A lawsuit filed by the New Hampshire state attorney general's office against former Republican Rep. Charlie Bass continues to loom over the campaign polling industry at large. The suit, which is set to be heard in a Concord, N.H., courthouse next month according to a story published Thursday by the New Hampshire Union Leader, alleges that Bass's campaign improperly conducted a poll without disclosing to respondents that it had commissioned the survey.
The source of the suit is a poll commissioned by Bass's campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee in Sept. 2010, when Bass was running for an open House seat against Democrat Ann McLane Kuster. The poll's script incorrectly identified the NRCC as the sole sponsor of the survey; New Hampshire state law prevents telephoning residents regarding an opposing candidate’s "character, status, or political stance or record" without disclosing the name of the candidate on whose behalf the poll was commissioned. The hefty penalties for violating the law -- Bass's campaign faces a maximum fine of $400,000 -- have given some national consultants pause about polling the state in future campaigns.
We wrote about this case last year for National Journal Daily:
At issue is the definition of "push poll." The American Association for Public Opinion Research, a leading organization of pollsters, discourages use of the term because, it says, the phrase "may confuse consumers about the differences between legitimate polling and unethical marketing efforts to persuade that are disguised as polls." True push polls are aimed at moving voters into one camp or away from another, researchers say, so they often call a large number of people, more than needed to obtain a representative sample for research purposes. Those telephone calls aren’t really polls in a meaningful sense: The aim is to persuade voters, not to collect data.
New Hampshire's law is under scrutiny from a handful of organizations representing polling firms and other survey researchers. The American Association for Public Opinion Research released a statement on Monday calling the New Hampshire statute "flawed, confusing, and overly broad.” The organization urged the state Legislature "to modify the statute so that it focuses solely on campaigning conducted under the guise of survey research and not on legitimate political polling."
Bass's attorneys are moving to dismiss the suit, the Union Leader reported, arguing that the state law does not apply to candidates for federal office. The Federal Election Commission told the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research last year in an advisory opinion that they did not believe the law applies to congressional candidates.
Still, the case continues to draw the attention of consultants working in the Granite State, though Attorney General Michael Delaney says the state's law is working. The Union Leader's John DiStaso:
Interestingly, however, we've just gone through an entire election cycle - a presidential election no less - with no push poll controversies.
According to the Attorney General's office, there were 12 complaints of push poll law violations filed in 2012, compared to 21 in 2010.
Delaney called that a "significant reduction."
It's possible fewer such polls were placed in 2012, but he believes his office's tough stance and enforcement efforts "had a deterrent effect, that more polls were placed in 2012 in compliance with state law, resulting in fewer complaints.
"The reduction in complaints received demonstrates how easy it is to comply with this rather straightforward disclosure law," Delaney said.
DiStaso also writes that the case "will probably be appealed to the state Supreme Court," no matter the lower court's decision.