The man behind a company that got a big state contract to educate Pennsylvania voters on the commonwealth’s restrictive new voter ID law is a fundraiser for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Ads created by his company, a Republican lobbying group, encourage Pennsylvania residents to obtain state-issued photo identification so they don’t “miss out” on their right to vote.
Republican lobbyist Chris Bravacos, who according to the Center For Responsive Politics has thus far bundled $30,000 for Romney’s campaign, is president and CEO of the Bravo Group, which received a $249,660 government contract from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration for the ad campaign.
Two ads the company created were posted online by the Bravo Group back in April (according to a Google cache) and taken down after Philadelphia City Paper’s Daniel Denvir published a story about the contract on Sunday. Occupy Harrisburg later reposted the two videos, one of which uses what looks like stock photos of a diverse cast of smiling individuals holding ID-sized cards that read “My Valid Pennsylvania Identification.”
The campaign’s slogan? “Your right to vote: it’s one thing you never want to miss out on.”
In addition to Bravacos — who served as executive director of the state GOP — the Bravo Group employs Brad Cary, who served as voter registration and absentee ballot coordinator for the Republican State Committee.
Contract documents given to TPM by the Cost of Freedom Project, an initiative to develop location based apps to help voters obtain identification, show that at $249,675, the contract was just a hair under the $250,000 cap. The solicitation from the state calls for the contractor to “plan and execute a grassroots community outreach campaign to reach specific populations that could be less likely to have acceptable photo identification.”
The Bravo Group’s proposal was supposed to “include a list of community groups and organizations that will partner with the Contractor in order to educate their constituents regarding the voter identification requirements,” but the group’s actual proposal doesn’t appear to be publicly available.
Pennsylvania’s request for proposal was expedited, giving applicants only 10 days to submit their bid for the contract, which was awarded on June 25. Only pre-qualified contractors were eligible to put in bids.
“Why was the solicitation restricted to pre-qualified contractors? How many minority firms are pre-qualified?” Faye Anderson of the Cost of Freedom Project wrote in an email to TPM. “What was the rush? The primary election had taken place six weeks earlier.”
Bravacos did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment, while Corbett’s office referred a call to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s office, which did not respond to an inquiry.
Democrats in Pennsylvania told TPM that the voter ID law has already had a dramatic effect on the way campaigns are being waged. Last week’s news didn’t help: a strangely worded press release issued by the state on July 3 declared that Pennsylvania officials “Confirm Most Registered Voters Have Photo ID” — a nice way of saying that over 758,000 voters (or 9.2 percent of the electorate) don’t have the required forms of identification.
The fact that a Republican lobbying group is in charge of educating those most likely to not have an ID — Pennsylvania’s poor, minority, elderly (and mostly Democratic) voters — about changes to the election law isn’t likely to ease complaints that the law is a partisan voter suppression effort, especially after a top state Republican bragged that the change would help Romney win the Keystone state.
While the Justice Department has challenged voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas it hasn’t done so in Pennsylvania because it isn’t covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision which requires certain states with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their voting laws precleared by federal authorities. While civil rights groups have sued over Pennsylvania’s law on behalf of clients including a 93-year-old woman who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a challenge from DOJ’s Civil Rights Division likely couldn’t come until after the 2012 election.
Pennsylvania has said it is funding the education program through grants from the federal government under the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which are administered by the Election Assistance Commission. Regulations allow states to use HAVA funds to educate voters “concerning voting procedures, voting rights, and voting technology.”
The ads created by the Bravo Group are embedded below.