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January 18. 2012 4:11PM

Guinta campaign consultant pays state $15,000 to settle push poll dispute

CONCORD _ A Virginia-based political consulting firm that polled for U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta’s 2010 campaign has agreed to pay the state $15,000 to settle a dispute over whether the firm conducted an illegal push poll during the 2010 campaign.

The Attorney General’s Office alleged that OnMessage, Inc., of Alexandria, Va., failed to follow state law in September 2010 because, while conducting a push poll on behalf of the Guinta campaign, it failed to make required disclosures.

A settlement agreement released by the Attorney General’s Office on Wednesday said that while OnMessage acknowledged that it “prepared and was responsible” for the call script, the company “denies liability and wrongdoing and is entering into this agreement to avoid further dispute.”

Neither Guinta nor his campaign organization were accused of any wrongdoing, and he said, “To say that I am disappointed in OnMessage for their lapse of judgment is putting it mildly. The campaign has not done any business with OnMessage since.”

State law says that as long as proper disclosures are made, pollsters are allowed to conduct “push polls,” which are defined as “calling voters on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office” and presenting negative information about that candidate.

Under the law, it is legal to make such calls if the caller tells the person contacted that the call is being made “on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to a particular candidate for public office, identify that candidate by name, and provide a telephone number from where the push-polling is conducted.” The telephone number must be provided regardless of whether the recipient of the call ever asks for the number.

But, according to the Attorney General’s Office, the OnMessage-written script provided neither the telephone number nor the name of the candidate on whose behalf the call was being made _ that is, Guinta.

The script instead “instructed the caller to provide the persons contacted with the name of the candidate that the polling was being made on behalf of only if the caller asked for that information” after 44 questions had already been asked, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

“As a result, the state has alleged that OnMessage engaged in push polling in a manner that violated New Hampshire law,” the agreement says.

The Attorney General’s office said there were 52 questions asked on the poll and that 400 calls were placed by a company hired by OnMessage to follow the script.

Guinta said in a statement, “I am pleased that the Attorney General has concluded this inquiry and reached an agreement with OnMessage. I do not condone the use of push polls. In fact, in 2010 my campaign specifically instructed OnMessage to comply with New Hampshire law regarding telephone polling.”

Attorney General Michael Delaney said in a statement, “An essential element of our democracy is vigilant enforcement of New Hampshire’s election laws. My office will continue to vigorously investigate election related complaints, and initiate civil or criminal enforcement actions against those who violate New Hampshire’s election laws.”


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