No doubt by now you've heard of the deceptive absentee ballot applications mailed to Democrats in Wisconsin by David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, WI, as reported earlier this week by David Catanese at Politico.
As seen below, the mailer instructed recipients to return the application to the "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center" by August 11th, even though the recall elections for 6 Republicans is next Tuesday, August 9th...
The wrong date on the mailing, however, was not the only problem with it. The address where the application was to be submitted is also a problem, but one that is worse than has been widely reported so far, according to some digging from a Wisconsin activist and election integrity advocate.
Moreover, a comparison to another absentee ballot application mailer from a different, supposedly unrelated, Rightwing group, suggests a coordinated effort by a number of these groups to defraud and disenfranchise voters in Wisconsin in advance of the unprecedented state Senate recall elections to be held next Tuesday...
AFP Mailer Sent to More Than Just Two Districts
When the original story of the AFP mailer broke, AFP Wisconsin's director Matt Seaholm tried to explain it away by claiming the incorrect date was little more than a simple a "typo" and that the mailing "just went out to our members." He added that he was "sure the liberals will try to make a mountain out of a molehill in an attempt to distract voters' attention from the issues."
In fact, that mailer didn't just go out to AFP's "members," according to Politico's Democratic sources. "These are people who are our 1's [solid Dems] in the voterfile who we already knew. They ain't AFP members, that's for damn sure," a source explained.
Worse though, Politico had reported that the mailing went out to Democrats in two districts where elections will be held next week. But today, Greg Sargent at Washington Post reports AFP is now admitting, in a new mailing which actually attempts to raise funds based on the news reports ("left-wing partisans are attempting to use this honest mistake to score political points --- actually accusing us of 'voter suppression'"), that the absentee ballot applications actually went out to everybody, not just to the two districts originally reported.
The new letter contradicts AFP's assertion that they had accidentally sent out the mailer to the wrong people in advance of the August 16th recall elections scheduled for the week after next when two Democrats will be up for recall.
As AFP's new mailing says:
So they're admitting it went out to everybody and they're blaming it on "the printer".
A coordinated disenfranchisement effort?
An examination of a nearly identical absentee ballot application mailer sent out by another Rightwing group, suggests that these mailings are very much coordinated and may be using the exact same printer which AFP blamed for their supposed "typo".
Compare the instruction form on the application from the other mailer, as sent out by "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, Inc." (full mailer here [PDF]) to the nearly identical one sent out by AFP Wisconsin (full mailer here [PDF])
United Sportsmen of Wisconsin...
Americans for Prosperity - Wisconsin...
Remarkably similar, eh?
We wondered if that might be because there is some absentee ballot application template, or something, made available by the state for outside groups to download and use for such purposes. But, in fact, the absentee ballot application available at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's website [PDF] --- the G.A.B. is the state's top election agency --- looks entirely different from the ones sent out by the two Rightwing groups. So does the absentee request form available at the City of Madison's website [PDF].
So these two "different" groups send out absentee ballot request forms that are almost completely identical. Imagine that.
'Paid for by Americans for Prosperity'
Also note that while the AFP mailer says it was "Paid for by Americans for Prosperity". The United Sportsmen mailing, however, doesn't say anything about who paid for it. In fact, it's difficult to figure out who the hell the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin actually are.
Local activist and election integrity advocate Barbara With tried to figure out who the group was recently. They appear to be a pro-gun group, but with no web presence to be found, at least not in a simple Google search. With tells The BRAD BLOG that after first mentioning them on her Youtube channel, they hastily slapped together a Facebook page.
"There are no LIKES except election integrity people calling them out for voter caging," says With. In fact, as of now, the page has 15 likes and all the comments on the page, said to be run by the "Non-Profit Organization" of Waunakee, are attacks against them for their mailer.
There is another members-only page on Facebook for the group, with 217 members. The oldest post on that page is July 10. Their mailer was sent out, with misleading dates, not long after that. That page also points to website at www.unitedsportsmenwi.com. That site has just one, very rudimentary page, and a check of the domain ownership reveals that the domain was established on June 29, 2011. It's privately registered, so the owner of it is unknown.
Are they simply another front group for the Koch brothers and their nearly unlimited money? Why did they just spring up? And why is their mailer so similar to AFP's? We don't yet have answers to that, but we do have a few more questions about who else is working with these groups, and which of them even know they are working with AFP...
[Update: A reader sends in a link to this Google site page for USW, featuring scripts and instructions on how to make automated GOTV phone calls from your home phone in support of Republican recall races. The bare bones page claims "USW is a very unique group in contrast to other hunting or gun organizations because it will be the voice for sportsmen in Madison and stand up against legislation that threatens hunting, fishing and gun rights" and explains the system you will use to make these calls: "The impact dialer allows you to make phone calls efficiently without having to manual dial on your phone. The dialer is a predictive dialer so it will mostly deliver "live" people to your phone." Quite a sophisticated operation. A pretty tech savvy "gun group," eh?]
Anti-choice group claims they didn't even know about mailings
It has been reported that the, so-called, "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center" on the AFP mailer where recipients were supposed to send their forms is, in fact, a PO Box owned by an anti-choice group calling themselves Wisconsin Family Action. The same PO Box was used for a similar mailing sent out by Wisconsin Right to Life prior to the July 12th Democratic primary election for the recall, but after the deadline for absentee applications had already passed. At the time, that group claimed claimed efforts were really intended for the August recalls.
Barbara With called the Wisconsin Family Action group and recorded her conversation in a Youtube video. At the beginning of the call, the woman With spoke to first claimed they were "part of a coalition," but then admitted --- or at least claimed --- that she didn't even know that AFP was using their PO Box for the mailing, and that she hadn't even seen the mailer until someone sent it in with a nasty letter attached a few days earlier.
