* Politico last week…
Conservative activist John Tillman, founder of the Illinois Policy Institute and other right-leaning groups, has started a new project aimed at electing Republicans in 2022, the Washington Post reports under the headline “stealth persuasion machine.”
The American Culture Project uses data collection and digital ads to target potential voters. That’s a standard practice in politics these days.
But what’s unusual about the American Culture Project, experts tell the Washington Post, “is how it presents its aims as news dissemination and community building. It touts transparency and civic engagement using an online network whose donors remain private — part of a bid to shape public opinion as local news outlets crater and social networks replace traditional forums for political deliberation.”
Simply put, the organization creates programming and ad messages around conservative issues but is able to skirt campaign finance laws because it’s a nonprofit. It doesn’t disclose its donors nor whether it pays federal income taxes, reports the Post.
The group is already active in five states, including Illinois, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia. It is seeking to expand to six more: Arizona, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.
* Buried in the WaPo article is something you also might find interesting…
Tillman’s assets extend well beyond a handful of Facebook pages focused on battleground states. In addition to the American Culture Project and the Illinois Policy Institute, tax filings identify him as chairman of the Franklin News Foundation, a nonprofit media company that draws revenue from DonorsTrust, a donor-advised fund that backs conservative causes and allows its contributors to remain anonymous.
The news foundation recently received a $50,000 grant from DonorsTrust for a coronavirus-related news project. “This program will offer an alternate perspective to legacy media’s unfair coverage of individuals who disagree with state shutdowns as radical or heartless and will be republished around the country in state and local newspapers, which are starved for local covid-19 news content,” states the announcement from DonorsTrust, which did not respond to a request for comment.
The news network, which publishes articles on a website called the Center Square, concentrates its coverage on 36 states, with a particular focus on some of the Midwestern states where the American Culture Project is seeking an online foothold. Arise Ohio and other pages in Tillman’s network often post stories produced by the Center Square.
You gotta wonder if the newspapers that run those stories know who’s paying for it.