This week, Restore America's Voice PAC has disclosed its first political spending of the 2012 election cycle–more than $50,000 worth of phone call fundraising pitches that mention President Barack Obama–but a shadowy nonprofit tied to the group has spent millions more attacking Obama and congressional Democrats for the healthcare reform act.
Restore America's Voice Foundation, a social welfare organization that does not have to disclose its donors, ran ads around the country in 2011 featuring former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. On one of its websites, Repealitnow.org, the group claims that the ads were "the only televised counterpoint to the recently disclosed $4.5 million in taxpayer funds spent by the White House for TV ads and web strategies to promote ObamaCare." How much they spent does not have to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission because the commercials are "issue ads," which don't expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates for federal office. Spending on issue ads only have to be reported to the FEC within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of the general election.
The group's ads criticize Congress or Obama for their roles in approving the Affordable Care Act, and direct viewers to sign a petition supporting repeal by calling a 1-800 number, where they are asked for a donation to support the organization's television advertising and petition gathering efforts, sometimes by the chairman of Restore America's Voice, Ken Hoagland. In October 2011, Hoagland delivered 1.6 million signatures to a dozen Republican members of Congress.
Hoagland is a veteran operative who's been involved in a number of right wing causes. He was national spokesman for the flat tax movement, developed grassroots strategies for the Texans For Lawsuit Reform, a group that's attracted the support of major Republican donors like Harold C. Simmons, and ran another letter-writing and petition-drive campaign in the late 1980s to overturn the Catastrophic Care Act, which required some Medicare beneficiaries to pay an additional tax to fund additional healthcare benefits for the elderly, including prescription drugs, long-term hospitalization and nursing home care.
The latter effort, run through the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, a nonprofit founded by James Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, bears striking similarities to the strategies now being employed by Restore America's Voice Foundation: direct mail fundraising appeals tied to letter writing campaigns. In 1987, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security investigated the National Committee's hard-ball fundraising techniques, which included sending letters to senior citizens warning that "Your Medicare protection is in jeopardy right now."
Though healthcare isn't Restore America's Voice Foundation's only issue–in addition to Mike Huckabee, the group has been using Herman Cain, the former GOP presidential candidate, in its online fundraising pitches, and promotes his signature "9-9-9 tax reform" plan on its website–it has been the focus of most of its efforts. But how much the group is raising and spending is unknown.
The group's 2010 tax return, which covers the period from the organization's founding on Sept. 22, 2012 to the end of the year and shows no income. Its next tax return, for calendar year 2011, is due at the IRS on May 15, though the group could ask for two three-month extensions, meaning it might not file a report until Nov. 15, a full nine days after the election.
However, a filing with the West Virginia Secretary of State's office shows that the organization estimated that, for 2011, it would raise more than $4.2 million and spend $3.1 million on their core mission. Some $1.4 million goes to management expenses and nearly $500,000 is allotted to fundraising costs. The estimates the nonprofit provided are are incredibly precise–down to the penny. They also expenditures running more than revenues by $827,000. They also list three websites they operate, including one that's currently inactive: BalanceTheBudget.org.
The West Virginia disclosure shows that Restore America's Voice Foundation uses the same fundraising firm as Restore America's Voice PAC, a company called Infocision, which "specializes in political, Christian and nonprofit fundraising," according to its website.
Unlike most super PACs, Restore America's Voice PAC has received a majority of its contributions from small donors. In its most recent quarterly report, less than 16 percent of its donors gave amounts of $200 or more; its largest contributor, a retiree in California, gave $2,000. Similarly, its nonprofit sister organization aims at small donors: a page on one of the websites it runs, RepealHealthcare.org, lets donors send faxes demanding repeal of "ObamaCare Now!" to all Democratic or Republican senators for $19, to all House members for $99, and, as a special offer, fax all members of Congress every day for five days for $250.