UPDATE 4:10 p.m.: We have heard from Fontaine via email. Her comments are included in this blog post.
A shadowy group calling itself Progressive Choice is attacking Charlie Crist as "a conservative Republican" who is "no friend of progressive Democrats."
Mailers started showing up in Tampa Bay area homes (and in Tallahassee, we're told) over the weekend, claiming Crist is pro-life, A+ rated by the NRA and that he signed a petition banning gay marriage.
The attacks aren't surprising, and most of the specific claims are rooted in truth (though they ignore Crist's changes of positions/flip flops). The more intriguing question is: Who's behind and paying for the mailers?
Progressive Choice has a bare bones website that describes the group as "a diverse coalition of fair-minded, forward-thinking individuals and organizations advocating for leadership that stands firm on progressive principles and genuinely reflects the interests of all progressives across the nation."
The group is not yet listed with the Federal Election Commission or the Florida Division of Elections, so we don't know where its money is coming from. The mailer lists a Washington D.C. P.O. box and says the mailers were sent from Orlando.
On a Facebook page, the group said its leader is Jamie Fontaine, who runs a Baltimore political advocacy firm and who "has been pushing women's and LGBT issues for 20 years."
In an email, Fontaine would not say who is funding the mailers, robocalls and Web adverstising being paid for by Progressive Choice.
"I will not at this time provide the names these supporters because their only motivation is to engage and have a meaningful impact," Fontaine said. "They did not ask to be placed in the spotlight or bullied by operatives with clear (or not so clear) corporate and political agendas — all while important issues like access to health care, more investment in public education and workforce advancement are buried by shadowy horse race coverage."
The minutiae of where the group's money is coming from is noteworthy because Republicans backing Gov. Rick Scott said in September that they might spend money helping little-known Democrat Nan Rich in a primary versus Crist. The idea being to attack Crist from both sides to weaken him in November.
Progressive Choice would seem to fit that bill.
On its Facebook page, Progressive Choice seems to be supportive of Rich, asking that Crist debate Rich and posting a headline titled "Nan Rich Blasts Rick Scott and Charlie Crist on School Choice." Progressive Choice Web ads also have appeared on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel website and on the Buzz, attacking Crist and calling Rich his "progressive Democratic opponent." (The ads are paid and placed through third-party vendors -- i.e., we don't know where they came from.)
Progressive Choice also showed up in a robocall featuring former National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland, who is supporting and fundraising for Rich.
According to BrowardBeat.com, Ireland said in the call that she was "gravely concerned" about Crist's candidacy.
"For too long, Charlie Crist led the pack of Republicans waging war on women," Ireland said. "...He blocked reproductive choice for too long."
Ireland urged people in the call to join her on Progressive Choice Florida, which BrowardBeat described as an anti-Crist Facebook page. (We've reached out to Ireland.)
Or this could have nothing to do with Republicans pounding Crist from the left, and that a group of concerned Democrats supporting Rich could be doing the work. We'll know more if Progressive Choice disclosed its donors, as required under Florida law.