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AG: Youssef violated law with fake campaign blog

State Representative Daniel Itse talks with State Senate candidate Josh Youssef during a meeting of the Redress of Grievances Committee at the Legislative Office Building; Thursday, July 19, 2012.

( Alexander Cohn/File Photo)

State Representative Daniel Itse talks with State Senate candidate Josh Youssef during a meeting of the Redress of Grievances Committee at the Legislative Office Building; Thursday, July 19, 2012. ( Alexander Cohn/File Photo)

Defeated state Senate candidate Josh Youssef of Laconia violated a state election law when he created a fake blog to make it appear that his ex-wife’s attorney had endorsed his candidacy, the attorney general’s office
has ruled.

The attorney, Ed Mosca of Manchester, filed the election law complaint in September after discovering that someone had copied his personal blog, down to the design, font, colors and name, The Ed Mosca Blog. But where Mosca had been critical in his blog of Youssef’s conduct during his contentious divorce and child support cases, the copycat blog contained nearly a dozen letters endorsing Youssef’s bid for the Senate.

Youssef never denied creating the blog, but neither did he claim ownership. He registered it under a “proxy” that shielded his identity. A state investigator obtained records from the online company hosting the site that showed Youssef had created the blog and was receiving billing statements for it at his Laconia address, according to the state.

“The deceptive nature of your blog could have easily misled viewers,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Stephen LaBonte in his Aug. 6 ruling. LaBonte wrote that Youssef could face legal action if he continued to use the blog to make false representations. The election law LaBonte cited prohibits a person from attempting to influence voters by falsely representing that another person supports him or her.

The phony blog disappeared in September, days after Mosca filed his complaint.

Reached yesterday, Youssef said his copycat blog broke no laws because he has a constitutional right to free speech. “I believe the (election law) is wholeheartedly unconstitutional,” he said.
“I find it awfully pompous of the attorney general’s office to say, ‘You are hereby ordered to cease and desist from
blah, blah, blah,’ when the attorney general’s office does not have the right to issue
orders. That is the role of the judiciary.”

Youssef also said he was protected by a disclaimer on the phony blog that said the site was not affiliated with Mosca. The disclaimer was at the bottom blog’s front page but appeared in tiny, light-faced print that was easy to miss.

Youssef, a Republican, lost his bid for the District 7 seat, which represents
Canterbury, Northfield, Boscawen, Belmont, Andover, Franklin, Salisbury Webster, Gilford and Laconia. The victor in the race was Democrat Andrew Hosmer of Laconia. Youssef said yesterday he intends to run again for the Senate seat.

Mosca learned of Youssef’s continued political ambitions from a reporter yesterday.

“My hope would have been that this would be the end of his political career, because I don’t think he has any business of running for public office,” Mosca said. Asked why, Mosca said, “Character and integrity matter.” He cited Youssef’s conduct during the divorce and child support cases and the Senate campaign.

The judge handing the Youssefs’ divorce found that Youssef had omitted some of his assets from his financial affidavits the court used to divide the couple’s money and property, according to court records. The judge also found that Youssef had underreported his finances to the court as it was setting his child support payments, according to court records.

Youssef is appealing those orders to the state Supreme Court.

This was one of three complaints the state attorney general’s office received last fall involving Youssef’s campaign. LaBonte said yesterday that his office is still investigating the other two.

In one, Youssef’s campaign mailed fliers to people in Franklin with a personal note of support from “Ken.” Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield, who did not support Youssef, said several people approached him after receiving the flier assuming he had changed his position.

The other complaint involved a prerecorded phone call placed to District 7 homes that claimed Youssef had resolved a significant IRS debt when he hadn’t. Voters who heard the calls said no one claimed credit for them within the first 30 seconds, as required by law. The calls were paid for by the political action committee of a former state senator who was supporting Youssef.

This story has been updated to correct the location of the blog’s disclaimer.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)

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