IS IT A CRIME? Former Gov. Ben Cayetano convinced campaign spending commissioners to refer his complaint against a super PAC that targeted him during the 2012 election to the prosecutor for further criminal action
Ben Cayetano

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Kailua resident Larry Bartley disclosed he received a call from (808) 597-6390 today, which traces back to Hawaii Research Associates. At the other end of the call, a pollster who asked him questions about former Gov. Ben Cayetano, the leading candidate for Honolulu Mayor.

But this was no ordinary political poll. Bartley said the caller shared negative information about Cayetano in the form of questions. These are called “push polls”, and experts say legitimate polling companies won’t conduct them.

While Bartley said he did not catch the exact wording, he said the automated call featured a female voice that claimed that Cayetano’s opposition to rail will lead to more traffic congestion and increase gasoline prices. A third question attacked Cayetano for allegedly receiving illegal campaign contributions when he was governor.

Bartley reports the poll gave slanted “facts” against Cayetano,  then asked whether or not the ‘fact’ would make him more or less likely to vote for Cayetano.

No specific questions about Cayetano’s primary opponents, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and former city Managing Director Kirk Caldwell,” Bartley said.

“It was very unprofessionally done and obviously a push poll,” Bartley said. “Whoever paid for it did not get their money’s worth.”

The pollster also labeled Caldwell, a registered Democrat, as an “independent,” and Carlisle, a former member of the Hawaii GOP who withdrew his membership to run for mayor in 2010, as a Democrat.

Hawaii Reporter attempted to contact Hawaii Research Associates through that number. But no one would answer the phone and the mailbox was full and would not accept messages.

Cayetano has distinguished himself from opposing the city’s $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project. Cayetano maintains the cost is too high, and the project is too ugly, and he plans to stop it. Cayetano said he wants to focus on rehabilitating the city’s dilapidated infrastructure including the water system, the sewer system and the roads, and that will cost the city about $12 billion to $15 billion.

Both Carlisle and Caldwell are supportive of the city rail and are backed by pro-rail unions.

Back in April, both Cayetano, and Honolulu City Council Member Tom Berg, reported push polls targeting their campaigns.

The pollster going after Cayetano claimed when he was governor from 1994 to 2002, he laid off huge numbers of state workers, took away health benefits from teachers and raised taxes on the middle class. The pollsters will not identify themselves or who their client is.

Cayetano said in April and in subsequent interviews he that it is Pacific Resource Partnership, an organization supporting the rail project that claims to have more than 200 contractor members, funding the polls. Pacific Resource Partnership has been one of the key backers and funders of the pro-rail campaign.

John White, the executive director for the Pacific Resource Partnership, has refused to respond to multiple Hawaii Reporter inquiries.

Berg, who also opposes the rail, obtained a copy of the push poll targeting him, and posted it to YouTube. Hear the call here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bj7sihmjxeQ

Berg, who represents District 1, and is being challenged this election by at least two well known, pro rail candidates – State Rep. Kymberly Pine, a Republican, and former State Rep. Alex Santiago, a Democrat – said: “The pollster exclaims the smack came from the candidates about each other. I refute this and all other claims made about me and this poll. This sickens me.”

The pollster in Berg’s case would not disclose where the “facts” came from or who was paying for the poll. But Berg traced the number, which is 231-224-2032to a man named Jerry Shears, with the Mountain West Research Center in Pocatello, Idaho. The company also is operating as Hawaii Opinion Research, Berg said. Neither company is registered to do business in Hawaii.

This is the same phone number – 231-224-2032 – a Cayetano supporter said the push poll smearing Cayetano is coming from. Those calling the number get a message that “the call cannot be completed as dialed.” But Hawaii Reporter called the Mountain West Research Company in Idaho, which said on its web site it has been operating since 1995, and found Shears is not longer with the company.

America’s Watch Tower reports the “Mountain West Research–a group conducting polling for the Paul Hodes campaign–was fined $20,ooo for conducting this push poll ending once and for all the false notion that Paul Hodes was simply conducting “market research” and proving that his campaign was actually engaged in an illegal push poll against Kelly Ayotte.”

Berg threatened to file a lawsuit against the company if the calls continue. Cayetano has threatened legal action against Pacific Resource Partnership.

Local polling companies have condemned push polls as unethical and Hannemann’s team points out the National Council on Public Polls, American Association for Public Opinion Research, and American Association of Political Consultants, are also opposed to push polls.

Neal Milner, a political analyst for several media in Hawaii and the Head Ombuds Officer at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said push polls are harmful because they are misleading and make people more cynical about polling and consequently less likely to respond to polls.

He said sometimes the difference between a push poll and more legitimate poll is blurred: “For example, a candidate may use a poll to test how people react to negative statements about him/herself or the opponent–like testing the effect of an opponent’s message,” Milner said.

“The juicy part of the Berg poll starts like it may be going off in that direction,” Milner said. “Berg is probably just as interested in knowing the impact of the story of his APEC conduct as his opponents are. Nevertheless, legitimate pollsters and public opinion hate push polls. They seem them as misleading and unethical.”

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who is a candidate for Congress District 1, claims he also is being targeted by negative push polls.

Residents who received calls about Hannemann were asked basic questions about their voting status, and then the poller asked “Is Mufi too much of an ambitious politician?” “Does Mufi promise anything to get elected?” “Would it affect your decision if Mufi took too much credit for saving the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, which was due to Senator Inouye and not Mufi?”

Hannemann’s campaign said in an email: “Don’t be fooled by this deceptive campaign tactic. They’re labeled “push polls” because their sole intention is to ‘push’ you in the pollster’s direction using erroneous information and outright falsehoods.”

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