November, 19th 2007

Mormon-gate: Monday edition

– Liz Mair

This morning, the Mormon-gate story continues to develop, with NRO's Mark Hemingway publishing a piece that-- if you read it closely-- pins blame for orchestration of the Western Wats calls causing the hubbub with Romney strategist Alex Gage. The latest development, set out by Hemingway, is that there's an established connection between Target Point Consulting, Gage's firm, and Western Wats, the company that placed the phone calls in question. And there's publicly available information to prove it, too.

I'll admit that while Hemingway's piece is interesting, and it further inclines me to think that someone within the larger Romney circle is likely to blame for this, I don't think it's a KO in proving that fault for all this lies with Team Romney, per se. From conversations I've had offline, however, others seem slightly more convinced. And, so, I think it's fair to say, does RedState:

The web of connections Hemingway cites certainly supports the idea that a friends or associates of Romney, trying to help a candidate they support, did something incredibly stupid and highly unethical.


as for Alex Gage and the Romney associates who are apparently behind these efforts: in a campaign where the faith of your candidate has been respected by the overwhelming majority of voters and activists, you've managed to create out of thin air the kind of bigoted attack that cheapens the process and expects the worst of the American people. Nice strategy, folks. We hope you're happy.

RedState are right that what Hemingway reports supports the notion that someone generally in the Romney camp, if not part of the actual campaign team or the candidate himself, is involved. Personally, however, I want to wait for a little more information before I treat it as actually read that Gage, or any other member of Team Mitt, is behind this. I will say that what's been reported this morning does strengthen my suspicion that this is emanating from the Romney camp in some form (though I continue to think the candidate isn't behind this, and the campaign as a whole is just too smart for this), but suspicion is suspicion-- and there's still some room for doubt here.

More: I attempted to post yesterday on this point raised at My Man Mitt about WW being owned by a private equity firm. I didn't succeed, but since the point has been raised by a reader at RedState again this morning, I will deal with this now.

The implication of this point being raised, I think, was to suggest that actually, the WW directors who "came with" the firm aren't running the show, the private equity guys are-- or have a hand in what WW is doing (and possibly to further underline that Ron Lindorf isn't running the show, something that seems like a pretty logical conclusion, without the PE ownership point even being raised).

As a former corporate finance lawyer, who dealt with a great many private equity acquisitions and transactions when practicing, I want to make clear that where a company is acquired by a PE firm, even when they stick their own directors on the board, it is extremely, extremely, extremely uncommon for those directors to have a say in minutiae like whether or not to take on a contract to perform bigoted hit-calls at the request of a particular party. The PE firm is concerned about maximizing growth, and extracting value from its investment, not in day-to-day operational stuff of this nature, individual items of which have rather little bearing on whether their overarching objective is achieved. Otherwise put, it's irrelevant to the discussion that a PE firm owns WW. What is relevant, or at least should be, is who on the board is "germane" to WW, because those are the guys who are involved in the day-to-day operation of the business, including the handling of tricky issues like whether or not to make mean and possibly illegal phone calls. Do any of them have connections to campaigns? Well, we know that a Senior VP of WW has donated to Romney, but what about the rest of them? That would be useful information to obtain. That WW is owned by a PE firm is not, except insofar as it appears that Ron Lindorf isn't running the show there these days.

UPDATE: Kevin Madden is p*ssed about the NRO story. Not surprising. I would like to point out, however, that while he's saying that the campaign has been "careful not to accuse anyone," it seemed fairly obvious to me from what Hugh Hewitt posted the other day (or was it Duane Patterson? I'm not sure) that Romney has been happy to give the impression that McCain is behind this-- an idea that, as RedState points out, is beyond ridiculous.

UPDATE NO 2: Soren Dayton makes some interesting points about what questions reporters should be asking right now, if they want to ensure that Kevin Madden is giving a straight answer. In short, the questions amount to:

Was the Romney campaign, Target Point, or any of their vendors placing phone calls — survey research, push polls, or otherwise — in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina in the last three weeks that mentioned the word ‘Mormon’? If so, please release the text of the script.

UPDATE NO 3: Following a very strongly worded and to-the-point denial by Kevin Madden of Romney Team involvement in the Mormon-gate calls, Alex Gage offers his own:

To Interested Parties:

Today's unfortunate article written by Mark Hemingway and posted National Review Online concerning allegations over anti-Romney push-polling that suggests that TargetPoint Consulting was somehow involved is both inaccurate and inexcusable.

To set the record straight: Whether the calls were in fact push-polls or some ridiculous attempt at message testing, TargetPoint Consulting has absolutely nothing to do with the calls in question. To be even clearer: TargetPoint Consulting has NEVER and will NEVER conduct a push-poll. TargetPoint is in the business of promoting Governor Romney, not manufacturing fantasy plots that involve smearing him.

Neither I nor TargetPoint was contacted before publication of this piece. Not by email. Not by voice mail. If the person representing National Review had contacted us, we would have told him on the record that TargetPoint Consulting had nothing to do with this and that his theory was erroneous and absent any merit.

I am not sure what, if any, motives the author may have, but now that it has been published, this piece has unfairly smeared me, my firm and the Romney campaign.

If there is any mystery to be uncovered regarding these polls, it will be by real reporting and not irresponsible speculation that tramples the good names of reputable pollsters and polling firms.

Alex Gage, TargetPoint Consulting

I continue to think "rogue friend" remains a more plausible theory than "rogue consultant."


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