Controversial Voter Fraud Ads Anonymously Bought by Foundation

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October 29, 2012; Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The saga continues. The names of some of the buyers of the controversial billboard ads concentrated in minority communities warning those passing by about the legal penalties of voter fraud have been revealed. A statement released by a Chicago-based public relations firm confirms the finding of a joint investigation by advocacy group One Wisconsin Now and NBC News’ The Grio which named the Einhorn Family Foundation as the purchaser of some of the ads. As NPQ has previously noted, more than 140 of these billboards had reportedly dotted cities in swing states before Clear Channel took them down. Stephen Einhorn, a venture capital fund manager, and his wife, Nancy, paid for some of the ads—those in the Milwaukee, Wisc. area and in two Ohio cities—to promote a democratic process in the upcoming election, a statement released by the Einhorns’ public relations firm acknowledges. The Einhorn family has been active in their financial support of the Republican Party, making donations to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on several occasions.

Clear Channel removed the advertisements because the contract for their purchase, which promised anonymity to the buyers, violates a company policy that those who purchase ads identify themselves. Initially, the buyers were given the choice to announce themselves or have the ads removed, and the Einhorn family reportedly chose the latter. Interestingly, one of Stephen and Nancy Einhorn’s children, David Einhorn, serves on the board of the Robin Hood Foundation alongside Clear Channel President John Sykes. Is this fact a coincidence or a detail that may potentially shed light on how Clear Channel wound up approving billboards that violate its own policy? NPQ does not know. At least one conservative talk radio personality, Charlie Sykes, has argued that this is a case of free speech being squashed and that the billboards were merely an attempt to educate the public about voting laws with perfectly accurate information.

On the other hand, Scott Ross, executive director of the progressive advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, states, “Perhaps their Chicago public relations firm could answer why the Einhorns only felt it was necessary to target legal voters in minority communities…Or put their name on it, rather than hiding behind the cowardly veil of anonymity.” As NPQ has previously noted, at least in the case of Milwaukee, these billboard ads did appear in areas outside of the central city, but the vast majority of them were located in urban areas. If no malevolent intentions were at play, NPQ wonders why the Einhorns felt the need to remind people—anonymously—about potential felony convictions for voter fraud when no coordinated efforts encouraging voter fraud have ever been found in these communities. –Rob Meiksins