Evangelicals for Mitt: 100% astroturf

As you all know, we don’t do opposition research. If we did, it would probably look something like this:

I’m sure you’ll have seen the media rumors about Romney supporters rigging the SRLC straw poll:

I spoke to a young female delegate who said she planned to vote for Romney in the poll. I asked her how she had ended up at the conference. She said “Evangelicals for Mitt” had contacted her and offered to pay for her to have a limited-access ticket — so long as she agreed to vote for Romney in the straw poll.

Asked how “Evangelicals for Mitt” got her name, she said she didn’t know. But she said that she was on the e-mail list for Romney, and speculated that the Romney team had given out their e-mail list. “Evangelicals for Mitt” co-founder David French said in an interview yesterday that his group is not coordinating with the Romney team, though he noted that his wife had worked with the Romney campaign in the past.

UPDATE: Politico’s Ben Smith reports that a conference organizer told him that “Evangelicals for Mitt” and Ron Paul’s “Campaign for Liberty” bought blocks of tickets to the conference, which can then be given to supporters who cast ballots in the straw poll. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom denied to Smith the Romney e-mail list had been released to “Evangelicals for Mitt.”

The founders of Evangelicals for Mitt are David and Nancy French, both listed as “Romney For President National Faith And Values Steering Committee Vice-Chairs” for his failed 2008 campaign. Just your average grassroots supporters then.

Turns out Dave and Nancy have form when it comes to vote-rigging. They were caught lying about bulk-buying votes for Romney at a previous SRLC straw poll in 2006. The only difference with 2010 is that back then they did it under the name Tennesseans for Mitt which, let’s be honest, doesn’t have quite the same astroturf quality as the new one:

Roughly 200 Romney backers camped out at the Marriott hotel in Memphis, and some had all their expenses paid for. One of the financiers was John Kingston, general counsel of AMG Inc., of the Beverly, Mass.-based investment management firm. AMG is run by Sean Healey, the husband of Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, Romney’s most prominent ally.

“If only we could have had more time,” said David French, a Tennessee lawyer and Kingston classmate at Harvard Law School who spearheaded the effort. “I don’t know that we could have beaten Frist, but we could have done even better.”

The pro-Romney organizing surfaced after blanket assurances there would be none by numerous members of the Romney political camp, both in and out of the Statehouse. Nancy French, who runs the pro-Romney Web site www.TNforMitt.com, initially told an Associated Press reporter all the Romney supporters paid their own way. Later, after a student attending the conference told the same reporter that French and her husband had paid travel expenses for him and four friends, French confirmed her involvement.

So that four handshakes from David French to Mitt Romney: French was at Harvard Law School with one of his main financial backers John Kingston, who’s also a “Romney for President National Faith and Values Steering Committee Vice Chair” and works for the Massachusetts based Affiliated Managers Group run by Sean Healey, who just happens to be married to Romney’s former Lt. Governor Kerry Healey. It’s a small world after all!

Anyway: thanks to the generous funding supplied by John Kingston and company, it seems Evangelicals for Mitt has plenty of cash to throw around. They were, for example, able to co-sponsor this year’s SRLC. The fact that you didn’t see their name on the list of sponsors wasn’t because of some technical glitch but because they requested not to be listed:

Yes, we are sponsoring, and no we haven’t been on the sponsor page by our own request. Nancy and I both have day jobs, and public sponsorship would have been extremely distracting. We’re sponsoring the conference to have a presence at the conference, not before the conference.

Getting their organization’s name published in a list of co-sponsors would have been “extremely distracting”. Riiiiight. Might it also have something to do with the fact that they didn’t want to attract attention to the fact that they were offering free tickets for this year’s SRLC to Romney supporters on their website?

Monday, January 04, 2010
Are any of you going to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference? It’s the unofficial kick-off of the 2012 Presidential election and a great deal of fun.

This year, it’s in New Orleans in April.

E-mail me if you plan on going! We are willing to pay for a limited number of conference tickets for any Romney-supporters.

I don’t know about you, but I find it exciting, now that it’s 2010. The election doesn’t see that far away!

So, let’s meet in New Orleans, everyone — we can finally all meet in person, hear Gov. Romney speak, and help him in the straw poll. E-mail me today, while the tickets are still available.

Oh and don’t worry, Dave and Nancy paid for this whole operation out of their own pockets (gulp indeed). Fortunately, a few benefactors who wish to remain anonymous also gave some cash (I’ll give you a hint: they’re based in Romney’s home state – well, one of his home states anyway). That money might have come in handy, because an SRLC co-sponsorship, 200 tickets at $119 each, 800 copies of Romney’s *ahem* bestseller and countless piggybanks don’t come cheap these days.

Let’s drop the pretense. It’s clear that Evangelicals for Mitt is a 100% astroturf operation. I suggest that in their justification of their support for his candidacy on their frontpage they replace “he knows how to balance a check book” with the more accurate “he knows how to use a check book”.

PS: Evangelicals for Romney really doesn’t mind putting its wallet where its mouth is. In 2006, it gave $5000 worth of spare change to National Review to help sponsor NRO’s anniversary dinner. Another main financial contributor to that dinner was Mitt Romney himself, who happened to donate the exact same amount: $5000 (a complete coincidence, according to David French). Judging by the amount of love Romney’s been getting from that magazine ever since, I’d say that was the best $10,000 he/they ever spent.

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