Some Context on WVWV

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Apr 30, 2008 at 17:43

Becky Bond of Credo Mobile wrote this explanation of WVWV's activities.  It's a bit sloppily written, but it was a personal email she was gracious enough to let me publish.

this is information i know first hand. working assets has funded WVWV since it started in 2004.  we've seen the research and the field plans grow over time.

WVWV is the only voter registration group with two cycles of replicable randomized control studies showing the impact and cost efficiency of their mail and call based voter registration and GOTV work. here are a few things you may not know about WVWV.

1) WVWV doesn't just target unmarried women. they target hispanics and african americans. so it's not surprising at all that they are targeting black voters in n.c. they've done this in partnership with organizations like the NAACP in 2004 and National Council of La Raza more recently. they use their methods and infrastructure from the unmarried women work to get minorities on the roll. for instance, field groups and funders will pay them to do mail-based voter reg on african americans who don't live in the urban core where they can be cost efficiently registered via door knocking and mass site registration (at bus stops for example). so where minority voters may be more geographically dispersed, WVWV is employed to do that registration by mail order.

2) there is always a spike in voter registration around primaries AFTER the registration deadline has passed. this is the best time to register voters. research confirms this.  around primaries people are reminded that they need to register in time for the general. WVWV has done a lot of research in this area. they know when people are most likely to register. unfortunately, what makes sense in registering the largest aggregate number of voters for the general election at the lowest cost is having a confusing effect in the N.C. primary which is hotly contested and very charged.

3) WVWV has done a lot of research on how to layer communications so as to have the greatest registration rate at the lowest cost from its mail in programs. the calls increase the open rate of the envelopes with the voter registration forms. i've seen research they have done looking at volunteer calls before registration packets arrive v. robocalls. also i've seen research on the effect of who the call is from based on the gender and ethnicity of the targeted voter. are calls from a generic voter participation organization the most effective? or from an individual with a name and way of speaking that is similar to the target demographic.

4) WVWV is not a clinton-associated organization. yes john podesta is on the board, but so is mike lux and william mcnary -- both obama people.

WVWV has made big gains in turning out african american men and married hispanic women in the last two years. i think what is a general election strategy which has caused a wrinkle via misunderstanding in a primary context.

More (Chris): I just want to add that if one of the main goals of WVWV is on registering unmarried voters of all types, then WVWV is actually registering a slightly pro-Obama demographic. The composite primary season exit poll, which was compiled just before March 4th, lists umarried voters breaking 50%-45% in favor of Obama. Either Obama still holds a slight lead among this group, or it is basically a tie.  

Matt Stoller :: Some Context on WVWV

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This is a fascinating story (4.00 / 2)
Especially since Mike, Becky, and Chris (Kromm) are all great and trustworthy people. Thanks for getting this out, Matt -- it's a great public service.

Same Day Registration and Voting is on NOW in NC (4.00 / 1)
This is not the post primary registration period.

This explanation is so damn full of holes that it won't hold a thing. They got the facts wrong. They got the laws wrong. They wouldn't even give the name of their organization.

If this were the first or second time these people had done something like this the excuse Matt gives might be credible.

It isn't.

This is way past 3 strikes for this organization.

They're out.

This organization should be disbanded immediately.

They are either totally incompetent or committing intentional violations of NC laws or both.

[ Parent ]
All you see is what you want to see. (0.00 / 0)
That is quite sad.  Truth matters.  Giving up your critical facilities now in return for faith in Barack Obama is the antithesis of progressive.  

[ Parent ]
They sure could have thought through their strategy a little better (4.00 / 1)
Sending factually inaccurate information to the wrong people right before an election is the height of idiocy.  We ought to get a cease and desist order against them, at least until after Tuesday.

List management on the scale we're talking is bound (0.00 / 0)
to produce a few false positives.

[ Parent ]
The high number of state-based complaints (4.00 / 1)
and allegation of laws broken in NC equals more than a few false positives.

Progressive infrastructures must be held to highest standard possible. Lesson learned.

[ Parent ]
Umm (4.00 / 1)
Did you even read the explanation?

[ Parent ]
I'm just barely buying it. (4.00 / 1)
Could these folks be so ignorant as not to know that NC now offers same-day registration throughout the early voting period? If they want people to register, then can just tell them to get out and vote in the primary before May 3. Then they can vote and register without confusion.

At best, they're completely clueless about anything outside the Village, and true to their status as insiders they're slow to admit error and express regret.

Justice dictates that they lose a slew of donors over this.

[ Parent ]
makes sense (0.00 / 0)
The calls did seem to be pretty poorly designed as voter suppression.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

doesn't make much difference in the end (4.00 / 2)
Whether this was unintentionally deceptive and incompetent, or intentionally deceptive, the end result is the same: the loss of the group's credibility requires serious atonement.

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
yeah, but ... (4.00 / 1)
I get that studies and tests and such are good, but this program and organization were just too cute by half.

[ Parent ]
Can't have it both ways (4.00 / 1)
We are told this is a professional organization, yet it has apparently repeatedly and clumsily violated state laws. Is it professional and experienced or incompetent?

And the use of a fake name must be explained.

If this wasn't intentional... (4.00 / 6)
...then this is a monstrous screw-up and someone demands a human sacrifice as an act of contrition, regardless of whether or not this was intended to help a specific candidate.

What point #3 essentially says is that WVWV intentionally created a false, black-sounding persona to do an automated call to black voters (not unregistered citizens, but voters already on the rolls) giving them the clear impression that they weren't eligible to vote until and unless they filled out a packet being sent to them past the deadline for voting in the primary.

Now, if this was an honest mistake, that still puts this among the most incompetent, idiotic, counterproductive, and deceptive registration campaigns I've heard of.

Whomever wrote the script (and excluded the 'paid for' disclaimer, I might add) needs to be fired immediately.  That's non-negotiable: the script is either intentionally deceptive or the writer unforgivably incompetent.  

