What happened when a super PAC listed Sunlight’s phone number on its ad filing
On Saturday night, I received an interesting tweet.
Indianapolis resident PJ Hinton had seen some TV ads run by a group he didn’t recognize, Indiana Jobs Now, and thought he would look into them. After googling the name, he found this document: a rate request in WRTV’s (the ABC station in Indianapolis) public political file from Indiana Jobs Now, a super PAC. He searched the contact information in the filing, including the listed phone number. But the phone number didn’t belong to Indiana Jobs Now — it belonged to us, the Sunlight Foundation.
This was very confusing to Hinton, as well as to us here at Sunlight once he let us know what he found. Why was a super PAC called “Indiana Jobs Now” registered in Arlington, Va.? Why was a super PAC using our phone number on an FCC filing? The phone number of a group dedicated to government transparency, including campaign finance? (Were they … trolling us?)
I called the media firm, Crossroads Media, LLC, to find out. Crossroads is a big Republican media firm, with clients including the National Republican Congressional Committee and Carolina Rising. A representative from Crossroads told me that it seemed that someone there had been using our website to look up filings for Indiana Jobs Now and mistakenly copied & pasted our number, and that the FCC filing had been corrected. (The new filing does not list a phone number for the super PAC at all). It was unable to provide the actual phone number for the super PAC.
We should also note that other filings for ads placed for Indiana Jobs Now list the Crossroads Media phone number where they ought to list the sponsor’s (the super PAC’s) number, on the last page.
Indiana Jobs Now is a relatively new super PAC. It was formed on Jan. 11, and has made $216,760 in independent expenditures so far. It has spent equal amounts supporting Trey Hollingsworth, an Indiana businessman, and opposing Greg Zoeller, the current attorney general of the state, in the Republican primary for Indiana’s 9th District. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Todd Young, who’s now running for Senate. Hollingsworth, who has made large contributions to his own campaign, has made “career politicians” a theme of his campaign so far, and he supports term limits; sure enough, the ad filing indicated that the spot focused on “anti Career Politicians.”
The lesson here is this: It’s way too easy for this sort of inaccuracy to go unchecked. But it’s not always easy to figure out whose fault these mistakes are, and these ambiguities are to the advantage of super PACs. An outside group like Indiana Jobs Now — which (ironically) lists a Virginia P.O. box shared with several others PACs as its address, and whose website consists entirely of that address and an email address — probably doesn’t want the public to know too much about it or its activities. It took a concerned citizen doing some googling to happen upon this bizarre coincidence at all. PJ Hinton wanted to know more about Indiana Jobs Now, and the information available doesn’t give him or any other voter very much information about who is behind this mysterious group.