League of American Voters
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
The League of American Voters (LAV) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that runs ad campaigns that reinforce key policy objectives of corporations and the right-wing politicians they back in the U.S. LAV has previously proclaimed that it is "Leading the Fight to Stop the Obama Agenda."
LAV appears primarily to run PR campaigns to try to persuade the public in favor of key priorities of corporations and reactionary politicians they fund. It does not disclose its funders. LAV shares the same street address and suite number as "Americans for Tax Reform" (ATR), a group that has received funding from the Charles R. Lambe Foundation, which is one of a group of foundations that were created from the family fortune of David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who lead Koch Industries. "Americans for Tax Reform," and its leader, Grover Norquist, have said that their goal is to reduce government "to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in a bathtub." Shortly after LAV was created and housed in ATR's suite, it told Huffington Post it had no affiliation with ATR, and its space there is "a little smaller than a cubicle." Conservative political operative Dick Morris helped create LAV and write its ads and, in turn, LAV promotes Morris' books and published screeds and Morris promotes LAV on Newsmax.com.
LAV is involved in using ad campaigns and polling techniques against employee rights, for extending the Bush tax cuts, and against health insurance reforms.
Its website contains a banner of photos of 26 unidentified people of all ages and races, giving an impression of a wide and diverse membership. There is no independent evidence of the organization's real membership size. In late 2009, the Huffington Post reported that LAV's "executive director, its only employee, declined to identify its founders or donors but claims that in less than two months of existence it has built a membership of 16,000 and raised about $1.7 million in donations." Which CEOs, corporations, foundations, or other major donors provided the bulk of that funding and in what amounts has not been disclosed. (LAV's annual tax filing from 2009 is not available on Guidestar.)
Who Staffs LAV?
As of February 2011, LAV listed one employee and three other people who are either identified as consultants or who work for or with other organizations in the right-wing constellation.
LAV's Executive Director is Bob Adams; he worked in the George W. Bush Administration. Adams previously served as a senior leader in the "public affairs" office of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by contributions from corporations and CEOs and which has received Koch-related funding. A recent detailed report, "ALEC: Ghostwriting the Law for Corporate America," notes that over 80% of ALEC's funding comes from corporate contributions. ALEC churns out proposed legislation and indoctrination desired by global corporations and other big companies. It is critical of public employees and the right to collectively bargaining, and it supports destroying unions through so-called "right to work" laws. Such provisions provide a blueprint for the kind of controversial legislation Walker introduced in Wisconsin, and that other new governors introduced elsewhere, that has provoked wide-spread public outrage. Adams worked for ALEC for about a decade.
Adams, who served in the Navy and also started a party rental company -- called "Great Inflates" -- used rhetoric in his failed 2008 campaign for the Republican nomination to be West Virginia's governor that is similar to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's. For example, Adams asserted that under the Democratic governor the state was not really "open for business" and that "We need to remove the government shackles that restrain the free market engine from running at full speed." He did not win the primary and did not win his attempt to become a state senator serving West Virginia's 16th district. He previously ran and lost races to be state treasurer in 2004, and a state delegate in 2006.
He began his political career during the "Republican Revolution" of 1994, serving as a Press Assistant to Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr., (R-Okla.). He also served as the Communications Director of Pat Buchanan's campaign in the 2000 presidential primaries. During the 2000 election and Bush v. Gore recount, he worked on the communications team of the Republican National Committee for Jim Nicholson. He has also worked as a lobbyist for the "Alliance for Marriage Foundation," was on the board of the local anti-choice group, Birthright, and worked with a U.S. Chamber of Commerce affilliate.
LAV's Consultants and Affiliates
Among the three other people beyond Adams listed as "staff" of LAV is Alexandra Preate, who is described as "an independent business and public relations consultant"--she is New York PR rep whose firm, CapitalHQ, is connected to the health insurance industry. As noted by Ben Protess and Lagan Sebert, Preate's website links to "The Galen Institute," which describes itself as "a research organization focusing on free-market health care reform." The Galen Institute is a "partner" organization of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
The third person listed is octogenarian Barry Farber, a well known conservative talk show host. LAV has also previously been affiliated with Morton Pomerantz, who wrote a piece in Newsmax.com that blamed President Obama for the murder of a guard at the Holocaust Museum by a white supremacist. Pomerantz absurdly claimed that the President was "creating a climate of hate" against the Jews. He also asserted that if his "views are not vigorously opposed they will help create a danger as great as that posed by the Nazis to the Jewish people."