Whomever conducted the list targeting probably needs to get the ax as well, since at best they compounded the original sin by calling already registered voters.  

And considering the scope of the PR disaster this has become, the leadership probably needs to resign, too.  

Those actions need to be very public, as does the very, very loud apology and full acceptance of any and all legal responsibility.  Regardless of their goal, be it altruistic or nefarious, this was an absolute train wreck, it wasn't the first, and it requires atonement.

Yeah I blog.

This is a bit bombastic (0.00 / 0)
I like how you are calling for everyone's heads without having any direct knowledge of the research they conducted, the way the lists were targeted (like for example, not knowing how many people they hit who actually were in their stated targeted groups), the error rate on the calls, the differences in response rates based on different types of calls, how the script was constructed, or what the success rate of the program overall has been.

Some of what was done does sound like it was done in contravention of local state laws, which is a fairly serious oversight to say the least and I agree that responsiblity must be taken and remedies implemented.

But the rest of this comment is typical internet flame-war hyperbole.


[ Parent ]
Have you heard "the script"? (4.00 / 3)
Here's a recording of the call.

Who in their right mind would robo-call that script, one that fails to identify the calling organization at all, and during which the only identification offered is a lie?  


[ Parent ]
People (4.00 / 1)
who have read the research about what makes people open the mail and what doesn't.

That's who.

[ Parent ]
Such people don't respect the law? (0.00 / 0)
Is that what you are saying?


[ Parent ]
Nooooo, (0.00 / 0)
I'm saying they designed the script based on the research.

It may be that when they did that and then put the calls into the field they also broke a host of local laws.

It could just be that they royally screwed up the due diligence, which, if they did break the law, they need to address immediately and with real solutions and work with the appropriate law enforcement to bring to a close, whatever that may entail.

Really, it doesn't have to be a conspiracy.

Or a game of blog-comment-parsing.

[ Parent ]
And what they designed... (4.00 / 3)
...was either intentionally misleading or incompetent.  I don't think you can deny this fact given the wording of the script, which clearly implies that you cannot vote UNLESS you fill out and return their packet.  If you want to continue to try and excuse feeding false information to registered voters, go ahead, but what they did was simply inexcusable.

In the next few days, you will receive a voter registration packet in the mail. All you need to do is sign it, date it and return your application. Then you will be able to vote and make your voice heard.

When you tell someone that "you need to do something" in order to "be able to vote," and that isn't true, then you're wrong and almost certainly breaking the law in any state.  If they knew that, it's inexcusable.  If they didn't, it's inexcusably incompetent.

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
or parsing in blog comments (4.00 / 1)
Which is what you are doing, too strenuously.

Methinks thou dost protest too much, and something is rotten in Denmark.

[ Parent ]
And if I hadn't written scripts for phone banks... (4.00 / 1)
...and conducted registration drives and GOTV programs before, I might actually think you had a point there.

If the research tells you to violate the letter of the law or intentionally mislead the voter, you get new research.

If the targeting program has you trying to register people who are already registered, you tweak it or get a new targeting program.

If the script you use involves a fake person with an ethnic-sounding name saying that you need to return a packet in order to vote, you need to have a different script.

And if you approve of those things as head of a group, you need to resign.

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
Yeah that's EXACTLY what the research says... (0.00 / 0)
Yeah, I'm sure the research comes back saying, "Well, if you do these three things that break numerous laws then you'll get a higher open rate."

Good lord. I'm seriously trying to have a discussion here (I don't know why, though, since I'm on a political blog - I must be temporarily insane) about how it is possible that everything WVWV did was actually not some big conspiracy to play in the primaries, but could just be a massive clusterfuck that resulted from fairly smart decisions body checked by bad due diligence and some high error rates on the targeting.

If you've done GOTV before then you KNOW how much lists can suck, how people move, how phone numbers change, how people react to the people who call or go to the doors.

I have been up-front is saying that any illegal activity needs to be acknowledged and dealt with at speed.

I'm not trying to play some gotcha game of semantics of the language of a blog post.

What's interesting to me is how quick you and other are to call for a summary execution without having any context for any of the work that WVWV has done that didn't run afoul of the NC Attorney General. It's no joke to help 400,000 people register to vote in 9-10 months. That takes a lot of time and energy and focus.

Sure, hold them accountable for their screw-ups, but how much sense does it make to decapitate an organization adding hundreds of thousands of voters to the rolls in the run-up to the most important election in a generation?

To my mind, none.

Can't we have accountability without knee-capping people who want progressives to come out in force in November?

Feh. This is ridiculous. I'm defintately going through temporary insanity...  

[ Parent ]
I'm not saying it was a conspiracy! (0.00 / 0)
I'm saying if it wasn't then it was monumentally incompetent.  A cursory glance at the script makes it clear that they were conveying false information to any registered voters who got the call.  Your explanation so far has been that the messaging in the robo-call was (presumably) based on research as to how to get the largest potential response rate.

I've done GOTV, and I know the error rates I've faced, and I know how bad lists can suck, which is why I don't include information that, given a bad list or a high error rate, would result in presenting false information to voters.

At this point, I think that they were either intentionally deceptive or unintentionally incompetent.  From my experience in GOTV, the only other conceivable option (which seems to be essentially what you're claiming) is that they were simply reckless and negligent in their zeal (which charitably boils down to "the intended ends justifies the means").

I just don't see how you can reasonably view this fiasco without coming to the conclusion that the organizational failure involved requires resignations.

Let's assume all your presumptions about intentions are correct:  

If the script's author thought this would only ever be heard by non-registered citizens and didn't realize that such an expectation is wholly unrealistic, that demonstrates a terrible lack of understanding of voter contact, but possibly a forgivable one, I'll grant.

If the person in charge of targeting didn't know what the messaging would be and therefore couldn't speak up about the misleading message WVWV would be sending, that too could be forgivable.

