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In Search of Votes, Billionaire-Backed Anti-Obama Groups Distribute Expensive Gifts | The Nation

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Lee Fang

Lee Fang

Investigating the intersection of politics, lobbying and public policy at RepublicReport.org.

In Search of Votes, Billionaire-Backed Anti-Obama Groups Distribute Expensive Gifts

A woman with the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity loads gas, paid for in part by her group, for a vehicle in Flint, Michigan. AFP’s anti-Obama bus is in the background. Image via Flickr.

As the election approaches, advocacy groups that have saturated the airwaves in advertising are now turning to gifts to persuade voters.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the nonprofit financed by David Koch and other wealthy Republican businessmen, has spent some $31 million on anti-Obama ads since April. The group recently opened 98 Get-Out-the-Vote offices, hired some 200 field staffers and has been distributing its state-of-the-art voter-targeting technology on Samsung tablet computers to its volunteers. Now AFP is hoping to win hearts and minds with gifts of free gas.

AFP is hosting events at gas stations across the country to provide gasoline to motorists for the price of $1.84 per gallon. The group is paying for up to fifteen gallons for 100–150 drivers at each station, telling them that the $1.84 price symbolizes the price per a gallon before Obama took office in 2009.

A CBS news affiliate in Iowa reports that at least one driver, Louis Lumpkin, said that the free gas would make a difference on his vote for president. Watch below:

Here’s another local news report, this one even more sympathetic. “It’s part of the gas can Million Man march put on by…Americans for Prosperity!” says Reno news network KOLO 8.

AFP is spending about $4,000 giving away gas at every stop, and has been to stations throughout Nevada, Iowa and Michigan. Along the way, they’re earning free, largely uncritical airtime for their message and maybe some votes in swing states.

The Koch’s political operatives are hoping drivers forget the fact prices peaked over $4 under Bush, that the prices in January 2009 were artificially low because of the financial crisis, and that there’s little a president can do to affect oil prices. There’s also the hypocrisy problem. Koch Industries, the company that invented the oil derivative, considers itself one of the world’s biggest players, up there with Goldman Sachs, engaged in the type of commodity speculation that many experts believe is a key driver in rising gas prices.

AFP is also providing free barbeque to at its anti-Obama rallies as well as gift cards to its phone bankers, which in the past have been as high as $200 each for the most productive volunteers.

AFP’s giveaways seem to be increasing at a time when other related groups are adding more incentives for people to volunteer against Obama. Last Thursday, the Republican Jewish Coalition, another undisclosed group associated with a small set of wealthy patrons, including Mel Sembler and Sheldon Adelson, began giving away iPads to its most active volunteers. The Huffington Post reported on the RJC’s efforts to “woo” volunteers:

Put in at least 20 hours at an official RJC phone bank in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York or here in Washington and receive a $100 American Express gift card. Up that to 30 hours and one gets an older model iPad 2 (worth about $200). And to volunteers who dial up Jewish voters for 50 hours or more, the RJC will give a new 32GB iPad 3, worth $599. Less time gets a lesser tablet, with 40 hours on the phone equaling a 16GB iPad 3 ($499).

Of course, some pro-Obama groups are providing minor gifts to their supporters as well. As far I know, it’s been limited to free pizza, or in one case, a $5 gift card for an evening of phone banking.

The enthusiasm gap is wide on both sides. Democrats are having a tough time generating volunteers, and Republicans do not have the type of Tea Party excitement that existed two years ago in the midterm elections.

For more on the right’s expensive ground game, read Lee Fang’s coverage of the Romney campaign and Strategic Allied Consulting

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