LAV and Dick Morris
Through Brennan and through political strategist Dick Morris, LAV has strong connections to the for-profit entity Newsmax.com, a media outlet initiated in 1998 with money from right-wing funder Richard Mellon Scaife (who also funds ALEC), and which Forbes has called the "great right hope" of the GOP. As Terry Krepel has documented, LAV "makes regular use of Newsmax's mailing list to send out email missives with subject lines like"Obama Wants Nuclear Option to Ram Radical Agenda Through" and "Urgent News: League Ads Are STOPPING Obamacare" and "Obamacare Armageddon Has Arrived."
Morris writes frequently for Newsmax and appears regularly on the Fox News Channel. It is not clear how much income Morris derives from these roles, or from the sale of his books.
LAV hs admitted that at least some of the time, Morris has "actually crafted our ads and national campaign," referring to LAV ads and campaign against the health insurance reform bill. Terry Krepel of ConWebWatch has documented the overlap between Morris' columns promoting LAV and LAV's efforts. Via his NewsMax column, Morris has stated that, as of late 2009, he has "no financial relationship" and he makes "no money" from LAV. The group does provide copies of whatever book Morris is promoting to its donors as gifts.
Morris weighed into the 2011 controversy on Wisconsin's embattled governor Scott Walker from his perch as a commentator on FOX. He criticized an RNC ad supporting Walker because it highlighted Obama, saying the ad should have focused on the unions more -- like LAV's ad. As Media Matters noted, along with Morris' pitch for LAV on FOX, he penned a fundraising pitch to get people to help pay for TV ads in Wisconsin.
Morris and his wife also have a new book called "Revolt! How the Governors Are Changing American Politics . . . Permanently." And in 2011, Morris announced the creation of "The Dick Morris Poll." His first poll is on the situation in Wisconsin, where Governor Walker is trying to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public unions. The poll seems similar what is known as a "push poll," in which voters are asked leading questions that reinforce other messages in the state. In this case, the poll focused on asking voters if they supported public workers paying more for their benefits (but there is no indication the poll takers revealed that the unions had already conceded those increases and Walker had refused to accept their acceptance of his demands on the increased costs).
Morris did note that a majority of those polled oppose Walker's effort to limit collective bargaining rights. However, his poll also tested the rhetoric of "giving schools flexibility to modify tenure, pay teachers based on merit, discharge bad teachers and promote good ones," and these are the very themes echoed in LAV's radio ads--as discussed below. Besides advertising, polling on the topics a group wants to know more about is often one of the biggest single expenses a non-profit group can undertake. So, one of the questions raised by LAV's close relationship with this very experienced pollster is how the benefit of such information is accounted for. The Morris poll results were publicly announced on February 24th and LAV's robo-calls and radio ads appear to have begun a short time later.
As of a little over a year ago, LAV had nearly $2 million in the bank, but there is no public reporting on how much LAV received in the 2010 election year or how much it spent and where. There is also no published information about which CEOs or corporations or foundations, if any, are the major funders of LAV's activities. It is true that LAV actively seeks out online donations, primarily through Newsmax and Morris' appeals. It is not clear who Adams confers with in determining what issues LAV will run ads on and where, besides Dick Morris who says he is not paid by LAV but has other income sources. Who pays for Morris' time is unclear.
It is clear that LAV is spending significant money creating and running ads in coordination with Morris. At least one of its ads was produced by Rick Wilson, as Huffington Post discovered. Wilson is the guy who created the widely condemned 2002 GOP ad that smeared Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a Purple Heart recipient who lost both of his legs and an arm in Vietnam, and that attempted to link him to Osama bin Laden in the first election after the attacks of September 11th.
LAV's Robo-Calls and Ads to Support the Controversial Walker Plan to Undermine Unions
On February 25, 2011, LAV launched a robo-call campaign to aid Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a divisive politician whose election was supported by the Koch Industries' PAC and aided by a multi-million dollar ad campaign and other spending by special interest groups, some of which received general funding from David Koch and other billionaires and millionaires. In a prank call from someone impersonating Mr. Koch, Walker asked for the billionaire's help getting his message out and heard "over and over" in key districts in the state in his efforts to break the rights of public employees to unionize.
