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Editorial: In Youssef case, AG’s ruling undercut by its timing

Remember Josh Youssef? This time last year, he was running a controversial campaign for the state Senate in District 7, which includes Boscawen, Canterbury, Franklin and seven other communities. Along the way, he was accused of numerous dirty tricks by supporters of his opponents and others.

Were they right? This month, the attorney general’s office ruled that, indeed, Youssef violated New Hampshire election law last fall, just as his detractors insisted. The state said that Youssef, a Republican, had created a fake blog to make it appear that his ex-wife’s attorney had endorsed his candidacy. “The deceptive nature of your blog could have easily misled viewers,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte.

Perhaps, in fact, it did. After all, the strong language of the ruling is severely undercut by its timing. If voters weren’t sure what to make of the blog flap before heading to the polls back in 2012, the AG’s ruling here in 2013 was of no use to them. Nor does it act as much of a disincentive to other candidates tempted to do the wrong thing.

LaBonte warned that the continued use of the blog to make false representations could lead to legal action against Youssef. But there’s little chance of that happening at this point.

This is a worthy topic for the new attorney general, Joe Foster, to devote some time to. If his office is to be the arbiter of fair play in political campaigns, doesn’t it behoove him and his staff to jump on complaints in a more timely manner?

No doubt Youssef didn’t make it easy for investigators in this case. The state had to obtain records from the online company hosting the site that showed Youssef was the creator of the blog and was receiving billing statements for it at his Laconia address in order to prove that he was, in fact, behind the fakery. Such sleuthing takes time.

And this is often the way these things go. In 2012, the state filed suit against former congressman Charlie Bass for allegedly running an illegal push poll against his Democratic opponent Annie Kuster. The phone survey in question took place in 2010 – not during the Bass-Kuster rematch of 2012 – and the court fight is ongoing.

Bass won a round in superior court this past June, but the AG has vowed to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

In the meantime, Bass has won one election against Kuster and lost another to her. And Kuster, for her part, is gearing up for 2014.

Eventually, the Bass case will set an important precedent for federal candidates running in New Hampshire.

And in the meantime, the Youssef case continues. Two additional complaints against him regarding his 2012 campaign are still under investigation by the AG. In one case, Youssef’s campaign mailed fliers to Franklin residents with a personal note of support signed by “Ken” – presumably made to look like an endorsement from Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield who did not back Youssef’s candidacy. In the other case, a prerecorded phone call told voters that Youssef had resolved a significant IRS debt when he hadn’t; voters said no one claimed credit for the calls within the first 30 seconds, as the law requires. The calls were financed by a political action committee of a former senator supporting Youssef.

If the AG determines that Youssef and his supporters violated state election law in these two cases, it won’t change the outcome of the race – which he lost to Democrat Andrew Hosmer last November.

But if he indeed tries again for a Senate seat next year, as he told Monitor City Editor Annmarie Timmins this week, voters would do well to remember the duplicitous tactics he used in 2012.

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