A shadowy conservative group with ties to the operatives behind a host of GOP dirty tricks is working to undermine state restrictions on political robo-calls, as it gears up to unleash a barrage of such calls in 2010 races.
Last month, American Future Fund Political Action (AFFPA) informed the FEC that it’s planning robo-calls in congressional races. Jason Torchinsky, a lawyer for AFFPA, wrote that the group “wishes to distribute pre-recorded telephone calls … as part of a nationwide program of political outreach.” The calls, wrote Torchinsky, “will expressly advocate the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates for Federal office.”
AFFPA was asking the FEC for an advisory opinion on whether state laws restricting robo-calls should apply, or whether, as AFFPA argues, they’re pre-empted by a less restrictive federal law that sought to standardize the regulation of robo-calls. An FEC ruling in AFFPA’s favor would badly undermine state laws such as Minnesota’s, which requires the listener to actively consent to hearing a recorded message before the message can be played.
That’s worth paying attention to in itself. But behind the robo-call effort is a team of high-powered GOP operatives behind a slew of sleazy campaign tactics over the years.
You might remember Torchinsky, AFFPA’s lawyer, as one of the architects of the American Center for Voting Rights (ACVR), the bogus “voting-rights” group that was set up by GOP operatives in 2005 to “give ‘think tank’ academic cachet to the unproven idea that voter fraud is a major problem in elections,” as election law expert Rick Hasen has written.
For several months, ACVR’s executive director was Alex Vogel, a former RNC lawyer whose consulting firm reportedly was paid $75,000 for the ACVR gig. (Also involved with ACVR: TPMmuckraker favorite Pat Rogers, the New Mexico GOP activist who helped get David Iglesias fired for not pursuing bogus voter fraud complaints.)
Vogel also appears to have a hand in AFF: Torchinsky, a former Bush campaign lawyer, works for the law firm run by Vogel and his wife, Virginia State Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel.
Holtzman Vogel’s own political career may owe something to similarly hardball tactics. A former RNC counsel herself, she faced a tight primary in her Virginia Senate race, but prevailed after her opponent, Mike Tate, was indicted for campaign finance irregularities. The person who brought the complaint to the attention of authorities was Holtzman Vogel’s baby-sitter, and the local prosecutor who initially handled it was a Holtzman Vogel supporter. The charges against Tate were eventually dropped.
As for AFF itself, the group already has earned a reputation for trafficking in vicious and misleading shots against Democrats. A typical recent ad alleged that the government “planned to give flu shots to detainees at Guantanamo.”
It also has worked closely with Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks to help promote the Tea Party rallies against health-care reform. Republican heavy-hitters Jan Van Lohuizen, Ed Tobin, Ben Ginsberg are all reportedly involved with the group.
Because AFF is a 501c4, it’s not required by law to release much information about itself, and no one seems eager to speak on its behalf. Torchinsky declined to speak to TPMmuckraker on the record. Tim Albrecht, an Iowa GOP activist who now works for the gubernatorial campaign of Terry Branstad, was quoted earlier this month as a spokesman for the group, but told TPMmuckraker that he could no longer serve in that capacity, and declined to pass our inquiry on to any other specific representative, saying only that he could forward it to the group’s general mailbox. A separate email to that address went unreturned. AFF’s website lists Sandra Greiner, another Iowa Republican, as president, while the Iowa secretary of states database lists Nicole Schlinger, a local GOP consultant as president. Neither Greiner nor Schlinger returned a call.
But it seems clear that voters will be hearing plenty from AFF in the coming year.