A longform investigation by Alternet's Washington correspondent Adele M Stan, Religious Right's Ralph Reed Field-Tests Plan for Beating Obama, takes an in-depth look at the "steroids" Reed promised he'd put his 21st-century Christian Coalition on.
The field-test was Wisconsin and the numbers for the voter contact micro-targeting campaign that Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition contracted out to "Millennium Marketing, a division of Century Strategies, a political consulting firm whose CEO happens to be Ralph Reed," Stan reports.
In a release announcing Emmer's role as chairman early last December, the MFFC noted that the effects of taxes on families and small businesses would form the focus of its voter education effort:
The Minnesota Faith & Freedom Coalition is committed to educating voters on how new tax increases would impact family budgets as well as the bottom-line of small businesses. Minnesota FFC seeks to empower voters to express their views about what is best for Minnesota families at every level of government. The Minnesota Faith & Freedom Coalition believes strongly that Minnesota state legislators should hear from their constituents who are closest to the grassroots; not from the bullhorns of special interest groups and public employee unions.
Field tested blessings in Wisconsin
According to the Stan article, much of the education field tested in the Wisconsin recall deployed social media tools, though the "voter education" went far beyond taxation:
Furr explained how he targeted somewhere between 17,000 - 20,000 conservative Wisconsin voters for text messages on the recall that included a link to the Faith and Freedom Coalition voter guide -- a link that was opened by 30 percent of those who received the text message. (See graphic, taken from Millennium Marketing's promotional packet, here.) Like the Christian Coalition voter guides of yore, the FFC guides list a number of deceptively framed issues in a table format, with the name and photo of its preferred candidate (in this case, Scott Walker) topping a red column noting whether the candidate "SUPPORTS" or "OPPOSES" those rhetorically presented positions. A photo of the opposition's candidate (Tom Barrett, of course) tops a blue column.
Faith and Freedom Coalition's guide for the gubernatorial recall election listed six issues: "abortion on demand," "parental choice in education," "taxpayer-funded abortion," "same-sex marriage," "eliminating the death tax," and "opposes any new taxes on Wisconsin families."
Text messages, Furr explained, are an especially effective means of communicating in elections, because, unlike e-mails or snail-mail appeals, they are almost always opened by recipients.
Nonetheless, Furr also ran an e-mail program for FFC in Wisconsin. One effort of which he is most proud is the targeting of conservative small-business executives. Furr said his firm collected more than 51,000 e-mail addresses in that target group, and of those targeted, only 43 individuals opted out of receiving future e-mails.
Furr also lauded the fundraising effectiveness of text messaging, especially when combined with micro-targeting. As an example, he said he could reach into databases and filter for Catholics who gave to particular charities or causes. Then he could solicit donations for the Faith and Freedom Coalition by text message through a link that immediately generated a thank-you message to the donor -- all for a mere 50-cent transaction fee. If an organization that raised funds this way wanted to do follow-up thank-you calls, that could be added to the package for a low rate of 7.5 percent of the donation, and a call center would handle the task.
Tom Emmer's second chance at making Wisconsin look like a poor ugly stepchild?
While the state of Minnesota seems solidly in the Obama column--and already buried by the avalanche coming in Senator Klobuchar's timid landslide--it might seem that investing in the Emmer-chaired operation would offer little return on investment of fat-cat dollars.
Except for those two amendments to the state constitution and the security of the Brodkorbian holy grail, control of both houses of the Minnesota legislature. And while Bordkorb, like Lancelot, may have lost his luster by porking the lady of the castle, the cup of control is no doubt still prized by the faith and freedom crowd. After all, there's that union-busting amendment waiting, sword in hand, beneath the 10,000 lakes.
For Reed, there's the green, as well as the grail. Stan writes:
For Reed, however, there's likely another prize to collect, win or lose. It may be wrapped up in the old Red, White and Blue, but this prize comes in a distinctive shade of green. AlterNet learned that, in order to identify and make its 600,000 voter contacts in Wisconsin -- many of them by text messaging and e-mail subscriptions -- Faith and Freedom Coalition contracted with Millennium Marketing, a division of Century Strategies, a political consulting firm whose CEO happens to be Ralph Reed.
AlterNet contacted Billy Kirkland, FFC's national field director, by phone on June 29 to inquire about FFC's use of Millennium. "We did use them and they were a big help in Wisconsin," Kirkland said. "It was one of those things where any time you can use a new technology to reach voters and educate voters on issues that are important to them -- we're trying to be on the forefront of that, so I'd be more than happy to respond by e-mail, but I've got a 4:00 [meeting] I've got to walk into."
So I e-mailed him a few questions, including: "How much did FFC pay Millennium Marketing for what appears to be a broad array of services provided in the campaign against the Wisconsin recall?" At press time, he had yet to respond.
How much was spent? The national Faith and Freedom Coalition doesn't have to disclose its spending, Stan reports:
To billionaires willing to stake nice little chunks of their fortunes on the outcome of the 2012 races -- presidential, Senate and gubernatorial -- a little greasing of Ralph Reed's palm could be deemed a small price to pay, especially when they can launder their contributions, without fear of disclosure, through Faith and Freedom Coalition, a 501(c)(4) non-profit under the U.S. tax code. This type of organization is not required to disclose its donors to the general public. However untoward, none of this is illegal -- not the contracting of Reed's own for-profit firm by the non-profit he runs, not the undisclosed sums from undisclosed donors that help to get carefully profiled voters to the polls.
Faith and freedom isn't free but the price may be undisclosed
How much will Minnesota Faith and Freedom Coalition spend on voter education?
We may never know. As of now, the MFFC isn't registered as a political action committee with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The name was registered as a Minnesota non-profit with the state Secretary of State in August 2010; the address in the filing is a condo in Eden Prairie. The organization is not in the searchable database of Minnesota charities online at the Minnesota Attorney General's Office website.
Photo: Dramatization of Faith and Freedom voter education for workers in the cheese caves near Faribault or some place like that (above). Cartoon: Emmer told the Kandiyohi Tea Party "if he was now the Governor in the Republican-controlled House and Senate, Minnesota would 'make Wisconsin look like the poor ugly step-child that they are.' ” Cartoon by Ken Avidor; quote from the West Central Tribune.
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