Even granting those two presuppositions, how does someone overseeing both aspects in a leadership role not recognize the problem before authorizing the program to commence, and how does that person not check the applicable laws before committing what must have been hundreds of thousands of organizational dollars on this project?  Even with your charitable presumptions included, I don't see how the leadership can be exonerated on this one.

Unless the person in charge DOESN'T know how bad GOTV lists can suck, DIDN'T check state laws, and DIDN'T review the messaging, this should have been caught and fixed.  And if the person in charge really doesn't, didn't and didn't, that itself shows a high degree of incompetence.  There isn't a scenario I can think of that doesn't demand "decapitation."

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
This is their main purpose for existing (4.00 / 2)
If they can't fulfill their main goal as an organization without breaking applicable state law then maybe we should leave registration drives to others.  This is inexcusable incompetence, and the apology they offered is insufficient.  They need to tell us what they intend to do to fix these problems.  If they can't do that them maybe the don't deserve so much responsibility or such prestigious board members.

[ Parent ]
Like no one you know ever made a huge mistake... (0.00 / 0)
Well I agree with taking responsibility for breaking the law, if they did. (And I'm not a lawyer nor do I have first-hand knowledge of any of what really happened over the phone so I'm not prepared to say one way or the other.) They have to do that. Their credibility is at stake.

But what surprises me is that people are so willing to condemn without first knowing how effective their work has been. I mean, we're talking about an organization that has registered hundreds of thousands of people to vote just over the last two years. What they do works.

Does that mean they don't make mistakes? No. But it doesn't mean they are out to sabotage any election.

[ Parent ]
Umm... (4.00 / 2)
...whomever wrote the script, which was unlawful, needs to be fired.  Disagree?

There have been "a few hundred complaints" from registered voters, according to Facing South, which I presume means there have been many more registered voters receiving the calls who haven't complained.  Since that's a presumption of mine, I included a qualifier in my statement.  Whomever designed a targeting program that led to registered voters being called for a registration program probably needs to be fired, too.  Disagree?

This has turned into a PR nightmare for the group, which has gone from being viewed as a successful registration organization into a suppression organization.  Such a failure, coupled with the fact that the authorized script was misleading and probably illegal, requires a high-level resignation.  Disagree?

So far, all you've said is that I'm employing "typical internet flame-war hyperbole" despite agreeing that they likely broke the law.  I happen to think that all three points I've made are supported by the facts and basic crisis communications strategy.  Feel free to refute them, instead of writing them off thoughtlessly.  But let's not pretend that this is some hiccup instead of a major organizational failure, and let's not pretend that the desired ends excuse the employed means.

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
I agree with some stuff here (0.00 / 0)
Look, I have NO IDEA what the facts are here w/r/t the potential/possible illegalities and neither do you. Unless I was the manager in question with all the facts at my command I can't say who gets fired and who doesn't. We can all say hypothetically that we'd fire anyone who broke the law, but in practice it is rarely that cut-and-dried. Sometimes it is, of course, and thank god for those days when it's all easy.

I love me some Facing South, but having worked for an organization that was the subject of investigations by US Attorney's searching for non-existant voter fraud, which led to the whole US Attorneys scandal, I can tell you that media reports of "complaints" mean absolutely nothing without full knowledge of what's being alledged and what led people to make those allegations. I'm NOT accusing Facing South of engaging in media assassination, just saying that I don't know where the info they report actually came from. Who is making the complaints and what are they saying in them?

So for the targeting program, I'd need to know what percentage of their contacts are actually already registered before I'd make a decision to go to another vendor. Given what we know, which I want to stress is very very very little, I'd say they'd be candidate for firing, but I DON'T KNOW ALL THE FACTS. And neither do you.

Finally, I agree it is a PR nightmare and needs to be addressed with alacrity. But, since I don't know anything at all about the rest of the program except as its been presented on a couple of blog postings, I'm not comfortable with calling for anyone's resignation. We don't have all the context and we don't have all the facts. We don't know what their response rate is for the robo calls and we don't know how many cards are being returned or anythign like that. We honestly don't know if the calls were illegal, though, let me repeat, it sure sounds like they were given what has been presented and if they were, then WVWV needs to be held accountable.

Why are we so ready to kneecap somebody for what could be very honest mistakes?

I'll be the first to pull the trigger if it they really are attempting to get away with something, but until we actually know what's going on, why don't we follow a more cautious course? I mean it's not like they haven't registered 400,000 ppeople this election cycle. That's a huge number no matter where you stand on what's been going on here...

[ Parent ]
the illegality is pretty cut-and-dry (4.00 / 1)
The DEMOCRATIC Attorney General of North Carolina, Roy Cooper:

Regardless of the motivation, the robo-calls violated the law and they needed to stop.

You can read the letter the AG sent to WVWV, asking for details about who wrote and authorized the calls, here.  The press release is unambiguously titled, "AG Cooper stops illegal calls to voters as primary nears".

The reason I know that NC isn't the only state with laws regarding disclosing the source of robo-calls is because I was on the staff of one of the campaigns last cycle that was targeted by NRCC robo-calls designed to harass voters and obfuscate their source.  It was a big issue last cycle (see here).

No, I admit I don't have all the facts (who inside WVWV did what, when they did it, and with what authorization), but we have more than enough to draw a reasonable and informed conclusion about the program itself and certain components of it: the script was misleading (intentionally or accidentally, but undeniably), the targeting hit people already registered to vote, and whomever authorized the program either failed to notice or simply ignored what was being conveyed to the audience.

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
It seems to me (4.00 / 5)
that with the folks they have/had on their board, there's no excuse for such colossal incompetence.  And it's happened in several states, so it's not an isolated mistake.

I would like to know why they don't just identify themselves as WVWV on the phone calls if they are such a highly regarded organization.  Why did they need to create Lamont Williams?

