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GOP files push-polling complaint in NH Senate race

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press Writer / October 21, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H.—The New Hampshire Republican Party filed its second complaint Thursday accusing Democrats of conducting a push poll against GOP Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte without disclosing who paid for the survey.

Last week, a pollster working for Democrat Paul Hodes agreed to pay a $20,000 fine for conducting an illegal push poll against Ayotte in July. On Thursday, GOP spokesman Ryan Williams filed a complaint with the attorney general's office accusing Hodes and the state Democratic Party of hiring a different pollster to conduct a new push poll.

Push polling -- asking questions intended to influence voters under the guise of taking a poll -- is legal in New Hampshire, but callers must identify the candidate they are working for or against. Several Republicans who received calls last week about Ayotte said they were not told who had paid for the calls, Williams said.

"This is the second time that Congressman Hodes has been caught using unethical and illegal push polls to smear his opponent," said Williams. "The congressman's disturbing pattern of disgusting behavior confirms that he will do anything -- even violate state laws -- to win this election."

Hodes, who is giving up his House seat to run for Senate, and Ayotte, the former attorney general, are competing to replace Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, who is not seeking re-election.

Both the Democratic Party and Hodes' campaign said all proper disclosure laws were followed with the latest survey.

"The real question is, when will Kelly Ayotte disclose the redacted portions of her e-mails between her and longtime political adviser Rob Varsalone," said Hodes' spokesman Mark Bergman. He was referring to e-mails that have been made public from Ayotte's tenure as state attorney general. In one message, Ayotte responded to a friend urging her to run for political office by writing that she had decided to pursue the death penalty in the case of a Manchester police officer shot in the line of duty, prompting Hodes to accuse of her mixing politics and justice.

It was a question about that issue that gave Lauren Carney her first clue that the call she took last Friday wasn't a straightforward poll.

"As soon as they said that, I said, 'Stop. Can you tell me who's paying for this?'" said Carney, who runs a political consulting firm with her husband, longtime political strategist David Carney in Hancock.

Carney said the caller transferred her to a supervisor, who said he did not know who had paid for the survey. A few minutes after she hung up, another caller from the same company called and asked her to finish the survey. That time, she answered all the questions and still was not told at the end who had paid for the poll, she said.

When Republicans filed their first complaint in July, the Hodes campaign said it only conducted market research and would not say if it paid for the poll. On Friday, Bergman confirmed that the company that had been fined -- Idaho-based Mountain West Research Center -- was working for the campaign, but said the campaign doesn't conduct push polls. Bergman said Hodes refused to pay for the survey when he learned it did not adhere to New Hampshire law.

Mike Brunelle, director of the state Democratic Party, responded to the new allegations by saying that the survey included the proper disclosure and by bringing up not only Ayotte's e-mail about the death penalty case but ethical questions that have been raised about other Republican candidates.

"Perhaps Ryan Williams' time would be better spent helping his own candidates out of their ethical abyss, rather than trying to drag us down in the political gutter with them," he said.

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