This is a story about a little political front group that maybe wasn’t.
When fliers paid for by a group called Progressive Choice Florida arrived in mailboxes around the state late last month, the local press started asking questions. The fliers aggressively attacked the record of former Gov. Charlie Crist, the erstwhile Republican now running for his old office as a Democrat. The fliers were so aggressive, some wondered whether they hadn’t been paid for by Republicans looking to hurt Crist in his primary fight against Democrat Nan Rich.
“Charlie Crist’s record proves he is… pro-life, NRA A+ rated, ‘chain gang Charlie,’ implemented Jeb Bush’s A+ plan, signed petition banning gay marriage,” the mailer stated. “Conservative Republican Charlie Crist is no friend of progressive Democrats.”
In a headline on April 1, The Tampa Bay Times wondered who was “behind the attacks from the left on Charlie Crist?” More recently, PolitiFact Florida mentioned the “speculation that Progressive Choice is a GOP front funded to draw Democratic voters away from Crist.” Progressive Choice Florida’s barebones website hasn’t helped dispel the rumors, featuring only boilerplate progressive language and a photo of a diverse and smiling group of people. A note at the bottom of the website discloses that Progressive Choice Florida is “a project of Progressive Choice, a 501(c)(4) social welfare advocacy organization.” There was no proof that the group was a Republican front group. But there was no proof it wasn’t, either.
TPM got in touch this week with the woman running Progressive Choice. She said the group was a “real deal progressive organization.”
“We are currently working in a number of states – most active today in Florida – but folks will be hearing a lot from us in Maryland and Texas, for instance, in the near future,” Progressive Choice chair Jamie Fontaine-Gansell wrote in an email. “We are a national organization and will look for opportunities to engage and have an impact across the country.”
Fontaine-Gansell said Progressive Choice had been formed within the last year. On Monday, the group announced the release of its first TV ad, which argues that “all women have the right to make informed, independent decisions about their reproductive health.” But Fontaine-Gansell declined to answer several additional questions from TPM, including what other individuals are working with Progressive Choice, and how much money the group is spending to get its TV ad on air. The group has declined to reveal its donors (remember, it’s a 501(c)4 non-profit.) It has also yet to file any paperwork with either the Federal Election Commission or the Florida Division of Elections.
Still, if Progressive Choice Florida were actually a Republican front group, Fontaine-Gansell would appear to be a strange choice to lead it. In addition to her work with Progressive Choice, she is the founder and president of Fontaine & Company, a Baltimore-based public affairs company. The firm’s website lists Fontaine-Gansell’s past work for Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) and her time as national political director at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Aside from Fontaine-Gansell, employees at Fontaine & Company have worked for Planned Parenthood, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the 2012 Marylanders for Marriage Equality campaign. Fontaine-Gansell told TPM she expected the rumors to subside eventually.
“I feel confident that as our work in other states on important progressive issues becomes more visible, any doubts about our credibility as a true progressive organization will fade,” she said.