Bass 'push poll' case remains in state court

A lawsuit alleging violations of New Hampshire's "push poll" law on the part of Rep. Charlie Bass's (R) campaign committee will be decided in state court, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

Attorneys for Bass wanted to have the case heard in federal court, arguing the state law is preempted by the Federal Election Campaign Act, but that request was denied by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro. 

The suit was filed in April by New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney's office. It's one of several high-profile enforcement actions brought by the AG, mostly aimed at political pollsters. The suit accuses the Bass camp of making a “deliberate attempt to avoid” the state’s disclosure requirements while conducting a poll during his 2010 race against Democrat Ann Kuster.

The manner in which the AG's office is enforcing the law has the political consulting community outraged. The statute, pollsters argue, is written far too broadly and essentially bans legitimate message testing. Many polling firms are shying away from the state altogether and the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) is exploring ways to mitigate the law's impact.     

The law in question considers calls about a candidate's "character, status, or political stance or record" a push poll. It also defines "calling voters on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office by telephone" as a push poll, too.  

On April 27, the Federal Election Commission released an advisory opinion that said federal candidates and their campaign committees aren't subject to the state's survey disclaimer requirements. That was in response to an AOR from Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, which argued the state law was preempted. 

“The existence of a federal agency enforcement mechanism—here the FEC’s right to sue under the Act—does not convert the AG’s state cause of action into a federal one," Judge Barbadoro wrote in the order released Tuesday.

The state attorney general's office told C&E on Wednesday that it's not yet clear when the case will be heard. 




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