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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NH attorney general’s office files lawsuit against Bass’ 2010 campaign, alleging ‘push polls’

CONCORD – The New Hampshire attorney general’s office has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Charles Bass’ 2010 campaign for allegedly violating state election laws in the last congressional race, officials announced Tuesday.

During the 2010 campaign, workers allegedly left the New Hampshire congressman’s name off automated phone calls, known as “push polls,” placed to voters before the election.

State law requires candidates or campaign groups who conduct phone calls or surveys to disclose their identity. According to the attorney general’s office, a script used on calls to 400 state residents in September 2010 credited the call to the National Republican Congressional Committee rather than the Bass Victory Committee, which coordinated the calls.

The surveys, conducted with the Tarrance Group, a national Republican polling company, posed questions about Bass’ opponent Ann McClane Kuster, who eventually lost in the 2nd District race.

Bass, who previously served in Congress from 1996 to 2006, defeated Kuster, a Concord attorney, 49 to 46 percent in the 2010 race. The Bass campaign denied the claims Tuesday.

“The Bass Victory Committee strongly denies the attorney general’s allegation and will vigorously defend the civil suit,” said Bass Victory Committee spokesperson, Scott Tranchemontagne, in a written statement. “The poll in question was a legitimate message testing survey, not a push poll. … It tested voters’ attitudes and opinions among a relatively small sample of voters, unlike a push poll, which targets a much larger group of voters, with the intent of negatively persuading the voter.

“Though we are disappointed that the attorney general has chosen to litigate this matter, we are confident that we have the law on our side and will ultimately prevail.”

Representatives for Kuster, who is challenging Bass once again for the 2nd District seat, declined to comment.

According to court documents released Tuesday by the attorney general’s office, original drafts of the script acknowledged the Bass campaign’s role in funding and commissioning the phone calls.

In an email from Sept. 16, 2010, campaign staff requested the committee be removed.

“Could we change the disclaimer at the end to NRCC since they are paying for half of it?” Bass’ campaign manager wrote in the email, according to the court documents. “I’d rather have any issues about ‘push polling’ be blamed on them ... rather than us – especially with the date rape drug question in there.”

The attorney general’s office, which filed the lawsuit in Merrimack County Superior Court, is seeking $1,000 in penalties for each call made. The matter could go before a judge this fall, according to Anne Edwards, an associate attorney general.

The suit is the latest in a string of similar charges waged around New Hampshire. In January, a Virginia polling company paid a $15,000 fine for a poll made on behalf of U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta’s congressional campaign in 2010. In August, the state Democratic Party paid a $5,000 fine, and in October 2010, an Idaho polling company agreed to a $20,000 settlement for a poll made on behalf of former U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes’ Senate campaign.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.