Misleading Kansas abortion texts linked to Republican firm

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The text messages arrived Monday, the day before Kansans was due to vote on an amendment that would remove abortion protections from their state constitution.

The text claimed that approval of that measure, which would allow the Republican-controlled legislature to ban abortion, would guarantee “choice.” If the amendment fails, the constitutional protections will remain in effect, supporting the current law allowing abortion in the first 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“Women in KS are losing their choice of reproductive rights,” the text warned. “Voting YES to the amendment gives women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”

the unsigned messages were described as deceptive by numerous recipients, including former Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who also served as secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration. She told The Washington Post that she was “stunned to receive the message, which made it clear that a very specific effort had been made to use carefully crafted language to confuse people before voting.”

The gamble was all the more alarming to abortion rights advocates and watchdogs because the source was unknown.

But the messages were prepared by a political action committee led by Tim Huelskamp, ​​a former hard-line Republican congressman from Kansas, and made possible by a burgeoning Republican-focused tech company, according to people familiar with the matter and discussed the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to discuss the advertising blitz. The people and groups behind the campaign have not been previously reported.

The messages were sent from phone numbers leased by Alliance Forge, based in Sparks, Nev. Founded in 2021, Alliance Forge describes itself as “the nation’s fastest-growing political technology company, proudly serving federal, state and local campaigns around the world. nation.”

The numbers were leased by Alliance Forge from Twilio, a San Francisco communications company. The numbers were off Monday night, according to a Twilio spokesperson, Cris Paden, said the account she had leased violated the company’s policy of prohibiting the “spreading of disinformation.”

In a statement, Alliance Forge chief executive David Espinosa said that “Alliance Forge has not consulted on the messaging strategy or content of this message.” He said the company was notified Monday night of a “potential content violation” and “immediately began working with the Twilio team to identify the source and nature of the content.”

The Alliance Forge client who sent the messages was Do Right PAC, chaired by Huelskamp, ​​who served in Congress from 2011 to 2017. The PAC has raised more than $532,000 and spent more than $203,000 in support of the amendment, according to a filing last month. Huelskamp did not respond to phone calls and a text requesting comment.

The Kansas Government Ethics Commission said Monday that, “under current law, SMS advocacy on constitutional voting initiatives does not require paid disclaimers.”

This election cycle alone has paid Alliance Forge more than $60,000 through federal campaigns, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. His clients included Adam Laxalt, a Republican nominee for the United States Senate in Nevada, and a committee associated with Kathy Barnette, a political commentator and unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for the United States Senate in Pennsylvania. Alliance Forge supplied SMS services for both, according to the files.

In the texts sent on Monday, Alliance Forge or its customer was not mentioned, leaving the people receiving the messages with no clear way of telling who was looking. to push them for a “Yes” vote.

The effort provided new evidence of the power of text messaging in political campaigns, as well as the covert style of communication enabled by the platform. Two days after the 2020 election, a Republican company led by a top aide to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign helped secure unsigned text messages urging supporters in Philadelphia to gather outside a building where local election officials were counting votes. It blared: “ALERT: Radical Liberals & Dems are trying to steal this election from Trump!”

Reports filed with the Kansas Ethics Committee show strong interest in the outcome of Tuesday’s referendum, the first major vote on abortion since Roe v. Wade was destroyed in June. Opponent’s camps have spent $11.2 million this year, with the Catholic Church and its affiliates handing out $3.4 million in support of the amendment that could allow lawmakers to impose new abortion restrictions, and the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood are spending $382,000 and $1.3 million to oppose it.

Espinosa, an information technology specialist, is a co-founder of Alliance Forge. The others are Michael Clement, a Republican employee whose LinkedIn profile says he will support Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah), and Greg Bailor, a former state director of the Republican National Committee and executive director of the Nevada Republican Party.

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