Kristen Luidhardt is a former GOP staffer who now leads the Prosper Group, a consulting firm behind the group airing the “Obama Phone” ad.
A consulting firm with close ties to congressional Republicans—from Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) to freshmen Congressman Tom Reed (R-NY)—is behind the group airing one of the most offensive new ads in the presidential campaign.
A group calling itself the “Tea Party Victory Fund” is garnering attention this week for its new ad called the “Obama Phone.” The ad, which shows an African-American woman praising President Obama for supposedly giving her a free phone, is being run in several areas throughout Ohio:
As The Atlantic and ThinkProgress have reported, the ad promotes a flat-out lie circulated by right-wing media that the Obama administration has provided some type of free phone welfare benefit. In fact, the phone program was established in the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan and continued through the George W. Bush administration. The decision to depict an African-American woman on welfare thanking Obama for her phone appears to be a deceptive ploy to inject racial resentment into the election.
The Tea Party Victory Fund has used former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell as its spokesperson to push the ad. But the makers of the ad may have much closer ties to mainstream Republicans. According to disclosures with the Federal Elections Commission, the group sponsoring the ad has paid $26,737 to an Indiana-based consulting firm called The Prosper Group (and an affiliate, known as Conservative Connector).
The Prosper Group boasts on its website that it helped Senator Scott Brown raise $12 million online and has worked in the past for Republicans like Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), Allen West (R-FL), Sharron Angle (R-NV), Dan Coats (R-IN), Michael Grimm (R-NY) and Sean Bielat (R-MA). A further search of FEC reports show that freshman lawmakers like Tom Reed (R-NY) and Todd Young (R-IN), as well as Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock (R-IN) and Senator Brown’s current re-election effort, have made payments this cycle to the firm.
I called the firm earlier today, and spoke to several people. At first, a representative said he would transfer me to the account executive who worked on the ad campaign. Later, someone from the Prosper Group asked how I received contact information with the firm and explained that the firm never had any association with the Tea Party Victory Fund. After some prodding, one of the staffers with the Prosper Group conceded that they had indeed worked with the group sponsoring the Obama Phone ad, but that I should speak with a “partner” of the firm named Jordan Gerhke. Gerhke, a former deputy campaign manager with Sharron Angle’s Senate race in 2010, confirmed with The Nation that he worked on the ad campaign. He however disconnected the call after being asked about work with the Prosper Group.
When asked about the payments from the Tea Party Victory Fund to his consulting firm, another account manager with the Prosper Group named Joe Zapf simply hung up the phone.