The same week this controversy broke, groups like "Americans for Prosperity," which David Koch chairs and financially supports, also launched a $325,000 ad campaign in Wisconsin to support Walker. Speaking for the Kochs, the executive vice president of Koch Industries, Richard Fink, told the National Review Online that the Kochs "will not step back at all" from the funding of "free-enterprise" initiatives. According to the NRO, "Americans for Prosperity, a political-advocacy group founded by Fink, the Koch brothers, and Jay Humphries, has been actively involved in Madison and supportive of Walker's efforts. 'We are not directing that,' Fink says. 'They are staff-driven. They are out there trying to bring fiscal responsibility back to Wisconsin. Do we support them? Yes, we do, but we are not involved with their day-to-day activities. They are out there doing their best trying to make a difference. It is good to have them on the ground, in the battle, trying to help out.'"
Along with the LAV robo-calls, groups like the Republican Governors Association--which received a million dollar check from David Koch to support its national electoral efforts and which spent $5 million in the Wisconsin governor's race in 2010 to get Walker elected--also launched PR campaigns to support Walker's union-busting effort. LAV Ads and Robo-Calls Omit Key Fact that Unions Agreed to the Pension Changes
Here is the text of LAV's radio ad:
The people of Wisconsin are fed up. High taxes, high unemployment and public employee unions getting more than their fair share with their high salaries and lavish health and pension benefits. Governor Scott Walker wants to stop this. Today Wisconsin faces a massive $3.6 billion deficit. Public employees should share in the sacrifices we all have to make. So say no to the big unions and no to President Obama's meddling in Wisconsin's business. We urge you to call Governor Walker and your legislator. Tell them to stand firm and to stop the public employee unions with their outrageous demands because we can't afford them anymore. Call Governor Walker and your legislator today and let your voice be heard.
Thus, LAV's ad adopts Walker's budget claims, echoes his rhetoric about shared "sacrifice" and fairnes, and it also has the audacity to assert that public employees have "lavish" benefits. And, as Walker requested of the Koch impersonator, the ad asks listeners to support the Governor and call their legislator.
Here is a paraphrase of the script of the LAV robo-calls, according to one of the recipients:
This is an important Legislative alert. The League of American Voters strongly supports the limits on public employee unions Gov. Walker is proposing. Wisconsin and other states need to balance budgets and cut spending. It is only fair to ask workers to pay more for pension and health insurance; we all have to make sacrifices. If Gov. Walker can limit bargaining to just wages and benefits, we can be free to implement key reforms in our schools. We need to reform teacher tenure, replace seniority-based pay with merit pay so we can reward good teachers and hold the others accountable, and we need to let parents send their children to school of their choice. If we need layoffs we have to be sure that our best teachers can be protected and principals can make layoffs on the basis of merit, not seniority. The union agreement expressly prohibits these key reforms. So Gov. Walker's plan will make it possible to put our children first.
Again, like LAV's ad, this script repeats the "sacrifice" and "fairness" talking points (which have likely been the subject of focus group analysis by LAV or its allies), and it begins making the case for the layoffs that Walker announced this week.
These scripts also reinforce the PR spin that the protests are about pensions and they mislead by omission by not acknowledging whatsoever that the public employee unions have agreed to the pension and insurance increases Walker demanded. They do not acknowledge that Walker has refused to accept their concession of increased financial costs to these working Americans, unless they agree to provisions that would undermine their right to organize. The scripts also omit information about the true state of the Wisconsin public employee pensions. As Zach Carter has documented, Wisconsin's public pensions are among the nation's healthiest, and the Pew Center for the States found Wisconsin to be a "national leader in managing its long-term liabilities for both pension and retiree health care."
There is no public reporting on how much LAV is spending on this campaign to support union-busting or whose financial contributions are underwriting the bulk of these substantial expenses.
LAV Fights Union Employee Rights and Benefits But Demands Tax Cuts for the Wealthiest Americans
In sharp contrast to LAV's assertion that public workers generally get "lavish" benefits and are paid unduly "high" salaries, LAV spent most of the past six months demanding that the Bush tax cuts, which provide enormous financial benefits for the wealthiest people in the U.S., be extended--via its website, renewthetaxcuts.com.
