Thursday, June 15, 2006

We're Jammin, We're Jammin

It’s party time! Time for NH political parties to fundraise for the upcoming elections, that is. Last week, the Carroll County Democrats had their annual fundraising dinner. On Monday, the NH Republican Party had a fundraiser, in Manchester. The speaker? The controversial political operative, Karl Rove. Given the GOP’s recent history of ethics violations, this was an interesting choice, and one guaranteed to spark the interest of GOP loyalists, Democrats, and activists from around the state.

All of the critics seized upon this opportunity to mention the 2002 phone jamming scandal. Rove’s own ethics have been called into question; he’s been called before grand juries 5 times, and has admitted to outing CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters. The irony of this man, being asked to speak at a fundraiser that would help pay for the millions of dollars in legal fees being accrued by convicted phone jammer James Tobin was just too much to keep quiet about. About 75 people turned out for a demonstration in Manchester, at Veteran’s Park, on Monday. The NH Democratic Party was there, as well as groups like Democracy for NH, Priorities NH, and the NH Citizens Alliance for Action. There were signs reading “Funding Felonies,” and “NH GOP and Karl Rove – where Criminals Converge.” Other signs had a prison motif. Priorities NH was using the opportunity to educate passers by on the federal discretionary budget with their new carny game “Wheel of Fortune” which consists of a pie chart. The goal is to spin and NOT land on the Pentagon. I watched the NECN reporter spin several times, and land on the Pentagon every time.

NH GOP Chairman Wayne Semprini was annoyed by the suggestions that the fundraiser was going to pay for Tobin’s legal fees, but in more than one newspaper interview he admitted that a portion of the monies raised would go for just that. The belligerence of the NH GOP about the phone jamming is really quite amazing. Far from accepting responsibility, apologizing, and moving on, they’ve been angry that anyone would dare question them – much less indict and convict them!

It all began back in October of 2002. The US Senate race was hot – former Governor Jeanne Shaheen was running against then Representative John Sununu, Jr., for the seat that Bob Smith was vacating. Then Executive Director of the NH Republican State Committee (NHRSC) Chuck McGee spoke with James Tobin – then the New England Regional Director of the Republican National Committee and the Northeast political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. McGee told Tobin he wanted to hire a telephone service to jam Democratic phone banks on Election Day.

Tobin hooked McGee up with Allen Raymond; president of a telephone services vendor called GOP Marketplace, and suggested he call Raymond to enlist his aid with the plan. Raymond’s partner, Chris Cupit, contacted Shaun Hansen, of Mylo Enterprises, a telemarketing firm based in Sandpoint, Idaho. Cupit told Hansen that GOP Marketplace wanted to hire Mylo Enterprises to place hang up calls repeatedly to certain numbers in NH on Election Day. Hansen takes the job for $2,500 – in advance. McGee sends a NHRSC check for $15,600 to GOP Marketplace, which in turn, sends a check to Mylo Enterprises.

Employees of Mylo Enterprises start phoning NH on Election Day. They call 6 NH numbers. Five are affiliated with the NH Democratic Party, and one with the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association. Those numbers had been made public, in order to provide callers with rides to the polls. The numbers were called hundreds of times, causing the lines to ring and hang up. No one else could get through. Eventually Verizon frees up the phone lines and identifies the caller as Mylo Enterprises. Meanwhile, calls were made to try to stop the phone jamming, on the advice of GOP legal counsel David Vicinanzo. It’s too late, the calls are already underway. GOP consultant (and later state party chair) Jayne Millerick began a series of calls to Nixon and Peabody (where Vicinanzo worked), David Horan (a criminal defense attorney) and the White House. Tobin was calling the White House, too.

The story broke in February of 2003, in the Union Leader. Millerick and McGee both deny any involvement. Millerick claims the $15,600 to GOP Marketplace was for telemarketing services encouraging people to vote GOP. McGee claims he didn’t hire the firm. Later, Millerick outs him to the Union Leader, and he resigns. Eventually, in 2004, Allen Raymond pleads guilty to conspiracy to engage in interstate telephone communications with the intent to annoy or harass. Chuck McGee pleads guilty to the same charge. Tobin was also convicted, and is scheduled to begin serving his sentence later this month. His case is under appeal. And that’s where the fundraising comes in. The GOP has been paying Tobin’s legal fees.

This is a disturbing story on many levels. Apparently dirty tricks and lawbreaking have become justifiable means to the end of winning. Far from blushing in shame for being caught, the GOP is belligerent that they were ever even investigated or charged.
On the WMUR late news Monday night, state Senator Bob Clegg was asked about the phone jamming, and he launched into an incoherent rant about how “THOSE PEOPLE need to admit to all the votes they pay for.”

Rove is not going to be indicted, and his champions are crowing that this is a victory; much in the same way OJ Simpson’s defenders did at the end of his trial. That an unethical politico has escaped prosecution is hardly grounds for celebration. We’re at a sorry pass when the ends justify the means, and the meanness.

“It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” Oscar Wilde

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