[ Parent ]
Not so dastardly. (0.00 / 0)
I suspect it is because of the research they have done on what makes for an effective robo-call, where effective is defined as boosting the open rate of the direct-mailed VR form.

Did you even read Becky's explanation about the robo-calls?

If by "mistakes" you mean that some people already registered got on their lists, then you don't know so much about managing a program that has literally millions of names from two dozen states. There are going to be false positives. People move. Phone numbers change. It's really not that dastardly.

[ Parent ]
How about breaking the law? (4.00 / 1)
Is that a mistake?  

[ Parent ]
I would say (0.00 / 0)
Yes it was a mistake and one that they need to take responsibility for, if it really was the case. (I don't know the facts so I'm not going to accuse them of breaking the law. But if they did, and it sure seems like it from what I've read, then they need to deal with that and quickly.)

[ Parent ]
Ask NC AG Roy Cooper. (4.00 / 1)
He flat out said the robocalls violated the law. Haven't you been reading any of the reports on this story?

[ Parent ]
Whatever happened to (0.00 / 0)
innocent until proven guilty?

Do I know if they are innocent? No. Do I know if they are guilty? No.

I do know the AG said that on the face of it the calls seem to have broken the law. That's a big deal, for sure. But that is not the same thing as being found guilt under our legal system. It is just media hype and swirling accusations.

And, if proven, then WVWV needs to be held accountable.

In the meantime maybe we should let WVWV have a say on what the hell has been going on before we light all the kindling around the stake and give the witches a little whatfor...

That's all I'm asking for. Consider the facts rather than rush to judgement.  

I don't really know why I'm getting down here in the weeds. No one on these blogs actually wants to have a discussion - they want to make some rhetorical points and kick someone in the virtual stomach.

[ Parent ]
What I gather from that letter (4.00 / 1)
It refers to a conversation between the AG's representative and WVWV's counsel that confirms there were violations, wherein the WVWV counsel agreed to stop the calls.

That's guilt that WVWV has admitted, or don't you see that?

[ Parent ]
And if the truth is a kick in the stomach (4.00 / 1)
Sorry you see it as being delivered by a blog comment. I'm just reporting what's out there.

[ Parent ]
Dude, just post the letter... (0.00 / 0)
Sounds like you've seen more proof than I have. That's cool.

Can you post it or send the link around agian or something so I can check it out too?

That would be teh awesome!


[ Parent ]
The letter starts on page two... (4.00 / 2)
... of this press release from the NC AG.

The text:

Holly Schadler, Esquire  
Lichtman, Trister & Ross
1666 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

Re: Unlawful "Robocalls"

Dear Ms. Schadler:

This is to confirm and follow up on our telephone conversation of earlier this afternoon. My understanding is that you are counsel to Women's Voices Women Vote ("WVWV"), the organization that recently sponsored numerous "robocalls" to residential telephone numbers in North Carolina. These pre-recorded calls purportedly came from an individual named Lamont Williams and informed recipients that they would be receiving information in the mail regarding voter registration.

As we discussed, these robocalls appear to have been made in violation of N.C.G.S. § 75-104.  Failure to comply with this statute subjects the offender to civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, and individuals who receive these unlawful calls may separately recover statutory damages in the same amounts.  N.C.G.S. § 75-105.

During our conversation I asked that WVWV immediately cease and desist from making any more of these calls, and you agreed.  Please ask your client to ensure that no more such calls are made.

In addition, you agreed to immediately provide this office with information regarding the calls made to North Carolinians.  Please fax us at your earliest opportunity the following:

  1. The names of and contact information for all companies or entities that placed these robocalls for WVWV.

  2. Copies of all materials mailed or to be mailed by or on behalf of WVWV to North Carolina residents.

  3. The names of and contact information for all individuals involved in writing or editing the content of any robocalls made to North Carolina residents by or on behalf of WVWV.

  4. The names of and contact information for all companies or entities that provided or compiled the names or telephone numbers of North Carolina residents who received these robocalls.  

  5. An explanation of the criteria used by WVWV, or any third party acting on its behalf, to identify or select the names or telephone numbers of North Carolina residents who received these robocalls.

We will appreciate your voluntary cooperation in providing additional information as our  investigation progresses.  Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and please don't hesitate to call me if you have any questions.

    Very truly yours,

    Gary R. Govert
    Acting Senior Deputy Attorney General


[ Parent ]
Dastardly (0.00 / 0)
was not my word was yours.

Again, why didn't they just identify themselves on the calls as WVWV, and indicate that they were trying to increase voter registration among women?

Voter registration drives are nothing new, so why they are having such a hard time being effective and not drawing the attention of the law upon themselves is certainly a reasonable question to ask.

Did you even read my comment?

[ Parent ]
Did you even read mine? (0.00 / 0)
Yes, of course I read yours. I always read people's comments because I hate flame wars and I don't want to read what I want to read instead of what people actually wrote.

The reason they don't ID themselves has to do with the research related to what is most effective in getting people to open the mail that will follow the robo-call. WVWV is very good about using the best methods for boosting the open rate.

The fact is that most people would not find a call with WVWV id'd and an explanation of what the group's goal was to be as compelling as a short message from someone who sounds culturally familiar. That's it. That's the whole answer.

Having said that, the scripts need to be in compliance with local laws and any breaking of those laws lies squarely with WVWV. If they did break those laws they need to take responsibility and make amends.

Also, WVWV is NOT having a hard time being effective. They are one of the most effective VR organizations out there! They and Project Vote will probably register almost 2.5 million voters between them by October 2008.

Really. Not so dastardly.  

[ Parent ]
Not an unreasonable question (0.00 / 0)
When the methods are so effective and well-researched that they've run afoul of the law in 7 states, people have every right to question what is going on here.

They have serious legal issues here, and it is not unreasonable to question how they're conducting their business.  This is a pattern of behavior, not an isolated incident.

[ Parent ]
No one is above being held accountable. (4.00 / 1)
Who said they shouldn't be questioned? Not me.

