By Alec Hamilton
The commercial is stark — short sentences punctuated by the doleful toll of a bell.
It’s an election year,” a voice begins to narrate over static-broken images of the Capitol, “so here come more promises about immigration reform.” Over the iconic hope-and-change pictures of President Obama, the ad goes on to talk about the failure of the current administration to make a move on immigration reform. “Clearly,” says the voice, “the Democratic leadership betrayed us.”
Reasonable enough. President Obama did say in 2008 that, “we will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I’m promoting.” The truth-in-politics website Politifact, which tracks the president’s record of keeping commitments, rates this a “promise broken” on the site’s “Obameter.” (Though the site also points out that he has called for reform and several immigration-related bills are pending in Congress.)
It is the next part of the ad that really made watchers take notice. “Aren’t you tired of politicians playing games with your future?” the voice asks. “Don’t vote this November.” The ad ends with the message spoken and spelled out, white letters against a black screen: “Don’t vote.”
The ad, which was created by conservative operative Robert De Posada, and produced by a 527 group called “Latinos for Reform,” shows a series of pictures of congressional Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who’s reelection bid faces a strong challenge from Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle.
Who is ‘us’?” asked an editorial in the New York Times, in response to the ad. It turns out that Latinos for Reform is a GOP group, run by many who would like to see Latino voters taking their message to heart, so that low-turnout can spell a victory for Angle (who has been criticized directly for her own racially tinged campaign ads) in Nevada.
A quick look at the The Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” page shows a list of 2008’s top contributors to Latinos for Reform. Conservative publisher John T. Finn, by himself, comprised nearly half of the funding. The two other largest contributors are attorney Frank Dudenhefer of New Orleans (whose largest contribution that year was to the McCain/Palin campaign), and a New York pharmacist, Rogelio Fernandez , who also donated to the RNC.
De Posada himself is a former director of Hispanic affairs for the Republican National Committee who worked in the Justice Department during George W. Bush’s first term, and is also an occasional conservative commentator for Univision. The treasurer of Latinos for Reform is Juan Carlos Benitez, a lobbyist who raised $100,000 for the Bush campaign in 2004 and $50,000 for GOP nominee John McCain in 2008, and who was named by McCain as one of the top money collectors for Jack Abramoff in the 2006 Indian lobbying scandal.
Unvision has since refused to air the ad, (on the contrary, it’s engaging in a Get Out The Vote campaign called ‘Ya es Hora, ¡Ve y Vota!) and De Posada and his group have come under pressure from civil rights advocates nationwide. In an interview with NPR, De Posada said the intention was never to supress Latino vote, but there was a misunderstanding stemming from an editing decision which changed the intended last line “Don’t vote for those who betrayed you” into the shorter and more problematic “Don’t vote.”