as corporations do, unions, which traditionally support Democrats, are far less wealthy than their corporate counterparts. And despite record-breaking fundraising by the Obama presidential campaign in 2008, most corporations donate to Republicans. The donors are not expected to come up with simple answers as they begin to strategize for 2012, where Republicans are expected to raise and spend an unprecedented half-billion dollars trying to defeat President Obama. Moreover, the White House has sent decidedly mixed messages on the subject. During the 2008 race, the Obama campaign instructed an independent progressive “527” PAC, the Fund for America, to shut down its operations after it began releasing attack ads against Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The Obama campaign did not want independent organizations conducting their own operations, but wanted full control of the campaign message. And campaign leaders said they wanted to win with small individual contributions from ordinary citizens, not with massive corporate donations. The White House’s opposition to such outside funding continued through 2010, and as a result, corporate donations to Democratic-supporting groups were far outstripped by Republican donations. Since then, Obama’s top political advisor David Axelrod has indicated the White House would support liberal donors’ independent efforts to counter Republican political donations, but many Democratic donors still believe the Obama administration is not fully behind those efforts. A Democratic strategist who refuses to be identified says: “By and large, the political people in the Obama firmament really have disdain for outside groups. They think they whine and snivel and make all these demands and don’t produce very much.” Some liberal donors and organizations are ignoring the resistance from the White House and making their own plans, such as David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America (MMFA), who is considering forming his own 527 (see 2000 - 2005) for 2012. Another Democratic activist, Joan Fitz-Gerald of the umbrella group America Votes, says Democrats cannot depend on the courts or Congress to rein in corporate spending, noting that Congressional Democrats failed to get the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform measure, to the floor of the Senate for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Fitz-Gerald says Democrats must adapt to the new political landscape or risk another trouncing in 2012. However, she recommends working through existing progressive organizations more than using hastily formed PACs and 527s funded by one or two wealthy sources. Unions and environmental groups have large, citizen-based funding sources, whereas Republican organizations are often funded by a small group of wealthy donors who bankroll numerous such organizations. Those organizations, she says, lack credibility with voters. The traditional grassroots-based organizations, she says, “are trusted messengers, whether they’re a union that someone belongs to or a group that people have been a member of for many years. At some point the American people, as they see these ads pushing this right-wing agenda, they’re going to ask: ‘Who are these people? What’s the goal of American Crossroads?’” But the funding garnered by the right made the difference in the 2010 elections, Democratic donors agree. Mike Palamuso of the League of Conservation Voters recalls, “For every $500,000 we spent, it felt like American Crossroads spent another $5 million.” Many agree with Democratic political strategist Harold Ickes, who says: “Is small money better? You bet. But we’re in a f_cking fight. And if you’re in a fistfight, then you’re in a fistfight, and you use all legal means available.” [Mother Jones, 11/15/2010]

Entity Tags: David Brock, American Action Network, America Votes, American Crossroads, David Axelrod, US House of Representatives, Sierra Club, Harold Ickes, Joan Fitz-Gerald, US Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads GPS, Mike Palamuso, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The New York Times reports that wealthy liberal donors, after months of relative inactivity, are gearing up to make large donations on behalf of Democratic candidates. But unlike their Republican counterparts, these donors are not going to give millions to super PACs. Instead, the Times reports, they will give most of their money to organizations focused on grassroots organizing, voter registration, and “get out the vote,” or GOTV, efforts. The Times reports, “The departure from the conservatives’ approach, which helped Republicans wrest control of the House in 2010, partly reflects liberal donors’ objections to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), which paved the way for super PACs and unbridled campaign spending.” Also, donors and strategists do not believe they can go head-to-head with wealthy Republican donors who are giving to groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Instead, they say they feel Democrats can press an advantage in grassroots organizing. Rob Stein of the Democracy Alliance, a group of liberal donors, says that while super PACs “are critically important,” local efforts and social-media outreach “can have an enormous impact in battleground states in 2012.” Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros (see January - November 2004) will give $1 million to America Votes, an organization that coordinates political actions for environmental, abortion rights, and civil rights groups, and another $1 million to American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that focuses on election research. Soros has not yet given significantly during the 2012 cycle. A Soros spokesperson, Michael Vachon, says: “George Soros believes the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to special interests’ paying for political ads. There is no way those concerned with the public interest can compete with them. Soros has always focused his political giving on grass-roots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote. His support of these groups is consistent with those views.” President Obama’s reelection campaign is in the process of unleashing a $25 million ad campaign against the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney (R-MA), directed and financed by the campaign itself. Romney and other Republicans have relied more heavily on “independent” spending by American Crossroads, AFP, and other “third party” groups. An Obama-aligned super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has raised relatively little money in comparison to its Republican counterparts, though it has been active in some battleground states (see May 2, 2012). Obama’s opposition to super PACs and his reluctance to have his campaign rely on their efforts (see January 18, 2012) has slowed super PAC fundraising efforts on his behalf, though he has recently given his approval for the group to operate at maximum capacity (see February 6, 2012). David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century and the liberal watchdog organization Media Matters for America, says, “The idea that we’re going to engage in an arms race on advertising with the Republicans is not appealing to many liberal donors.” While Priorities USA and two other groups founded to help Democrats in Congress remain on the list of organizations that the Democracy Alliance recommends to its members, Robert McKay, the chairman of the group and a board member of Priorities USA, says that much of the money expected to be spent this year—up to $100 million—by the group’s donors will go to organizing and research, and far less to television advertising. “There is a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” McKay says. “That means get-out-the-vote efforts” aimed at minority voters, women, and younger voters. Organizations involved in Democracy Alliance include Catalist, a voter database organization; ProgressNow, which organizes Internet-based groups in different states; and the newly created Latino Engagement Fund, an organization that works to organize Latino voting on behalf of Democrats. Groups outside Democracy Alliance will also be involved, particularly labor unions and advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club. San Francisco philanthropist Steve Phillips, who intends to spend some $10 million on efforts to increase turnout among Latino voters, says: “You can dump 10 or 20 million in TV ads in Ohio and try to reach the persuadable swing voters there, or you can up voter turnout among Latinos in Colorado and Arizona and win that way. It’s much cheaper.” [New York Times, 5/7/2012]

Entity Tags: American Crossroads, Steve Phillips, Willard Mitt Romney, 2012 Obama presidential election campaign, Robert McKay, American Bridge 21st Century, Rob Stein, New York Times, Americans for Prosperity, David Brock, Priorities USA Action, Michael Vachon, America Votes, George Soros, Democracy Alliance

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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