Friday, September 22, 2006

Pombo Push Polling In CA-11

Political push polling is the practice of dishonestly claiming to be taking a survey while instead conducting voter persuasion. In its nastiest incarnations, push polling spreads vicious smears about a candidate under the guise of innocent polling; the most notorious example of this was in the 2000 South Carolina Bush/McCain presidential primary, where the anonymous lies told about McCain arguably cost him the election.

The practice of push polling is so loathsome and contemptible that the American Association of Political Consultants, took a strong stand against it over a decade ago:
The AAPC's Ethics Committee addressed this issue in December of 1995, agreeing unanimously that so-called "push-polls" violate the AAPC's stricture against "any activity which would corrupt or degrade the practice of political campaigning." To the extent that practitioners of the "push-poll" ruse convey inaccurate information about an election opponent, they also violate the AAPC's stricture against false and misleading attacks.
So who do you think is out there conducting push polling in CA-11? The Richard Pombo camp, of course.

Unfortunately, one of the voters the anti-McNerney "pollsters" contacted recently turned out to be none other than Steve Thomas, former Democratic candidate for CA-11 who won almost 19% of the vote in the June primary. Here’s his story of the phone call he received:
Said they were a survey company — did not identify themselves as associated with the Pombo campaign or the RNC.

The questions started out general:
  • Do you consider yourself conservative/liberal/?
  • Do you consider Jerry McNerney to be a liberal?
  • Do you work inside the home or outside the home?
  • How old are you?
Then they got more pointed:
  • If Jerry McNerney gets elected, that’ll put Nancy Pelosi and the liberals in charge of Congress.
    Would this make you more or less likely to vote for him?

  • If Jerry McNerney gets elected, he’ll raise the taxes on small businesses.
    Would this make you more or less likely to vote for him?

  • If Jerry McNerney gets elected, he’ll raise gasoline prices and get rid of the tax cuts.
    Would this make you more or less likely to vote for him?

  • If Jerry McNerney gets elected, he’ll help terrorists by limiting wiretapping.
    Would this make you more or less likely to vote for him?

  • If Jerry McNerney gets elected, he’ll cut spending for defense.
    Would this make you more or less likely to vote for him?

  • If Jerry McNerney gets elected, he’ll cut spending on intelligence.
    Would this make you more or less likely to vote for him?

  • (Pro-life/pro-choice)
Then they summed up:
  • Which candidate do you feel would be more effective in Congress?

  • What party are you with?

  • Have you seen material on both of the candidates? Where do you get your political information? Newspaper, TV?

  • Which one would you weight more?

  • If the election was held today, who would you vote for?
Pretty sleazy, right? This would seem to easily meet the definition of push polling put forward by the AAPC:
The AAPC acknowledges, of course, that voter persuasion by telephone is a perfectly legitimate campaign practice. What we condemn is advocacy phone calling that:
  1. Masquerades as survey research;
  2. Fails to clearly and accurately identify the sponsor of the call; or
  3. Presents false or misleading information to the voter.
Well, the anti-McNerney call hits the jackpot on all three counts.

So who is behind this unscrupulous activity? Well, there seem to be two possibilities. First, the NRCC is the only group that has filed independent expenditure statements with the FEC on behalf of Richard Pombo. They have made two independent expenditures this week in CA-11 in support of Richard Pombo opposition to Jerry McNerney for “phone banking,” $5,413 on Tuesday and $5,450 on Thursday. As disturbing as it is to think that the NRCC would pursue this kind of nefarious behavior, the second option is even more troubling: that the push polling is originating from directly within Richard Pombo’s campaign.

It’s also where the story takes a strange twist. I’ve referred several times to the standards adopted by the AAPC. What, exactly is the AAPC? Well, here’s the way they describe themselves:
The association now numbers more than 1,100 active members, and operates from a permanent office in Washington, D.C.

