As Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson faces increasing pressure from his constituents to hold a town hall meeting to hear their concerns, the Chicago-based maker of the adult party game Cards Against Humanity is hoping to turn up the heat on him.
The company recently put up a website, JohnsonPotato.com, which lets individuals pay $5 to mail the Republican senator's Milwaukee office a potato with the straightforward message "Hold A Town Hall" written on it in black marker.
As Cards Against Humanity tweeted on Thursday:
The company behind Cards Against Humanity has thrived on unusual approaches and an unorthodox structure. The game (tagline: "A party game for horrible people"), in which players respond to questions with the funniest card in their hand, was created by a group of eight friends. One co-creator, Max Temkin, a frequent spokesperson for the company, told Inc. a few years ago that he and some high-school buddies had bootstrapped creation of the first batch of Cards cards with help from just one very small Kickstarter campaign and their own meager bank accounts. Although none of them worked at or ran the company full-time, Temkin told Inc. that business decisions (say, whether or not the company should produce a Christmas expansion pack, or sell bull "poop" for $6 as a Black Friday "deal") were often made by the entire group, during phone calls or while online.
Temkin and Cards Against Humanity have not responded to emails requesting comment on the dealings of JohnsonPotato.com, which lists Cards Against Humanity headquarters in Chicago as its address. On Thursday, Temkin promoted the stunt on Twitter, calling Johnson a "coward."
Senator Johnson has been in some hot water with constituents and local media lately for failing to answer citizens' calls to hold listening sessions or meet with them, as other legislators around the country have. Johnson, instead, holds teleconference "town hall" meetings. The heat intensified this week when a report questioned whether Johnson's office was trying to silence critical constituents by sending them cease-and-desist letters. Some of the circumstances surrounding this have not been confirmed, and have been disputed by Johnson's office, which did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. A staffer who answered the phone in the Milwaukee office said he had not seen any potatoes arrive yet.
Before entering politics, Johnson was an entrepreneur: He started Pacur, a plastics packing-and-printing company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, nearly four decades ago. (Coincidentally enough, I grew up in Oshkosh. But I do not know Johnson.)
The candidacy and election of Donald Trump appears to have spurred a new wave of explicitly activist startups in recent months. One of them, Daily Action, texts subscribers a call to action each day and connects them by phone with a representative's office, after walking them through an issue item to speak out on. Calls have included asking representatives to vote against Betsy DeVos's nomination for secretary of education or asking Customs and Border Control to voice concern over President Trump's suspension of refugee immigration. There's also Countable , which lets readers instantly send their opinion to lawmakers, Act On This, which has dubbed itself a "political action cheat sheet," and Phone2Action, software that connects constituents to lawmakers.
It's unclear whether this is a one-off issue-based stunt by Cards Against Humanity, or part of a more sustained campaign. But if pounds upon pounds of potatoes sound pesky to you, consider that Temkin's original plan was to mail the senator a ton of "inverted pork rectums" each month until Johnson agreed to hold an in-person town hall.