The secrecy surrounding a new media organization called Alpha News continues to grow, as staff connected to a media-shy Republican donor are attempting to work quietly behind the scenes.
In a post for the Star Tribune last month, I wrote about the mysterious launch of Alpha News. The first news of Alpha News came from a post by the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance on Facebook. Many of the initial news stories from Alpha News covered issues which have been advocated by the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance.
Please do not be surprised or concerned, as according to the "Website Terms and Conditions of Use Agreement" for Alpha News, "Alpha News is not responsible for the content of postings and comments" on Alpha News.
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly.
Public filings with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, still show the address for Alpha News as a mailbox in a UPS Store in Minnetonka. It must be a big mailbox to fit all of the staff working for Alpha News.
I interviewed Julia Erynn, the chief capitol reporter for Alpha News, last month and she said the organization employs a writer, researcher, and additional staff to edit and record video. Erynn also said Alpha News would be publishing the membership of their board of directors, to "ensure everything would be accessible" to the public.
Since my post last month, Alpha News has not released any new information about their board of directors or staff. I attempted to speak with Erynn to check the progress on the release of information about Alpha News she said would be released.
Erynn also said Alpha News would be receiving press credentials from the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate, but they have not been issued to Alpha News.
On Monday, I spoke with Erynn and scheduled a phone-interview for later that same day. Erynn did not call at the time scheduled for the interview. In response to a message about the missed interview, Erynn said she would call the following day around 9 AM - "schedule permitting" - but she did not call again. Erynn has not responded to any additional requests for an interview.
Erynn's response to interview requests is confusing, as just two weeks ago, she complained about staff at the Minnesota House of Representatives not responding to her requests to interview Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives Kurt Daudt (R-Crown).
If you are going to publicly gripe about not being granted an interview, you should make yourself available for interviews, especially if you schedule the interview.
Last month, Erynn said "a number of private donors" were providing financial support to Alpha News. While Alpha News has not publicly released information about their staff, board of directors or donors, one prominent Republican donor is connected to the organization.
Robert Cummins, President and CEO of Plymouth-based Primera Technology, has a long history of being a generous financial contributor to Republicans in Minnesota. Staff working directly with organizations connected to Cummins have been assisting Alpha News.
- Alex Kharam, the Executive Director of the Freedom Club, is listed as the registered agent for Alpha News with the Office of Minnesota Secretary of State. Cummins serves on the Board of Directors for the Freedom Club. Kharam previously worked for Civis Communications, a political consulting firm owned by Cummins.
- Cole Mathisen has been working on video production for Alpha News. Mathisen is also a part-time instructor at Providence Academy, but a staff member at Providence Academy said today his office is at Primera Technology. Cummins reportedly "donated most of the $20 million needed to found Providence Academy" and he currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the school. Mathisen also worked for Civis Communications.
Cummins, who is well-known for rarely speaking with the media, did not respond to a request for comment. Kharam and Mathisen also did not respond to repeated requests for comment about their work with Alpha News.
Erynn may have the title of "chief capitol reporter" for Alpha News, but the majority of posts for Alpha News have no byline, which makes determining who wrote the posts impossible. Evidence shows the posts for Alpha News are written by more than one author and some of the content is repurposed from other media outlets without attribution.
On Monday, Kharam wrote a post for Alpha News which appeared on his personal Facebook page. Moments after publishing the post, it was deleted. The exact same post later appeared on Alpha News' Facebook page, but without Kharam listed as the author.
When asked last month about Kharam's involvement with Alpha News, Erynn said Kharam had previously consulted on the initial start of Alpha News. Kharam's authorship of posts for Alpha News contradicts Erynn's comments about his current involvement with the organization.
Aside from ghostwriting material for Alpha News, Kharam has recently been working with the Republican Party of Minnesota. Kharam appeared on the filings with the Federal Communications Commission as the person who worked with media on behalf of the Republican Party of Minnesota to buy airtime for the party's "Give It Back" television commercial released last month.
Kharam listed "The Greenbrier Group" as the company he represented when he purchased the airtime. Records with the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State show The Greenbrier Group became an active company on January 19, 2015 and the address for the company is the same UPS Store in Minnetonka used by Alpha News.
Alpha News glowingly reported on the party's "Give It Back" television advertisement and interviewed Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman Keith Downey. Kharam's work for the party, nor his connection to Alpha News was disclosed in the story.
I guess all of the information in this post should not be surprising, as Alpha News said it was "not responsible" for posts on Alpha News. Now that is something to post about.