By Paul Kiel - January 11, 2008, 1:41PM
Yesterday we gave you the rundown on Common Sense Issues, a nonprofit group that's been phoning millions of voters in key primary states on behalf of Mike Huckabee. The automated calls ask voters about their views on certain hot-button conservative issues and then provide a barrage of facts demonstrating that Huckabee is stronger.
I spoke with the group's executive director Patrick Davis this morning and asked him to lay it all out for me. Where was the group active? How many calls had they made? And were the calls illegal?
In addition to the approximately 850,000 calls in Iowa and 1 million in South Carolina, the group made 800,000 in New Hampshire, and already hundreds of thousands in Florida (he said it wasn't up to a million "yet"). They're on the phones currently in Michigan, he said, and have reached on the order of two million homes. All the calls are generally identical, he said, with some exceptions.
For instance, the group is calling independent and Democratic homes in Michigan, encouraging them to cross over and vote for Huckabee in the Republican primary because "they don't have much of a choice on their ballot," Davis explained. A commenter to yesterday's post, ROSS in Detroit, said he'd received one of these calls, writing:
"I'm in MI near Detroit. My ZIP Code is heavily Dem. I just got one of the push poll robocalls described. It urged me as a Democrat to cross over and vote in the GOP primary for Huckabee! It was immediately clear at the beginning of the 2 min 45 sec call that this was in favor of Huckabee. . . . ."
See below for another description of the calls by another TPM reader.
Davis defended the calls, saying that the group's activities were "well within federal law." And he repeated the group's explanation as for why these weren't push polls (imitations of polls meant to disperse negative information). Every call is unique, he said, because of the group's "personal identification artificial intelligence" technology. And "every bit of it is factual."
It's unclear how much money the group has raised or how much they've spent on these calls and television ads. As required by law, they've disclosed certain activities to the Federal Election Commission -- about $100,000 worth, though only $7,610 of that was to pay for these calls. When I asked him about that, he said that the majority of the calls were "issue" oriented "education" calls that were going to both voter and non-voting citizens -- the group only has to disclose expenses related to "express advocacy." Given that such calls cost anywhere from five to fifteen cents per call, it's safe to assume that the group has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on the calls alone.
Since the group is a 501(c)4, they are not required by law to disclose their donors, and Davis wouldn't tell me how much they'd raised. However, they've publicly disclosed to the FEC having raised $100,000 from six contributors. The group (under the name Common Sense Ohio) spent $827,000 in the 2006 elections, according to data compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute.
Davis confirmed that the calls were used to get out the vote. The calls are used to identify voters' preferences on issues and candidates, he said, a list that's used on election day. "It's a typical GOTV strategy -- make a list and turn it out."
As for what's next? "Michigan is still a priority for us," he said, and said that the group "maybe" will launch a TV ad in South Carolina the way they did in Iowa.
Here's that TPM reader's description of another of the group's calls:
Thought you might like to know details about a robo-call just received by me in Ypsilanti, Michigan, approx. 8:15 PM, today the 10th. I was unable to write down a complete transcript of the call, but it was clearly pro-Huckabee and anti-Romney. In push-poll format, it gave me the lowdown on the two candidates. Huckabee wants my taxes lower, and supported the Bush tax cuts, while Romney is apparently out to tax me to support illegal immigrants in "sanctuary cities". It mentioned the immigration issue the most, mentioning the Minutemen organization endorsing Huckabee twice. It also brought up "the Clinton gun ban laws" and asked if I supported them. After saying no (to make sure I heard what came next), it said Romney endorsed these gun-grabbing laws, but that Huckabee not only didn't endorse them, but was a "life-long hunter" and has a concealed carry permit. That was the weirdest part. Gun control is one thing, but apparently I was supposed to be reassured because Huck is *personally* packin' heat.