PACs Linked to Cornyn Staffer Have Nothing to Do with Cornyn. Honest.

Senator John Cornyn speaking at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, D.C. (Photo by  Gage Skidmore)

The managing partner of a Republican research firm says that it was "kind of stupid" to list Josh Eboch, Texas Sen. John Cornyn's political director, as treasurer of five super PACs his firm recently set up, and that Eboch will be removed from that role. The PACs placed at least 500,000 robocalls in four competitive Senate races in September, but has no relationship to the second-ranking Republican Senator, he added.

Sen. Cornyn's office did not respond to a request for comment.

We previously wrote about five groups named Alaska Priorities, Colorado Priorities, Iowa Priorities, Louisiana Priorities and North Carolina Priorities, all of which were set up in early October and disclosed Sen. John Cornyn's political director, Josh Eboch, as treasurer. But Adam Schaeffer, managing partner of Evolving Strategies, said the super PACs were established in order to comply with federal disclosure rules while doing internal "message testing".

What Schaeffer calls "research" others see as nasty campaigning. Complaints about the robocalls in North Carolina, Colorado and Louisiana surfaced online, citing the same phone numbers disclosed by the new Super PACs in Federal Elections Commission paperwork. One anonymous North Carolina complaint quoted the message as calling Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. an "extreme liberal" who backs the government "recklessly printing money". Another post, from Louisiana, said the call attacked Sen. Landrieu, D-La., for "printing money like there's no tomorrow and making everything cost more for average people like me."

Schaeffer said that Evolving Strategies had placed at least 500,000 calls in 4 states on Sept. 22--Alaska was "just too small" to do. The robocalls were really just the first part of a two-step test to see whether the robocalls influenced peoples' perception of related issues. The calls used 8 slightly different scripts as a "treatment condition" as well as two different control versions. The second step was a phone survey given two days later. The PAC's lawyers said the follow-up survey was non-partisan, and so was paid for out of Evolving Strategies' own funds, according to Schaeffer.

Schaeffer said the super PACs recorded the actual cost of placing the calls plus 15 percent as an in-kind contribution, but even so the costs amounted to thousands of dollars per state. Reports on that spending aren't due until Oct. 15, so there's no way to independently verify this. But a cost of even tens of thousands of dollars would be a paltry sum in states where millions are being spent daily.

Schaeffer said that his firm frequently works with outside money groups to research issues and messaging. This kind of work is typically disclosed on election filings made by the organization underwriting that work. But Schaeffer said his firm was message testing on their own before presenting these findings to potential client. In order to comply with disclosure requirements, Schaeffer said that, in consultation with lawyers, the group set up the super PACs as a reporting vehicle.

Federal election rules permit any corporation to make independent expenditures as long as they are disclosed. There's no reason, from a legal perspective, why Evolving Strategies couldn't have simply reported spending the money.

Schaeffer said that the group's internal research was done for now, but "we do have plans to utilize the super PAC entity for other things after the election."

Neither Schaeffer's name, nor any Evolving Strategies employees were listed on the filings establishing the group. The only contact person listed other than the group's lawyer was Eboch.

Schaeffer said he "knew Josh from many years back" when the two worked on school choice issues in Virginia. Eboch "doesn't know what he's doing after the campaign," according to Schaeffer, but was potentially interested in working with Evolving Strategies. "I actually brought Josh in on this current project kind of late in the game," Schaeffer said.

In spite of that, he said that Eboch had no official role in Evolving Strategies. Although Cornyn is the number two Republican in the Senate, Schaeffer said that Eboch's day was focused on politicking in Texas--which didn't overlap with any of the Priorities' super PACs' activities. Nonetheless, Eboch's role would be curtailed. "We are going to put someone else on there as treasurer -- we don't want to have it look like there's something going on," he said.

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