Remember the “Obamaphone” video that became one of the most memorable YouTube moments of the 2012 presidential campaign?
It seems lobbyists and political operatives with close ties to top Republicans are behind an ad campaign to salvage the Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers, which subsidizes telecom companies to provide free cellphones to low-income people, the Washington Examiner reported.
The ad campaign, which features a retired veteran, is run by the group Prepaid Wireless Users of America, which Federal Communications Commission documents obtained by the Examiner show has the same address as the Republican consulting firm BKM Strategies.
Among those working for BKM are Barry Bennet, who has worked for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Kara Ahern, a fundraiser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; and Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Another figure in FCC documents was Patti Heck, president of Crossroads Media, and Main Street Media Group, a Crossroads affiliate. The groups are tied with the Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS group.
Bennett told the Examiner there’s "not a moderate bone in my body.” He said the group was “consumer-based,” but said “I’m not going to give you the list [of funders] because a lot of them haven’t given permission.” He added that the ad buy – which was in the Washington, D.C., area -- was “less than $500,000.”
“I think we’ve succeeded in what we set out to do, which is change the face of Lifeline,” Bennett said.
Despite the "Obamaphone" moniker, the Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers predates Obama, having been established by the FCC during the Reagan administration in 1985, dealing with landlines. The program has been funded by a tax on phone bills, usually a dollar, for the Universal Service Fund fee. The revenue from the fund pays telecom companies $9.25 per month for each low-income person they sign up for a free phone.
The program evolved into a pre-paid cellphone program and the cost doubled in 2011 to $1.75 billion from five years earlier. In some states, phones given out surpassed the state’s eligible population, the Examiner reported.
Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) still thinks the program is “a poster child for corporate welfare.”
“The biggest beneficiaries of this are the corporations that have been pushing these phones, and now they are spending millions of dollars on an ad campaign intended on making sure they can maintain their position at the government trough,” Griffin told the Examiner. “I don’t think Republicans or Democrats can justify the money that has been spent on this program.”