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August 2nd, 2011
 

Interest Group With Ties to Pawlenty Campaign Featured In Latest TV Ad. Campaign Says It’s All Just A Coincidence

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Last week, the Des Moines Register published an article that brought to light some of the dual roles that some of former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s Iowa consultants are filling in the lead up to next February’s Iowa caucuses.

The article, written by Jennifer Jacobs, disclosed that Chuck Larson, Jr. and Karen Slifka, two of Pawlenty’s Iowa consultants, are also serving another client that is looking to influence the presidential race, the America Petroleum Institute (API).  API’s Iowa effort is called the Iowa Energy Forum, and their ads can be seen on the pages of this website.  TheIowaRepublican.com is told that another Pawlenty consultant, Ed Failor, Jr., is also paid to consult the Iowa Energy Forum.

In addition to the three Pawlenty consultants who are also working with the Iowa Energy Forum, an entity that intends to have a major presence at the upcoming Straw Poll in Ames, a fourth Pawlenty Iowa consultant, Nicole Schlinger, is using her skills to plan and organize the Iowa Straw Poll for Pawlenty while serving in the same capacity for Strong America Now.

Strong America Now a debt reduction organization that is also looking to impact the caucuses.  Like the Iowa Energy Forum, Strong America is offering people who sign the group’s pledge free transportation and tickets to Ames.   These interest groups that are aggressively trying to impact the presidential race in Iowa essentially pay all four of Pawlenty’s main Iowa consultants.  The duel roles that these consultants fill gives the Pawlenty campaign an advantage that no other campaign has.

Being closely associated with interest groups that are transporting and purchasing tickets for people who wish to attend the Straw Poll is a huge advantage.  If the Pawlenty campaign knows that there is a Strong America Now or Iowa Energy Forum bus leaving from a certain county, they could quietly encourage their supporters to catch a ride and get a ticket from one of those groups.  That would allow Pawlenty to focus his resources (buses and tickets) on areas of the state that might not be served by an interest group’s bus.

When asked about and potential conflicts of interest by the Register, both Larson and Schlinger both said that they take steps to insure that they are adhering to Federal Election Commission rules about coordination.

Kent Sorenson, who is chairing Michele Bachmann’s Iowa caucus campaign doesn’t buy it.  Sorenson told the Register that Pawlenty is, “attempting to hijack nonprofit organizations for his own political gain.”  Sorenson also called the involvement of Pawlenty’s Iowa consultants, “unethical attempts to win the Ames straw poll.”

Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant fired back at Sorenson calling his attacks a “malicious accusation.”  But is this much ado about nothing, or is the Pawlenty campaign too cozy with groups that are spending big bucks in Ames in an attempt to influence the caucuses like Sorenson suggests?

The Pawlenty campaign’s latest television ad may do a good job of portraying the former Governor as the candidate who is best suited to cut spending and reform government, but it also strengthens Sorenson’s argument about coordination with the outside groups.

Image for Pawlenty Campaign TV Ad

Image from LSG2's Facebook Page

The third Iowa Energy Forum Image in Pawlenty's 30 second ad.
Pawlenty’s new ad features people wearing Iowa Energy Forum shirts even though the ad doesn’t even mention energy issues.  The people featured in the Pawlenty ad are Jennifer Cantrick and Maddison Abboud, two summer interns that were hired to work for the Iowa Energy Forum by Larson and Slifka’s firm.

The ad also shows Becky Ervin, an Iowa activist who told TheIowaRepublican.com that she is helping both Strong America Now and the Iowa Energy Forum.  Ervin is a regular at political events in central Iowa.  Dave Funk, one of Strong America Now’s Iowa Co-Chairs, confirmed that Ervin is a volunteer for the group but is not being compensated by the group.

Is it just a coincidence that Pawlenty’s ad features these images? Alex Conant thinks so.  Conant told TheIowaRepublican.com, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand the point you’re trying to make about our TV ads.”  When asked if the appearance of the Iowa Energy Forum Staffers validated Sorenson’s accusation, he stood behind what he told the Des Moines Register by saying, “It was a malicious accusation because it was false — as is a lot of what her [Bachmann’s] campaign says.”

Still, the images speak for themselves.

The Pawlenty campaign isn’t the only one with questionable ties to outside groups.  Michele Bachmann’s campaign is currently being aided by a $75,000 ad buy that features Bachmann talking about the national debt. Citizens United is paying for the ad, but insists it is not a political message or an independent expenditure in support of Bachmann because it promotes a documentary about conservative women that was released almost a year ago.

While Bachmann is currently performing well in the polls and is expected to do well in Ames, Pawlenty’s campaign has struggled to gain traction.  Still, the notion that he only has to out perform his current standing in the polls is ludicrous.  Pawlenty still has the largest staff of any candidate in Iowa and has spent the most time traveling the state in the past two years.

The close associations some on his payroll have with outside interest groups don’t hurt either.  While some are eager to write Pawlenty off, he has plenty of things working in his favor in regards to Ames.  While Pawlenty lacks the hype that Bachmann has received thus far, his inside connections could help him pull off an upset.  In a small turnout event like the straw poll, a few hundred votes can be the difference between winning big and going home.

Below is the Pawlenty Ad:

Here are some other coincidences:

Pastor Terry Amann, an influential pastor of Walnut Creek Community Church, has endorsed Pawlenty, but was also approached by the Iowa Energy Forum.  A church seems like an odd place to mine for votes in support of the oil industry.  Amann told the Register that the Iowa Energy Forum approached him before he decided to support Pawlenty.

On the back of Pawlenty’s latest mail piece is a quote from Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter who is now a columnist for The Washington Post.  Gerson was shuttled around Iowa by employees of Larson and Slifka’s firm in April.  He has a fellowship with the One Campaign, another Larson and Slifka client.

At Pawlenty’s Pizza and Pucks event, Eric Johansen, a Larson and Slifka employee for the Iowa Energy Forum, filmed Pawlenty skating.  It will be interesting to see how that ties into the American Petroleum Institute’s effort in Iowa.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson serves as the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheIowaRepublican.com. Prior to founding Iowa's largest conservative news site, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa during the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. In that capacity, Robinson planned and organized the largest political event in 2007, the Iowa Straw Poll, in Ames, Iowa. Robinson also organized the 2008 Republican caucuses in Iowa, and was later dispatched to Nevada to help with the caucuses there. Robinson cut his teeth in Iowa politics during the 2000 caucus campaign of businessman Steve Forbes and has been involved with most major campaigns in the state since then. His extensive political background and rolodex give him a unique perspective from which to monitor the political pulse of Iowa.




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