Friday, October 19, 2007

Aren't PCE and Free Capitalists cooperating?

Occasionally, I get pointed notes here that don't contribute to any objective analysis of the voucher referendum or the organizations supporting or opposing it. Usually they repeat someone's talking points, or they argue against a conclusion I've drawn from researching these things. Most are anonymous, although Paul Mero from the Sutherland Institute did use his own name, and a few others have. If these notes rely on rhetoric rather than objective data, I usually delete them because they don't add anything new to the analysis of the issue.

But I received one last night that I'm going to include in today's post because it begs a simple question: What is the connection between Parents for Choice in Education and the "Free Capitalist Project"?

To remind readers, I wrote yesterday about Governor Jon Huntsman's lukewarm remarks about the voucher referendum. Far from cheerleading, the governor repeated his party leaders' message about vouchers, said he would vote for the plan, but then told Utah voters to study the issue and make up their own minds. I thought it was a statesmanly and politically skillful thing to do.

Then I posted the entirety of a full-page ad in the Trib, paid for by Utahns for Public Schools, that cataloged a host of offenses on the parts of Parents for Choice in Education, the Free Capitalist Project and other PCE allies in their campaign to spend money from All Children Matter of Michigan to buy a statewide, universal voucher system for Utah. To be more specific: The only time I mentioned the Free Capitalist Project in my Thursday was when I copied a direct quote from a Trib ad, which itself copied a direct quote from a Paul Rolly column in the Trib. Here's the link to my post (, here's the link to the original Trib column (

And here's the specific excerpt that mentions the Free Capitalist Project:

With polls showing overwhelming numbers of voters poised to repeal the voucher law that was passed by the Legislature last winter, voucher advocates got so desperate Thursday they sent an e-mail from the Free Capitalist Project offering money for pro-voucher votes in next month's referendum election. But then someone must have let them know it usually is considered illegal to buy votes, so they sent a second e-mail several hours later retracting everything they said in the first e-mail.

Now, here's the note that was posted at my blog last night. If I'm to take it at face value, it comes from a "Free Capitalist insider":

Just to clarify a few things. The email was not "sent out by the Free Capitalist Project." The email was sent out by a volunteer member of the Free Capitalist Project who is currently employeed by PCE. The offer in the email was a PCE offer, and the Free Capitalist Project new nothing about the details of the "get out the vote" campaign, and had simply allowed the email to be sent to Free Capitalist members using the email database and template.

The retraction was also decided upon by PCE.

While we may disagree on politics, and Free Capitalist obviously has to be responsible for what they do, it is worth noting that NOTHING happened.

I can agree with a lot of folks who are suprised even angered by the email - but human beings in a free society make mistakes of all different varieties. Its suprising to me that so many "so called" lovers of freedom are so quick to judge those they disagree with by standards that if applied accross the board would have all of us in jail or fined severely.

Just .02 cents from a Free Capitalist insider.
(Anonymous) 8:21 PM

(This was a cut-and-paste, so the various errors belong to the author.)

In the interest of "clarify[ing] a few things" as my correspondent begs, let me offer some objective facts gleaned from the media and from my own online research.

First, an email message was published on a Free Capitalist Project "template" and was sent to Free Capitalist Project members and others in an Free Capitalist Project email database. We must assume that since no accusations of "hacking" have been lodged, the person(s) sending the message, using the Free Capitalist Project template to email addresses found in a Free Capitalist Project email database, were given access to these resources by the parties responsible for the Free Capitalist Project.

Next, Paul Rolly published the substance of both the original email and the "retraction" in the Salt Lake Tribune, which is one of the state's major newspapers. Mr. Rolly didn't invent the email, nor the retraction, nor the substance of either, nor did he invent any the $10-per-voucher-vote scheme that was represented in the original email. No amendments have been made to Mr. Rolly's column, nor any retractions of its substance.

At the same time, Tiffany Erickson of the Deseret Morning News -- another major newspaper -- reported very plainly and clearly here (,5143,695217972,00.html),

A pro-voucher group offered to pay "motivated" individuals to go out and secure votes in favor of the program. However, a retraction and apology were later sent. The Free Capitalist Project sent out e-mails earlier this week looking for "advocates" who could earn $250 for securing 25 names of voters who committed to vote for Referendum 1. They could earn $10 for every additional name after that. The group also claimed they were working on behalf of Parents for Choice in Education, something PCE said Thursday was false.

In fact, in Ms. Erickson's reporting, she quoted Free Capitalist Project CEO Rick Koerber himself saying that he gave "permission" for the person(s) to use his email list.

And, in fact, given the brief history of PCE and its well-documented tactics, a lot of attentive bloggers were more surprised at the attempts by responsible authorities to disentangle themselves from the new tactic than surprised by the new tactic itself.

Democracy for Utah wrote here (,

But really, come on... how likely is it that some random volunteer, all on his or her own, would send out a mass e-mail offering to pay people money out of the organization's funds? Money that hadn't been approved? This excuse is right up there with "the dog ate my homework." Take a little personal responsibility, someone.

