Conservative advocacy group Strong America Now attempted to distance itself from a rapidly growing controversy Wednesday, but may have done severe damage to the organization’s reputation in the process. A story published Tuesday here at the IowaRepublican.com details several ties between Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign, Strong America Now and the Iowa Energy Forum. The TIR story made the rounds on national news websites.
Both Strong America Now and the Iowa Energy Forum are offering free tickets and transportation to the Ames Straw Poll. The groups’ ties to the Pawlenty campaign, including shared staffers, give the appearance of a conflict of interest and potentially unfair advantage for Pawlenty. The Ames Straw Poll is the first crucial test in the 2012 presidential race.
Nicole Schlinger is the Ames Straw Poll coordinator for Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. She holds the same position for Strong America Now. The group released an email Wednesday evening saying they had removed Campaign Headquarters, Schlinger’s company, from “the majority of Ames Straw Poll responsibilities”.
The statement from Strong America Now includes a dubious claim that they did not know Campaign Headquarters was also organizing the Straw Poll efforts for the Pawlenty campaign.
Here is a portion of that email: (emphasis added):
“Strong America Now has pulled the majority of Ames Straw Poll responsibilities from Campaign Headquarters after learning through press reports that it was also leading the Ames Poll efforts for the Pawlenty campaign. Campaign Headquarters is a third-party vendor for Strong America Now that manages its phone efforts and field staff.”
It is preposterous for Strong America Now to say they just found out that Nicole Schlinger was also managing Tim Pawlenty’s campaign Straw Poll efforts. FEC reports released two weeks ago show Schlinger was paid over $28,000 by Pawlenty last quarter. Her hiring was announced via a Pawlenty campaign press release, and earned its own story in the Des Moines Register on May 27th, and was reported by several prominent regional and national media outlets, including the Dallas Morning News website. Strong America Now’s headquarters are located in a suburb of Dallas, TX.
Making the group’s claim even more difficult to believe, on June 20th the Strong America Now website posted an article written by TheIowaRepublican.com which clearly states “Nicole Schlinger and her company, Campaign Headquarters, have been working for Strong America Now for over a year now. Schlinger is also Pawlenty’s straw poll coordinator”.
Strong America Now also opted not to distance itself from Schlinger’s organization completely. They claim they pulled “the majority” of Straw Poll responsibilities from her company. However, the next sentence clearly details that Schlinger’s organization manages “phone efforts and field staff” for Strong America Now. At this point, most of the Ames Straw Poll plans, such as arranging food, entertainment and logistical issues, have likely already been made. The key is to get supporters to the event. That requires the work of field staff.
Unless Strong America Now plans to turn those efforts over to someone not affiliated with Campaign Headquarters, or Tim Pawlenty’s campaign, their statement shows they really have done very little, if anything, to remove the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Tim Pawlenty is one of six presidential candidates who has signed Strong America Now’s deficit reduction pledge. Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum are the others. Michele Bachmann, whose campaign has been very vocal about the group’s potential conflict of interest with Pawlenty’s campaign, plans to sign the pledge this weekend in Cedar Rapids.
Photo by Dave Davidson Prezography.com
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