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Regina City Council robocalls linked to Republican strategy firm

There has been no shortage of questionable actions by Mayor Michael Fougere and the City of Regina during the city’s referendum on whether to turn its new waste water treatment plant over to a 30-year public-private partnership (P3) or to keep it public.

But the Mayor’s September 16 telephone townhall – one element of the $340,000 pro-P3 ad blitz paid for entirely with taxpayer dollars – raises even more troubling questions about how the City is conducting its ‘vote no’ campaign.

Facebook imageAn apparent mix-up on the September 16  townhall left residents hearing the following automated message: “The Front Porch Strategies teleforum powered by Broadnet is currently in progress …” followed by the Mayor saying, “Err, a problem occurred, but, uh, P3s are very, very successful …” before moving into his P3 pitch. You can listen to a one-minute long recording of the portion of the call quoted above here.

Front Porch’s involvement in the City’s ‘vote no’ effort was the subject of a September 24 Regina Leader-Post article.

Who is Front Porch Strategies?

Who is this firm involved the city’s telephone outreach and voter identification efforts? Front Porch Strategies is a Republican-tied communications firm based out of Delaware, Ohio which specializes in robocalls, telephone townhalls, and constituent identification for Republican candidates and ultra-conservative Christian groups in the US.

Front Porch’s website has featured the following description: “Our passion is helping Republican candidates, elected officials, and conservative causes win by personally connecting them with voters and constituents.” As reported in a March 2012 Toronto Star article, “Front Porch has worked for the top echelons of the Republican Party, including George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, Mitt Romney during his bid for the 2008 nomination and the Republican National Committee.”

Another of Front Porch’s right-wing causes south of the border is challenging women’s reproductive freedom. The same Toronto Star article points out, “The firm has been especially active in trying to overturn the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that ensures a woman’s right to abortion.” On its website, Front Porch highlights its April 2012 work on an event for “Personhood USA and several other pro-life groups … which included Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum … polishing and trumpeting their credentials as Christian conservatives.”

Front Porch Strategies’ Harper Connection

Front Porch Strategies may ring a bell for Canadians because of the firm’s efforts in the 2011 federal election in which, “Fourteen Conservative MPs signed on with a well-connected Republican company during last year’s election campaign, contrary to the party’s claims.” Among their clients was Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, the Conservative Party’s point man on the Robocall scandal, whose campaign spending in the 2008 election is being investigated by Elections Canada.

Despite working on 14 Conservative campaigns, some Conservatives tried to cover up Front Porch’s involvement. “Four of the 14 Conservative MPs who hired US political strategists in the 2011 election do not list the voter contact firm on their Elections Canada expense reports,” according to findings by the Vancouver Observer.

“It’s not clear whether Front Porch stuck to teleforum work or handled other types of voter outreach — such as robo-calling — for its 14 Conservative clients,” the Toronto Star reported, adding that “the company’s website notes it has worked for the Conservative caucus as well as MPs.”

But Front Porch definitely went even further in some ridings on behalf of its Conservative clients, and the Conservatives tried to cover it up. As reported in the Vancouver Observer, “In at least two Conservative-won ridings with reported election irregularities, Front Porch Strategies had US staff on the ground – possibly against Elections Canada rules barring foreign campaigning. In the wake of the ‘robocall’ voter suppression scandal, the Republican-tied U.S. firm hired by 14 Conservative campaigns admitted on Friday to having had U.S. staff working ‘in the trenches’ during the 2011 elections, in an apparent violation of the Canada Election Act which bars foreign political involvement.”

The connection between the Conservative Party and Front Porch Strategies goes even deeper. Prior to the federal election, Front Porch hired Jim Ross, a long-time Conservative operative and former staffer for Conservative MP Rick Dykstra, as a consultant for its Canadian operations. Front Porch also hired Erin Wall, a former communications adviser to Treasury Board President Tony Clement.

And Front Porch doesn’t hide its pro-Harper-Conservative leanings, with the CBC reporting that Front Porch’s “website features a gushing report on Harper and the Conservatives winning last year’s election, calling the prime minister ‘the most powerful conservative leader in the Americas.’”

When the revelations about Front Porch surfaced last spring, Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher commented that “it’s very disturbing to see the Conservative Party using companies with these kinds of partisan (Republican) ties.”

It’s even more so that Regina City Council is doing so ­– with public money.

Questions for Mayor Fougere and the City of Regina

In the Leader-Post article, city spokesperson Deb McEwan claims that Front Porch was only “providing the technology” for the townhalls, but admits the city has no accurate breakdown of how some $70,000 in polling and voter identification money is being spent. And her claim is the same one made by Conservatives in the last election when Front Porch’s involvement was revealed.

Many questions remain unanswered for Regina residents.

Of all the communications firms available, why was a US-based far-right strategy firm with deep connections to both the Republican Party in the US and the Conservative Party here in Canada involved in the City’s campaign?

What will happen with all the voter information that Front Porch Strategies is collecting through its efforts to identify and mobilize ‘no’ votes in the city? Given Front Porch’s ties to the Harper Conservatives, it’s entirely possible that the data Front Porch is collecting for the Mayor will find its way into the Conservative Party’s massive database to better identify potential voters in preparation for the next federal election.

And how will Regina residents feel when they learn that City Council is spending citizens’ tax dollars to support the bottom-line of a company which explicitly supports Conservative, Republican and anti-choice campaigns?

These are all questions the citizens of Regina might want to ask the mayor and city councilors directly over the next few days. If you’re interested in finding out answers, Mayor Fougere indicated in the Front Porch robocall that he can be phoned at 306-777-7339, and contact information for your city councillor can be found here.

And most important of all, when Front Porch calls you for its last scheduled round of data collection, hang up!