Rock the Vote (RTV) is one of the nation's most influential youth-targeted non-profits, describing itself
as a non-partisan initiative whose “…mission is to engage and build the political power of young people in order to achieve progressive change in our country.” While the organization touts its alleged centrism, actions over the past decade have caused many to believe that partisanship does, indeed, play a role in the organization’s operations.
During my tenure at Teen Web Online (a site I created back in 1999 in the wake of the Columbine massacre to help my generation overcome various youth-specific issues), I was extremely supportive of RTV. I remember being enthralled by the notion that an organization would extend itself to trust and place value in America's young generation, while working feverishly to make our voices heard.
Ten years later, I, like many others, have begun to wonder just how willing the organization is to remain true to its self-professed “non-partisanship” and whether I mistook indoctrination for trust. While I am certainly supportive of the notion that a healthy democracy is characterized by a variety of organizations that represent divergent viewpoints, I am increasingly perplexed by the existence of organizations that shield their true intent behind a “non-partisan” status.
For years, RTV has been accused of touting less than conservative values, while overexerting itself in support of progressive perspectives. Time after time the organization has denied what appear to be well-founded allegations. From the Iraq War to health care reform, RTV consistently sides with the Left. Meanwhile, the realities behind the “non-partisan” centrism through which its actions do not appear to flow raise concern, as RTV regularly registers young voters, while assumingly not providing them with the well-rounded and balanced materials they need to make educated decisions. All this in mind, let’s explore the evidence.
As most Americans know, the Iraq War began on March 20, 2003. Three days later, RTV announced, through a press release, the availability of a new song from Lenny Kravitz entitled, “We Want Peace.” The statement
made it clear that the song was released in response to the commencement of the U.S.-led was; it said, “Rock the Vote and Lenny Kravitz today announced a new song by Kravitz called "We Want Peace," which is available exclusively at Rock the Vote's website...” Here is a glimpse
into some of the song’s “non-partisan” lyrics:
“Here is once again in our face
Why haven't we learn from our past
We're at the crossroads of our human race
Why are we kicking our own ass
We're on the eve of destruction my friends
We are about to go to far
Politicians think that war is the way
But we know that love has the power”
While nobody in his or her right mind enjoys war, this RTV/Kravitz partnership was a transparent endorsement of anti-Iraq War sentiment. Considering the sociopolitical landscape at the time, such a cohesive partnership for the release of a persuasive song showcases a hidden politically-driven agenda. Of course, this is only one example, though powerful in its own right; there are plenty of others.
In 2004, Little Green Footballs reported
on the California College Republicans’ (CCR) assertion that Rock the Vote and MTV were connected to the DNC. According to the CCR
“Through just cursory research, CCR discovered numerous connections between MTV, Rock the Vote, and the DNC. Judy McGrath, President of MTV, has maxed out her donation to the Kerry campaign. She donated at least $1,000 to the failed candidacy of the Gore campaign, and she’s donated over $5,000 to other extreme liberal PACs, such as America Coming Together.
Connect the dots to Rock the Vote: In February of 2001, Jeff Ayerhoff, Co-Founder of Rock the Vote, said: “There are 5-6 pillars sustaining the foundation of the Rock the Vote organization — and Judy McGrath is one of those pillars. Without Judy McGrath, there would be no Rock the Vote...” Incidentally, Rock the Vote, including its draft scare tactics and Democrat bias, has been given over $10,000,000 of free air time on the so-called independent-from-Rock the Vote MTV.”
Association is not always indicative of inherent bias. However, if one researches the individuals who founded and who have led RTV in the past, the dots connect themselves. Jehmu Greene, the president of RTV from 2000 through 2005, describes herself (via Twitter
) as a “progressive activist.” She served as Democratic National Committee's (DNC) Director of Women's Outreach, among other partisan roles.
Furthermore, public records
appear to indicate that Jeff Ayeroff, himself, has invested thousands of dollars in a number of Democratic campaigns and causes. In a shear fit of pre-Obama irony, he was appointed “Czar”
(I kid you not) of Warner Brothers Records Inc. in 2001. According to a press release
, upon launching Virgin Records America, Ayeroff “signed and oversaw” Lenny Kravitz’s career. Intriguing, considering that Kravitz teamed up with RTV for the release of his anti-war tune.
And, one can easily find another tidbit of “non-partisan” connective tissue. According to the Future Majority blog
(circa Aug. 2008), “…Obama…hired former Rock the Vote political director Hans Reimer.”
…Yet another former RTVer working in the liberal stratosphere. Where is Hans today, you ask? In April 2009, a bio published on Hope Street Group
states that he is an “advocacy campaign manager” at AARP, where I can only assume he has used his penchant for liberal policy to sway the health care debate in favor of his former employer, President Obama. According to the same bio
, Hans “…has a long track record as a campaigner to protect Social Security, including playing a key role in defeating the Bush Administration's agenda for privatization of Social Security
Ironically, the National Review reported
in 2005 that Hans, then in his role at RTV, wanted to see the organization become the "AARP of [America’s young] Generation." Scary thought, considering RTV’s alleged leftist activism.
