Anti-gay groups increase political text message activity in Minnesota

Posted by Elizabeth Dunbar on

"More Minnesotans are receiving unsolicited political text messages in the final days before the election, causing an added annoyance for some voters.

"Americans in Contact PAC, a national political action committee criticizing Democratic members of Congress across the country, has been sending messages to voters in southern Minnesota in the past week or so. There, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz is trying to defend his seat in what could be a strong year for Republicans.

"Over the weekend, a separate group sent a text message ad criticizing the DFL Party and DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. That ad, sent by the National Organization for Marriage, accused Dayton and the DFL of attacking Catholics.

"The texted ad included a link to a YouTube video showing news coverage of a flyer the DFL Party sent out in recent weeks about a Republican pastor running for the Minnesota Senate. The flyer doesn't mention Catholics, and the pastor isn't Catholic, but a group called the Catholic Defense League took offense.

"In a KSTP-TV interview included in the YouTube video, Dayton said he thinks the ad is inappropriate. Nevertheless, Dayton's name is mentioned in the text message ad.

"National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the text message ads. Messages to Americans in Contact have not been returned.

"Pat Phillips, a member of the Catholic Defense League's board, said his group wasn't aware of the text message ads but said 'that doesn't mean we're opposed to it.'

"Texting is a relatively new way candidates and political groups are getting their messages out to voters. But how it works remains a bit of a mystery, and several voters who received such messages are puzzled about how the groups came across their numbers.

"Will Kusch, who lives in Minneapolis, said the National Organization for Marriage text message arrived on his cell phone on Saturday, despite the fact that he has a Madison, Wis., area code.

"'I am absolutely befuddled,' Kusch said Monday. 'I thought I might be safe having an out-of-state area code, but I guess not.'

"Kusch said he doesn't have a land-line phone and uses his cell phone number when filling out forms. It's possible the group -- or the company hired by the group to conduct the text message campaign -- came across his number in a public document.

"'I'm not too upset over having received it,' Kusch said of the message, adding that disagrees with the group. 'But the method by which they came across my phone number is what would make me apprehensive.'

"Michelle Parsneau of Mankato has received two text message ads from Americans in Contact over the past week or so. Both ads criticized Walz.

"Like Kusch, Parsneau has no idea how the group found her cell phone number -- she has a number with a Minneapolis area code even though she now lives in the area code covering southern Minnesota, which is Walz's district.

"'I have no idea why a group that has pretty much opposite views from my own would contact me and think they could change my mind,' Parsneau said. 'It makes me laugh.'

"After receiving the second text message, Parsneau texted the group back to ask them to take her off the list. She's waiting to see if that worked.

"Neither Kusch nor Parsneau had to pay to receive the messages, since both have cell phone plans that allow a certain number of text messages per month.

"Parsneau said she wouldn't object to receiving political text messages, as long as she signed up for them and they were from groups or candidates she supported.

"'But unsolicited from PACs with money coming in from groups that try to hide themselves ... I don't think it's a good idea whatsoever,' she said. 'It makes me angry.'"

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