GOP Group Undermining Robo-Call Laws Has Ties To DCI

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American Future Fund (AFF), the shadowy conservative advocacy group that’s working to undermine state laws against robo-calling, has ties to DCI Group, a Republican lobbying firm with a reputation for dirty tricks and shady clients. And a closer look at AFF suggests the group has been designed to carry out political attacks while escaping scrutiny from the press and public.

AFF paid $249,000 last year to McKenna & Associates for fundraising work, according to a copy of AFF’s 990 form for 2008 that was obtained by TPMmuckraker. The Arlington, Virginia-based firm is run by Andrew McKenna, a GOP operative and former senior vice-president of DCI Group. McKenna did not immediately respond to TPMmuckraker’s request for comment.

DCI Group, a Republican lobbying and PR shop with close ties to Karl Rove, has represented the Burmese junta. In the 1990s, it worked to develop “smokers’ rights” groups on behalf of RJ Reynolds Tobacco, and later helped the Bush administration gin up fake grassroots support for privatizing social security. A DCI offshoot, FLS Connect, recently announced it would conduct an internal audit after its seedy fundraising techniques were exposed by TPMmuckraker and others. FLS also launched its own robo-call attacks against Barack Obama last fall, that were so vicious and misleading that they were denounced even by some Republicans.

Despite its plans to launch a barrage of robo-calls next year, and its ongoing misleading political attacks against supporters of health-care reform, AFF is taking pains to avoid disclosing information on its funding, and to create confusion about its organizational structure.

AFF reported a total revenue of just under $7.5 million last year, according to the 990 form, which, as a public copy, does not include the identify of the group’s contributors.

When the Des Moines Register reported on AFF’s effort to undermine robo-call laws, it spoke to Nick Ryan, who it identified as the chair of AFF’s board. But Ryan, an Iowa GOP political operative, appears to play a more active role. The contact phone number listed both on AFF’s website and on its 990 goes to the Concordia Group, a Des-Moines-based political consulting and lobbying firm that Ryan founded and runs. A press release sent out by AFF this week — praising Iowa’s Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, for his vote in opposition to health-care reform, and slamming Democratic senator Tom Harkin for his vote in support — lists Jill Latham as a contact for AFF. Like Ryan, Latham works for the Concordia Group. And AFF paid Concordia $300,000 for “consulting” last year, according to the 990 form.

That release, as well as AFF’s website, names Sandy Greiner, an Iowa Republican former state lawmaker, as president of the group. But the 990 lists Greiner as AFF’s treasurer, and Nicole Schlinger, an Iowa GOP consultant, as its president and “principal officer.”

Meanwhile, the law firm handling AFF’s effort to undermine state robo-call laws is run by a husband-and-wife team, Alex Vogel and Jill Holtzman, both of whom are former lawyers for the RNC.

None of Ryan, Latham, Greiner, or Schlinger have responded to TPMmuckraker’s requests to talk about AFF.

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