Bass campaign sued over allegations of push polling
Attorney general cites 2010 survey
The state attorney general is accusing Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass's 2010 campaign committee of using a push poll against Democrat Ann Kuster that did not mention the call was on his behalf.
Push polling is when candidates commission phone calls that appear to ask voters questions as part of a survey or poll but largely serve to spread negative information about their opponents. The state's lawsuit, filed in Merrimack County Superior Court, seeks $400,000 in fines - up to $1,000 for each of the 400 calls allegedly made on behalf of Bass's campaign.
Scott Tranchemontagne, Bass's campaign spokesman, released a statement last night saying the campaign 'has never conducted a push poll.'
'The Bass Victory Committee strongly denies the attorney general's allegation and will vigorously defend the civil suit. The poll in question was a legitimate message testing survey, not a push poll,' Tranchemontagne said. 'Our survey was the same type of message testing poll conducted by virtually every major candidate for a federal office. It tested voters' attitudes and opinions among a relatively small sample of voters, unlike a push poll, which targets a much larger group of voters with the intent of negatively persuading the voter.'
In September 2010 - less than two months before Bass, a Peterborough Republican seeking a seventh term in Congress, narrowly defeated Kuster - authorities say residents of New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District received calls asking questions about Kuster that 'implied or conveyed information about her character, status or political stance or record' and were 'conducted in a manner that was likely to be construed by a voter to be a surveyor poll to gather statistical data for entities or organizations which were acting independent of any political party, candidate or interest group.'
Push-polling is legal in New Hampshire as long as the call identifies the candidate it is supporting or opposing. That's where Attorney General Michael Delaney says Bass's campaign deliberately broke state law.
The original draft of the call script, according to the lawsuit, included the disclosure, 'The Tarrance Group wishes to thank you for participating in this survey - which was commissioned and paid for by the Bass Victory Committee . . . 603-226-6000. Good night.'
But in an email dated Sept. 16, 2010, authorities say Bass's campaign manager asked: 'Could we change the disclaimer at the end to NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee) since they are paying for half of it? I'd rather have any issues about 'push polling' be blamed on them (sorry Brock), rather than us - especially with the date rape drug question in there.'
An official in the attorney general's office declined to provide the content of the alleged push poll, but the date rape drug question likely referred to Kuster's work as a lobbyist for a company that made rohypnol, which was a focus of Republican attacks at the time.
As a result of the request by Bass's campaign, Delaney said the call went out to voters with this disclosure: 'The Tarrance Group wishes to thank you for participating in this survey - which was commissioned and paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee . . . 202-479-7050. Good night.'
Yesterday's lawsuit is the fourth in the past 18 months brought by the attorney general's office against groups alleged to have violated laws governing push polls and robo calls:
• In October 2010, Mountain West Research Co. reached a $20,000 settlement for a poll conducted on behalf of Concord Democrat Paul Hodes's unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate. State Rep. David Bates, the Windham Republican who heads the House election law committee, filed the complaint.
• In August, the New Hampshire Democratic Party paid a $5,000 fine for pre-recorded political messages created on the party's behalf. House Speaker Bill O'Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican, filed the complaint.
• In January, On Message Inc., a Virginia polling company, paid $15,000 for a poll on behalf of Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta's successful 2010 congressional campaign. State Rep. William Infantine, a Manchester Republican, and Margaret King filed the complaint.
The complaint against Bass was filed by state Rep. Kathleen Taylor, a Franconia Democrat. The state's lawsuit says Bass's campaign, in response to an October 2011 subpoena, initially told the attorney general's office it could not find any correspondence between the campaign and the Tarrance Group, a national Republican polling firm.
On Feb. 1, 'after further investigation,' the attorney general's office issued the campaign a second subpoena 'in order to verify the accuracy of prior representations that no correspondence between the campaign and the Tarrance Group could be located.' Five days later, authorities said the Bass campaign turned over 500 pages of email records, including communications between campaign officials and employees at the polling firm.
Delaney said in a statement yesterday that his office 'will continue to enforce New Hampshire's elections laws that require disclosures to citizens by candidates or political organizations engaging in campaign-related telephone calls or push polls.'
'Our elected officials are calling for these investigations, and it is my obligation to enforce violations of the laws brought to my attention,' Delaney said.
(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)