Justin at Utah Amicus quoted Utah Code here (, saying

Utah Code 20A-1-601. Bribery in elections.
(1) It is unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, by himself or through any other person to:
(a) pay, loan, or contribute, or offer or promise to pay, loan, or contribute any money or other valuable consideration to or for any voter or to or for any other person:
(i) to induce the voter to vote or refrain from voting at any election provided by law;
(iv) because a voter voted or refrained from voting for any particular person, or went to the polls or remained away from the polls; or
(2) In addition to the penalties established in Section 20A-1-609, any person convicted of any of the offenses established by this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years, or by both a fine and imprisonment.

Which prompted commenter Jason The to observe, below the post,

I think things like this should be avoided in general. Obviously paying a canvasser "per head" to go out and encourage voters is not in itself illegal, but paying based on who actually votes would be, and when it comes to the PCE's reputation (so far) in this debate, I'm uncomfortable with them proceeding in this way.

I think common sense should tell an organization to steer clear of anything of this sort. It not only looks desperate and suspicious, but it creates a risk for abuse. If you can't campaign successfully without resorting to these types of incentives and tactics, perhaps it's time you reconsider your own point of view.

Maybe you're losing a particular campaign because you're wrong, and not because you're not paying people enough to vote? Just a thought.

Richard Warnick wrote at One Utah here (, "Today we learned that voucher proponents are desperate enough to pay people ten dollars each to vote for vouchers. This came from a group called the Free Capitalist Project founded by pro-voucher moneyman Rick Koerber, the second-largest donor to PCE."

And Glendon Brown, writing also at One Utah, added here (,

Richard commented on the PCE/Free Capitalist email offering cold hard cash for voucher voters. I think there’s money to be made. Here’s what we do: We knock on doors and tell people:

“Hi, my name is . . . , I’m being paid by PCE and Free Capitalist knock on doors to get names of voters interested in the voucher issue. If you let me, I’d like to put your name down and get paid $10. You will receive information from these folks and they’ll include you in get out the vote activities. You are under no obligation to vote for the vouchers, but I’d like to get paid. May I put your name down?”

(Yeah, I know they “retracted” the email, but I don’t for a second believe these folks are above paying for votes.)

EDarrell at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub went even further here (, writing,

Salt Lake Tribune political reporter Paul Rolly shows just how desperate are the voucher supporters in Utah, with polls showing the voucher referendum on the November ballot will crush the pro-voucher legislation: They offered bribes. Yes, bribes are illegal. You know that, I know that. Tell it to the voucher advocates.
I’ll wager it wasn’t the illegality that stopped them. Somebody probably sat down with a calculator and suggested how much it might cost them, at $10.00/vote, if people took them up on the offer. And for the $10.00, there’s no guarantee that any of the votes would be switches — no guarantee that it would sway any votes their way.

And AndrewsMiracleDrug, before doing his own research and finding the Free Capitalist Project's principles published at Wikipedia, wrote here (,

Unbelievable. An email sent out on behalf on Parent Choice in Education promises that volunteer “advocates” can earn up to $10 a head for every family member or friend they get to commit to vote yes on Referendum 1. The email was sent by the Free Capitalist Project (and quickly rescinded). You may have seen billboards along I-15 in Draper and Utah County touting the Free Capitalist.

So, given the coverage this train wreck has been given in the regular media and in the blogs, why is a "Free Capitalist insider" now trying to distance the FCP from PCE?

Are they not working hand-in-hand in support of the voucher referendum, supported largely by funding from All Children Matter of Michigan?

Is FCP CEO Rick Koerber not one of the largest individual contributors to PCE, giving more than $25,000 in his own name and in the names of his corporations (

Did he not admittedly give permission for PCE employees -- knowing they were PCE employees -- to use FCP resources?

Is it not a well-known tactic to recruit like-minded individuals using the resources of like-minded organizations, like when PCE advertised to hire activities from all across the country (which I described here

In my view, the connections between FCP and PCE are documented sufficiently enough that it's foolish for any "Free Capitalist insider" to disavow the relationship now. And if FCP's goal is to rehabilitate its image, it's going to take more than "clarifying a few things" at a weblog (or a dozen weblogs) to do it. We're known by the company we keep, aren't we?

One last thing: My "Free Capitalist insider" emphasizes that, in the wake of this embarrassment, "it is worth noting that NOTHING happened." I think that's a great point, and it leads me to a final question: If the FCP was so damaged by this debacle that its insiders are seeking to "clarify" facts, might they not insist also that the offending employees/volunteers be removed from their positions with PCE? Would not a Fortune 500 company replace a division leader who made such a blunder? And do so without batting an eye? I ask because at no point in the past week have I heard or read anyone say that disciplinary action was taken by anyone against anyone. I only hear and read variations of "mistakes were made," and we know the real value of such rhetoric as that.