Well, we seem to be in day 3 of this scandal. The calls went out Wednesday or Thursday. The AP’s Phil Elliott and the Politico’s Jonathan Martin reported on it on Thursday. Friday, all sorts of speculation abounded.
The solid facts appear to be that:
First, Western Wats, an Orem, UT based phone vendor made the phone calls. They have refused to deny these claims. The Lindorf family — Ron Lindorf is the Chairman and Founder of Western Wats — refuses to answer questions about why they are placing anti-Mormon phone calls. Note that that the Lindorf family is Mormon. This suggests that, at least, Ron Lindorf, a Mormon, is complicit in anti-Mormon phone calls.
Second, Western Wats has worked for a number of people in the Romney political network. This includes Romney state leadership in Florida, Michigan and Utah.
Third, calls were placed into IA, NH, and SC. In IA, the calls appear to have hit people who are politically sophisticated enough to push the story. It is unclear that politically sophisticated people were hit in other states.
Fourth, the calls were probably not push-polls. Instead, as Mark Blumenthal explains, they were likely merely ethically-questionable, nasty polling:
This particular set of calls sounds more like an ethically questionable "message testing" survey than a classic "push poll." See my post from yesterday for more details on that issue or the clarification released last night by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR – full disclosure: I serve on AAPOR’s executive council).
Fifth, it seems possible that these calls are illegal. As the Chicago Tribune’s Jill Zuckman points out:
New Hampshire law requires all political ads—including phone calls—to identify the candidate behind the effort, or at least the candidate who is being supported. The push polling calls were made by Western Wats, based in Utah, and did not identify a candidate that the calls were intended to help or hurt.
Sixth, John McCain has filed a complaint with the NH AG, and NH Senator Judd Gregg, on behalf of the Romney campaign, has asked the AG to investigate. Criminal investigation baby!
Seventh, the New Hampshire AG has opened an "expedited investigation" according to the LA Times:
Well, it’s started already. New Hampshire’s attorney general has launched an "expedited investigation" into a spurt of unidentified push-polling calls in his state, where all forms of political communication including phone calls must identify the candidate being supported.
Eighth, according to another Phil Elliot filing, this should complete before the primary:
Deputy Attorney General Bud Fitch said New Hampshire has never prosecuted a case involving such calls but was moving forward. He cautioned against expecting an immediate resolution. "Generally, these investigations can take at least several days and sometimes several weeks," Fitch said.
In other words, the NH AG is investigating a possible crime. It is unclear to me who exactly committed that crime, but Western Wats — and the Lindorf family — probably know, but refuse to answer, claiming protection under "confidentiality." Of course, those confidentiality rules disappear under discovery. A number of Romney political allies also use this firm.
There are several theories that are out there right now:
- A campaign opposed to Romney did it. But there’s no evidence, only Romney campaign assertions.
- The Romney campaign did it. Unlikely. They aren’t that dumb.
- A third-party group did it. On behalf of whom? That’s harder to figure out.
My money is on the third-party group. The density of connections suggest someone in the Romney political network.
The most important follow-up questions:
- Getting information from Western Wats. Who paid for the poll? Who wrote the scripts? Who provided the lists?
- How did Western Wats get contracts for other Romney supporters? Speaking as a political consultant, the networks of political consultants are often the lines that loyalties and shady actions follow.
- Were the calls illegal? We need the scripts to confirm.