Politics

Moms for Liberty to spend over $3 million targeting presidential swing state voters

NEW YORK — (AP) — The conservative parental rights group Moms for Liberty plans to spend more than $3 million on a multi-state advertising blitz to increase its membership and engage voters before November, following through on a pledge it made last year to become more politically active across the country in 2024.

Yet the considerable investment comes with a twist for a group that has previously said its focus was on local school board races: It will specifically target voters in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, four states that are among the most important presidential battlegrounds this fall, and some of its initial advertising directly criticizes the Biden administration. The group hopes to expand its efforts to the three other swing states that will help decide the presidential contest.

The campaign signals Moms for Liberty's return to the national spotlight after a spate of bad press and criticism. The group emerged in 2021 as a rising star in conservative politics but has faced backlash for variousscandals and for its efforts to strip mentions of LGBTQ+ identity and structural racism from the classroom.

The coordinated push in presidential swing states also raises questions about the group’s intentions and funding. The nonprofit has long classified itself as a grassroots collection of like-minded parents. But Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich told The Associated Press that the new campaign came about as "investors" have approached the group wanting to see it “grow in specific states.”

She declined to identify the funders, and the nonprofit is not required to disclose them as a federally recognized 501(c)4 social welfare group. Federal Election Commission records show the group's affiliated PAC, Moms for Liberty Action, has received $161,000 since October from Restoration PAC, which is funded by the conservative billionaire Richard Uihlein. Restoration PAC didn't respond to a call from the AP, and it was unclear whether its funding was supporting Moms for Liberty's latest campaign.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Moms for Liberty was being cagey about its true intentions.

“Given the timing of their new push and given that they will not reveal their investors, they’re telling you two things: One, they’re telling you it’s not grassroots. And two, they’re telling you that they’re operatives for somebody else,” Weingarten said.

Descovich said the intention is for Moms for Liberty to “grow more grassroots chapters” and that its existing local chapters are supportive of the campaign. She noted that Georgia, where the campaign kicked off this week, has just seven Moms for Liberty chapters.

The ad push will expand into Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin within the next month, Descovich said. The group hopes to promote the campaign later this year in the three other major presidential swing states — Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. The Nevada effort will focus on Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.

Descovich said Moms for Liberty conducted an analysis of its membership and found that about 20% are not registered to vote. With that in mind, she said the group’s goal is to “wake them up and activate them to take action, not just in these local elections that we endorse in, but at all levels of government.”

Moms for Liberty doesn't endorse in presidential races, and Descovich said the group will invite all three top presidential contenders to its annual summit this summer. Still, the new advertising blitz includes billboards that directly criticize President Joe Biden for his new Title IX regulations that provide safeguards for LGBTQ+ students. Moms for Liberty last week joined several states in suing the Biden administration to block those rules.

Biden campaign spokesperson Charles Lutvak said Moms for Liberty is “villainizing teachers and working to ban books as if we live in Soviet Russia.”

“President Biden is proudly campaigning alongside educators, parents and young Americans to strengthen public education for every American and keep our schools safe from gun violence,” he said.

In addition to the billboards, which advocate against “gender confusion” and call for parents to have more say in the classroom, the campaign also will include media interviews, targeted digital ads, and emails and text messages to voters, Descovich said.

The campaign comes as Moms for Liberty has been mired in recent scandals, including the recent sex assault investigation into the husband of co-founder Bridget Ziegler, who left the group shortly after starting it.

Ziegler's husband, the now-ousted Florida Republican Party Chair Christian Ziegler, has since been cleared of rape and video voyeurism charges. However, news around the incident drove some Moms for Liberty members to quit the group and close their local chapters, citing a difference in values.

Local Moms for Liberty chapters and chapter leaders also have come under fire over the past year. Moms for Liberty removed two chapter chairs in Kentucky last fall after the women posed in photos with members of the far-right group the Proud Boys. Last summer, an Indiana chapter of the group apologized and condemned Adolf Hitler after using a quote attributed to the Nazi leader to make a statement in its inaugural newsletter.

Amid criticism, the group's endorsed candidates saw an underwhelming performance in school board elections last year, with fewer than a third winning their races, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.

Descovich said negative stories about the group haven't hurt its funding support.

“No one reached out to me and said, ‘We’re not going to donate to you anymore because of these stories,’” she said. “Everybody understands that the work we’re doing is going to be under intense attacks and scrutiny.”

Of the presidential swing states Moms for Liberty will be targeting, North Carolina is the only one with a state school superintendent race this year. The race will pit Republican Michele Morrow, a home-schooling parent and conservative activist who has signed Moms for Liberty's “parent pledge,” against Democrat Maurice “Mo" Green, a former Guilford County schools superintendent.

Morrow didn't respond to a request for comment about Moms for Liberty's new campaign. Green sent an emailed statement saying his opponent and Moms for Liberty had spread “conspiracy theories and hateful propaganda that demean teachers, students and parents.”

“The very soul of public education is on the ballot this November in North Carolina,” he said. "The good news is that I know that the champions of public education, those who believe in the transformative value of public education, will meet this moment and defeat these distorted and misguided views.”

___

The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP's democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

0
Comments on this article
0