A conservative group from Florida had a hand in setting up two websites discouraging Alaskans from buying health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, The Alaska Dispatch reported this week.
The websites, dontenrollalaska.org and knowthefactsalaska.org, strike different tones and do not identify their creators, but they share similar layouts and were created on the same day in September. Facebook pages for both groups were also created on the same day, and, according to the Dispatch, television ads for both groups have been running during the same commercial breaks in Alaska.
And while the websites don’t identify the creators or backers of either group, a representative from the Alaska chapter of the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity told the Dispatch that a group called the Foundation for Government Accountability was “directly involved” in both websites.
Based in Naples, Fla., the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) is a 501(c)3 non-profit that “promotes public policies that achieve limited, constitutional government and a robust economy that will be an engine for job creation across the states.” One of the foundation’s directors is Robert Levy, the chairman of the board of the Cato Institute, the Washington, D.C. think tank with a long and complicated relationship with the Koch brothers.
The Dispatch on Tuesday got in touch with Josh Archambault, a senior fellow at the FGA, who said that the websites are “not our websites,” but instead that they are run by a “broad coalition of folks.” Archambault said the coalition was “organic” and “not highly structured or organized.” According to Archambault, the FGA provides the website operators with relevant research, and Americans for Prosperity had “participated in some of the conversation” about the websites. (Americans for Prosperity’s Alaska chapter told the newspaper they weren’t involved.) Responding to an email from TPM on Thursday, Archambault said he was “traveling without cell service.”
The websites themselves appear to be two different means to a similar end. The Don’t Enroll Alaska website is a nakedly partisan effort to convince visitors not to enroll in a plan through a health insurance exchange.
“No matter how the Obama Administration tries to spin its health care takeover – the truth is ObamaCare puts big government bureaucrats and IRS bosses front and center in your health, personal and financial decisions,” the site reads. “That’s just plain wrong.”
The website encourages visitors to sign a pledge not to enroll in an exchange plan.
The Know The Facts Alaska website strikes a more neutral tone, telling visitors: “It’s your health. You deserve to know the facts.” Instead of urging people not to enroll, Know The Facts Alaska encourages visitors to “wait and see” before signing up for a plan through an exchange.
“There is no trial period for the exchange plans,” the website cautions. “If you enroll and decide later on that the exchange isn’t right for you, you may not be able to go back to your current plan. You might want to wait and see if other enrollees are happy with how the new federal exchange plans are run before you drop your current plan. There will also be more enrollment opportunities in the future.”
The website also offers a quiz so visitors can “determine what’s best for you today.” But apparently no matter what responses are given in the five-question quiz, the website spits out the same answer: Visitors “would benefit” from waiting before enrolling.
It is hard to say who else might be involved in the websites. A Chicago-based company, AE Marketing Group, was hired in September to direct an ad for Know The Facts Alaska. But Brian Walker, the company’s president and CEO, told TPM in an email on Thursday that the companies are no longer working together and AE Marketing Group did not “register, design, create or build either of those sites, nor did we register, design a Facebook page or online ad for either of those sites.” Walker declined to provide any further contact information for Know The Facts Alaska.
On Wednesday, seemingly in response to Alaska press reports about the websites, Know The Facts Alaska posted the following message on its Facebook page:
We have been inundated with posts, messages and emails of support – Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Know The Facts Alaska has been called out by both conservatives and liberals for being biased and even had some mis-represent our relationships with other groups and companies! We are proud to help our fellow Alaskans “Know the Facts” Good, Bad and Ugly about ACA/Reform/Obamacare (Whatever you call it . Soon we will be launching a series of listening tours, fact blasts and press events as we prepare for HealthCare.gov to get rebooted in a few weeks and an exciting 2014.
Calls to Americans for Prosperity’s national and Alaska offices were not returned Thursday.