Priebus' Republican National Committee: A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Koch's Americans for Prosperity?
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To the casual political observer, Reince Priebus, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, seemed to come out of nowhere. But to Wisconsin progressives, Priebus is known as the state Republican Party operative who allegedly tried to suppress the votes of minorities and students in both the recent midterm congressional elections and the 2008 presidential election -- in apparent coordination with David Koch's Americans For Prosperity.
Inside the world of Tea Party Inc. -- the array of well-funded, Washington-insider, Tea Party-affiliated astroturf groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks -- Priebus is known as a team player, the guy who, as chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, would help knock the scruffiest of Tea Party activists out of Republican primaries in favor of presumably more electable Tea Party-branded figures, such as Ron Johnson, the victorious U.S. Senate candidate who was endorsed by FreedomWorks in his primary.
On the eve of the election for RNC chair, Mark Block, who just stepped down from his post as state director for the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, lauded Priebus in a Daily Caller op-ed for having supplied AFP with bus transportation and GOP staff support "for the movement of an enormous number of Tea Party activists from the outskirts of Madison to the rally site on the steps of the State Capitol, where over 8,000 people gathered" for a 2009 AFP rally. But the collegiality of the two involves logistical planning of another kind. Priebus was allegedly involved in an alleged voter suppression scheme launched by a Wisconsin Tea Party group, GrandSons of Liberty, with the assistance of Americans for Prosperity.
As reported in November by Sarah Posner for the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute (and reprinted by AlterNet), Americans for Prosperity was implicated, together with the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in a voter-caging scheme designed to challenge the votes of university students in Milwaukee, and voters in a largely African American assembly district in the city. With the election of Priebus last week to the helm of the national GOP, AlterNet decided to take a second look at the scheme, and found Priebus' own chief counsel deeply involved, providing lists to Tea Party activists of voters targeted for purging from the rolls.
Priebus and Americans for Prosperity: 'We're In'
"Voter caging" is a term used for a process designed to challenge the legitimacy of a voter's registration by sending out mail marked "do not forward" -- in this case, postcards -- to the addresses of targeted registered voters, and challenging the registrations of those at addresses from which the mail is returned as "undeliverable." The non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice describes it this way: "Voter caging…is notoriously unreliable. If it is treated as the sole basis for determining that a voter is ineligible or does not live at the address at which he or she registered, it can lead to the unwarranted purge or challenge of eligible voters."
At a June 2010 meeting of Tea Party activists eager to join in the right's unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, Tim Dake, leader of the Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty, outlined the Tea Party/GOP/AFP caging plan, saying, "So, what we're hoping is that the various groups in the coalition, plus Americans for Prosperity and Mark Block, who has been in on this, and the Republican Party -- and this is coming all the way from the top: Reince Priebus has said, 'We're in.'"
At the meeting, Dake notes the importance of the GOP's involvement, since it has access to the "Voter Vault" -- the database of registered voters. An audiotape of the meeting was obtained by the progressive group One Wisconsin Now.