Business lobbying coalition recruits right-wing hosts to deliver virtually identical town hall ads

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Conservative radio listeners have been hearing some of their favorite hosts implore them to visit local town halls hosted by members of Congress to make their “voices” heard. But far from being a “grassroots” campaign, the coordinated ads are part of an effort by a business lobbying coalition that’s paying those hosts to deliver virtually identical “live read” ads to their audiences.

The Job Creators Network (JCN), which claims to be the “voice of small business people,” wants to repeal Obamacare, block minimum wage laws, lower business taxes, and stop environmental protection regulations. It conducts its operations through the 501(c)(3) Job Creators Network Foundation and the 501(c)(4) advocacy group Job Creators Network Inc. JCN was originally founded as the Job Creators Alliance but changed its name in October 2013.

JCN has lobbied Congress through the firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas on “policies to promote small business, especially tax relief and deregulation” and other tax issues, according to federal lobbying records. It also recently retained the Bockorny Group to lobby on its behalf on taxes. For publicity efforts, JCN has contracted with Berman and Company, the notorious firm headed by conservative pundit Rick Berman.

JCN groups' raised roughly $4.6 million in 2015, the most recent year in which their financials are available. Founders to the group in recent years include the Mercer Family Foundation, run by Republican megadonor and Breitbart News investor Rebekah Mercer; the Marcus Foundation, led by Home Depot co-founder and JCN co-founder Bernie Marcus; and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

A major part of JCN’s current media efforts is the website, which has a list of upcoming town halls by legislators and encourages conservatives “to show up at town halls and to have your voice heard.” The website states that it is “a project of the Job Creators Network” and is partnered with conservative groups such as FreedomWorks, National Taxpayers Union, and Let Freedom Ring.

Leading conservative radio hosts such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have been doing “live reads” for JCN in the past several weeks, according to a Media Matters review of conservative radio programs. Live reads are a common advertising practice in which radio hosts integrate sponsors into their program by delivering, and often personalizing, advertising copy themselves (“live reads” can be delivered live during radio segments or are sometimes prerecorded to air during designated commercial breaks).

Ingraham did the following prerecorded one-minute read for JCN, which has aired during her program this month:

LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): You sent a message to the media and the political elites last fall loud and clear. You wanted new leadership that focused on the middle class, not the political class. On your lives, not theirs. Well, the media elites didn’t get the message. They’ve been working nonstop since Election Day to undo your vote. Their goal is clear -- to delegitimize your candidates and the issues you care about and set up Democratic victories in 2018 and beyond. Well this summer, Democratic activists, with the media’s help, plan to overwhelm the town halls of our congressmen and senators. But that can’t happen. And you can stop it by showing up and being heard. That’s why I’m urging all of you to go to now and find out what you can do. Again, it’s Don’t let the mainstream media and the Democrats steal your voice or our town halls. Go to now and find out how you can be heard. That’s

Mark LevinLarry ElderSean Hannity, Dana Loesch, Mike Gallagher, and Hugh Hewitt have delivered similar reads for JCN, though some hosts varied their script.

Hewitt included his other employer, MSNBC, in his read, stating on his August 9 program that is a project of JCN, a “great sponsor of his program,” and adding: “You sent a message to the media and political elites last fall -- I talked about it on [the MSNBC program] Hardball last night -- it was loud, it was clear. It was like the dragon in Game of Thrones: it shows up, you can not miss it.” Gallagher added during his advertising read that the effort was truly “grassroots.”

Such advertisements have been very lucrative for conservative radio hosts for years.

Politico reported in 2011 that “prominent conservative groups are paying hefty sponsorship fees” to conservative hosts to buy “a variety of promotional tie-ins, as well as regular on-air plugs – praising or sometimes defending the groups, while urging listeners to donate – often woven seamlessly into programming in ways that do not seem like paid advertising.” The publication added in 2014 that “conservative groups spent nearly $22 million to broker and pay for involved advertising relationships known as sponsorships with a handful of influential talkers including [Glenn] Beck, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh between the first talk radio deals in 2008 and the end of 2012.” Levin defended the practice in 2011 by writing: “This is how the market of ideas and commerce work. There is no secret about it. It is all done in open, in front of tens of millions of listeners. It is ethical, legitimate, and legal in every respect.”

JCN did not respond to a request for comment.