A few months before the mid-term elections, LAV joined the PR campaign, spearheaded by GOP politicians, to extend the controversial "temporary" Bush tax cuts. LAV's ads featured Fred Thompson and urged people to sign a petition opposing the expiration of the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. Instead of calling the expiring tax cuts expiring tax cuts, however, the ads attempted to inspire fear by calling it "an automatic tax increase that will begin on Jan. 1, 2011." LAV's ads asserted that letting the temporary Bush tax cuts expire "could have catastrophic consequences for the economy." A web-based appeal asked people to sign a petition and concluded by asking people to help "support the League financially so that it can share this important message with America via TV commercials."
In 2010, LAV's executive director, Adams, claimed that letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be "cataclysmic to our nation's broken economy." In contrast to this hyperbole, CBS News reported that under the Obama administration's plan, the few married Americans making more than $373,650 a year would see their marginal tax rate increase from 35 to 39.6 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center, and the one percent making between $209,251 and $373,650 would see an increase from 33 to 36 percent. Meanwhile, Fox's talking heads repeated the GOP talking point that failing to extend the Bush tax cuts would add $678 billion to the federal deficit within ten years. (After the 2010 mid-term elections, Congress voted to extend the tax cuts at the demand of the incoming majority in the United States House of Representatives.)
Adding additional fuel to the concern raised by the Huffington Post that LAV was little more than a well-financed one-person operation, the LAV press release announcing the tax cut ads did not direct reporters to call LAV but referred them to a PR firm. That firm, Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, is a PR shop well connected to GOP and is known in the PR industry for "bucking the latest feel-good lobbying trend, bipartisanship."
There is no public reporting on how much LAV spent on its PR effort to help extend the Bush tax cuts or which person or entities provided the general support or specific funding to cover the bulk of the costs associated with it.
Opposition to health insurance reform
LAV has also been active in opposing the health insurance reform legislation that was debate in Congress in 2009 and passed in 2010. LAV's anti-health care reform television advertisements were reportredly written by Dick Morris and used in key swing states. LAV's website said it opposed President Obama's efforts to reform the American health-care system "and other forms of socialism." It refers to regulation of the health care system as a "government takeover."
In March 2010, FactCheck.org examined ads being run by LAV opposing the health care bill. FactCheck found the ads to be "filled with misleading claims." The ads are being run in states represented by conservative House Democrats, linking those members to the "takeover". Two examples cited in FactCheck were West Virginia, where the ads target Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan, and Michigan, where Rep. Mark Schauer is the target.
Two major networks refused to run an LAV ad that featured a neurosurgeon who warns viewers that a government run health care system will lead to the rationing of procedures and medicine.
LAV's website has, among other things, has offered to send donors who give $250 or more an autographed copy of whatever Dick Morris' most recent book, which is "2010: Take Back America - A Battle Plan," as of February 2011.
Additionally, a cached version of Dick Morris' Web site from August 10, 2009, contains an article titled "Four Steps to Save Health Care." The first step instructs readers to read a chapter in Dick Morris' new book, Catastrophe. The second step instructs readers to donate by sending checks by mail to LAV, and Step Three asks readers to email everyone they know to "Bring them the facts about health care and Obama’s dangerous proposals."
There is no public reporting on how much LAV spent on this campaign or who provided general support or program support for it.
League of American Voters
722 12th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
Articles and resources
- ↑ League of American Voters Home page, organizational Web site, accessed March 4, 2011
- ↑ American Association for Justice Ghostwriting the Law for Corporate America, May, 2010
- ↑ FactCheck.org, Voting for a Health Care Takeover? accessed March 3, 2010 
- ↑ KELO Television, Sioux Falls, South Dakota Networks Reject Health Care Reform Ad September 2, 2009 (accessed September 25, 2009
- ↑ Dick Morris Four Steps to Save Health Care, Blog. August 10, 2009
- ↑ "leagueofamericanvoters.com", Joker.com, accessed August 31, 2009.
Related SourceWatch articles
- Ben Protess and Lagan Sebert, Anatomy of an Attack Ad: How Dick Morris Is Making Seniors Feverish About Health Care Reform, Huffington Post, September 24, 2009.
- League of American Voters Watch the New TV Ad Exposing The Obama Health Care Takeover, accessed August 10, 2009
- List of videos posted by Dick Morris Official YouTube page of Dick Morris, accessed August 10, 2009