But that also doesn't mean that there might be some explanations that aren't really all about who's going to win or lose the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.

Also, just because the methodology is well researched doesn't mean that the implementation can't have its flaws. Different people doing different jobs in teh org and I bet a lot of it is outsourced. These aren't excuses for breaking the law so much as they are possible explanations.

I think everyone's pretty much on the same page the breaking the law is a Bad Thing.

[ Parent ]
Nathan, (4.00 / 1)
what is your relationship with Project Vote?  

[ Parent ]
Boring and unsexy (4.00 / 1)
I work for Project Vote as the director of its Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD). That means I write a lot of stuff explaining our work to allies, funders, and the general public, I do the demographic research that helps inform the field-based VR programs PV manages, and I oversee the modest blogging work we do.

I want to stress that I am posting as myself here, not as a representative of Project Vote.

Project Vote as an organization has no position one way or another on what's going on here with WVWV.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the update (0.00 / 0)
This makes perfect sense in context. Obama supporters might want to stop hyperventilating over every little thing. It can't be helping their candidate.  

I'm sorry, but I have a real problem... (4.00 / 5)
... with any organization that engages in felonious behavior, especially when it relates to voting.  No respectable organization robo-calls anyone without identifying itself accurately during the call, preferably at the beginning of the call.  This organization failed to identify itself at all during the call, and the only identification it gave during the call ("Lamont Williams") was a lie.

Listen to the entire call yourself here.

This script is guaranteed to sow confusion as to whether the person being called, if a registered voter already, is registered or not.

I recognize that any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice, but having seen this same pattern repeated in ten states, the lame apologies they are offering just pin my bullshit meter.


[ Parent ]
WVWV gets good results with their methodology. (0.00 / 0)
No respectable organization robo-calls anyone without identifying itself accurately during the call, preferably at the beginning of the call.

Even if in so doing they register far fewer of their constituency? Would you rather have registered voters or an ineffective but "respectable" robo-call?

WVWV researches everything they do. If the research indicates they get more registrations doing it this way, then they will. It's just smart.

The part where they break state laws is problematic, though, and they need to take responsibility for that, if it is true, and make amends.

[ Parent ]
Just "problematic"? (4.00 / 1)
"The part where they break state laws is problematic ..."

That's a strong candidate for understatement of the day.

Relative efficacy is a non-issue if the allegedly more effective technique is illegal. If I want to sell some awesome widgets, the law doesn't care how good it is for people to use my awesome widget, I can't lie to the consumer to get them to buy more widgets.

Your point is, consequently, advocating the use of illegal techniques to allegedly increase voter registration. Is that the position you really want to take in defending them?

[ Parent ]
No. I'm really not arguing that Mr. Gotcha Man (0.00 / 0)

Seriously, in every single post I've made on this topic I've said they need to take responsibility for breaking the law and make amends. I don't know if what they did was illegal. I'm not a lawyer, cop, or investigator, nor do I have first-hand knowledge of anything they are accused of doing.

However, what I've read, like you, would indicate that at least some of their calls have broken local and/or state laws. If that turns out to be true, then they need to take responsibility for it and work with the authorities to remedy the situation. That could include fines, it could include jail time, whatever. I'm not a prosecutor either.

My point in saying their script is based on research is just that. They are tying to get people registered to vote quickly and efficiently. It's clear they need to do more due diligence in making sure that not only is the script effective it is also legal.

So, no, I'm not and never have been arguing that they should be doing something illegal just because it works better.

Really, this will turn out to not be that big a deal AND WVWV will have a hand in registering hundreds of thousands of progressive voters for the General. I think that's the most important fact in play here.

[ Parent ]
But when you say they need to take responsibility... (4.00 / 1)
...and then try to justify or excuse their unlawful behavior because it produces results, it makes it hard to take your argument seriously.  It comes off as using the ends to justify the means, which is always a pretty terrible idea where voting issues are concerned.

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
I'm sooooo not (0.00 / 0)
saying the ends justify the means. I'm saying the methodology is based on research. That doesn't mean do something illegal! And I've never said that!

Also, we don't know if it is illegal. We just have accusations. They could be right. But they could be just complaints.

We won't know until there's an investigation and/or until WVWV starts to talk.

If the calls end up being judged illegal, then, of course,there need to be consequences. That's what accountability is all about.

But I refuse to believe that they sat there and just figured out how they could make hundreds of thousands of illegal calls so they could.... register progressive to vote!

Believe me when I say a group that seeks to have a profile as high as WVWV and has board members that include OpenLeft's own Mike Lux ISN'T INTERESTED IN ENTERING INTO A CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY!

It sounds like big mistakes were made. So let's let the investigators investigate and WVWV come clean and then take stock.

[ Parent ]
again, there's a difference... (0.00 / 0)
...between gotcha and accountability. And if you have read or heard NC AG Roy Cooper's statement, you'd know that what happened in NC violated the law. Don't tiptoe around that anymore -- you look ridiculous.

[ Parent ]
Who's tiptoeing? (0.00 / 0)
Which posting of mine do I say there should be no accountability? Which posting do I say there should not be consequencies if illegalities are proven?

Oh wait, I said proven, not just stated in the media by an Attorney General.

Well, I've seen statements made by high level law enforcement before that turned out not be proven in court. The US Attorney for Western Missouri accusing the voter registraition group ACORN of engaging in voter fraud with the intent to distorn the 2006 elections in MO comes to mind right away.

Am I saying the NC AG is like that? No. I'm just saying that answering a question from a reporter and getting an indictment for a grand jury and a conviction in court are three different things.

And finally, how much of this is about the fact that WVWV broke a law and how much of this is about the thought that this could somehow play in favor of one Democratic primary candidate or another?

If they broke the law, make 'em pay. But is there not the possibility that they made a BIG HONKIN' MISTAKE?  

