Just as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) tried to distance itself from its role pushing parts of the NRA's gun agenda and making it more difficult for American citizens to vote, a controversial right-wing operation has announced that it will step in to help carry forward the "voter ID" agenda. The "National Center for Public Policy Research" (NCPPR) announced Wednesday that it will form a "Voter Identification Task Force."
This comes in response to ALEC's announcement Tuesday that it will dismantle its "Public Safety and Elections Task Force" through which corporate lobbyists and elected officials voted behind closed doors to approve "model" legislation that creates obstacles to American citizens voting through restrictive voter ID bills, as well as other damaging legislation, such as reckless gun laws that have been cited to protect violent vigilantes from being held accountable.
NCPPR's press release scolds the 11 corporations, as of yesterday, that have recently announced they had dropped out of ALEC, which has come under intense scrutiny as a result of the Center for Media and Democracy's ALEC Exposed investigation and the efforts CMD, Color of Change, Common Cause, People of the American Way, Progress Now!, and other groups as well as Daily Kos bloggers. A growing number of concerned citizens are speaking up about ALEC across the country.
NCPPR even set up an email for corporations to reach out to if they "regret" their decision to cut ties with ALEC under the theme "we are not yellow." NCPPR asserts that corporations have succumbed to the "left-wing" which is supposedly using a "trotskyite strategy of making relentless demand-after-demand."
NCPPR is not well known but has hosted other attacks on good government and watchdog groups through a site called "GroupSnoop," which posts highly inaccurate "profiles" of organizations like the Center for Media and Democracy.
With NCPPR taking the mantle of fighting voter fraud, NCPPR's historical role in troubling operations is worth a closer look.
Distributing Millions in Charitable Donations as Directed by Jack Abramoff
As documented by CMD's SourceWatch, NCPPR was involved in part of the scandal that brought down RNC buddy and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to a U.S. Senate investigation of the financial dealings and influence peddling of Abramoff, NCPPR's founder and president, Amy Moritz Ridenour, directed money received by NCPPR at Abramoff's direction, to other "charities," again at his direction. Specifically, Ridenour admitted that in 2002 she received a one million dollar gift to NCPPR from the Mississippi Band of Choctaws. That tribe had been paying Abramoff to help secure its casino business. NCPPR also received $1.5 million from Abramoff's then-law firm, Greenberg Traurig.
She told the Senate that, at Abramoff's direction, she gave $700,000 of the money NCPPR received to one of his "charities," called the "Capitol Athletic Foundation" (CAF). CAF, which was publicly touting that it was established to help inner city kids get more involved in athetics, reportedly used donations to fund luxury golf trips for (then) Members of Congress, like Ohio Representative Bob Ney. Ney served 17 months in prison for his role in the scandal. CAF also bought sniper scopes and camouflage for West Bank settlers in Israel, among other things.
She also testified that she directed $1.275 million received by NCPPR to another Abramoff entity called "Kaygold, LLC," whose address was listed as that of her then-board member, Abramoff. Ridenour testified that she thought Kaygold was controlled by Michael "Sean" Scanlon, Congressman Tom DeLay's former communications director, who later pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of conspiracy to bribe public officials. Scanlon was publicly known to be working closely with Abramoff.
In addition, NCPPR's Ridenour told congressional investigators that she also gave $500,000 to Scanlon's "Capital Campaign Strategies."
Abramoff was convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy for his dealings with legislators, and he resigned from the board of NCPPR. Ridenour was not charged with any federal crimes for distributing tax-deductible donations NCPPR's received to entities controlled by Abramoff and his associates.
NCPPR Has a History of Sending "Fright Mail" to Senior Citizens
Also, as noted in CMD's SourceWatch, about a decade ago, NCPPR came under intense scrutiny for its fundraising tactics. NCPPR had been accused of bombarding senior citizens with "fright mail." According to an article by Diane Walsh of the San Francisco Examiner, NCPPR had contracted out its mailing of repetitive and frightening letters to the direct mail mill, Response Dynamics, which helps right-wing politicians and groups raise money.
NCPPR's leader Ridenour told the press that "her organization sent donors up to a dozen major pitches a month. The appeals are sent on four different letterheads. She said anyone receiving more than a dozen solicitations in a month probably was on mailing lists the National Center has 'rented' from other organizations, which she said were outside her control."
According to comments on Guidestar, adult children of senior citizens targeted by NCPPR are not happy with the group's tactics. One commentor asserted "Amy R. is the Queen of Scare Mail. My father receives 5-15 letters from them per day under four different names (maybe more I hadn't realized the association). He started giving to them in 2009 and gave them thousands of dollars little by little. When I found out he was spending all his money, I started tracking his junk mail and putting him on a charity budget." That commentor added that: "In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are... Children of the elderly who find out what they are doing" and "They are Parasites feeding off the elderly."
Another commentor in 2010 urged fellow citizens to "Be VERY careful before giving money to this organization. You will be swamped by mail and they do not honor requests to be removed from mailing lists." Yet another commentor stated "the National Center for Public Policy Research has several 'projects' such as The National Retirement Security Task Force, etc. These projects simply acquire the names of older people and mail them requests for donations. These requests are sent with letters intended to scare the recipient into donating. Often these requests are sent via Certified Mail in the hope that the recipient will think the contents more important." NCPPR was cited by three other anonymous commentors for praise who said the group shed light on government corruption.
Who Else Has Funded NCPPR, Aside from Friends of Jack Abramoff?
Over the years, NCPPR has received funding from numerous charitable foundations created by billionaires and millionaires who are funding an array of right-wing ventures to dramatically change American public policy. These include the foundation of the Coors family, Castle Rock Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Other NCPPR funders have included the Armstrong Foundation, Brady Education Foundation, Carthage Foundation, Earhart Foundation, Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation, Leadership Institute, Randolph Foundation, Roe Foundation, Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation, and the William H. Donner Foundation.
According to Greenpeace's research, NCPPR has also received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Exxon Mobil Corporation. Exxon is also a member of ALEC's corporate board and funder of ALEC. So, perhaps it should surprise no one that NCPPR is part of the so-called "Cooler Heads Coalition," an effort of the "Competitive Enterprise Institute," which is focused on part of the oil industry's climate change denial machinery. ALEC has also helped advance this agenda, as noted by PRWatch, opposing regional agreements to address climate change and even hosting a workshop for ALEC politicians last year about "Warming Up to Climate Change," about how increased carbon dioxide is supposedly good for you and leads to longer lifespans.
Now NCPPR Takes on Voter Fraud, along with a Threat?
In the wake of ALEC's termination of its task force that had advanced "Voter ID" legislation that may thwart and chill citizen voting in this year's elections, NCPPR has jumped into the fray, claiming to take up ALEC's mantle on voter fraud, despite the fact that numerous studies have documented that voter fraud in the U.S. is exceedingly rare.
In NCPPR's press release on its new role as a watchdog against fraud in voting ends with the following threat, an unusual choice in the wake of the controversy over the shooting of unarmed high school student Trayvon Martin, which helped shine the spotlight on ALEC's pushing the NRA's extreme gun agenda: "Unlike the Center for American Progress, the National Center for Public Policy Research eschews the use of violent references such as 'War Room.' We are, however, inspired by a particular passage in the 1987 movie The Untouchables: 'They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the Chicago way.' Indeed."
(Sara Jerving contributed to this report.)