Dem. PR consultant created alternate identity to promote clientsby Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Meet Joe Forkeybolo.
He's a Minnesota conservative who "is tired of working half the year to pay for the lazy half of society to sit around and collect free handouts," according to his Facebook page.
He has 481 friends on the social networking site, many of whom are Republican lawmakers and operatives. He graduated from the conservative Christian Oral Roberts University in 1994, the same school where U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann earned her law degree. He graduated from Shermer High School in 1990.
Wait. Shermer High School?
If that name rings a bell, that's because it was also the fictional high school that served as the backdrop for John Hughes' 1985 movie "The Breakfast Club."
Like the school, Joe Forkeybolo apparently doesn't exist in the real world.
Rather, he appears to be the conservative alter-ego of Democratic operative Nate Dybvig, who, through his public relations firm Minnesota Media Services, represents multiple interests in the state, including the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, and former DFL 8th Congressional District candidate Jeff Anderson.
Currently, Dybvig is an unpaid campaign spokesman for Brian Barnes, who's looking to unseat Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen in Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District. Dybvig's wife, Liz McLoone, is campaign manager.
It's not unheard of for anonymous tweeters to get their jollies by impersonating Minnesota's lawmakers through fake Twitter accounts; an anonymous tweeter parodies Gov. Mark Dayton under the handle @GovDayton, for instance. And during election season, political shenanigans are expected.
But what's different about Dybvig's approach is that he works for Democrats, but has used the Forkeybolo persona to promote his clients from a Republican perspective, at times to a largely Republican audience.
MPR News first discovered Dybvig's alternative identity when Dybvig, using a fake email address with the Forkeybolo name, wrote to MPR's On Message feature asking the station to fact-check Barnes' campaign ads.
"I'd love to hear if the new ads from Brian Barnes are correct," Forkeybolo/Dybvig wrote. "Minnesota's Third Congressional District has always been a home for moderate republicans, but the ad claims Rep. Paulsen votes with Rep. Bachmann '93% of the time.' That is a pretty serious claim. But one that I think the voters deserve to know if it is true."
He signed the email, "Thanks! Joe."
On Friday afternoon, Dybvig at first agreed to answer questions about Forkeybolo.
But when asked when and why he created this alternative persona, he said, "You know, I guess I'm not terribly comfortable talking about this." Within minutes of that conversation the Forkeybolo Facebook page disappeared.
A call to the Barnes campaign was answered by Dybvig's wife and Barnes campaign manager, McLoone. Asked if she thought her husband's activities were unethical, McLoone said the situation isn't unusual.
"What I know is that on blogs people always have their [blog] name, like Keewatin Rose or Two Putt Tommy, so it's done all the time," she said.
Tommy Johnson, who blogs under his nickname "Two Putt Tommy," said he has never hidden his identity on the Internet. Shelly Mategko, who blogs as Keewatin Rose, also does not hide her identity.
When working for 8th District DFL hopeful Anderson this spring, Dybvig used the fake Forkeybolo Facebook account to knock Anderson's primary opponent, Tarryl Clark, and Republican incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack.
"Rep. Cravaack is being out-fundraised by Tarryble Clark. And he's weak on conservative issues. Do we need to start worrying about this race?" Forkeybolo wrote on his Facebook page on May 15, 2012.
Dybvig used the Forkeybolo identity numerous times to comment on stories about efforts to expand gambling in the state to pay for the new Vikings stadium, something the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, which Dybvig works for, opposed.
"This proposal is dead," Forkeybolo wrote in response to a May 18 MinnPost story about putting slot machines at local race tracks.
"Twenty percent of Minnesotans favor this bill. It should be killed off and never brought back," he continued.
On the fake Forkeybolo Faceboook page, Forkeybolo vented to his conservative audience that Republicans were wrong on the Vikings deal.
"While RINOS like [Senate Majority Leader David] Senjem and [Sen. Claire] Robling like gambling, the TRUE conservative wing of the party will not play along," he wrote on Jan. 9, 2012. "Add them to the bought and paid for democrats, and Racino has no chance this year."
In fact, Dybvig became so adept at using social media to promote Forkeybolo's views that MinnPost quoted a comment made by the fictional persona in a story about how the stadium was dividing Republicans.
"If a Republican wants to vote for a billion dollar playground that will be used ten times a year, then let's make sure that they are held accountable," MinnPost reporter Joe Kimball quoted Forkeybolo as saying on May 15, 2012.
Kimball was pulling quotes from social media for his story, and found Forkeybolo's comments on a Facebook page dedicated to the debate.
"I'd rather have a Democrat who I know is going to screw me in office for a short time, rather than a Republican who no longer adheres to party principles nor fears the electorate there for the long term," Forkeybolo went on.
John McCarthy, who is the executive director of MIGA, said that Dybvig has been employed by the organization for at least a decade. He's involved in setting up interviews for the group and helping McCarthy get into touch with the media.
"I didn't know about it," McCarthy said in reference to Forkeybolo. "I guess I'd have to take a look at it to see. This is the first time I've heard of it."
Forkeybolo wasn't too hot on former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, either. In a manifesto titled "Why I won't be voting for Tom Emmer on Tuesday," Forkeybolo went after Emmer's prior DUI, his mortgages and his budget plan. "I want to be inspired by our choice for governor. Tom Emmer does not inspire me," he wrote.
He ended the 625-word essay by saying, "Please join me in NOT voting for Tom Emmer on Nov. 2. The future of the state's Republican Party depends on it."
The piece was so harsh that some of Forkeybolo's Facebook followers started to doubt the author's authenticity.
"Who are you?" wrote Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center.
"You sound like a Democrat, so your choice doesn't surprise me," wrote another commenter.
• Follow Catherine Richert on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/catrichert
MPR reporter Madeleine Baran contributed to this story.