DES MOINES—Steven Bierfeldt might strike some political observers as strange. The 29-year-old New York native stormed into Iowa last summer to work as the right-hand man of Republican Party of Iowa chairman A.J. Spiker, rankling some state central committee members.
A former colleague chuckled at Bierfeldt’s habit of working by candlelight to a meticulous candle rotation schedule. He awkwardly tried to control a recent party election in Ft. Dodge while being shouted down by local leaders.
Bierfeldt, a bright-eyed but battle-hardened operative from the Ron Paul presidential campaign, immediately antagonized experienced activists, who Spiker declined to consult with before hiring Bierfeldt. Less than a year later, he’s escalated from his quirky brand of self-promotion to using guerrilla campaign tactics to smear his perceived opponents. Bierfeldt’s style teems with bro-swagger but lacks humility.
Three sources told TheIowaRepublican.com that an email sent Monday night criticizing the news outlet used an RPI database of contacts. The email accused TheIowaRepublican.com of “blatant greed, corruption and disregard for journalistic integrity” for accepting advertising from political groups, especially a PAC connected to Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa.
The uninformed emailer then deduced that some $27,000 in political ads allowed editor Craig Robinson to purchase a home in Ankeny. The anonymous author, believed by many who received the email to be Bierfeldt, declined to mention that the website, a for-profit business like most news outlets, accepted advertising from many other candidates—such as Ron Paul, companies and advocacy groups.
Spiker told the Des Moines Register that he doesn’t know who sent the email and “highly doubts” RPI involvement, but he declined to specifically deny Bierfeldt’s role in the matter. Spiker couldn’t resist a dig at TheIowaRepublican.com, telling the Register that “most of us have known that they’re not your typical press.” Well, duh. That’s why the term “new media” exists. Meanwhile, The Washington Post singled out TheIowaRepublican.com Tuesday as the best state-based political blog in Iowa.
As the Register noted, the anti-TIR email follows a video in TheIowaRepublican.com showing Bierfeldt’s futile struggle with GOP activists for a control of a state central committee election. The email, supposedly sent by “Iowa Republicans for Truth,” comes less than a week after TheIowaRepublican.com asked Bierfeldt for comment on his non-RPI political activities.
Last week, after an initial inquiry in mid-February, TheIowaRepublican.com again asked Bierfeldt for comment on his role in political and policy groups outside of his full-time duties at the Republican Party of Iowa. In particular, Bierfeldt works as the executive director of Americans for Travel Freedom, according to corporate filings and the group’s website.
Bierfeldt’s paid efforts outside of the party raise questions about his impartiality and dedication as a top RPI official. He declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.
Bierfeldt incorporated Americans for Travel Freedom, Inc. as a Nevada domestic non-profit corporation in 2011. He filed a three-page amendment to the corporation’s records last month but the documents were not immediately available from the Nevada Secretary of State’s office. The organization’s address—a Las Vegas P.O. Box—is the same as Atlas Campaign Strategies, a consulting firm run by Bierfeldt.
Bierfeldt’s Nevada firm, whose slogan is “Political Solutions for the Liberty Movement,” lists the Republican Party of Iowa and Americans for Travel Freedom as past website development clients. He also lists a handful of state and federal candidates as clients, including Rod Blum, a Dubuque Republican who unsuccessfully challenged eventual GOP nominee Ben Lange in Iowa’s First Congressional District. Blum’s campaign paid Atlas $5,871 for “telemarketing” last year.
A January blog posting by Atlas, an active corporation according to Nevada records, solicits clients for the 2014 campaign cycle: “It’s never to early to start planning for your upcoming election. Let Atlas print your campaign materials, assemble a voter contact strategy or help you raise $1,000 in a single day.” Bierfeldt is the only employee listed on the company’s website, but you, too, could become an Atlas “official sales partner” by paying Bierfeldt $10 per month.
After TheIowaRepublican.com sought comment from Bierfeldt, Americans for Travel Freedom dismantled its online donations page, which previously accepted credit card donations via Pyrex.
Bierfeldt formed the 501(c)(4) social welfare organization after agents with the Transportation Security Administration detained him in St. Louis for carrying a bit under $4,700 in cash from a libertarian conference in 2009. Americans for Travel Freedom is “dedicated to defending the right of Americans to travel without fear of government abuse or harassment.” The group’s website includes nonsensical ramblings from Bierfeldt in both the first- and third-persons.
“He decided if no one else was leading this effort, then it was his responsibility to form such a group,” he—er, Bierfeldt, wrote. “With his background with the TSA, my liberty minded philosophy and my experience in grassroots organizing and fundraising, I believed he was tremendously suited to form such an organization and put the hard work into it that ensured its success. Thus ‘Americans for Travel Freedom’ was born.”
The organization’s Facebook page has regular activity through the end of 2012, when Bierfeldt simultaneously worked as the executive director of RPI. The group’s Facebook page announced the hiring of Ani DeGroot as development director in Aug. 2011. DeGroot, a former Ron Paul staffer in Iowa City, also works as the elections director for Young Americans for Liberty.
Tax-exempt organizations, including 501(c)(4) entities, must file an initial application for tax-exempt status with the IRS (form 1024) and an annual tax return (form 990). The Internal Revenue Service has no record of such forms from Bierfeldt or anyone affiliated with Americans for Travel Freedom, an agency official told TheIowaRepublican.com last week.
Bierfeldt is also listed as a partner with Virginia-based Exchange Marketing Group LLC.
Iowa Republicans deserve to know whether Bierfeldt still operates his consulting firm and 501(c)(4) organization while on the full-time payroll of the Republican Party of Iowa. Instead of attacking anyone who dares question him, perhaps Bierfeldt should simply answer reasonable inquiries about his outside political and policy work while purporting to represent the state party.
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