October 08. 2015 12:52AM

Debate over election phone calls heating up in Derry

By HUNTER McGEE
Union Leader Correspondent


DERRY — Some residents are complaining that a national political advocacy group is using out-of-state callers to influence an upcoming local election.

Speaking during the public forum segment of Tuesday’s town council meeting, the residents said the group Americans for Prosperity is using callers from Florida to try to sway Derry voters on the election to decide on eight referendum petitions on Oct. 13.

But even though the calls are coming from out of state, the phone numbers are showing up as local, the residents said.

A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity on Wednesday flatly denied the allegations.

On Oct. 13, voters will decide whether to overturn various budget cuts that were approved by the council on May 19. The cuts lowered the tax rate by $1.21, but reduced police and fire staff positions, eliminated the human resource director’s position and resulted in the closure of a fire station.

During the public forum Tuesday, resident Jenna Paradise said she received a call from a caller in Florida who read from a script and urged her to vote “no” on the eight questions to cut taxes. When she asked about the issues relating to the election, the caller didn’t seem to understand some of them.

“This is masterminded, and this is wrong to have people who do not know what is going on calling and talking to other people, telling them which direction that they should be voting,” Paradise said.

Paradise said it was all right to use local residents to make phone calls on the election but wrong to outsource the calls to an out-of-state group.

State Rep. John O’Connor said he had received a call from a number with a 603 area code about the election. The call came from a woman who said she was volunteering and calling from Manchester. After checking his caller ID, O’Connor dialed the number and was connected with an irate man. O’Connor said the man swore at him and said he had received 15 calls from residents relating to being contacted about the election.

“Americans for Prosperity is a scam. They are using someone else’s phone number to call,” O’Connor said, adding, “What a dirty pool trick this is.”

Other residents made similar allegations on social media.

When asked, Greg Moore, New Hampshire director of Americans for Prosperity, said the allegations aren’t true.

Moore said what is accurate is that Americans for Prosperity has invited some Derry residents who favor lower taxes to call other Derry residents to help get out the vote.

Since a suitable location couldn’t be found in Derry, he said the Derry residents went to Manchester and made calls to Derry from the Americans for Prosperity’s office. The calls were all linked to a cell phone, with the number appearing on residents’ caller IDs.

Moore flatly denied that the organization was using out-of-town callers for the campaign.

“That’s not an accurate statement,” Moore said. “The reality was all of the calls were made from Manchester, New Hampshire, with a 603 number.”

He said if someone had called the number the organization uses, it would go straight to voicemail. Moore said callers could have misdialed, adding that he doesn’t know if anyone else is making phone calls regarding the election.

Moore said some residents who favor overturning the budget cuts seem to be creating a “mythology” about the phone calls.

“It’s par for the course, unfortunately, when some people start to feel a little nervous that they start to make up some stuff,” Moore said, adding, “Within the marketplace of ideas, try to make a case that you think higher taxes are better for the Town of Derry.”

Councilor Mark Osborne said Tuesday night that out-of-state fire union representatives have been backing the other side since before the vote on the budget cuts was taken. Osborne added that he recently received a call from an elderly Derry resident who said people showed up at her door wearing firefighting gear and a helmet to discuss the upcoming election.

Osborne said he doesn’t recall anyone complaining before the election was scheduled about out-of-state groups being involved in election efforts.

“People wanted an election; you got one,” Osborne said.

“But you don’t own the right to campaign.”

hmcgee@newstote.com