Did Koch Group Team Up With Religious Right to Suppress Wisconsin Vote?

Remember when the Tea Party movement was supposed to be just all about the size of government, and not about those pesky "social" issues (like equality and whatnot)?

As recall elections for state legislators come to a crescendo, the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity has been very busy, buying ads and mounting what appears to be a voter-suppression scheme based on mailers for absentee ballots. It's not the first time that AFP, the group founded by David Koch, has schemed to suppress the vote; as AlterNet reported, the organization worked with Tea Party groups and the state Republican Party during the 2010 election mid-term campaign to suppress votes in two Milwaukee districts. But this is the first time we know of that AFP has worked in a clear partnership with the religious right, and it did so in an effort that appears designed to mislead Democratic voters into delivering their absentee ballots after the deadline.

Koch Group's Latest Dirty Trick?

After the tumultuous protests that followed the possibly illegal passage of Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting, safety-net-slashing "budget repair" bill earlier this year, liberals and progressives vowed to recall a handful of Republican state legislators who helped ram the bill through in a process that violated the state's Open Meetings Act. Those elections campaigns are now in the general-election phase, with some scheduled to take place on August 9, and others scheduled for August 16. This week, Politico obtained mailers (PDF) sent by Americans For Prosperity to Wisconsin Democratic voters that offered to facilitate the procurement of an absentee ballot for the recall election. Just one problem: the deadline given by AFP for returning the ballot was four days after the election.

"Important Senate Recall Election in your area soon!" announces the ballot application flyer, which was sent to voters in at least two districts where recall votes are taking place on Aug. 9. Applicants are then instructed that their absentee ballots must be received by the city clerk by August 13. The address for the "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center" on the return envelope is a Madison post office box, 1327, that is the mailing address for Wisconsin Family Action, a religious-right group that is virulently anti-gay, and was a vocal supporter of Wisconsin's 2006 anti-same-sex-marriage ballot measure, which passed into law.

Matt Seaholm, Americans For Prosperity's Wisconsin state director, told Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the faulty ballot application was all just a terrible mistake:

[Seaholm] blamed the mistake on a typo, saying his group was not trying to mislead anyone.

"This just went out to our members," Seaholm said. "I'm sure the liberals will try to make a mountain out of a molehill in an attempt to distract voters' attention from the issues."

Other sources say the fliers were received by "card-carrying Democrats active in the recalls" of state Sens. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Rob Cowles (R-Allouez). Harsdorf is running against teacher Shelly Moore, and Cowles is being challenged by former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum.

Two of the activists who received the AFP mailers are expected to file complaints with the state Government Accountability Board...

AFP's Wisconsin Electoral Shenanigans: Deja Vu All Over Again

Wisconsin Democrats have reason to be suspicious of Americans For Propserity's electoral activities. Last October, One Wisconsin Now, a progressive group, obtained undercover audio recording of the meeting of a local Tea Party group, the Grandsons of Liberty, in which a vote-caging scheme was laid out that involved mailers that AFP agreed to send out to voters in left-leaning districts in Milwaukee. The addresses were provided via the Republican Party of Wisconsin, through the state's Voter Vault. (At that time the state GOP was led by Reince Priebus, who has since gone on to head the Republican National Committee, an apparent reward for his fine work in Wisconsin.) In the vote-cage scheme, mailers were sent in August to districts in which much of the housing was in college dormitories. They had "do not forward" instructions printed on the outside, so that the votes of those whose flyers bounced back to AFP could be challenged at the polls. (Of course, many of the students had moved out of their dorms by August, and would return to new room assignments two months before the election.)

Mark Block, Seaholm's predecessor at the helm of AFP-Wisconsin admitted to the Journal Sentinel, after an initial denial, that AFP had sent the mailers. However, the scheme was abandoned, he said, when the group received too few returned flyers.

The 2010 midterm election campaign -- which resulted in the election of Scott Walker to the governor's mansion, two Wisconsin Tea Party freshmen to Congress, and the unseating of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold by the AFP-supported plastics magnate Ron Johnson -- all saw a Koch-linked program, Prosperity 101, in full swing in Wisconsin workplaces, where at the behest of their employers, workers gathered for seminars on how policies typically embraced by Democrats could ultimately cost them their jobs. (AlterNet's investigation of Prosperity 101, conducted and published in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, can be found here.) Many of the seminars were fronted by Stephen Moore, an editorial board member of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal.

TV ads and more

As a prelude to the 2012 presidential campaign, Wisconsin's recall elections -- emblematic of epic national battles between labor and big business, and regular people versus billionaires -- are attracting millions of dollars in ad buys by third-party groups from within and outside the state. Americans For Prosperity just purchased $150,000 for television advertising about the recalls (in addition to the $380,000 it spent during the budget-bill stand-off), according to One Wisconsin Now and Wisconsin Family Action has coughed up $304,000 in the same period, according to the Wisconsin Gazette. The Club for Growth, another right-wing group, is also spending heavily, its total for advertising outlays for the Wisconsin recall races already reaching $1.5 million, as reported by The Plum Line's Greg Sargent.We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of unions and pro-labor groups is expected to spend $2.3 million in advertising and organizing before the recall elections are over, according to the Associated Press.


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