[ Parent ]
BIG HONKIN' MISTAKES... (0.00 / 0)
...are generally considered grounds for forced resignations of key figures, which you've argued against.

A BIG HONKIN' MISTAKE here either means that they were incompetent or reckless in their zeal, correct?  Is one of those--incompetence or recklessness--no longer grounds for dismissal these days?

Yeah I blog.

[ Parent ]
bummer (0.00 / 0)
although this doesn't seem to be intentional voter suppression (thank goodness), it is incredibly poor management and stupid, stupid mistakes.  

Since I have a Credo phone and give to working assets, I am really frustrated this is how my $$$ is being used.  

Seriously. Not. Good.

odd press release (0.00 / 0)
TPM Muckraker has an oddly undated press release that was issued sometime after the April 11 registration deadline, explaining what WVWV was supposedly up to.  With its sophisticated voter model, it's completely unbelievable that they couldn't have waited another week before sending this stuff out to North Carolina voters and calling as well.

There are only so many area codes in North Carolina.

Here's there release:


Glad to see the Attorney General has opened an investigation.  It's clear that no resolution will be had until after next week, though.

The whole thing STINKS.

I am still concerned (4.00 / 3)
I don't understand why a legitimate voter registration organization would operate through shady robocalls that both misrepresent the identity of the caller and fail to provide any official explanation for the call's source or sponsors.

The people apparently involved in this are far too canny, and go back too far in politics, to make a mistake like that.  I realize that there are people on the board who mean well, and that they have done good work in the past.  But that does not completely rule out that some people working in the organization may have ulterior motives.  

I really want to see the data that shows that people are more likely to respond to robocalls from random people with no credentials and who make no effort to identify their affiliation.  I'm pretty sure that Page Gardner knows as well as I do that that those numbers don't exist.

This really isn't a major deal. (0.00 / 0)
Those numbers totally exist! This isn't some block ops deal! Reputable researchers like Gerber and Green and David Nickerson have all conducted scientifically-valid studies into the effectiveness of robo-calls for various things.

Given that people respond very well to people who they identify with in some way (people who say they live within 3 blocks of the targeted voter boost turnout of those targeted voters by a small but significant percent) and if the caller's name and accent and speach pattern seem familiar, then people will respond positively.

WVWV has no interest in depressing turnout. They want to boost it. They want to get as many of their constituency registered as possible. To do that you take advantage of everything that is salient to your efforts and presidential primaries are among the most salient. Research shows that's when huge numbers of people become aware of registration requirements and even if they can't do it for the primary they can do it for the general.

Seriously, this isn't nefarious. It's research-based methodology.

Having said that, it's clear WVWV needs to explain this clearly and quickly and they need to deal with the possibility that they broke laws in making the calls.

Really this is about getting progressives to the polls in November.

[ Parent ]
well, we can agree that that is the ultimate goal. (4.00 / 2)
nathanj, I agree with everything you wrote, except for the part where you said that there was evidence that people respond better to calls from random people who don't identify their credentials or affiliations than calls from people who do.  The rest is stuff that I have an experiential knowledge of and know is true -- absolutely, local calls make a big difference, a huge one.  And I accept what you're saying about WVWV, in general.  But these are shady robocalls and if data bears out that this is the best strategy I would suggest that data needs to be re-evaluated.

[ Parent ]
Well... (0.00 / 0)
Not all research confirms what we think to be true.

I used to think robo calls were great for boosting turnout among low-propensity voters. Turns out I was wrong. By a lot. Turns out robo calls have zero impact on turnout among low-propensity voters, although they can be effective at persuading undecideds one way or another or changing people's minds. But for people who are not even thinking about an election they have zero impact.

So it does not surprise me that the design fo the script itself may also have an impact on how people behave after they get the call.

I think part of that is based on context. I would be that the bulk of the people getting the calls don't really find them shady. Some do (as we can see!), but I bet most don't. That's probably one of the reasons why they boost open rates.

I'm just sayin' that your definition of shady may not be the same as someone else's and that's a crucial ingredient in how these calls get structured.

And again, let me say, the calls also need to be legal, too.

[ Parent ]
nod (0.00 / 0)
agreed -- if I saw one set of data saying robocalls with no ID work, I'd ask to see more data.  If I saw more data that said the same thing, I'd accept it.

But yes, I think IDs are probably a very important neccessity for best practice reasons and if that is written into the law then it needs to be observed.  With you on that.

[ Parent ]
why not wait until next week? (4.00 / 2)
Sending hundreds of thousands of mailers and doing robocalls to hundreds of thousands of households a week before a major contested primary?  Which creates confusion about whether someone is actually registered to vote, and occurs after the deadline for registering in the primary?

And then creating a fake - undated(!) - press release that was NEVER SENT TO THE PRESS, and posting it after the fact to somehow make it look like this was your plan all along?

Said press release not even being posted on your own media press release page?

That is simply bizarre.

[ Parent ]
Because (0.00 / 0)
As was stated way earlier in the conversation, interest peaks in the run-up to the primary. In an era of tight money for progressive causes, you have to maximize your resources and that's what they are doing.

I agree that creating confusion is a big deal and that is why WVWV needs to address this thing ASAP and then be available for follow-up questions over the next several weeks.

[ Parent ]
nice try, but even WVWV hasn't suggested that (0.00 / 0)
Although I'm sure they will now that they've read your excuse.  

[ Parent ]
Come on, now... (0.00 / 0)

This is from Becky's email, posted above. Point 2:

2) there is always a spike in voter registration around primaries AFTER the registration deadline has passed. this is the best time to register voters. research confirms this.  around primaries people are reminded that they need to register in time for the general. WVWV has done a lot of research in this area. they know when people are most likely to register. unfortunately, what makes sense in registering the largest aggregate number of voters for the general election at the lowest cost is having a confusing effect in the N.C. primary which is hotly contested and very charged.