Concerning Hans’ strong views on Social Security, one wonders where the “non-partisan” Rock the Vote stood on the issue during his tenure there. According to Ryan Lynch (via YP Nation
“…[RTV] opposed personal accounts in Social Security even though the Center for American Progress found that 74 percent of our generation (which Rock the Vote supposedly represents) supported that reform measure.”
With Hans serving as political director at the time, it’s no coincidence that an organization that had already opposed the Iraq war and embraced progressive activists would also oppose Bush’s Social Security reforms. But, the buck doesn’t stop there.
In Nov. 2008, three days after Barack Obama's victory over Sen. John McCain, a Virginia Tech student wrote about a RTV election insert
he found in the school’s newspaper, The Collegiate Times
. According to the student, “I found an insert titled, "You Decide. You Vote...Were I an uninformed new voter, I might have used this as my deciding point.”
The student went on to explain
that the leaflet was “the most biased piece of literature [he] had ever encountered in [his] life,” going on to say that it read like an endorsement for Obama, with “...statements designed to make the Republican hopeful appear as callous and stingy as possible.” He concluded his statement by letting readers know that he had voted for Obama, though he said that his decision was “...thankfully not as a result of [the] insert.” Even an Obama “enthusiast” can see through the opaqueness.
Anyone else drunk yet on non-partisanship? If not, consider the fact that RTV held a Jan. 2009 inaugural concert
for Barack Obama called, “Hey, America Feels Kinda Cool Again.” Lynch’s reaction is spot on
: “I guess America wasn’t cool under Bush. But presumably that has nothing to do with partisanship.”
Most recently, the organization landed itself in hot water over its support for Democratically-led health care reform. According to Noel Sheppard of NewsBusters.org
, “The political advocacy group "Rock the Vote" has a new video out encouraging young people to abstain from having sex with folks opposed to healthcare reform.”
Even if this is, indeed, intended to be a joke (though Sheppard points out a pledge on the RTV site that corroborates the video’s intent to use sex to change personal policy opinion), the notion that RTV would support Obama’s health care legislation, rather than educate youth about the different reform options that are available, is yet another notch in the belt for an organization that appears to be a staunch Democratic ally. I could go on for days...
Most truly non-partisan organizations work feverishly to ensure that all options are presented when discussing important policy issues, but not RTV. Instead of educating young voters by presenting all potential options, the organization’s web site chooses to offer only one solution
to America’s health care problems: the public option. According to RTV’s web site
“One way to make sure you can get covered is with a “public option”…you buy into this public plan just like you would buy insurance from an insurance company. Your doctor would send the bill to the government instead of you, just like the old folks get with Medicare. The public option would operate alongside private insurance companies, making the market more competitive and driving quality up and costs down. As President Obama has said: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.” Now, if you don’t have a doctor or a health care plan, the public option is there for you.)”
Unbelievable – so much so, that I decided to reach out to RTV executive director Heather Smith (seemingly the only person I researched who has a strict, non-partisan background). She responded quickly and promptly to my questioning. While we journalists are trained not to ask “yes” or “no” questions, I decided to ask one anyway. In response to my inquiry as to whether RTV is non-partisan, Smith answered, “Yes.” She was consistent in claiming that the organization has no partisan slant. She said,
“We never have and never will endorse a party or candidate. Our mission is to ensure that the needs and interests of young people are listened to by those we elect. In an ideal world, candidates from both parties would be fighting over the votes of young people, presenting issues and proposed solutions in a relevant manner, and once elected, govern with the interests of young people top-of-mind.”
This statement appears to fly in the face of RTV’s past-decade of activity. The latter part of this statement, in particular, struck me. In its 20-year history, it seems impossible that the Democrats were and continue to be the only party “fighting over the votes of young people.” Furthermore, endorsing and supporting are two very different ideals. RTV has been backing policy ideas through the organization’s interactive programming, but one would assume that 501c3 tax laws forbid official endorsements.
Based on the evidence and the people behind the veil, RTV has teetered to the left on major domestic and international issues. It’s surprising that the organization has yet to find one Republican policy decision it likes, which leads me to believe there is an inherent one-sidedness that RTV refuses to accept – or divulge. Perhaps RTV should go with the description furnished by Wikipedia: “Rock the Vote is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, left-wing organization
founded in Los Angeles in 1990 by Jeff Ayeroff for the purposes of political advocacy,” as it seems more accurate.
Young people deserve bias-free information that provides multiple perspectives to best assist them in making electoral choices. RTV has a responsibility to be open, honest and transparent. Pretending to provide balanced educational materials, while actually skewing information toward or against a partisan cause is wrong. It’s time for RTV to quite coddling liberal ideas and to start truly showcasing what a non-partisan organization should look like.
If RTV wants to continue liberal advocacy, that’s fine. But, if the organization wants to call itself “non-partisan,” while taking strong standpoints on areas of immense importance and validating these ideals through the power of MTV, it should call itself what it is – progressive. The past decade’s embrace of liberal inclinations is disingenuous and dangerous to our democracy. Now is the time for RTV to rock some rationality.