In the days before the 2016 New Hampshire primary, some voters in the Granite State received an ominous notice in their mailboxes. “What if your friends, your neighbors, and your community knew whether you voted?” read the mailer, which also contained a “New Hampshire Voter Report” showing the voting turnout histories of recipients’ friends and neighbors. The letter promised a follow up would be sent after the primary election, listing who did and didn’t vote. Recipients were not pleased, describing the letters as voter intimidation and “dirty tricks.”
The voter shaming letters were part of an effort to boost voter turnout using social pressure, but little was known about who was behind them and which presidential candidate they were meant to benefit. Records reviewed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), however, now reveal a close connection between the non-profit responsible for the letters and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) political operation. The nonprofit has since morphed into an explicitly pro-Kasich operation, albeit with a new name.
When the letters first hit New Hampshire mailboxes, the only clue to the source was a disclaimer saying they were “paid for by Public Policy Matters,” a then-unknown entity. The organization, which listed a New Hampshire post office box as its address, was not registered with the state or the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross found corporate records filed in Virginia showing that Public Policy Matters was formed on August 24, 2015 using the address of a law firm, Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky PLLC, that regularly works with Republican campaigns and outside groups. The Holtzman connection led to suggestions that the group might be aiding Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) presidential campaign since the firm had previously worked for Sen. Rubio, but the Rubio campaign denied having any relationship to Public Policy Matters.
There were, however, subtle clues suggesting that the nonprofit had an interest in Gov. Kasich’s campaign. As CREW noted at the time, Public Policy Matters also registered in Ohio as an affiliate of the Virginia group. The Ohio paperwork, which was filed on September 23, 2015, described Public Policy Matters as a nonprofit corporation and listed J.B. Hadden as a director of the group. Mr. Hadden, who works at the law firm Murray Murphy Moul + Basil LLP, previously served as campaign treasurer for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Kasich supporter.
The ties to Gov. Kasich became increasingly apparent after the Ohio governor came in second in the New Hampshire primary. Campaign finance records filed with the FEC show that Mr. Hadden contributed $2,700 to Gov. Kasich’s presidential campaign right around the time the voter shaming letters were mailed. The report revealing the contribution wasn’t filed, however, until March 20, 2016, well after the political world had moved on from the Granite State.
Public Policy Matters’ 2015 tax return, which was filed with the Internal Revenue Service in October 2016, reveals an even closer tie. Nearly all of the group’s revenue for the year was raised by Brooke Bodney, who also happened to be Gov. Kasich’s longtime chief fundraiser.
Ms. Bodney’s LinkedIn profile says she served as a “finance consultant” for Gov. Kasich’s presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016 as well as for New Day for America, the closely-related super PAC that backed his presidential efforts. The two entities paid her more than $1.2 million for fundraising work between August 2015 and May 2016, according to FEC records. Her role working for both groups was actually held up at the time as an example of a loophole in campaign finance law being exploited.
With a Name Change, the Kasich Connection is No Longer Hidden
Public Policy Matters essentially went silent after the New Hampshire primary, only to re-emerge in a new form soon after President Trump was sworn into office. On February 7, 2017, paperwork was filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office officially changing the nonprofit’s name to Two Paths America.
Three days later, the nonprofit was announced as a “new” organization aimed at promoting the policy vision championed by Gov. Kasich. According to the press release, the nonprofit’s new name is a nod to the “imagery and rhetoric” used by Gov. Kasich on the presidential campaign trail. The name also echoes the title of Gov. Kasich’s new book, “Two Paths: America Divided or United,” which was released in April 2017. News of the book’s pending publication first broke a little over a week before Two Paths America’s launch was announced.
While Public Policy Matters’ connections to Gov. Kasich’s political operation were hidden in paperwork, Two Paths America’s are out in the open. Top Kasich political advisors John Weaver and Chris Schrimpf, who served respectively served as chief strategist and senior communications adviser to his presidential campaign, are leading the effort. Longtime Kasich allies Jo Ann Davidson and Doug Preisse are serving on the board. Gov. Kasich himself will reportedly not be involved with the group’s operations. But that doesn’t mean the nonprofit won’t be working to his benefit. After all, it’s seemingly been working for his benefit all along.