The American Association of Political Consultants maintains a Code of Professional Ethics for members. Applicants for AAPC membership are required to sign the code, and to live by the standards it sets, as a condition of membership in the organization.
And who is the president of the AAPC? Well, none other than Wayne Johnson of JohnsonClark Associates. Yes, that Wayne Johnson, Richard Pombo’s long-time campaign consultant. You know, the same one who was paid $136,951.76 by Richard Pombo’s campaign on May 30, 2006, for “polling mass mail.” The same one who on May 18, 2006, was paid $298, 576.18 by Richard Pombo’s campaign for “TV radio & mass mail.” The same one who on June 14, 2006, was paid $18,663.87 by Richard Pombo’s campaign for “consulting advertising.”

So which is it? Is it Wayne Johnson who’s violating the very code of ethics that he promised to uphold as president of the AAPC, or is it the NRCC conducting activities that fall outside the boundaries of ethical behavior that have been established for over a decade? We already knew Richard Pombo is the king of sleaze, but now he seems to be contaminating everyone that he touches.

[UPDATE:] Word on the street is that there have been NRCC robo-calls the last few days, one about immigration claiming that McNerney supports illegal aliens using social services including the ability to go to state universities paying only "in-state tuition," and the other claiming "Jerry McNerney never met a tax he didn't like." Both lies. Apparently, the NRCC has no qualms about violating the "AAPC's stricture against false and misleading attacks."

Let's see. Who does that leave?


Anonymous Tom Benigno said...

The bottom line out there don't ever try to hussel a hussler. Or better yet don't get involved with Pombo people.

Tommy Bananas

Vote for Mc Nerney

3:13 PM, September 22, 2006  
Blogger VPO said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:19 PM, September 22, 2006  
Blogger VPO said...

I heard a radio ad from Pombo hitting Jerry on the candidate questionnaire switch. It seems Pombo is going almost entirely negative and harping on that one Voter Smart survey incident.

Pombo has nothing positive to offer at all, except if you happen to one of his relatives and he is shoveling campaign cash over to you.

3:20 PM, September 22, 2006  
Blogger janinsanfran said...

Your account of the questions asked does not convince me that what is described here is a "push poll." The vital question to be answered to evaluate that would be, how many of these calls were made? If they were done simply to a moderate size sample, say several hundred, they could be a legitimate effort to find out what messages work to turn voters off Jerry.

Sure -- the messages are bullshit, but that doesn't make this a push poll.

Pombo really has no viable message except some variant of "the other guy is worse" -- he has a lot of interest in figuring out which form of "worse" works best.

9:45 PM, September 24, 2006  
Blogger babaloo said...

Jan –
I think it’s helpful to review the three criteria listed by AAPC for what exactly constitutes push polling.

Steve Thomas was quite concise in his account that the sponsor of the call was not identified. That comports with point 2, ”Fails to clearly and accurately identify the sponsor of the call.”

Further, many of the questions started off with assertions that were patently false. The truth is that McNerney has no plans to raise taxes on small business, no plans to raise gas prices, no plans to cut spending on intelligence, no plans to get rid of middle class tax cuts, and no plans to cut defense spending. That conforms with point 3, ”Presents false or misleading information to the voter.”

Finally, the fact that you, as a McNerney supporter, are willing to believe that this call might be a "legitimate effort to find out what messages work to turn voters off Jerry" would seem to be an excellent affirmation of point 1, that the call was masquerading as survey research.”

I agree with your point that Pombo has no message -- he certainly can't brag about his record. He obviously needs desperately to go negative on McNerney. But McNerney's a good guy with good ideas. So what can Pombo do? He has to make this garbage up.

We already know that the NRCC has commissioned three polls and seven negative mailers in the last two months. Pombo's campaign has also been polling and running negative radio spots. I'm pretty confident that seven weeks out from the election, they already knew the issues that would trigger negative emotional responses in voters.

And I'm guessing that those issues boil down to the false assertions that were inserted in the middle of this push poll.

11:37 PM, September 24, 2006  

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