Venture capitalist Einhorn behind 'voter fraud' billboards

E. 79th Street in Cleveland, Ohio, before these sorts of billboards were torn down. (Johnnie Smith)
E. 79th Street in Cleveland, Ohio, before these sorts of billboards were torn down.

Billboards warning communities of color in Ohio and Wisconsin that voter fraud can lead to jail time were put up by a group led by a Milwaukee-based venture capitalist and donor to Mitt Romney and the Tea Party movement, an investigation by NBC's theGrio has found.

The billboards—which carried the unnecessary (and some might say, intimidating) warning that "VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY!"—have been removed by the company that erected them in the first place, Clear Channel. They did so after previously defending their own "mistake" and violation of Clear Channel policy—taking payment from an anonymous client for ads, and then allowing that anonymous client to remain anonymous on the advertisement itself. Perhaps plagued by a sudden attack of conscience a week ago Saturday, the company gave the client a choice: either reveal yourself, or the ads need to come down. The client chose to have the ads come down, and to remain anonymous.

But that anonymity lasted about a week. A joint investigation by our colleagues at theGrio and the issue-advocacy group One Wisconsin Now pulled back the curtain a bit:

One Wisconsin Now and theGrio discovered that a little-known non-profit, the Einhorn Family Foundation, based in Milwaukee, was behind the 2010 and 2012 Milwaukee area billboard campaigns. The Einhorn Foundation, led by the family patriarch, Steven Einhorn, is just one of a constellation of conservative organizations that go beyond Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers behind much of the tea party funding, who have become familiar to those watching the rise of “dark money” in American elections since the Citizens United decision in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joy Reid of theGrio, who wrote the report, offered that they could not ascertain whether Einhorn and his family foundation paid for the Ohio billboards. On Monday, Einhorn himself fessed up to it, through a peculiar public-relations statement released to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

"Stephen and Nancy Einhorn placed these billboards as a public service because voter fraud - whether by Republicans or Democrats - undermines our democratic process," said the Einhorns' statement, which was released by the Chicago public relations firm Culloton Strategies."By reminding people of the possible consequences of illegal voting, we hope to help the upcoming election be decided by legally registered voters."

That statement comes from people paid to make the Einhorns look good, but the idea that they're somehow heroes would be laughable were this not such a serious matter.

I doubt that they're short on cash—according to the Huffington Post, the Einhorns donated the max to Mitt Romney's campaign and others, as well as tens of thousands to the Republican National Committee and astroturf Tea Party organization FreedomWorks. If these billboards were such a "public service," one wonders why the Einhorns chose to limit their spending to target the communities they did, and not others. Even though we now know who the "private family foundation" is, there are still clearly more questions to ask.

Above, Melissa Harris-Perry's interview with Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now about the Bradley Foundation -- which theGrio's report also detailed -- during her Saturday "This Week in Voter Suppression" coverage. Below, Joy Reid's report from Ohio about early voting from Sunday's MHP.