"We hadn't seen the mailing that AFP had sent out and we didn't know that they were going to be using our address," she tells With during the conversation, expressing what seems to be genuine concern when she's told that fraud complaints are being filed...
The mailer from the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin has a different PO Box for its "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center", P.O. Box 413, Waunakee, WI 53597-0413. We have confirmed with the Waunakee post office that the group is currently renting that PO Box.
Instructions on the mailer, however, as seen above, incorrectly inform recipients that ballots "must be received by your city clerk before August 4th". In fact, absentee ballots may be delivered to the elections clerk right up until the close of polls on Election Day, August 9th.
AFP's history of dirty tricks
While covering the AFP mailers earlier this week, Alternet's Adele M. Stan reported on other dirty tricks AFP has carried out in the past, including last August, in advance of the 2010 general election in Wisconsin...
So AFP previously targeted students --- students who might not yet have been back in town after summer break, by the way --- for vote-caging. It comes as little surprise then that the new polling place Photo ID restrictions, as hastily passed into law recently by the state's GOP-majority legislature, do not recognize most student IDs as valid identification for voting.
AFP deception is not limited to vote-caging and wrong-date ballot mailings. In Detroit, MI earlier this year, AFP sought to effectuate their opposition to the planned Detroit River International Crossing Bridge by mailing fake eviction notices, which deceptively informed homeowners that their homes would be taken by the MI Department of Transportation.
Countering fraud with vigilance
It's unlike that these apparent acts of fraud will be reported by GOP "voter fraud" fraudsters like Matthew Vadum. Of course, had anything even like the dirty tricks mentioned above ever been performed by the now-defunct ACORN --- and nothing like it ever was, despite the misinformation from clowns like Vadum --- the Right would be screaming to the high heavens, demanding Eric Holder personally show up in Madison to make the arrests and that Barack Obama be impeached just for good measure. Such that these very real acts of apparent fraud were carried out by Vadum's compatriots, he couldn't be less interested, and you're unlikely to hear a peep about any of it on Fox "News" and in the rest of the Rightwing echo chamber.
But things are likely to get much worse between now and next Tuesday's unprecedent recall elections for 6 Republican state Senators (and again before the one for 2 Democratic state Senators that follow the Tuesday after.)
Jordan Ellenberg at The Atlantic reports today that money from outside groups now flooding the state for the eight recall elections, from left and right, is "substantially greater than the total spent last November, when 15 seats in the State Senate and all 99 in the Assembly were up for grabs."
Mother Jones' Andy Kroll pegs the amount of money being spent at a "staggering" $31 million, while just "$3.75 million was spent on the entire slate of state races in 2010."
These elections are a bellwether for 2012 in more ways than one.
"While the spending is more or less even," for the recalls, reports Kroll, "here's the big difference between the two sides: The left-leaning groups usually disclose their donors, while the right-leaning groups mostly don't." Some two-thirds of the recall spending, Kroll explains, "derives from undisclosed sources" in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's now-infamous Citizens United decision allowing virtually unlimited anonymous spending on campaigns.
Therefore, it's unlikely we'll ever know who the so-called "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin" was really working with or for.
The dirty tricks, by the way, may not be limited to Republicans either. Last Saturday the LaCrosse Tribune reported on robocalls said to have been made by the DNC asking about voters' preference in the 32nd Senate District recall election against Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke. Recipients of the calls who the Tribune spoke with, said they were urged to vote on August 16th, though Kapanke's recall election is on the 9th.
On that same Saturday, also in LaCrosse, the headquarters for We Are Wisconsin, one of the state's largest progressive PAC's, was burned to the ground. The cause of the suspicious fire is currently under investigation.
Amongst all of the madness, citizen election integrity groups are hoping to take proactive action next Tuesday to attempt to oversee the election in a state with an election system which is not particular easy to oversee. For the most part, while most of the voters in the state are allowed to use paper ballots, those ballots are counted by computer and computer only. There is no inspection of paper ballots to ensure that the computers have tallied them correct.
The election integrity groups are calling for volunteers to help them try to oversee what they can of the election and its administration. Some are organizing via Facebook and asking for your help:
- Election Defense Alliance Wisconsin is seeking volunteers for citizen exit polls right here. We'll hope, unlike during the July primaries, the G.A.B. allows them to conduct their business to serve as a helpful tool against problems such as malfeasance and malfunction, with the state's electronic voting system.
- Observation at the polls, including video-taping the counting and gathering ward-by-ward data is being carried out by Wisconsin Citizens for Election Protection. They are also seeking volunteers here.
- Wisconsin Citizens for Election Protection also offer more resources and volunteer opportunities for election integrity work, even for those outside the state.
Buckle up, Wisconsin. It could be a bumpy ride.
-- Ernest A. Canning and Jeannie Dean contributed to this report.
CORRECTION: This article had originally reported, as based on information from a local activist, that the address for the so-called "Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center" on the Absentee Ballot Request form sent out by the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin was for a PO Box in Waunekee previously registered to the Mainstreet Diner in Waunekee, but was no longer assigned to anybody. We were able to check with the Waunekee Post Office on Monday and, in fact, the PO Box in question is now rented by the United Sportsmen group, though we were not given the name of the registrant or any other information, as per federal law. We've updated the article to reflect the correction, and hope to have more info on related matters soon.
UPDATE 8/8/11: Well, whaddaya know? Further digging reveals the guy behind the mysterious "United Sportsmen of Wisconsin" was a National Director for Americans for Prosperity. Who coulda guessed it? Complete details now here...