November, 16th 2007

More on those Mormon-bashing calls

– Liz Mair

Original post here. The updates to that were getting too extensive, so here's a new post with the latest.

1. Justin Hart at My Man Mitt has details of a conversation with someone at Western Wats:

UPDATE: Just spoke to my Western Wats source (a senior employee at the firm).

* He said the notion that this is Romney-driven is “nonsense” and “ridiculous”.
* He did not confirm or deny that the calls came from his firm.
* His company employs 1500 people with centers is Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, and numerous other states.
* He also indicated that this is being blown way out of proportion. He thinks if the details came out people would scratch their heads wondering what the big deal was.

My thoughts: as I said earlier (and some people, ahem Hugh Hewitt, seem not to have noticed), it is beyond farcical to suggest that Romney's team could have orchestrated this. And, based on Justin's intel, it seems they did not, thank goodness (Romney can at least sleep easy tonight knowing his campaign has not lost its collective mind). But, as Hugh himself suggests, "no one can rule out a crazy friend of Mitt." Or for that matter a crazy friend of another candidate. Or a crazy 527 group. Crazy friends and 527 groups, for the record, are where I'm concentrating my conspiracy theories right now. Take note, Hugh. I'm not blaming your guy, or his staff. I just think there are some noteworthy links that might give an indication as to what other individual, or entity, might be involved here.

2. My buddy Soren Dayton has posted some more on this, which I missed earlier. Basically, he's got a photo and some details about other connections between Western Wats folks and Romney. Again, I'll underline that these connections do NOT mean that Romney or his campaign are behind this-- it would be sheer lunacy for them to try such a thing on, and frankly, they are (or definitely should be) smarter than that-- but all the connections do suggest that it's more than a mere hypothetical, vaguely imaginable possibility that someone in Romney's circle-at-large has something to do with this.

3. Jonathan Martin has more details of another Western Wats-Romney connection. Cool and the gang. This is more to the point made above. I do, however, have one little beef with Jonathan, or perhaps more accurately, one of the people he's been emailing about this story. He writes:

Another Utahan who said he did calls for the firm in both high school and college (and has evidence of doing such) emails to point out the obvious: there are many Mormons nearby and thus many Romney supporters on the payroll.

Let me make the point that contrary to what all the Mormons-Are-Going-To-Take-Over-America conspiracy theorists (and not a few Mormons and Utahans themselves) think, not all Romney supporters are Mormons, and not all Mormons are Romney supporters (likewise, not all Utahans are Romney supporters, and not all Romney supporters are Utahans). I know several Mormons who are not, in fact, Romney supporters. They just don't happen to work at Western Wats. And right now, I kind of wish they did. Maybe they'd talk, and we could get to the bottom of this.

UPDATE: It appears that Soren Dayton may have mistakenly identified a "friendship" between Romney and Teena Lindorf. Vic Lundquist writes that his use of the word "friend" in the caption under the Romney-Lindorf photo referred to her being Vic's friend, not Romney's. Vic further seeks to throw some water on the assertion of connections between Western Wats to Romney, via the Lindorf family, pretty successfully in my view. Side note: More than anything, this particular aspect of "Mormon-gate" seems to me to demonstrate the muddiness of construction in the English language, especially in the context of blogs, where people often throw up posts quickly and without carefully analyzing every aspect of grammar, and so on.

UPDATE NO. 2: Hugh Hewitt, who yesterday accused me of peddling the strong stuff (despite the fact that I've received numerous emails from Romney supporters thanking me for blogging on the subject fairly and even-handedly), makes the point that Romney seems highly suspicious that the McCain camp is behind this. He states that Romney pointed yesterday to the remarks made recently by McCain's 95 year-old mother about Mormons having created the mess with the Salt Lake City Olympics, etc.

Here's what I find interesting about this. Romney previously had run the line that he gives a pass to anyone over the age of 90, and dismissed the comments. He refused to blast the McCain camp or McCain's mother over the incident (rightly, in my opinion-- a real example of class). Now, he seems to have reversed that. That's not surprising, given that his religion is under attack, but it still feels to me as though this whole incident is proving itself more of an opportunity for Romney, than a hindrance or set-back. He came out early yesterday blasting McCain-Feingold, now he's raising suspicions about the origin of the calls by reference to McCain's mother. This is rather different to the way I would react in the circumstances, and indeed different to how I have reacted when my religion has been under assault (something I experienced at the hands of some born-again-Christians, interestingly, during University, who used to do things like label me a "Mary worshiper"). In that instance, my response was to defend my religion and come back at the people deriding it with regard to their bigotry, not to change the subject and talk about something else I didn't like about them. Romney's waging a presidential campaign, not working to pass his first year exams, and I get that. All I'm saying is that the response I expected was for him to go ape about the bigotry of the people behind these calls first, foremost, and above all else-- not move to bring a separate issue (McCain-Feingold) into the equation. I find his response weird-- even though he has commented on the bigotry, it seems like a minimal response when compared to his blasting of McCain-Feingold. And no, for the record, before Hugh pays a visit and gets tempted to post that I'm insinuating that because Romney seemed all too ready to use the calls to lash out at McCain over his mother, or McCain-Feingold, or whatever, that I'm saying he's behind this or somehow complicit in it, that's not what I'm doing. I'm just saying I find Romney's behavior strange, and I'm wondering why he hasn't leaped to bash the bigots while defending his faith more strongly (because I don't think he's done so strongly enough). I would have liked to see him do it. But, maybe, those within his camp who oppose him giving a speech explaining his faith are stopping him from hitting back harder and striking a blow against bigotry, instead of campaign finance reform. Who knows.

