ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe (@matthewbjaffe) reports:
Tim Pawlenty’s campaign today is pushing back at reports that they are getting help from outside groups at the upcoming Ames straw poll.
Craig Robinson at The Iowa Republican reported earlier today that four Pawlenty consultants in Iowa are working for outside interest groups: three of them – Chuck Larson Jr., Karen Slifka and Ed Failor Jr. – for the America Petroleum Institute’s Iowa Energy Forum and a fourth – Nicole Schlinger – for Strong America Now, a debt reduction effort.
The overlap between the Pawlenty campaign and the outside groups is even evident in one of the former Minnesota governor’s campaign ads. Pawlenty’s ad “The Only Candidate” shows two girls wearing blue Iowa Energy Forum shirts.
Both the Iowa Energy Forum and Strong America Now are offering free tickets and transportation to the Aug. 13 straw poll, something that could potentially provide a big boost to Pawlenty: if the campaign can tell supporters to hitch a ride to Ames with one of the outside groups, then they can focus their efforts elsewhere.
A top Republican operative in Iowa told ABC News earlier today that such an arrangement would be “a big deal” for Pawlenty, who has a lot riding on Ames – by the middle of August he reportedly will have shelled out around $1 million in Iowa since the start of the campaign.
Pawlenty’s top rival in Iowa has pounced on the connection between Pawlenty and the outside groups. Kent Sorenson, chair of Michele Bachmann’s Iowa campaign, told the Des Moines Register that Pawlenty is “attempting to hijack nonprofit organizations for his own political gain,” accusing him of “unethical attempts to win the Ames straw poll.”
Today the Pawlenty campaign responded. Alex Conant, a spokesman for Pawlenty, said, “The Bachmann campaign’s accusation is malicious and, like so much of what she says, simply not true.”
A member of the Iowa State Republican Central Committee told ABC News that “there’s nothing illegal, nothing unethical, no coordination there – to even insinuate that someone is trying to manipulate the straw poll is bogus.”