Pollsters go to FEC over controversial New Hampshire law

Pollsters go to FEC over controversial New Hampshire law

One of the largest survey firms in the country wants the feds to preempt a New Hampshire law that imposes stiff fines for "push polling." Pollsters are increasingly concerned about working in the Granite State after several firms were hit with thousands in fines.

Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic firm, has asked the Federal Election Commission whether federal law supersedes the New Hampshire statute and makes it immune to the state's civil penalties. Read the full advisory opinion request here.

New Hampshire law requires that anyone engaged in what the state defines as push polling "inform any person contacted that the telephone call is being made on behalf of, in support of, or in opposition to a particular candidate for public office, identify that candidate by name, and provide a telephone number from where the push polling is conducted." 

GQRR plans to do survey work for federal candidates in the state, but is concerned that the disclaimer, in conjunction with New Hampshire's "broad" definition of push polling, will trigger an investigation. GQRR's attorneys have asked for an advisory opinion that would state whether firms working for federal candidates are protected under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and therefore not subject to the state's law.

After citing several cases of precedent, GQRR's attorneys at Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb wrote, "only federal law could limit the ability of a federal candidate to pay for a poll deemed to be a 'push poll' under New Hampshire law without the required state-prescribed disclaimer."

The New Hampshire attorney general has been increasingly active pursuing cases against survey firms. In the summer of 2010, Mountain West Research Center conducted a poll for then-Senate candidate Paul Hodes (D) asking voters if they were less likely to support Republican Kelly Ayotte if they knew certain negative information about her record. Mountain West was fined $20,000 as a result. The Republican firm OnMessage Inc. also received a $15,000 civil penalty for push polling.

GQRR's attorneys expect an FEC response by the end of April. In the meantime, individuals and organizations have the next 10 days to add comment.

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