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New Filings Show Phone Campaign In Anti-Socialist Effort May Cause More Headaches For Organizer

A screen capture from the website Americans Against Socialism used to target Sara innamorato last year

Americans Against Socialism treasurer Robert Kania filed campaign finance documents on Tuesday, outlining the group’s efforts to oppose state Rep. Sara Innamorato’s campaign in the 21st district five months ago. The move follows a campaign-finance complaint against the political committee.

The new filing, which came days after Kania was removed from his post on the board of the Port Authority of Allegheny County, document that the group’s activities included not just the campaign signs that have drawn scrutiny, but telemarketing efforts as well.


The filing by Americans Against Socialism comes months after 90.5 WESA reported questions about its financial activities last year. The group now reports only modest activity, including $3,245.20 spent on handbills and signs. But it also reports $2,062.82 on “telemarketing” by Mudshare, a New Jersey-based mobile-messaging firm that specializes in electronic communications like texts, robocalls and emails.


Voters in the 21st district, which includes parts of Pittsburgh and suburbs north of the city, told 90.5 WESA last year about receiving text messages opposing Innamorato. Some said they were baffled by the communiques. Friendship resident Eric Stoller said he and his wife received textsaccusing Innamorato of being a socialist.  


“We were both pretty surprised by it,” Stoller said, in part because “[o]ur mobile phone numbers are not a 412 area code.”


Coincidentally, one day after the Americans Against Socialism filing, a Washington D.C.-based activist group is citing Kania's involvement in another complex phone-driven campaign -- this one in Florida -- as a basis for a new attack.


Campaign for Accountability, which does not disclose its own supporters but is tied to progressive causes,filed a campaign-finance complaint against Kania last week. That prompted calls for Kania’s removal from the Port Authority board. Gov. Tom Wolf announced Kania’s interim replacement hours later.


The Campaign now wants Kania to be removed as treasurer of the Susan B. Anthony List, an advocacy group that opposes abortion rights. The List is a nonprofit, and previous tax filings identify Kania as its treasurer. Federal Elections Commission reports show he also serves as treasurer for one of its political committees. That fund spent $755,797 on national political activism last year, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.


“Mr. Kania has proved that he is unfit to oversee the finances of a national advocacy group,” said a statement from Campaign for Accountability, whose mission includes “working to hold the anti-choice movement accountable” by seeking to “expose misconduct and malfeasance.”


Neither Kania’s attorney nor the Susan B. Anthony List responded to requests for comment Wednesday morning. But Alice Huling, an attorney with Campaign for Accountability, said Kania’s role as treasurer in other causes bears scrutiny.


“If he’s doing it in as secretive manner in Pennsylvania,” Huling said, “who’s to say he’s not doing it in a secretive manner somewhere else, or just not following the rules in other ways?”


Huling points to a political text-message campaign that became the subject of a class-action suit in Florida last year. Mudshare and Direct Technology Solutions -- a firm for which Kania identifies himself as president on LinkedIn -- play a part in the dispute.

The suit alleges that Susan B. Anthony List engaged in “an intrusive automated text messaging campaign to promote its pro-life agenda."


The complaint alleges that Direct Technology Solutions and Mudshare sent text messages supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court. The numbers to be called, according to court documents, were harvested by another firm.


Neither Kania’s firm nor Mudshare are named as defendants in the suit. But the complaint alleges that an automated dialing system used sent some 203,486 text messages. Using such systems can be illegal under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.


In its own court filings, the Susan B. Anthony List argued the law is unconstitutional, at least when applied to messages like those it sent. The organization said it had “good reason to believe that [text recipients] would appreciate hearing about pro-life policies” because the phone numbers used came “from a variety of sources, including voter records, to ensure more precise and effective messaging.”


The dispute is being settled. Under the terms of a preliminary settlement, the Susan B. Anthony List admits no wrongdoing.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.