UPDATE NO 3: my buds at Granite Grok say I largely missed the point about why people could go to jail over this, saying that I'm placing the focus on "religious bigotry." Let me clarify. The reason people could go to jail is because you can't make calls in NH legally without identifying on whose behalf they're being made, as Granite Grok points out. I'm 99.99% sure I specifically stated that in my first post, but if not, this should underline the point. The calls are wrong because they entail Mormon-bashing. They're illegal because the person, group or campaign on whose behalf they were being made was not identified.

UPDATE NO 4: Huffington Post has weighed in. They inaccurately state that I'm lending credence to the theory that "Romney's campaign orchestrated the scheme" (actually, I've been really clear that I don't think the candidate or the campaign is behind this, and have said most likely the culprit is a 527 or an individual). But that's not the point.

The point is this. HuffPo writes that:

Western Wats' past client list includes several high-profile Romney supporters. The company has worked for Allan Bense, the Florida House Speaker who chairs Romney's Florida Statewide Steering Committee, and has made calls for Michigan State Representative Gary Newell, who serves on Romney's Michigan Leadership Team.

So, there are more connections between people in Romney's circle and Western Wats-- the main significance being (from where I stand at present) that it's not just people in Giuliani's circle who have a history of instructing this firm.

UPDATE NO 5: It looks like the NH AG investigation into all this could be pretty swift-- and the suggestions that we may never find out whose behind this a little less plausible. What's less clear is whether we might get to the bottom of this fishy business before the NH primary. It seems possible, though. From the LA Times:

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.

The AP further notes:

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.

Several days and sometimes several weeks-- my money is on the latter applying in this case. Nonetheless, it appears that we've got at least 5-6 weeks until the NH primary. Is that enough time to investigate? I don't know. But it's possible. And I'm hopeful.

UPDATE NO 6: Just a quick comment on Romney's hitting out at McCain-Feingold. It is, I agree, a silly law that I see as problematic from a civil liberties perspective, and one that has does sweet FA (as we say in Britain) about masses of cash being poured into races and used for mudslinging and so on. But when Romney talks of"how ineffective it has been in removing the influence of money and underhanded politics", it sounds like he's criticizing it for not going far enough to remove that old foe, money in politics. Interesting that in attacking McCain-Feingold, he seems to be lending credence to the theory that money in politics is a problem, the core assertion of its author (with whom Romney evidently disagrees about the whole subject of campaign finance reform). I guess this raises a little point of contention for me. I see money in politics as an example of the exercise of free speech. While I sure don't endorse slander (which looks like what's happened here), I don't think money in politics is necessarily a bad thing, even if I don't always like the end results of it. Maybe Romney and I disagree on this point. Or maybe he's just p*ssed off as all get out and is lashing out wherever he can.

UPDATE NO 7: Roger Stone apparently thinks some variety of pro-Romney element is behind the calls:

it's worth sharing the view of longtime GOP consultant Roger Stone. He is somebody who is (how to put this?) practiced at the dark arts of politics.

Naturally, he takes the most conspiratorial view of who is behind the calls.

From his e-mail:

Just as Bobby Kennedy was behind anti-Catholic calls and literature to Catholic Housholds in The 1960 Democratic Party. I smell a dirty trick. I suspect a Pro-Romney motive to inoculate against future use of the religious issue and to breed sympathy for Romney.

No respectable Republican polling firm like Tarrance would be involved with this.

PS- a 20 minute call is the work of a amatuer. The long call is designed to get ALL the negatives out, to put them off limits for future attacks.

Some of what's stated here accords with points I've made before in relation to this, and why it's credible, so far as I am concerned, that an individual (dumb and/or crazy) Romney supporter or group could be behind the whole thing. There's still no hard evidence to show that, though. Just a whole lot of suspicion.

UPDATE NO 8: And Huckabee has responded. I will take the opportunity to point out that his statement on this is really rather soft, in my opinion: "The Huckabee campaign does not condone this type of activity."

Well, you'd certainly hope not, wouldn't you? That being said, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, some people on Huck's side have been perfectly willing to bring religion into the race in a negative way, so I don't know that the campaign doesn't, on some minor level, condone this kind of thing. But, I still don't think there's any real chance they're involved in this since it would take a lot of organization for a small and already overextended campaign, and presumably a bit of money, which remains in short supply for Huck. Still, if the call succeeds in turning people off Mitt, I will say this: Huckabee is the only one who I can see really benefiting from it (and only in Iowa). So, I'll treat as open the option that maybe someone who likes Huck and really hates McCain and Mormons could be involved here. I just don't know how many people fit that profile, have the wherewithall to get these calls made, and the money to pay for it.


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