Politico Smears Conservative Group Opposed to New FCC Regulations

American Commitment says its 1.6 million comments were legitimate and can prove a vendor was responsible for technical error.

Opposing new FCC “net neutrality” mandates is suspicious, according to Politico. The politics insider site recently cast suspicion on a conservative group over emails asking legislators to oppose the FCC’s new Internet regulations.

As part of American Commitment’s campaign opposing net neutrality regulations the limited-government, free-market group helped hundreds of thousands of people send emails to their congressmen requesting they oppose the FCC’s Internet takeover.

But left-leaning Politico attempted to connect American Commitment to a separate campaign responsible for submitting erroneous messages to legislators, even though the second campaign occurred without the “knowledge or consent” of American Commitment.

American Commitment helped coordinate more than 1.6 million messages from more than 540,000 constituents, submitted from March 5 through March 27. These constituents asked their congressmen and senators to fight against the FCC’s net neutrality rules that regulated the Internet as a public utility.

“We've never seen such an intense citizen response in opposition to a federal regulatory action,” American Commitment President Phil Kerpen said in statement.

Just days after the campaign ended, Politico focused on American Commitment in a story about “suspicious” emails received by some members of Congress. The online headline “Net neutrality emails raise suspicions” was plastered above a huge picture of Kerpen.

That March 31 article said that an unspecified number of messages opposing the FCC’s net neutrality rules were not sent by genuine constituents and strongly insinuated American Commitment was involved. Politico even invoked a favorite liberal bogeyman: “Koch brothers.”

“The notes have identical wording to those organized by a group called American Commitment, which is led by Phil Kerpen, a former top aide at the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity,” Politico said.

Politico said that government contractor Lockheed Martin analyzed the suspicious comments, and doubted the “legitimacy of the email address contact associated with the incoming message[s].”

At least Politico quoted Kerpen who said he was aware other groups “borrowed” language from his group, but that American Commitment had not been involved in any of the “suspicious” messages. He said American Commitment confirmed that its emails were from real constituents.

“We’re aware that other groups used identical language in their campaigns and we cannot speak to those efforts,” Kerpen said, according to Politico. “We verified our data through postal address verification and follow up phone calls. We stand by our campaign and Congress should work to stop President [Barack] Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet at the request of these constituents.”

Although the article quoted Kerpen denying his group’s involvement, it failed to point the finger anywhere else.

Additional inquiry could have established that American Commitment was not responsible. In a letter obtained by MRC Business, a vendor retained by American Commitment admitted that it (the vendor) was responsible for the erroneous messages in question.

The letter to American Commitment read in part, “Regrettably, without your knowledge or consent, the language from your letters was incorrectly associated” with a separate campaign for a different, though unspecified, organization’s letters about the same issue. The vendor had verified the data used for American Commitment’s campaign, but technical errors connected incorrect information with constituents in the second campaign.

The vendor made it clear the mistakes were not intentional. The messages that the second campaign submitted “incorrectly or with incorrect or incomplete data was by no means intended to mislead any office or any person.” The vendor also said “the mistakes were technical in nature” and that they had “taken steps to prevent future errors in submission.”

Kerpen told MRC Business that he explained this to Politico after its article was published. He also told them that the messages could not have been from his group simply based on their delivery dates. He said Lockheed Martin’s analysis confirmed that members of Congress received the erroneous messages after the American Commitment campaign was over.

Politico has refused (so far) to print a correction or to update its original story, according to Kerpen.

Kerpen said American Commitment plans to redeliver its 1.6 million messages to members of Congress by April 9, to dispel any doubts about the validity of the group’s campaign.