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Who sent misleading texts to Kansans ahead of Tuesday's vote on abortion?

Photo illustration
The Beacon
On the day before the Aug. 2 statewide vote on abortion, Kansans received texts from an unidentified sender. Using the language of abortion-rights advocates, the texts said Kansas women "are losing their choice on reproductive rights" and a yes vote would "protect women's health." In fact, a yes vote would remove the right to an abortion from the Kansas constitution.

The tech company Twilio said it had been hired to send texts by the political marketing firm Alliance Forge, according to The Washington Post.

Voters across Kansas received text messages on the eve of the 2022 primary misrepresenting what a “yes” vote on the state’s contentious abortion amendment would mean.

But unlike the campaign messaging most voters are used to — and as is often required on campaign messages — the source of the message was not identified in the texts.

Now tech company Twilio says it sent the texts, and was hired by political marketing firm Alliance Forge, according to The Washington Post. Alliance Forge Chief Executive David Espinosa told The Post in a statement that, “Alliance Forge did not consult on this message’s messaging strategy or content.”

State campaign disclosure reports show Alliance Forge received $26,335 this year from political action committee Do Right Pac, funded almost entirely by advocacy group CatholicVote. The PAC was founded by Tim Huelskamp, former U.S. Representative for Kansas’ Big 1st Congressional District from 2011 to 2017. Of the $530,000 his PAC raised this year, $500,000 came from CatholicVote.

Huelskamp could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The Do Right PAC also funded a commercial supporting the amendment featuring Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.

Once alerted to the texts, Twilio suspended their distribution and said Alliance Forge was in violation of Twilio’s policy against their service being used to spread misinformation. The texts implied that voting “yes” on the amendment would uphold the right to an abortion in Kansas. The opposite is true. A “yes” vote is in support of removing abortion rights from the Kansas constitution. Notably, Twilio is on record in support of abortion rights and has pledged to cover travel expenses for any employee needing to travel out of state to get an abortion.

Because the texts did not identify who was sending them, they may have been in violation of Federal Communication Commission regulations over political messaging, according to Davis Hammet, president of Topeka-based voting rights group Loud Light.

Violators of FCC regulations are subject to fines. Voters who received the texts may report them to the FCC here. Misleading anonymous texts are not in violation of any state laws, the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission explained on Twitter late Monday.

The story was originally published by The Wichita Beacon.

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