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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Jamming The Phone Banks

Can anyone remember a case in which a Republican operative schemed to shut down the Connecticut Democratic party's phone banks in some recent election? Maybe it was in the 2000 election? Maybe I'm imagining it. If you know something about that or about a phone-jamming scandal in another state, please leave a comment.

I've seen this article about New Hampshire and 2002, thanks to Tommy:
James Tobin, the president's 2004 campaign chairman for New England, is charged in New Hampshire federal court with four felonies accusing him of conspiring with a state GOP official and a GOP consultant in Virginia to jam Democratic and labor union get-out-the-vote phone banks in November 2002.
The Republicans are paying Tobin's legal bills. It wasn't just him either. Via GOP Values, I found out Saun Hansen owned the firm that was hired to do this:
Hansen said his company was contracted by a Virginia-based political consulting firm, GOP Marketplace, to call six different phone numbers belonging to branches of New Hampshire's Democratic Party and a statewide firefighters' union on the morning of Nov. 5, 2002.

The intent, according to a federal prosecutor, was to limit those organizations' "Get Out the Vote" programs by tying up phone lines and preventing any incoming or outgoing calls. GOP Marketplace acted on behalf of the New Hampshire Republican Party, the prosector, Todd Hinnen, told a federal judge June 30....

"We knew that we were calling and hanging up on numbers. We didn't know what it was for," said Hansen, who now lives in Deer Park, Wash.

He added he and fellow owner Lee LeBlanc thought their instructions were odd, so they met with GOP Marketplace attorneys, who told them not to worry.
I doubt the judge will accept that excuse. Would you? Chuck McGee has already pled guilty:
Hansen is accused of violating a federal law that forbids placing anonymous telephone calls to annoy or harass someone. He has not entered a plea, but is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Concord on May 9.

The former executive director of the Republican state committee, Chuck McGee, has pleaded guilty in the scheme and been sentenced to seven months in federal prison. Allen Raymond, a GOP consultant from Virginia, also has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to five months in prison.
What about the lawyers? This doesn't seem like a simple little scheme. Allen Raymond owned GOP Marketplace LLC of Alexandria Virginia. Here's an article from the Concord Monitor on McGee's hunt for a firm to do the dirty work:
McGee contacted several vendors that the state party had used before, but the vendors were either unwilling or unable to make the repeated hang-up calls that McGee wanted, Hinnen said. Then, a visiting official from a national political organization suggested that McGee contact GOP Marketplace. Hinnen did not name the official.
Okay, but don't you want to know who that was? I sure do. These calls were also made to a line used for voters to get a ride to the polls.
In a phone interview yesterday, John Dowd, the former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee, said McGee told him of the phone-jamming plan late in the afternoon of Nov. 4, the day before the election.

Dowd said that he told McGee that the plan troubled him and he needed to think about it. Dowd said yesterday that he had no idea that the plan was illegal.

Dowd said that he discussed the plan with his wife and that they consulted an attorney. Early on the morning of Nov. 5, Dowd heard back from the attorney and decided to cancel the phone-jamming, he said. "I told Chuck to stop it," he said.
That does square with what Shaun Hansen said. And did the Department of Justice deliberately block the investigation into Tobin's involvement (or lack of it) in 2004? In one of the earlier articles the cause of the delay was cited as being that it would interfere with the federal case, but who knows? I'll bet Tobin's legal bills have already been pretty high. See the Election Law blog regarding Tobin's claim that his indictment should be quashed:
The grand jury "included purported victims of the alleged scheme - Democrats," said a motion filed by James Tobin, who at the time was the Northeast political director of the national Republican Senatorial Committee. He was indicted in December.

"The government must demonstrate that it properly screened the grand jury to prevent bias, and if it cannot or will not do so, the indictment must be dismissed," the motion said.