Okay, so that's not exactly what I said, which was interest spikes before the primaries take place, but I think the meaning is basically the same. People pay attention to a primary after the reg deadline has passed. I inferred that also means before the voting takes place, but Becky didn't outright say that.

In the end, though, man, come on! We're not playing Internet Gotcha here, we're trying to get progressives to the polls in November. WVWV is doing their best to make that happen.

[ Parent ]
actually, I'm trying to get progressives to the polls NOW (0.00 / 0)
Page Gardner has stated that 400,000 people have returned WVWV's voter forms since July, but doesn't indicate how many of them are new voters.  She also indicates that these people are motivated to vote in the general election, as if there weren't a hugely important primary going on right now.

Moreover, given motor voter and same-day registration in North Carolina, this seems like the perfect opportunity to remind people that it is, in fact, not too late to vote NOW - and they will keep their registration through November!

I see no signs that they've done that, other than a fake undated "press release" obviously created after this blowback started.

[ Parent ]
It's how the political money rules are written... (0.00 / 0)
Encouraging people to vote in a partisan primary is tricky when the money you use to do it is 501c3 dollars. It can be done, but its tricky.

That's why they don't do it.

[ Parent ]
don't mistake gotcha with accountability (0.00 / 0)
You also said something about money being tight, but WVWV seems to have had plenty of cash flow according to reports from IRS Form 990s I've seen today.

[ Parent ]
Plenty of cash flow compared to what? (0.00 / 0)
The biggest field-based voter reg program in the US is going to cost well over $10 million this year, but if you asked the people involved in it if they feel like they are rolling in dough they would laugh long and hard.

They seem to have lots of money because they are running a huge program. But that doesn't mean they can waste their money. They have a budget to meet otherwise they don't register what they've planned to register.

All numbers need context. Hillary looks like she's doing pretty damn well in the money department until you look at how Obama's doing.

But, you are just as likely to be right as I am. I don't have the context either. 8-)

[ Parent ]
why not encourage same-day registration/early voting? (0.00 / 0)
Or at least include a piece on that in the mailing.

I'm sure they're actually using this mailing to create a database, which isn't nefarious, which they will then use as currency for politicians/telemarketers/etc.

All well and good (well, a little sleazy).  Of course, the general election is what they REALLY care about for black voters, if Hillary is the nominee, so this effort kills two birds with one stone.

Nonetheless, this was obviously going to create confusion, particularly given the extreme high profile of this particular primary.  And they'd been warned before.

[ Parent ]
I don't know for sure but I can guess two reasons... (0.00 / 0)
I like EDR, let's have more of that!

I can't speak to this particular call, but I do know that trying to pack too much into one call sharply decreases it's efficacy.

There are also probably some lobbying rules that they would step into if they went there.

Of course that concern didn't stop them from potentially breaking a whole lot of local calling laws...

[ Parent ]
telling people who are registered that they aren't (0.00 / 0)
Is nefarious in my book, and that doesn't even address the possibility that someone has a hidden agenda here.

The more that people work to defend them while avoiding incontrovertible facts, the more the whole thing stinks. Spin guys show up when things start moving out of control. They screwed up, and they failed to make immediate amends and corrections when called on it, over and over.

No one is pointing a finger at Project Vote here. I don't know why you are so vehement in your defense of WVWV to the point that you are avoiding and twisting and rationalizing available, damning facts in the case.

I'm demanding accountability from the principles here. They have done wrong. Period.

[ Parent ]
What facts am I twisting? (0.00 / 0)
We don't have any facts. We have media reports.


The NC AG thinks they broke the law. But he hasn't actually finished his investigation so he can't actually make a case about it. Yet.

I'm not an expert in NC law and I don't have all the facts, so I'm not willing to pass judgement yet.

I'm seriously not trying to make WVWV out to be something they are not. But I'm also not trying to run themout on a rail without a sober assessment of what they really did, what the larger program was, and what kinds of laws were or were not broken.

I'm vehement because I've seen lots of reputation puncturing and paranoia hinder good groups from doing good work and I've seen lots of people back away from groups accused of doing something who were later exonerated or proven to have done something far less serious than what they were intially accused of.

That kind of things hampers the progressive movement and keeps us divided.

Having said that, if WVWV broke the law, then that needs to be addessesed, seriously and soberly. Accountability is important. Clarity is important. Honesty is important. We agree on these values. And I think we agree on due process and innocent until proven guilty. I think we also agree on fair play, even for those who don't practice it themselves.

WVWV may or may not have engaged in fair plan and they may or may not have broken laws across the country. But I'm not willing to sacrifice a major contributor to the expansion of the progressive electorate based on a few blog postings and lots of angry comments from people like us. I'm willing to wait for the actual facts to come out.

I think this also has something to do with my own experience with the USA's scandal. That's not something I would wish on any one on our side. So I'm calling for people to just hang on for a minute to gather more info and let the investigators do the investigating.

[ Parent ]
I'll agree. (0.00 / 0)
I'll agree to wait and see how this plays out. We'll get back to it when we have the whole story -- which may be never, but I'll wait with you.

[ Parent ]
Get your act together! (4.00 / 1)
The next time a Republican outfit gets caught purposefully making bogus robocalls in order to suppress turnout they will point to this incident and claim they made similar mistakes.  

This group should be ashamed of itself.  

as I've read (4.00 / 5)
Facing South has reported that WVWV outsourced these robocalls and mailers to MSHC Partners:

the firm in charge of voter outreach for WVWV is MSHC Partners, whose president is Hal Malchow. reports that Malchow was a member of WVWV's leadership team.

At the same time, MSHC also does direct mail and outreach for the Hillary Clinton campaign. In fact, the campaign owes MSHC $807,000, according to

So, when Becky Bond is talking, is she referring to WVWV's work, or to MSHC Partners' work?

Really. Who is responsible, directly, for the robocalls and mailers? Did WVWV outsource this work to MSHC Partners, or is Facing South wrong? And if that's true, that it was outsourced, why didn't Becky Bond mention MSHC Partners' role in this "voter outreach"?

