Romney National Finance Co-Chair and Melaleuca CEO, Frank VanderSloot is using his resources for the promotion for partisan political flyers* circulated in at least four Eastern Idaho public high schools late October.
The American’s for Prosperity branded flyers were specifically targeting teens at $10 an hour to staff Melaleuca’s Idaho Falls and Rexburg call centers to make political phone calls to swing state voters with an anti-Obama message under the guise of a survey.
The flyers designed to spur competition between rival schools sported headlines, “Madison H.S. vs. Rigby H.S” and “Idaho Falls H.S. vs. Skyline H.S.” baiting to hook students with cash.
Both flyers said:
“Who can make the biggest national impact? Represent your school…earn some ca$h…Make a difference! We will pay you $10 an hour to help educated Americans on President Obama’s failing economic agenda! Each participating student from the winning school will receive an additional $30 bonus.”
“We are hiring committed individuals to help make phone calls to survey Americans in priority states like Colorado and Ohio on economic issues (using a scripted message.) Participants must be at least 16 years old and part of the high school community—students, teachers, family members, friends, and neighbors. We are encouraging participants to come in Tuesday, between 9am-9pm, to sign up and go through a paid orientation.”
A 16 year-old Madison High junior from Rexburg, known here only as “Mike” because he fears reprisals if he is known, told As I See It he was handed a flyer by another student while in the school’s library as they were being distributed by a group of young people.
Speaking to AISI in her capacity as acting Chair of the Madison County Democratic Party, and mother of a Madison High student, Dawn Anderson said when she saw Melaleuca’s name on the flyer, “I thought okay, that explains everything Mr. VanderSloot is behind this.”
School district 91 Communications Coordinator, Margret Wimborne told a local Channel 8 reporter, “It looks like the organization used our students to distribute it in our schools against policy. We won’t approve any kind of posters or flyers that are political in nature or that are solicitations for commercial purposes.”
District 91 includes Idaho Falls and Skyline high schools, both about 28 miles south of Rexburg.
The job opportunity advertised in the politically-charged flyers created conflict and upset some kids.
One mother said her child came home from school crying asking if working at the call center would make them a Republican.
Mike was conflicted too because he does not like the concept of super PACs, and leans in support of President Obama, which can be isolating in places like Rexburg.
“The one thing that really bothered me, they are giving [the flyers] to all the kids and they are, in a sense they are just kind of using them,” said Mike.
On the other hand, Mike said, “It’s tough to find a job in general, especially since Rexburg is a college town.
All the college kids take the jobs. So the ten bucks an hour is a huge incentive.”
Despite having mixed feelings, both kids ended up working at the call center for several hours for the money.
Although Bob could not hear what was being said across the room, he did hear AFP callers talking in the break room. “When they leave a message, they always mention how Barack Obama promised that if the economy wasn’t better he would be a one term president…That’s one big thing I know on every message they would always mention.”
Bob who is four years older and making $8.50 an hour, while 16 year-olds got $10 for making political calls said, “I’m always annoyed by how little companies can get away with paying people.
Melaleuca made $1 billion worth of sales last year but I have no idea where that money is going. It’s not going to their employees in Rexburg I can tell you that much.” Trying to look on the bright side, Bob added, “but after a week, I’ll still have a job.”
Mike said when he worked at the call center, “It was always packed … They made about 300,000 calls a day … just out of Rexburg. I mean it was nuts. You cruise through tons of calls a day just by yourself and I think they said [they] have like 600 lines. They are burning about $6,000 an hour roughly just on this.”
The experience only cemented Mike’s negative opinion of Super PAC’s.
“We were supposed to read them this,” Mike said, “‘Four years ago President Obama promised to fix the economy yet more than 23 million Americans are still looking for work, a record 47 million are on food stamps and we’re saddled with more than $16 trillion in debt.’”
“Then we were to ask: ‘Have President Obama’s policies helped or hurt the economy?’ If they said yes to that question, we’d refer them to FailingAgenda.com [which redirects to the AFP website] to sign our petitions and tell Obama his policies just aren’t working.’”
Expressing concern about saying something that might get him in trouble, Mike said, “In a way I feel like it was a little bit of a lie.” Mike recalled the trainer telling them, “We don’t ‘technically’ support Romney. We don’t ‘technically’ support Obama. We just STRONGLY don’t support Obama.” (Mike’s emphasis)
The three words, or variants thereof, Mike was instructed never to say during calls were voting, election & Mitt Romney.
“The people at Americans for Prosperity with Melaleuca wouldn’t tell me why. They mostly just said because we are supposed to be bi-partisan.”
But if you actually think about it,” said Mike, “the reason they can’t say that is because then it seems to be like coordinating with the campaign. That is how they are trying to circumvent the system I guess.”
