DeWitt, Mich. — The protesters popping up at Mitt Romney's rallies throughout Michigan Tuesday look like run-of-the-mill grassroots liberals — they wave signs about "the 99 percent," they chant about the Republican's greed, and they describe themselves as a loosely organized coalition of "concerned citizens."
They're also getting paid, two of the protesters and an Obama campaign official told BuzzFeed.
At the candidate's afternoon stop outside a bakery in DeWitt, a group of about 15 protesters stood behind a police barricade, a few of them chanting in support of Obama. Asked why he was protesting, a man dressed in a grim reaper costume pointed a reporter to a pair of "designated representatives" standing in the shade.
"I can't talk, you gotta get one of those people over there to talk to y'all," he said. "They're the ones who can talk to reporters."
Neither of the representatives agreed to give their names, but two protesters said they were getting paid to stand outside of the rally, though their wage is unclear: one said she was getting $7.25 per hour, while another man said they were being paid $17 per hour.
Meanwhile, about 50 feet away, another protest had been organized by local Democrats in conjunction with the Obama campaign. A campaign official told BuzzFeed they had nothing to do with the other group — which he said he believed had been sent by the labor-backed "Good Jobs Now" — and confirmed that they were being paid.
"I mean, it's a free country, they can go anywhere they want, but they're not with us," the official said.
The protesters also made an appearance at Romney's rally in Frankenmuth earlier in the day. There, a young man who identified himself only as Demarcus stood with a group of about five others, stopping reporters after the candidate's speech and saying they were there "to represent the 99 percent and tell Romney to stand up for us." He said he was from the group, "Good Jobs Now," but did not indicate whether he was being paid.
Brittany Smith, a spokeswoman for Good Jobs Now, confirmed that they had protesters at the events, but said their "activists are NOT paid to protest. We are a statewide community advocacy group."
The politics of heckling has been a point of frequent debate lately, with both campaigns allowing demonstrators to derail public events in recent weeks. At a press conference in Boston last month, Romney campaign aides and volunteers drowned out a press conference featuring David Axelrod. And the Romney campaign was forced to skip a scheduled stop at a WaWa gas station in Pennsylvania last Saturday after a group of protesters positioned themselves outside the location.
But while both sides enjoy a good, loud demonstration, it's generally acknowledged that paying people to protest is a form of cheating — which explains why the Obama campaign was quick to distance themselves from the group.
By the end of Romney's remarks, most of the "Good Jobs Now" group was standing in the shade, chatting amongst themselves and letting their signs hang to the the ground. And while the Democrats aligned with the Obama campaign continued to shout at rally-goers as they filed out of the event, the other group of demonstrators made their way down the street and loaded on to a charter bus.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
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