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December 15. 2011 6:28PM

NH Gingrich camp denies charge it made illegal 'robo calls'

MANCHESTER _ Two state Republican activists, including a prominent Mitt Romney supporter, said Thursday they received pre-recorded political telephone messages from Newt Gingrich’s campaign last week despite being on the federal “do not call” list.

“It’s a violation of state law,” said former New Hampshire House speaker Donna Sytek of Salem, a Romney supporter who said she received calls last Saturday and Monday despite being on the list.

She chalked it up to “the Gingrich campaign making it up as they go along.

“It’s not a seasoned campaign, so call it a rookie mistake,” Sytek said.

Gingrich state campaign director Andrew Hemingway countered that the vendor hired by the campaign “scrubbed” the list of those to be called against the “do not call list” and complied with all laws and regulations.

The calls had recordings of Hemingway and fellow Gingrich staffer Erin Lamontagne inviting Granite Staters to Gingrich’s appearance last Monday night at the Windham High School. About 1,000 people attended the event.

James Foley, chairman of the Derry Republican Committee, also said he received such a call and said that he, too, is on the federal do not call list. Foley also said he is neutral in the primary.

Hemingway challenged the assertions by Sytek and Foley.

“The vendor that we used scrubbed our calls against the federal ‘do not call’ list and we then double-checked with state and federal laws and regulations,” Hemingway said.

“We believe our calls complied with all laws and regulations,” said Hemingway. He said about 13,000 calls were placed.

New Hampshire law RSA 664:14-a says, “No person shall deliver or knowingly cause to be delivered a prerecorded political message to any telephone number on any federal do not call list.”

It says violators can be fined as much as $5,000 per illegal call.

A point of contention could lie in whether the calls being complained about fit the statutory definition of a “prerecorded political message.”

RSA 664: 14-a also says a prerecorded political message means “a prerecorded audio message delivered by telephone by a candidate or political committee; or any person when the content of the message expressly or implicitly advocates the success or defeat of any party, measure, or person at any election, or contains information about any candidate or party.”

A similar definition applying to political advertising, contained in another state election law (RSA 664:2) was addressed in 2001 by the state Supreme Court.

In the case Stenson V. McLaughlin, the court ruled the phrase “implicitly advocates” should no longer apply to the definition of political advertising, and that only “expressly advocates” should apply.

That ruling did not specifically address the definition of a prerecorded political message, only political advertising, however.

Presumably, if a complaint is filed, officials would first consider whether the content of the Gingrich campaign calls, by inviting people to an event, yet not specifically asking those called to vote for Gingrich, were “expressly” advocating Gingrich’s election or “implicitly” advocating his election.

Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge said his office has received no complaints about the calls and had no further comment.


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