This sharp 16-year old brings up a good point that is most troubling in this post Citizens United world.
It is hard not to believe there is at least some kind of coordination going on between the Romney campaign and Americans for Prosperity.
As the National Finance Co-Chair for the Mitt Romney for President Campaign, VanderSloot does indeed have a vested interest in the Romney campaign.
By hosting the so-called “non-partisan” super PAC, at his company’s call centers, VanderSloot would have a hard time distancing himself from the effort to help hire teens to work for the conservative super PAC.
Melaleuca appears to be actively offering expensive in-kind donations by “Teaming up” with Americans for Prosperity by offering his large capacity call center facilities to the super PAC.
When asked to speak to three members of the Americans for Prosperity leadership team each by name, I was told President Tim Phillips is on the road.
An update will be filed should we hear back from anyone at Americans for Prosperity.
Susan, a mother of another Madison high student and does not want her last name used told AISI, “That is pretty good bait, $10 an hour. What kid couldn’t use that? That’s pretty good change for kids.”
Susan said she knows of 4 students that skipped school to work in the Rexburg call center, including one of her own kids. “I would be curious to see what the school attendance records were for last week.”
Although the politically-charged flyers bothered Susan, what disturbed her more was when a substitute teacher in one of her child’s classes asked students, by a show of hands, who supported Romney. One kid who raised their hand for Obama later told Susan it made them very uncomfortable.
“I would like to say [the flyers] had nothing to do with it but I don’t know for sure. This is not an isolated incident,” said Susan.
Susan said teachers polling kids happens every election cycle in Rexburg and this election is more intense because Mitt Romney is member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Because Susan has an Obama sign in her yard one of her kid’s friends is no longer allowed at their house.
With Rexburg being predominantly LDS, and a Mormon herself, Susan says she is made to feel by Republican Mormons that she is somehow voting against her religion by supporting Obama.
Readers may recall Rexburg making national headlines after Obama won the 2008 election when second and third graders were chanting “assassinate Obama” on the school bus.
“I can’t stand it, it’s like suffocating up here … I don’t want to generalize but I think a lot of women follow their husbands because they are priesthood leaders,” said Susan.
Anderson, who is also a teacher in the district and president of the Rexburg Education Association, filed a complaint Nov. 1 with the Superintendent of Madison School District 321, Dr. Geoffrey Thomas.
Here are excerpts from Anderson’s complaint:
“I am not speaking as REA president on this, but as a parent and as (acting) Madison Democratic Chair, I have heard now from a student—I am sure more would verify this—that a substitute teacher by the name of Mrs. Bird asked all classes she taught for a show of hands as to who would be supporting Romney and who would be supporting Obama for president.”
“As I understand it, the survey corresponded with the distribution of flyers for the Americans for Prosperity offering students $10 an hour to make phone calls to ‘educate Americans on President Obama’s failing economic agenda.’”
“I have learned of at least four students who are missing school to make these phone calls.”
“The distribution of flyers luring kids to make campaign calls seems to have been initiated off campus. My son received one from a girl who claimed she was paid $30 to hand these out to her friends.”
“This use of Madison students for back-door politicking is questionable at best and unethical at worst.”
“I have concerns about stacking the deck like this.” Anderson told AISI, “If the democrats were to go in and distribute flyers to students over calling exposing the lies of Mitt Romney the [stuff] would hit the fan and splatter all over the county.
They would not be able to get away with that.”
Madison County School District Superintendent Dr. Geoffrey Thomas was unavailable for comment. An update will be published should we hear back from Dr. Thomas.
As Susan expressed, politics is complicated for anyone in Eastern Idaho who is not in lock step with the majority LDS Republican party, even for kids.
Given VanderSloot’s relationship with fellow LDS State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Luna, it is reasonable to assume VanderSloot has at least some influence over public education.
In the pre-Citizens United era, Idaho Secretary of State records for 2002, 2005-06 and 2010 show VanderSloot and his company contributed $47,000 to Luna’s superintendent races.
Now waging his own battle in this election, Luna is facing a voter referendum to overturn his unpopular trademarked “Luna Laws” education reform bills (SB1108, SB1110, SB1184) passed into law last year.
In an effort to save the Luna Laws VanderSloot has dumped $1.44 million into a statewide media campaign and using Romney footage to push back.
There are strong signs the Luna Laws will be overturned Tuesday and Romney will lose the election.
Should that be the case and if past is prologue, VanderSloot is likely to play an upstanding do-gooder who has been victimized in public yet behaving quite differently behind closed doors.
One can only wonder what VanderSloot may have up his sleeve with or without a Romney win.
©2012 May-Chang Media
*(Hat tip Sisyphus at 43dStateBlues.com)