Cullman-based PAC funding #KeepCullmanGreat 1-cent tax campaign

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Residents from all over Cullman County have reported receiving this text message. (Courtesy photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Residents from all over Cullman County have reported receiving text messages asking them to vote yes on the proposed 1-cent tax March 3. Complaints poured in to The Cullman Tribune via social media and email Thursday, with residents angry about being sent unsolicited campaign texts to their cell phones. The Tribune has learned the campaign is being handled by Ascend Agency Public Relations and Branding and is being funded by the Cullman County-based political action committee (PAC) Advocates for Excellence in Education. Ascend said it got registered voters’ information from the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office.

Texts

One text received read: “Hi! I’m volunteering to ask for votes for our Cullman City and County Schools. Would you consider voting YES on the 1 cent tax March 3rd? #KeepCullmanGreat”

Both the Cullman City School Board and Cullman County School Board quickly denied any involvement in the texts Thursday morning, each sending statements:

The Cullman City School Board statement, with the subject line “County Tax” read: “Some individuals have received a text message seeking support for the 1-cent sales tax referendum supported by the Cullman County Board of Education. Cullman City Schools has not and will not share the contact information of students, parents, or employees at any time. The City Board of Education has not taken a formal position on this referendum.”

The Cullman County School Board statement read: “Some individuals have received a text message asking if people support the 1-cent sales tax referendum. Cullman County Schools has not shared the contact information of students, parents, or employees. Volunteers are sending texts on behalf of the referendum.”

The #KeepCullmanGreat campaign

The Tribune reached out to Cydni Robertson, administrative assistant at Ascend Agency Public Relations and Branding (https://ascendagency.org), who, in an email dated Feb. 13, 2020 said, “We are currently working with the Cullman County Board of Education.”

Thursday morning, Feb. 20, 2020, when asked about the text messages, Robertson said in an email to The Tribune:

“Just like President Trump, we are using technology to communicate with potential voters. The information did not come from the City nor the County schools. It is available to all campaigns in Alabama from the Secretary of State’s office.

“We have hundreds of volunteers who are excited about doing something great for our community and when we have volunteers excited like this, that is something we should all get excited about.

“Per Superintendent Barnette, ‘Yes there’s always people who will vote no and always those who want to be left out or left alone, but we wouldn’t be doing our job to support these kids if we did not speak up and do our best!’”

A media release sent from Ascend Agency Public Relations and Branding on the afternoon of Feb. 20, 2020 with the headline “#KeepCullmanGreat Text,” said:

“Last night, 67 hardworking Cullman Countians and proud advocates for education volunteered their personal time to ask the people of Cullman County to support their City and County Schools on March 3rd. Each message sent was done so individually, by a volunteer who has a heart for our School Systems. On top of those 67, there are hundreds of volunteers who are excited about doing something great for their community and when there are volunteers excited like this, that’s something we should all get excited about. 

“Just like in President Trump’s campaign for re-election, technology is being used to communicate with potential voters. The information didn’t come from the City nor the County Schools. It is available to all campaigns in Alabama on a public list from the Secretary of State’s office. 

“There are always people who will vote no and always those who want to be left out or left alone, but we see it as our job to support these kids and we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t speak up and do our best for them and the future children who will call Cullman Schools a place where they come to learn and be welcomed!”

Funding

Robertson told The Tribune the PAC Advocates for Excellence in Education is funding the campaign.

According to the website of Alabama Sec. of State John Merrill, the PAC was formed Jan. 18, 2020 in Cullman County and is chaired by Wendy Crider, with Corey Whaley listed as treasurer. Crider served on the Cullman County Board of Education from 2005-2017, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Its stated purpose is “Campaign for educational sales tax for public schools.”

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Wendy Sack

wendy@cullmantribune.com