When Donald Trump declared victory in Florida on Tuesday evening, he thanked the man beside him: “Corey, good job, Corey.” That was Corey Lewandowski, the hard-charging campaign manager who reporter Michelle Fields accused of grabbing her and nearly throwing her to the ground after a press conference last week.
That may be the first most voters have heard of Lewandowski, but he is well known in political circles as an aggressive, against-the-grain operative, whose most recent job with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity landed the group under investigation for voter suppression in North Carolina in 2014.
The group and its affiliated Americans for Prosperity Foundation had a massive voter registration and get-out-the-vote operation there leading up to the 2014 midterm elections. As AFP’s national director of voter registration at the time, Lewandowski's shop oversaw a multi-state voter registration drive, which included the production and distribution of hundreds of thousands of voting-related mailers to potential voters around the country.
But the mailers themselves had problems and so did the lists of people getting them. Some mailers misstated voter registration deadlines, while others wrongly instructed registered voters to re-register or face the possibility of losing their eligibility in the upcoming election. Former AFP staffers who spoke with The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity called the 2014 direct-mail effort “sloppy,” but elections officials in several states saw something more nefarious.
The hundreds of thousands of AFPF mailers were so “riddled with inaccuracies,” as the Raleigh News & Observer put it, that the state Democratic Party filed a complaint with the North Carolina Board of Elections directly accusing AFPF of voter suppression, a Class 1 felony in the state. In the complaint, the party’s executive director, Casey Mann, said that AFPF’s mailer reflected “a decision to attempt to utilize misleading, incorrect, and confusing voter registration mailers as a means of discouraging or intimidating voters in the 2014 General Election.”
In addition to listing the wrong registration deadline, the wrong office to send registration forms, and inaccurate contact information for follow-up questions, the mailer prompted more than 2,000 complaints to state officials reporting that it had been addressed to children, dead people and even someone’s cat. An AFPF spokesman conceded “a few minor, administrative errors” in the text of the leaflets, but defended the target list as industry standard. “Any large mailing even with 99.9% accuracy is going to have a few inaccurate recipients,” he said.
Lawyers for AFPF later specifically apologized directly to the Elections Board for sending the mail to dead people, in some cases multiple times, but maintained the errors were accidental and not a conspiracy to keep anyone from voting. Instead, they said the production process had conflated North Carolina and Arkansas voting information in some cases and was never properly vetted before the mail went out the door.
According to Politico and Daily Beast sources, the mailer fiasco was an unwanted embarrassment for the Koch organization, which had already come under fire for pushing laws to impose strict voting requirements at the state level. The voter registration effort that Lewandowski headed was shut down after the 2014 elections and Politico said he left the organization shortly thereafter as it “became clear that Lewandowski didn’t have much of a future with the group.”
Lewandowski, who has denied assaulting Fields, maintained that he left AFP in his own accord. He did not respond to a request for comment on this article.
Lewandowski’s next stop after AFP: The office of Donald J. Trump.
— With additional reporting from Betsy Woodruff