WHAT THE WHAT?
Conservative Group Wants You to Believe Iran’s President Endorsed Beto O’Rourke
A neoconservative group appears to be behind a listing recruiting voice actors to pretend to be President Rouhani in an effort to portray him as backing the Texas Democrat.
A neoconservative foreign policy group appeared to try and get audio recorded claiming erroneously that Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-TX) Senate campaign was endorsed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The campaign appears to have not made it into production, and maybe never will, as the site where the group posted a call for voice actors took down the solicitation on the grounds that the script was clearly false.
Before it was removed, a screenshot of that posting—which was made on the website Voicebunny in August—was provided to The Daily Beast on an anonymous tip line. According to the posting, the company producing the ad was “trying to do a voice dubbing of the Iranian President, so the voiceover needs to sound middle eastern and stern.”
The script for the spot was as follows:
“Hello, I am Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the script read. “Today, it is my pleasure to endorse Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate. As a Congressman, Beto was a strong supporter of President Obama’s Iran Deal—which gave billions of dollars to my country of Iran.”
When reached for comment, a representative of Voicebunny said that the Rouhani listing had been taken down, citing the fact that it was blatantly erroneous.
“This project was a fake news project that was launched a few weeks ago,” Christina Gomez, Client Associate at Bunny Inc. informed The Daily Beast. “However, it was canceled by our team, and the voice over was not recorded.”
Citing client confidentiality, Gomez said that she could not provide The Daily Beast with information about who listed it.
However, both the anonymous source and certain elements of the request suggest strongly that it could have been made by the group Secure America Now, an organization with financial ties to some major donors in the 2016 presidential election.
According to the source, who had access to requests for voice auditions, the ID number associated with the listing, “26655,” matches a number of previous listings that include references to “SAN” or, in one instance in 2014, “Secure America Now: Benghazi.” The same source noted that client 26655 had 17 prior projects completed on the platform, which is visible in the screenshot.
Secure America Now, according to its website, is a non-partisan 501(c)4) nonprofit organization which has focused its attention in the past on bashing the Iran deal, seeking to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, supporting President Trump’s travel ban and asking “unanswered questions” about Benghazi.
According to previous reporting, the group ran ads in Florida in 2012 featuring warnings from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. They also reportedly commissioned a poll in 2013 finding that most Americans believed that the Obama administration was covering up facts about the 2012 attacks at the consulate in Benghazi. In 2014, they reportedly got into hot water for crafting an attack ad against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), which featured the image of James Foley, a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS.
That same year, Secure America Now reportedly sponsored a trip for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Ukraine to meet with the protest movement against then-president Viktor Yanukovych. The organization only seemed to amp up their activity as the 2016 presidential election approached.
According to 2016 income tax returns obtained by the website OpenSecrets, Secure America Now was largely funded by multi millionaire donor Robert Mercer, the 45Committee (a pro-Trump dark money group) and Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress. Allen Roth, an adviser to Lauder, is the group’s president. A Bloomberg report from 2017 described how Secure America Now worked with Facebook and Google to place anti-refugee ads in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina. These included fake tourism videos showing France and Germany under Sharia law and ads linking Democratic Senate candidates like Catherine Cortez Masto with terrorists.
Secure America Now is also referenced in a New York Times report as an organization that Elliott Broidy, former deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he was “working with” to get the Trump administration to fill positions favorable to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The organization did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast. O’Rourke’s campaign did not respond to questions either.
The two most recent videos on Secure America Now’s YouTube channel do feature both Cruz and O’Rourke, the two Senate candidates in Texas. One is a video of Cruz during a recent hearing with Judge Kavanaugh which thanks him for supporting the constitution. The other is an attack ad on O’Rourke featuring him skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot.
“Beto O’Rourke wants you to think he’s cool,” a highly stylized voiceover says. “And maybe he is. But Texas doesn’t need a cool senator. We need a good one.” The ad goes on to say that O’Rourke is pro-abortion, anti-gun and favored the Iran Deal.
It is true that O’Rourke is pro-choice and supported the Iran nuclear deal, while acknowledging flaws in it. But he is not against the Second Amendment.
The source with whom The Daily Beast spoke also identified a series of audition scripts with the same client ID number for voice overs on ads urging constituents to call Democratic senators about the Iran Deal in 2015. Videos matching those descriptions appear on Secure America Now’s YouTube page including ones for Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
One voice-over actor, Sean Chiplock, who told The Daily Beast that he used to use Voicebunny, said he couldn’t specifically recall doing any work for Secure America Now via the website. But he did remember one key detail when asked generally about old content pertaining to Benghazi.
“I DO recall saying the word "Benghazi" at least half a dozen times, but unless the project title also happens to have the word in it, the original project would be basically impossible to locate,” he told The Daily Beast in an email.
The Daily Beast subsequently sent him a 2014 video from Secure America Now entitled “Benghazi Unanswered Questions.”
Chiplock recognized his voice right away.
“That’s definitely me,” he told The Daily Beast, noting that doing the project “is in no way related to or indicative of any particular opinion or belief regarding the content I narrated.”