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Rove group begins robocall blast against Warren

Anti-Warren pitch makes some errors

Kept at bay for months in the US Senate race by a pact curbing outside advertising, Karl Rove’s political group, Crossroads GPS, has begun blasting voters with “robocalls” targeting Elizabeth Warren.

One call criticizes Warren’s work leading a panel that monitored the federal bank bailout, erroneously suggesting she ran the bailout, and another claims that her support for President Obama’s health law could limit Medicare availability, even though the law does not propose doing so.

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The calls are not a violation of the pledge the two candidates signed in January. The “People’s Pledge” penalizes the candidates if outside groups spend money on television, radio, or Internet ads on their behalf. But it does not limit outside mailings or phone calls, something Warren, a Democrat, and Senator Scott Brown, her Republican opponent, acknowledge.

Even as the pledge has succeeded in stopping a barrage of commercials from independent groups, the robocalls, as well as mailings on behalf of both campaigns, demonstrate that the groups have found other ways to reach voters — through their phones, their doorsteps, and their mailboxes.

The ads by Crossroads GPS come a month after a Globe reporter saw Brown meeting with Rove at a Tampa hotel restaurant during the Republican National Convention. The Brown campaign has said it was a chance meeting, not planned by either. Campaign spokesman Colin Reed said the two men did not discuss the Crossroads GPS robocalls, insisting again that they simply ran into each other.

The Brown campaign pointed out Thursday that several groups have sent mailings and placed fliers on doors on Warren’s behalf, long before the Crossroads calls began. The campaign also pointed to data on the website OpenSecrets.org showing that outside groups supporting Warren were outspending those supporting Brown $599,152 to $215,891.

“We are pleased that the People’s Pledge has held up and kept third-party groups off the airwaves as intended,” Reed said in an e-mail. “Outside groups on both sides have been getting involved in this race in other ways not covered by the agreement, especially on behalf of Elizabeth Warren, who has benefited by a margin of nearly 3-to-1 from these sort of activities.”

A spokesman for Crossroads did not return calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

One group spending money on Warren’s behalf, the League of Conservation Voters, reported spending $5,363.82 this month for telemarketing services. Navin Nayak, the group’s senior vice president of campaigns, said the money was not spent on robocalls but on fund-raising calls. He said his organization expects to spend more than $500,000 on its canvassing efforts before the campaign ends in November, including handing out pamphlets door-to-door to 100,000 voters.

Warren’s campaign spokeswoman, Alethea Harney, said the Rove call reinforced the message that the race is a national fight between Democrats and Republicans.

“This election is about whose side you stand on — and we all can see who stands with Scott Brown,” Harney said in a statement. “Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, and national Republicans are wading into this race because they want Republican control of the Senate.”

The campaign did not respond to questions about the third-party fliers and mailings that have been sent out on Warren’s behalf.

Politico, citing campaign finance reports, reported Tuesday that Americans For Tax Reform, led by Norquist, is spending $215,617 on a direct mail campaign against Warren.

Warren’s campaign has invoked Rove’s name to raise money for months. Rove, the former strategist for George W. Bush, has led efforts to use looser rules on campaign spending to elect Republicans, and he has long been a lightning rod among Democrats. The Warren campaign sent an e-mail to supporters Wednesday evening warning that members have received misleading calls from Crossroads.

“We’re told that the robocall attacks Elizabeth and blatantly lies about President Obama’s health care reforms,” campaign manager Mindy Myers said in the e-mail.

One Crossroads call says that $700 billion in cuts to Medicare spending in the plan could limit the availability of care to seniors. Democrats have pointed out that the savings, also an element in Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, come from cuts to providers and other projected spending reductions that would not affect benefits for the elderly. The robocall also calls the health plan a “government takeover,” a charge that nonpartisan fact-checkers have labeled false.

A Globe reporter received a second call from Rove’s group with a voice identifying himself as “James” from Crossroads GPS. That call referred to the billions of dollars spent on the Wall Street bailout and Warren’s role leading a congressional oversight panel that monitored the program.

But the call did not point out Warren was one of the most outspoken critics of the bailout. Instead, it made it appear that she oversaw the bailout.

The fliers sent on behalf of Warren appear to be funded largely by organized labor, whose leaders have been very active in Warren’s campaign. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, led a rally for Warren Monday.

One AFL-CIO mailing accuses Brown of putting “Party Before People” and voting for “billions of dollars in tax cuts for big corporations, banks, oil companies, and the wealthy,” a theme repeated in other fliers.

Brown has supported retaining tax subsidies for the oil industry and retaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He has said that in both cases doing otherwise would amount to increasing taxes during a time of economic uncertainty, which could lead to higher prices at the pump and higher unemployment.

Brown often cities a Congressional Quarterly study that called him the second-most bipartisan senator in 2011, voting with his party 54 percent of the time. The opposing groups say he is not reliable on their issues.

One flier also accuses Brown of “giving Wall Street a free pass.” The flier does not mention that Brown’s vote was key in passing the Wall Street crackdown known as Dodd-Frank, even though he faced criticism afterward for attempting to loosen the interpretation of some bank regulations.

Stephanie Ebbert of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.
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