It's the Deception, Stupid

We are the recipients of an email which attaches an Americans for Prosperity flyer, Serephin posted below, soliciting students of Madison and Rigby High Schools to man a Melaleuca call center in order to campaign against Obama in swing states prior to election day. The email is from concerned parents of a Madison High School student who confirmed the flyer is being distributed to school students as well as being discussed in school. The parents expressed concern that the flyer is deceptive in advancing Americans for Prosperity as a "non-partisan" group. Indeed their student indicates that "kids have been instructed to say it doesn't matter what your politics are--come join the non-partisan fun of making phone calls." The flyer promotes a contest between two high schools in closest proximity to the Melaleuca Call Center where the electioneering is to be conducted.

Superficially the flyer encourages students into political activity which many would agree is laudable. A cause for skepticism regarding the parent's complaints is that we are deep in the election silly season where passions run high and often trump better judgement and rational thought. As a result many tend to view campaigning complaints more cynically than at other times of the year. So what is it about this right wing solicitation effort to Idaho high school students which causes concerned parents to react as if a laws were broken? The answer lies in Americans for Prosperity utilizing deception and money to entice children to do their bidding. Worse, ASP asks those children to also participate in further deception.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a shadowy front group for the Koch Brothers which helped finance the astroturf of the Tea Party. The Koch Brothers are oil and chemical billionaire magnates owning one of the wealthiest privately held companies in the world, Koch Industries. In recent years the Koch Brothers have engaged in extensive political activities spearheading the modern American conservative movement, many of which were identified in this expose in the New Yorker by Jane Meyer. Unlike most political activists, the Koch Brothers seem to align with causes from which they will economically benefit, like global warming denial, environmental de-regulation, union busting, blocking Wall Street reform, and, of course, keeping corporate money in elections. Arguably the AFP is one of the biggest sources of misinformation in the media marketplace today. PolitiFact referred to AFP ads last May as the "sneakiest" in the election cycle, rating the representations within as mostly false, false, to pants on fire. Despite the representations on the flyer, AFP is anything but a non-partisan, non-profit organization.

The flyer is not exactly a classified ad seeking employees for a $10 an hour job, which would be more honest. The flyer is stylized as a good natured contest between rival high schools. AFP invites students from the two high schools to get the most participants to be rewarded an extra $30 to the winning school's participants. Further it describes the task as "making phone calls to survey Americans in priority states like Colorado and Ohio on economic issues (using a scripted message)." The "message" is clearly summarized in the flyer in bold face, to "educate Americans on Obama's failing economic agenda". What is being described here is a push poll,

an interactive marketing technique, most commonly employed during political campaigning, in which an individual or organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll. In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll. Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research on an opponent. They are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning. This tactic is commonly considered to undermine the democratic process as false or misleading information is provided about candidates.

Push polling is one of the most hated and dishonest methods utilized in campaigning. From the flyer it appears that AFP will provide the script to the students, which presumably contains similar information about which Politifact complained. The students will then call likely voters and misleadingly tell them they're conducting a "survey", when in fact the caller is not actually determining how they'll vote, but instead delivering negative information about Obama disguised as polling questions in order to influence that voter. It is difficult to evaluate whether a typical Idaho high school student would be aware of these machinations. Certainly a parent has a right to be concerned.

We have no information on where exactly these flyers are being distributed in or around these schools and invite anyone with such information to forward it to us at the address at the top of the right rail. Interesting that one local media station reported in September that AFP and Melaleuca were teaming up for these efforts, stating that "volunteers" would be manning the call centers. Also of some concern is the central role of Melaleuca in this activity which has played a prominent position in the controversial Luna school reform legislation, funding full page ads in the state's major newspapers on several occasions. Melaleuca owner Frank Vandersloot is also integrally involved in setting up the charter schools in Idaho which are stylized as a "patriotic choice for parents" with a focus on "individual freedoms and free market economics." The agenda Vandersloot appears to be pursuing is concerning indeed, given his partners in this endeavor. This issue has ramifications for Idaho's premier statewide race on whether to scrap Luna's reforms, in addition to the race for president.

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It does have an educational purpose, however

Students will learn how to compromise their personal standards for a pittance, in service to corporate interests. Vocational training, you might say. And if they're not quite sharp enough to discern what it is they're actually doing, or who it is they're serving, all the better. The top performers can recruit the rest of the list for the Young Republicans.

And they'll get a laptop! (They may be disappointed when they find out that's a computer, however.)

In one respect this is good news.

The contest implies they couldn't recruit enough SE Idaho residents to do the job.

And in related matters

Vandersloot ramps up his support of Luna's deform measures attempting to tie it to the Romney campaign and avoid a Mormon vote split on the Luna Referenda.