‘Moderate’ group behind robo-calls

By Corene Brisendine

Some potential Manhattan voters have been receiving automated phone calls from a political action committee asking them to vote for what the calls describe as moderate candidates in the City Commission race. A political action committee formed by Andrew Rickel, called Citizens for a Moderate Manhattan, is behind the calls.

Jolene Keck, elections supervisor for Riley County, said Rickel filed a paper on March 11 stating the committee was a “social service/quality of life advocacy” committee, and did not endorse any specific candidates. She said if the committee decides to support a specific candidate, it will need to report that to the state ethics commission, but otherwise only needs to file a finance report by the end of 2013. The paper listed Rickel as the chairperson and Ryan Martin as treasurer.

Rickel, who is a property manager and member of the city’s Social Services Advisory Board, said he formed the committee to encourage citizens to vote for three moderates for both city commission and school board. He did not identify those candidates by name, but said his message was to “vote for open-minded candidates who serve the people of our city, not a political agenda.”

Last week the committee sent out emails to various Manhattan residents seeking donations . That email reportedly listed Rickel and Scott Seel, a Democrat defeated by Bob Boyd in last year’s County Commission election, as contacts.

Rickel was appointed to the Social Services Advisory Board by Jim Sherow, his term continuing until 2014. Rickel was not willing to give dollar amounts the committee had raised, but he did say a “growing number of citizens” had donated and the committee was receiving more money daily.

The automated phone calls neither identify the source of the call nor endorse any specific candidate. They do, however, warn that if voters do not elect “moderates,” the City Commission will be “taken over by extremists.” Then the automated voice — former Manhattan resident — Aaron Leiker, asks voters to “press 1” to have a mail-in ballot sent to them. He said recipients who do so will be contacted by a CMM volunteer who will either sign them up to vote by mail or transport them to the county office building to vote early.

Rickel said determining who received the calls was based on “a series of factors … including recent voting history.”

Kathryn Focke, chairperson for the Democratic Party in Manhattan, said Rickel is a member of the party’s executive committee, but not a voting member.

“He sits on the committee at my pleasure,” she said. “He is there more for his knowledge in computers, and technical support.”

Focke said he was a paid staff member during the 2012 elections, but that position ended with the November elections. She said she was aware of the formation of the action committee, but added the Democratic Party had no involvement.

“It is an independent committee,” she said. “And, we want to keep it that way.”

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