I'm still waiting for some inside-the-organization explanation, addressing all the questionable points, including the violation of NC law as stated by AG Roy Cooper.

No unidentified apologist in a comment thread is going to change my mind. We don't need excuses or rationalization, we need direct answers to questions that remain unanswered.

so now I know who the apologist is (4.00 / 3)
And what he does -- represents Project Vote. While I can respect that, to say there are no available facts in this case is false. There's a slim chance that a larger context makes what has happened less nefarious, but disregard for laws and ethics in the name of registering voters is wrong in my book, regardless of intention.

[ Parent ]
I'm sooo not an apologist (0.00 / 0)
I'm representing myself in these comments and no one else. Who I've worked for is relevant only as far as it has informed my view of how things work and developed my expertise in VR programs.

I don't know anyone at WVWV and they sure don't know me. 8-)

Everything I've said is from me and no where else.

[ Parent ]
I'll apologize for my characterization. (0.00 / 0)
Okay, so you're not an apologist. I am, right now, for myself. Sorry for the mischaracterization.

Will you agree with me that we need direct answers to unanswered questions from WVWV principles and those in law enforcement investigating this matter?

[ Parent ]
Totally agree that we need direct answers. Totally. (4.00 / 1)
Absolutely. I really think everyone here is one the same side and I'm actually really pleased by how exercised everyone is about what could be voter suppression, since that has been lacking for so long.

Sure could have used that energy back in 2006 when VR drives across the US were getting attacked by the right-wing and the Bush Administration.

We all share core principles and we want them to shine through. I think that's why we're demanding so much from a potential transgressor.

[ Parent ]
Nice catch. (4.00 / 1)
Good going, returning to Facing South for that.   A commenter there has Gardner and Malchow married, so maybe Mike Lux can give us color on him too.

So, now it's on to see if MSHC has nefarious plans, or if they just went and mucked up HRC's outreach too!

I remember getting Jack Nicholson robocalls in CT for HRC, when I was really up in the air, and they didn't help her out.

[ Parent ]
They claimed that they would fix things in Feb. (4.00 / 3)
The problem with this group is that in Febuary, they claimed that they would fix the problems after Virginia issued a statewide fraud alert.
Sarah Johnson, communications director for the organization, said Friday that not including information about the source of the voter registration effort was "absolutely an accidental omission."

She said the group was changing its nationwide phone alerts to make clear who is coordinating the effort.

And coincidentally this happened right before the primary there too.  Go figure.

So are that so inept that they cannot fix something in 3 months or did they have no intention of fixing anything?

This is a ruse (4.00 / 2)
In order to be guilty of voter supression, you have to have the prerequisite intent.  They have carefully crafted a bogus story in order to demonstrate that their intention was not to supress votes but to encourage registration.

So explain the VA primary to me.  Someone, anyone?

I really hope they are just really mistaken (4.00 / 2)
I take Matt's point in the "babies" post above that voter registration is really hard and 400k new voters is really impressive. There area clearly good people working hard for our cause involved with WVWV.

And it just doesn't make much sense as a voter supression tactic. Following up with mailings with your contact info is a bad way to stay under the radar.

However, something weird is going on.

If your spokeswoman is quoted on Feb 9th saying

Sarah Johnson, communications director for the organization, said Friday that not including information about the source of the voter registration effort was "absolutely an accidental omission."

She said the group was changing its nationwide phone alerts to make clear who is coordinating the effort.

and then today

But that practice would stop, she said. "This not identifying ourselves on the call, that's not something that is going to continue as we move forward. Our phone calls in the future will correct any confusion about the calls." When I asked if there had been any particular strategy behind not identifying the group as making the calls, she said no.

It certainly gives the impression that you are either not competent or not telling the truth.

So I would like more information and I hope Mike Lux can fill us in.  

This controversy is taking on a bit of stink (4.00 / 2)
The responses (no matter if they are well intentioned) from the Gardner apology at HuffPo, the Bonds memo here, and every other attempt at explanation doesn't answer nearly enough of the concerns that have been brought up.

Unless something answers the questions and concerns soon, I think it's pretty obvious intentional crime has been committed here.  People don't need to obfuscate if they've done nothing wrong.

God (0.00 / 0)
Reminds me exactly, but exactly, of what the Republicans would say when they were ginning up another Clinton scandal. Every. Single. Time.

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

[ Parent ]
First we kill Lamont. (4.00 / 1)
Then we'll see who's ready to talk.

This is a Test of the Emergency Free Speech System. This is only a Test. In an actual Free Speech Emergency, I'll be locked up.

Ha! (0.00 / 0)
That's funny. 8-)

[ Parent ]
You are all nuts. (0.00 / 0)
I gave them a donation today and encourage others to register all voters.  I left blogistan needs to step away from the conspiracy mentality and get some fresh air.  This is not Dungeons and Dragons.  

And I'm sure that WWWV was registering women... (0.00 / 0)
... has absolutely nothing to do with why they were targeted. Nope. Not a thing. Of course not. How could you think that?

I am in earnest -- I will not equivocate -- I will not excuse -- I will not retreat a single inch -- AND I WILL BE HEARD.  

Context or Spin? (0.00 / 0)
"WVWV doesn't just target unmarried women. they target hispanics and african americans."

Not what they said to the NC Board of elections: "our goal . . . is to make sure that as many of these [unregistered] women as possible are able to register to vote."  

No mention whatsoever of black voters, which would of course set off the spidey sense of any elections official worth his salt. Nor any mention either of the robocalls themselves, which is likewise strange, since it was the calls that prompted the ire of so many election and law enforcement officials in numerous previous states prior to NC.  

I am willing to believe incompetence (0.00 / 0)
After all another of Mike Lux's friends was fired by clinton for incompetence.  

She wasn't trying to ruin the clinton campaign probably.  

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