And if the case does go to trial, Tobin’s lawyers want to question prospective jurors extensively about their politics and their exposure to media reports of the case to root out potential bias.
Nice trick, huh? I guess only Independents and Republicans should be allowed on the jury! According to Josh Marshall, Allen Raymond of GOP Marketplace might have been involved in something similar in New Jersey:
A few days after the phone-jamming story broke, PoliticsNJ.com ran a story suggesting that Raymond might also be the unnamed consultant at the center of another phone-banking scandal last year in New Jersey. One count in the twenty count indictment which US Attorney Christopher J. Christie issued last year against former New Jersey Senate candidate James Treffinger related to phone bank dirty tricks. The indictment referred to an unnamed GOP consultant who had arranged the calls. Politicsnj.com’s Steve Kornacki confirmed that Raymond did work for Treffinger’s campaign. When he asked Raymond if he was the unnamed consultant in question, Raymond told him to talk to his lawyer.

And there’s more. Raymond isn’t just the founder and president of GOP Marketplace. He’s also the Executive Director of a big-time GOP pressure group: the Republican Leadership Council (RLC). The RLC is made up of a bunch of high-profile Republicans who you would normally never expect to see connected with such low-rent election dirty tricks. The RLC’s board includes Sens. Bennett, Nighthorse Campbell, Collins, Domenici, Kyl, Murkowski, Snowe and Specter and Reps. Dreier, Greenwood, Foley, Franks, Johnson, Pryce, Quinn, and Upton.
Well, well, well. Dirty deeds done quite expensively.


Comments:
I blogged on it last week. The legal bills are already $720,000. A lot of rank and file Republican donors are starting to get really pissed off that their money is going to pay for this.
 
I agree with Dingo- there is no need they should have their legal bills paid by GOP supporters.
 
I guess it depends on whether Tobin is being politically and unjustifiably targeted or whether he got his hands in some slimy doings. It looks to me like slimy doings, but he hasn't been convicted yet.

What worries me more than the legal bills is whether this is a common practice.
 
Everytime I read this I can't help but think...prank calls, the best they came up with was prank phone calls

Since there have already been guilty pleas I find myself having a difficult time saying he is unjustifiably targeted.
 
Well, I don't blame rank-and-file Republicans for being pissed their donation dollars are going to this, but you have to ask an actual legal question: Does the Republican party have a DUTY to pay for the defense?

It may, if the shenanigans were done on behalf of the party, as the party's agent.

If that's true, you may have to ask another legal question: If there's criminal liability, there's likely to be some form of civil liability; is the Republican party vicariously liable for such civil liability?

This could mean that the party is not only paying for the legal bills, but may have to pay damages to the Democrats. Interesting, huh?
 
"Acts and Omissions" clauses in contracts don't normally cover criminal activity, only civil, so no, I don't think they would be required to pay for it. From what I can see, it is a wink-wink-nod-nod kind of situation.

As for the civil liability, yes, the GOP could be liable, especially if the fraudulent activities were paid for from GOP funds. Which means Republican donators get to pay for the legal bills of the guy, possible civil rights violation civil actions, AND pay for the voter fraud itself..
 
No, I definitely don't think the Republicans have the duty to pay for criminal acts.

I'm more amazed by the idea that all these people just thought they were being so incredibly clever (or whatever) by making crank calls. I don't mean to be snarky, but it makes you think of high school - except, of course, that the net effect in the NH case was to block some people from getting rides to the polls. High school pranks can end up being very serious too. Interfering with elections should be more strongly prosecuted than it usually is now.

OTOH, I gather that Tobin was a more remote participant or whatever, and who knows whether he'll be convicted. I can't say that in all such cases people shouldn't get their legal bills paid.

The guy who was accused of cooking the books on that Hollywood fundraiser for Bill & Hill got his bills paid. Well, he also got acquitted. People can be falsely accused for political reasons and that is more likely to occur as they are more remote from the deed itself.

I really want to know more about the lawyers who supposedly advised Hansen that it was fine to make the calls! It seems to me that there is more to this story. Tobin's trial is likely to be very interesting.
 
Dingo, so far I haven't been able to find out who paid for this, but it seems sure to be from Republican funds somehow. Hansen only got a few thousand dollars, but GOP Marketplace got over ten thousand.

What a racket!
 
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