October 15, 2012; Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Several community-based organizations are demanding that Clear Channel Outdoors take down billboards that have appeared in Milwaukee warning people that voter fraud is a felony. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the African-American Round Table, the Institute for One Wisconsin and other organizations are claiming that the billboards are intended to stifle the participation of African American and Hispanic voters.

The advertisements continue the public dialogue on voter fraud taking place in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, although last month, an article in the Journal Sentinel reported that there is no evidence of any kind of ballot stuffing or large-scale fraud in Wisconsin (and as NPQ has noted, the same is true elsewhere). Instead, the limited cases of voter fraud reportedly involve felons voting before they legally regained the right to vote, which, according to Wisconsin state law, occurs after a felon’s term of incarceration plus parole and probation has expired.

Clear Channel Outdoors has said that there are 85 of the voter fraud billboards around the community, not just in Milwaukee’s central city area; this author has seen the billboards and although it is true that they are all over the area, there is a heavy preponderance of them in Milwaukee’s central city neighborhoods. Clear Channel Outdoors has not responded to messages left by the protesting groups, according to the Journal Sentinel, but they have responded to questions from the newspaper to say that they have no intention of taking the billboards down. Clear Channel Vice President of Corporate Communications Jim Cullinan tells the paper that Clear Channel has a “policy to require any advertiser, including political advertisers, to have a disclaimer which identifies themselves” but that “[t]his was not done on this ad, which was a mistake, but we can’t change the contract now and the ads will remain up.” So, the billboards are presented by anonymous.

Clear Channel Outdoors is a division of Clear Channel, which operates radio stations around the country known for carrying broadcasts by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators, many of which have harped on about voter fraud recently. NPQ has reported on voter ID laws being promoted in many states and questioned whether such laws are really an attempt to quash nearly nonexistent voter fraud or whether they instead have a political goal of suppressing the vote in some communities. Is this series of billboards, paid for by an anonymous buyer, intended to provide information or to scare people into staying away from the polls? –Rob Meiksins