And now …
By Yana Kunichoff, Truthout in the USA:
Thursday, 25 October 2012 14:27
The anonymous donor behind a voter fraud billboard campaign would rather pull the ads than be identified, raising questions about ties to Romney-founded Bain Capital and its ownership of the company that owns and operates the billboard firm.
What is the connection between Bain Capital and a bevy of voter fraud billboards funded by an anonymous donor that have popped up in low-income neighborhoods in swing states only weeks before the election?
The management firm started by Mitt Romney is one of the owners of Clear Channel Communications, the advertising and billboard company at the center of a scandal surrounding more than 140 billboards warning against voter fraud.
Clear Channel, which syndicates Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on its radio channels, has said it will remove the billboards following a public pressure campaign. But the company has still not revealed the anonymous donor behind the billboards, contrary to its rules on political ads.
The billboards appear to be part of the Republican-led push to pass bills against voter fraud that advocates argue is meant to discourage minority communities from exercising their right to vote. But it also shows the difficulty of finding who is behind the money, or the billboard, in the age of Citizens United.
“The only reason they decided to take down the ads was because they didn’t want to reveal [the donor's] identity,” said Timothy Karr, the senior director of strategy at Free Press. “It is part of a larger trend of groups that want to influence the election, but operate behind this veil of secrecy.”
That low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Cleveland were chosen as the target audience for the billboards isn’t surprising, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.
“They were targeting communities where black and Latino people live and creating an air of fear and uncertainty around people casting a vote,” said Robinson.
The ads featured a large judge’s gavel under the words: “voter fraud is a felony” and warned that it carried a $10,000 fine and three and a half years in prison.
Color of Change was one of several organizations leading the outcry against the billboards. A petition garnered over 66,000 signatures, Robinson said.
As attention was brought to the ads, Clear Channel was pressured to justify their presence. A spokesman initially told NPR that it was against company policy, and a mistake, to make the contract with the anonymous donor. But the company said it did not plan to remove the billboards.
Nearly a week later, Clear Channel has said that it would remove the billboards instead of making the donor’s name public.
“We reviewed the situation, and in light of the fact that these billboards violate our policy of not accepting anonymous political ads, we asked the client how they would prefer to work with us to bring the boards into conformance with our policy,” said Jim Cullinan, Clear Channel Outdoor spokesman. “The client thought the best solution was to take the boards down, so we are in the process of removing them.”
The company also has promised to sponsor 10 free billboards saying: “Voting is a right. Not a Crime!”
Karr says that like many of our elections ills, this one has its roots in the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
“We are not only seeing this in billboards, but online and in political ads on TV – there is a lack of disclosure,” said Karr. “It’s even worse in the wake of Citizens United, because it has unleashed a whole new category of political groups that can raise record amounts of money without having to disclose their donors.”
Clear Channel Communications also plays a more direct role in elections through its Political Action Committee (PAC) and Leadership PAC.
The Clear Channel Communication Inc. PAC is required to disclose any expenditure by its employees over $750 made for or against a candidate or ballot measure. Its most recent Federal Election Commission filing shows that the PAC distributed $584,000 since January 2011, and $62,500 to committees in October 2012.
10 Awful Things a President Mitt Romney Would Likely Do: here.