GOP Jams Democracy

How high did the Republicans’ New Hampshire phone scheme reach?

Paul Kiel

Dirty tricks: Did the White house help break the law to get sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) elected in 2002?

In Octo­ber 2002, just weeks before Elec­tion Day, Chuck McGee, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can State Com­mit­tee (NHRSC), hit on what seemed like a bril­liant idea. His par­ty faced a num­ber of close races, the most impor­tant of which was the open seat Sen­ate race between Rep. John Sununu ® and Gov. Jeanne Sha­heen (D). Every vote count­ed, as polls showed Sununu and Sha­heen in a dead heat. Repub­li­cans had attacked with the stan­dard array of ads and mail­ings, but McGee believed more could be done to ensure victory. 

Draw­ing on his expe­ri­ence as a heli­copter crew chief in the Marines, he hit on the ele­men­tal strat­e­gy of jam­ming the enemy’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions. n the mil­i­tary, it’s com­mon sense that if you can’t com­mu­ni­cate, you can’t orga­nize,” McGee would lat­er tes­ti­fy. The ene­my here, of course, was the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. McGee’s idea was to make it impos­si­ble for Democ­rats to orga­nize on Elec­tion Day by flood­ing their phone banks with calls.

All McGee need­ed was the machin­ery to car­ry out his scheme. Being a mil­i­tary man, he went up the chain of com­mand, to James Tobin, the region­al direc­tor for both the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee (RNC) and Repub­li­can Nation­al Sen­a­to­r­i­al Com­mit­tee. McGee report­ed what he need­ed; Tobin, with­out a word of cau­tion, gave him the num­ber of Allen Ray­mond, who ran GOP Mar­ket­place, a polit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm. McGee dialed up Ray­mond, and they struck a deal. For $15,600, Ray­mond would arrange for repeat­ed hang-up calls through­out Elec­tion Day to six num­bers: five New Hamp­shire Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty offices and a Man­ches­ter, N.H., fire­fight­ers union that was offer­ing vot­ers rides to the polls. The NHRSC foot­ed the bill. Ray­mond in turn con­tract­ed the job out to an Ida­ho firm called Mylo Enter­pris­es for $2,500.

Although it might have been con­strued as a dirty trick, McGee believed the jam­ming was an accept­able bat­tle tac­tic, like a bor­der­line defam­a­to­ry attack ad. This was not a covert oper­a­tion. It had been autho­rized. He’d spo­ken to Tobin, and he spoke about the scheme with NHRSC Chair­man John Dowd on the eve of the elec­tion. On Elec­tion Day morn­ing, every­thing was going accord­ing to plan.

It went down­hill from there. Ear­ly that morn­ing, Dowd con­sult­ed the NHRSC’s legal coun­sel and was told that the jam­ming was ille­gal. He called McGee, who in turn called Raymond’s part­ner to call it off. But Mylo’s machines had been at it since 7:45 a.m. By the time they stopped, at 9:10 a.m., they’d jammed the six num­bers for 85 minutes. 

The ensu­ing Jus­tice Depart­ment inves­ti­ga­tion has net­ted all four of the play­ers at the heart of the con­spir­a­cy. McGee and Ray­mond pled guilty – McGee has already served his sev­en months in prison, and Ray­mond is cur­rent­ly serv­ing his three-month sen­tence – and Tobin and Shaun Hansen, founder of Mylo Enter­pris­es, were indict­ed. Tobin was con­vict­ed last Decem­ber, most­ly on the tes­ti­mo­ny of McGee and Ray­mond, and imme­di­ate­ly mount­ed a vig­or­ous appeal. Hansen will stand tri­al in October.

But did the con­spir­a­cy stop with those four? There are a num­ber of rea­sons to think that it did not. First, all four have claimed that they did not know that the scheme was ille­gal. It might seem obvi­ous that sab­o­tag­ing get-out-the-vote oper­a­tions would be ille­gal, but it appears the thought nev­er occurred to these Repub­li­cans. Since those involved did not think that they were part of a crim­i­nal con­spir­a­cy, it seems like­ly that they spoke to oth­ers about it. McGee, for instance, called a num­ber of oth­er ven­dors before set­tling on GOP Mar­ket­place to car­ry out the jam­ming. And this four-year-old crime was cat­a­pult­ed into the nation­al spot­light in April when evi­dence emerged that Tobin had been in fre­quent con­tact with the White House.

An analy­sis by the Sen­ate Major­i­ty Project, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic advo­ca­cy group, of the phone records intro­duced at Tobin’s tri­al showed that he called one num­ber at the White House’s Office of Polit­i­cal Affairs 110 times between Sept. 17 and Nov. 22, 2002, includ­ing 12 times on Elec­tion Day. Accord­ing to Ken Mehlman, who ran the office in 2002, the num­ber belonged to Ali­cia Davis, his deputy in charge of the North­east. Mehlman has denied that Davis spoke to Tobin or any­one else about the phone jam­ming inci­dent.” Even so, as part of their ongo­ing civ­il suit against state Repub­li­cans for vot­er fraud, Democ­rats want to depose senior White House offi­cials about what they knew about the jam­ming. As In These Times went to press, they were await­ing a rul­ing on their request. 

Mehlman’s denial may be true – the calls are only cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence. Per­haps more telling has been the RNC’s deci­sion to foot Tobin’s $2.8 mil­lion legal bill. RNC offi­cials told the Boston Globe that they backed Tobin because the charges arose from his offi­cial actions” and because he’s main­tained his innocence.” 

The con­nec­tions to the nation­al Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment grew more sig­nif­i­cant in April when the AP report­ed that GOP Mar­ket­place had start­ed up in 2000 with help from some big-hit­ters. Haley Bar­bour, for­mer RNC chair­man and cur­rent gov­er­nor of Mis­sis­sip­pi, owned a stake in the firm, along with his invest­ment part­ners Ed Rogers and Lan­ny Grif­fith (both well-con­nect­ed con­ser­v­a­tive oper­a­tives). Car­lyle Group Man­ag­ing Direc­tor Ed Matthias also pro­vid­ed cap­i­tal for the ini­tial loan. 

The only thing that could make the phone jam­ming scan­dal worse would be an appear­ance by Jack Abramoff. Sure enough, two of his trib­al clients made inex­plic­a­ble con­tri­bu­tions to the NHRSC in Octo­ber 2002. The Mis­sis­sip­pi Choctaw cut a check on Oct. 10 for $10,000; accord­ing to FEC records, it was deposit­ed on Oct. 28 along with a $5,000 check from the Agua Caliente. Togeth­er, the con­tri­bu­tions total $15,000, approx­i­mate to the $15,600 the NHRSC paid for the jam­ming. There are no Indi­an tribes in New Hamp­shire. If Abramoff wasn’t some­how a par­ty to McGee’s scheme, why did he direct mon­ey at New Hamp­shire? It is just one more open ques­tion emerg­ing from McGee’s bril­liant idea, which con­tin­ues to shine an unwel­come light on the Repub­li­can Par­ty almost four years later.

Paul Kiel is a reporter and blog­ger at TPM​Muck​rak​er​.com.
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