Fox News personality and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) recently began appearing in television commercials calling for viewers to dial a 1–800 number to sign a repeal petition against health reform called “Repeal It Now.” The ad, a “project of Restore America’s Voice” (RAV), a political action committee run by Huckabee’s friend Ken Hoagland, also directs viewers to a website that solicits donations. “Well now, we’ll do our spanking on the Congress,” says a cheerful Huckabee before claiming that Americans will “rule” again if the petitioned is signed.
Huckabee, who has a history of using his ubiquitous media presence to fundraise for political groups benefiting himself and his family, is again associating with a shady political venture. ThinkProgress has learned that Huckabee is working with a firm notorious for defrauding families facing foreclosure with false promises and predatory fees.
According to disclosures filed with the FEC, RAV’s campaign is managed by a firm called the 949 Media Group. 949 has been paid tens of thousands of dollars to set up RAV’s website and Google search optimization, and receives a regular commission of $10,000 for related media work from RAV. ThinkProgress spoke to a representative from RAV, who told us that 949 is run by an individual named Derek Oberholtzer. According to the representative, Oberholtzer has worked with RAV since the PAC formed in October.
Oberholtzer is well known as a scam artist who has used a myriad of tricks to defraud people out of their money. In addition to 949 Media Group, he started a number of companies, including “Apply 2 Save” (A2S) and Giant Media Works. Consumer report websites are rife with complaints about Oberholtzer’s odious business practices. In one scheme, Oberholtzer paid for radio and other advertisements telling distressed homeowners to contact his company A2S to pay a flat $595 fee to receive assistance in renegotiating their loans or to block a bank foreclosure. The Federal Trade Commission has prosecuted Oberholtzer for deceptive practices. In numerous cases, Oberholtzer took the $595 payment, and never did anything to stop a foreclosure or even contact the mortgage company in question. In many instances he continued billing his customers further fees totaling nearly $1,000 without lifting a finger to actually renegotiate their mortgage or halt a foreclosure, as his “Apply 2 Save” company promised.
On message boards discussing mortgage fraud, story after story details A2S’s trickery. There are heartbreaking tales of families spending their last savings on a lifeline promised by Oberholtzer’s company — only to be defrauded and forced out of their homes.
After receiving over 150 complaints about Oberholtzer’s companies charging up-front fees of over $1,500 without delivering on any foreclosure assistance, the Idaho attorney general banned Oberholtzer from engaging in the home loan business in his state. “Apply 2 Save operated for less than a year, signed up hundreds of clients, and took in millions of dollars,” said Lawrence Wasden, Idaho’s attorney general. “Yet few consumers ever received the mortgage modification services they purchased.” After a successful lawsuit, Wasden was able to win $45,000 from A2S to distribute to Oberholtzer’s victims. In Maryland, Oberholtzer has been served an order to cease and desist after the state commissioner of financial regulation received multiple complaints about Apply 2 Save’s fraudulent scheme. Eventually, A2S was forced into bankruptcy and a wave of legal action in Idaho spurred Oberholtzer to move to California. Oberholtzer also agreed to pay $4 million to settle a civil suit filed by the Federal Trade Commission.
Once he was driven out of the business of defrauding already desperate people facing foreclosure, Oberholtzer became active in Republican politics. The “Repeal It Now” campaign set up by Restore America’s Voice and 949 Media Group claims endorsements from Huckabee, Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, and somehow from deceased president Ronald Reagan. Olberholtzer also owns inactive domains called electmichele.org (presumably for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), repeality.biz, electme2012.com, and ravpac.info. The “Repeal It Now” campaign Huckabee stars in does nothing to accurately discuss health reform or address the health care crisis. It only exists to rake in donations and spread right-wing hysteria.
As ThinkProgress has reported, there are a number of right-wing consultants who appear to orchestrate campaigns simply to enrich themselves. For example, one of the well-paid leaders of the Tea Party Patriots made a career before the Tea Party movement concocting pyramid schemes with herbal nutrient products and the Tea Party Express is run by an infamous Republican consulting firm known for starting front groups to funnel donations back to themselves. Similarly, people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich seem to be willing to say or do anything to earn a quick buck. However, Huckabee’s central role in legitimizing fraudsters like Oberholtzer might be a new low, even for the radical right.