(February 10, 2003 // link)
New Hampshire is in the national political spotlight, only this time it’s not because of our “First in the Nation Status”, it’s because of our political “Dirty Tricks.” During the last election, the state Republican Party hired a telemarketing firm to jam the phone lines of the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation.
The New Hampshire GOP hired GOP Marketplace of Alexandria, Va., to make repeated hang up calls to a group of phone banks operated by the Manchester firefighters union and the state Democratic Party on November 5. GOP Marketplace in turn hired Milo Enterprises, an Idaho based telemarketing firm to actually make the calls which apparently substantially disrupted the get-out-the-vote efforts. The net effect was that the phone banks were neutralized for about two hours until Verizon intervened and identified the culprit.
Because it is a crime in New Hampshire to make repeated harassing phone calls “with a purpose to annoy or alarm another”, Democratic and Union officials reported the difficulties to the Manchester police. The Police, with the assistance of Verizon, determined that the calls were coming from Milo who in turn did not deny that they were paid, in advance, to repeatedly call a variety of phone numbers in New Hampshire. The Matter has also reportedly been referred to the US Department of Justice for investigation of Federal laws regarding phone harassment.
The Manchester Union Leader reported that the Republican State Committee paid GOP Marketplace $15,600.00 on November 1. Despite this revelation, then State Republican Party executive director Chuck McGee at first reportedly denied the hiring of GOP Marketplace. In a subsequent conversation with the Union Leader, Republican Party Chairwoman apparently indicated the Mr. McGee was “mistaken” and confirmed the hiring. The New York Times reported, on February 7, that McGee resigned after being accused of lying about the hiring of GOP Marketplace.
Even in the rough and tumble world of politics, this type of criminal activity should shock the conscience of the most hardened operative. This is way over the line. These crimes should be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I hope that this incident also causes people to ask questions about the big dollar political operations that we allow to influence our campaigns, and to thus smother all resistance or contrary opinion in a telecommunications blockade. This type of campaigning is not about Ideas, it is about money and the power that it can buy.
The genius who thought the idea of a phone blockade is no doubt viewed as creative or innovative in some circles. Someone has to draw a line and say “enough is enough.” This is not just creative, it is wrong. Somewhere along the line here somebody failed the morality check. This was at least cheating and as far as I know cheating is still a bad thing. If indeed these schemes turn out to be illegal, or to violate the rights of individuals to voice their opinions on political issues, the people who dream up such schemes need to be treated and prosecuted as do the parties that support or utilize them.
In his Talking Points Memo of February 10, 2003 (printed in the Washington Post) Joshua Marshall asks whether or not the New Hampshire GOP was the only state party to be getting the same type of services. This is a particularly good question given the close margins in some other national and state campaigns.
Here in New Hampshire, John Sununu defeated Governor Shaheen 51% to 47% in their senate race. Not a particularly close outcome, statistically speaking; however there is no telling what the effect of the blockade was on the outcome, and on many other statistically closer races. In my book, winning elections by blocking the free exchange of ideas or, as in this case by preventing opponents from getting voters to the polls, sounds like a story from some third rate dictatorship and these tactics have no place in our system.
I am no Pollyanna. I love a hard fought, issue driven street fight of a campaign as much as anybody. The voters, however, have the right to hear all voices and to hear them without interference. The free exchange of ideas cannot be stifled at the cost of winning elections. There have always been, and will continue to be, people who believe that the ends justify the means. Until now our system has resisted this philosophy. The type of activity which occurred here is not within acceptable bounds. Not only is this type of political manipulation wrong, it is illegal and contrary to our system of government.
It also bothers me that Charles McGee resigned without acknowledging what was done and his role in that event. He resigned citing a desire to allow his party to remain focused on “important issues.” According to the New York Times, Jane Millernick, Republican party Chairwoman would not say in an interview whether or not the allegations that McGee lied to the Union Leader prompted the resignation. I hope that the involvement of McGee in the Hiring of GOP Marketplace to institute a blockade and the lying about his involvement in that process are the reasons why McGee resigned. If he was involved in this scheme, and/or if he lied about it, he should be fired, his employment terminated with extreme prejudice. He should be set out as an example to all who would follow in his footsteps. This line should never be crossed. There is no room in our system for this type of dirty tricks politics.