Fraud billboards come down

By Cassandra Lans

In a major victory for voting rights supporters, Sunday evening Clear Channel confirmed to the media that it is pulling the controversial “voter fraud” billboards which have blanketed Milwaukee for the past two weeks. Last week community leaders in Milwaukee publicly called for the removal of the billboards.

Mike Wilder, director of the African-American Roundtable, and a member of the staff of Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, made the following statement on reports that Clear Channel Communications will take down the controversial voter intimidation billboards which has saturated the Milwaukee market in the past few weeks:

Clear Channel has removed more than 100 of the “Voter Fraud” billboards that were displayed in heavily populated minority communities, and the company is replacing them with billboards such as the one pictured above that instead encourage voter registration and early registration pro-bono.

“I am very pleased that Clear Channel is apparently doing the right thing less than a week since the African-American Roundtable publically called for them to be taken down. Voter Intimidation is an ugly tactic that unfortunately has plagued this country for far too long. For generations, many individuals in our great nation were not granted access to the polls due to gender, race & ethnicity and class. As a result, many became powerless and underrepresented by their own government. A democracy is strong when it ensures that all of its citizens participate and have a say in their government. The decision made by Clear Channel to take these voter intimidation billboards down and, in addition, put up positive billboards promoting voting gets us one small-yet-significant step closer to a stronger democracy.”

On the same day, Monday, Oct. 22, as the new billboards went up, Rev. Jesse Jackson lead a group of people to the Municipal Building for early voting. (Photo by Robert A. Bell)

Clear Channel said the foundation funding the signs was mistakenly allowed to remain anonymous when it bought the billboards, a violation of the company’s policy against accepting anonymous political ads.

“We reviewed the situation and in light of the fact that these billboards violate our policy of not accepting anonymous political ads, we asked the client how they would prefer to work with us to bring the boards into conformance with our policy,” Clear Channel spokesman Jim Cullinan wrote in an email. “The client thought the best solution was to take the boards down, so we’re in the process of removing them.”

Republicans have led the controversial efforts to curb voter fraud this year, as Democrats argue voter ID laws, tighter regulations on voter registration drives, and efforts to roll back early voting tend to depress turnout and hurt Democratic candidates. Civil rights groups argue that voter fraud is so rare—two recent elections have shown a fraud rate of 0.00004 percent—that it’s not worth instating Voter ID rules that could discourage legitimate voters.

These billboards were strategically placed in battle ground states, and particularly in Black and Latino neighborhoods in Cleveland, Columbus and Milwaukee.

It was learned on Monday, that Clear Channel is donating digital billboard spots to help broaden City of Milwaukee voting and election messaging in the remaining few weeks prior to the November 6 presidential election, according to Common Council president Willie L. Hines, Jr.

Rev. Jesse Jackson participated in an “Early Vote Rally’ at MATC on Monday, Oct. 22, the same day that the new Clear Channel billboards went up, replacing the “Voter Fraud” billboards. (Photo By Darin Dubinsky)

President Hines said Clear Channel Outdoor, which in the past has made similar in-kind donations of zero cost (or heavily discounted) digital billboard spots and bus shelter ads for messaging from the Milwaukee Health Department, the Milwaukee Police Department, the Me2 Milwaukee Energy Efficiency program, the Fireworks Task Force, MPS and other agencies, is partnering with the city’s Election Commission to provide the valuable, awareness- raising election information.

“The billboard messages will be brief and will provide voters with online and phone contact information, as well as valuable information to help them find polling locations and the fact that they can vote absentee in-person (prior to November 6) if they so choose,” President Hines said.

Mark Rausch, vice president of real estate and public affairs for Clear Channel Outdoor, said he welcomes the opportunity to assist in helping provide the public with important voting and election information. “Our billboards are well positioned across the city and metro area, and we believe that our contribution of providing proper voting information for city residents will be a positive one as we get closer to November 6,” Mr. Rausch said.