March 2, 2011- A Special Report from the Center for Media Democracy, part one of a new series. A gaggle of secretly funded DC groups has launched an expensive PR blitz in Wisconsin in support of Scott Walker's controversial efforts to undermine union rights, part of a national assault on worker rights. A few unions have also begun running public education ads, but their sources are not kept hidden from public view; union dues are used for collective bargaining and union members can choose to make a separate donation to a Committee on Public Education fund for advertising. The total amount of anti-union spending in the works by groups funded by corporations or corporate CEOs or their foundations is unknown. What is known is that many such groups hide behind tax provisions that allow them to keep the identities of their major funders secret, insulating from public scrutiny the wealthy financial interests they are fronting and that are largely bankrolling their general operations.
The Center will be intensifying its spotlight on these groups, many of which CMD has investigated before. The flurry of ads, robo-calls, and astroturfing unleashed this past week echo the expensive PR spin and ad campaigns that have become ubiquitous near elections and that helped propel Walker and other politicians advancing the same agenda into office late last year. These new campaigns also signal the real beginning of the 2012 presidential election efforts in many ways. Today's report is the first in a series on these special interest groups–who they are, what they are doing, and who the groups and their staff are connected to.
A New PR Blitz Does What Walker Sought on the Prank "Koch" Call
The new outside spending blitz comes on the heels of admissions by Walker that he was eager to have the aid of oil billionaire David Koch in support his actions, an eagerness some have contended reveals a comfort with working with wealthy donors and funders of special interest groups in activities to help achieve his objectives. Here is what Walker asked for on the call with the man he thought was Mr. Koch–who chairs "Americans for Prosperity" (AFP), which ran issue ads last fall that buttressed themes from Walker's campaign, and whose billion-dollar company recently opened its own lobby shop in Madison. Here is what Walker said in response to the question of how the billionaire could help:
"So the one thing in your question, the more groups that are encouraging people not just to show up but to call lawmakers and tell them to hang firm with the governor, the better. Because the more they get that assurance, the easier it is for them to vote yes. The other thing is more long term, and that is after this, you know the coming days and weeks and months ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are gonna need, they don't actually need ads for them but they're going to need a message put out reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state. So the extent that that message is out over and over again is obviously a good thing."
emphasis added). (The full transcript is available here.) So, Walker told someone he thought was Mr. Koch–who is one of the bankrollers of special interest groups that ran ads or did direct mailing or initiated robo-calling last fall–that he wanted "more groups" getting calls in to legislators in the state and help getting the message out "over and over" in "the coming days, weeks, and months."
The "League of American Voters" Launches Robo-Calls and Ads Backing Walker
Seemingly right on cue, a group that has previously refused to name its donors, the self-designated "League of American Voters" (LAV), began robo-calls and ads in Wisconsin late last week. LAV has been the vehicle for other PR campaigns in support of top items on the GOP agenda, including extending the Bush tax cuts which included big breaks for the wealthiest Americans and opposing health insurance reform. LAV is a DC-based group whose address is the exact same as at least one other group that has received Koch-related funding but claims to be merely a tenant.
The Center for Media and Democracy's SourceWatch.org (a specialized encyclopedia for citizens to help document the PR spin and funders of special interest groups, corporations, and lobbyists) has a profile on LAV. Here is an excerpt from that article:
From CMD's SourceWatch.org
The League of American Voters (LAV) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that runs ad campaigns that reinforce key policy objectives of corporations and the right-wing politicians they back in the U.S. LAV has previously proclaimed that it is "Leading the Fight to Stop the Obama Agenda."