An anonymous "family foundation" has paid for nearly 150 threatening voter fraud ads to go up around the Midwest, often in predominately black and Latino neighborhoods (the one above looms across the street from a housing project in Cleveland). The ads, 85 of which have appeared in Milwaukee and 60 of which are now around Cleveland and Columbus, read, "Voter fraud is a felony! Up to 3 1/2 years & $10,000 fine."
Clearly the ads are meant to intimidate minority voters, some of whom are likely ignorant about their voting rights and how difficult to commit and rare voter fraud actually is. According to a Justice Department study from 2006, for instance, voter fraud was a problem in .00000013 percent of the votes cast from 2002 to 2005. It is a non-issue, but you sure wouldn't be able to tell that from the doom-and-gloom billboards.
Naturally, liberal and civil rights groups have been calling for the ads to be removed, especially because nobody will take ownership over them. Clear Channel, the company hosting the ads, said through a spokesperson that it has a policy against anonymous ads, but that this voter fraud contract was signed "by mistake." Despite their internal rules against anonymity, however, Clear Channel says it will not remove the ads or reveal the group behind them. If that doesn't seem like enough bullshit, how about this: Who is one of Clear Channel's main owners? Bain Capital, of course—the investment firm founded by none other than current Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
If you're keeping score at home, this means we can now add menacing billboards in low-income communities to the 2012 GOP tactics file, home already to throwing voter registration forms in the trash and threatening workers with unemployment if they don't vote for Romney.
If you've got any information on who might be behind these Clear Channel billboards, email me.