Recipients of calls were asked about Dunn, then whether they would vote for a candidate who would cause their utility rates to go up by $100
By Eddie Curran
Starting on or about Oct. 3, 2013, and lasting anywhere from a few days to a week, representatives of CSI Research called people throughout Alabama purporting to do a poll on Alabama Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn.
But CSI Research — which likely does not exist — wasn’t really conducting a poll. There was no effort to gauge Dunn’s electability, but rather, to tarnish it. The callers were participating in a type of dirty politics called a push poll, which isn’t a poll at all.
A recipient of one of the calls — someone familiar with the efforts against Dunn and my project — provided me with a description of the call she received. The caller asked if she would be willing to respond to a poll, then asked her several questions. This is her recollection of those questions:
1 Would you vote for someone if you knew that if you did your utility rates would go up $100?
2. Alabama has 5000 coal jobs. Do you think that Obama and the EPA are shutting down coal jobs and harming Alabama’s economy?
3. Would you vote for Terry Dunn if you you knew that he supported Obama and Obamacare and was a liberal?
The woman, realizing what was happening, asked the caller who she worked for. The caller, a woman, said she worked for, “CSI Research.”
“I asked who had requested the poll and she said she would put her supervisor on the phone. I heard a male’s voice and the phone went dead,” said the woman.
Her caller ID showed a number with a Washington D.C. area code and which was apparently a cell phone number. If you Google CSI Research you get an Atlanta-area medical research company. The caller was almost certainly lying when she identified herself as representing a company by that name.
I used Facebook and other means to locate others who received similar calls.
(Note: There is a Fairhope-based firm, CSI Media Consultants, that does political work in Alabama. I did not suspect them of being involved but did ask. I was assured, convincingly, that they had nothing to do with the push poll.)
Most people know what a push poll is or have a general idea. But for clarity’s sake — and because it’s such an excellent explanation — here’s the main portion of a definition on Wikipedia.
“In a push poll, large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect and analyze response data. Instead, the push poll is a form of telemarketing-based propaganda and rumor mongering, masquerading as a poll.
“Push polls may rely on innuendo or knowledge gleaned from opposition research of an opponent. They are generally viewed as a form of negative campaigning. The tactic is commonly considered to undermine to democratic process as false or misleading information is provided about candidates.”
I love that last bit — a tactic “commonly considered to undermine the democratic process.” I called Dunn’s office and learned that he was aware of the push poll. Numerous people who’d received the calls had contacted Dunn to report them. I asked for a comment and he e-mailed me the following statement:
In the past week or so, a number of friends and family members have told me about receiving telephone calls from a pollster. It comes from a Washington, D.C., telephone number. Members of my staff also have been told by friends and family that they’ve gotten the same calls.
In every case, the questions made it clear that the call was designed to discredit me, not to gauge public opinion. I think that’s called ‘push-polling’.
I’m told the first two questions ask whether the person would favor an increase in their electricity rates and then whether they would support policies that would do away with thousands of jobs in Alabama’s coal-mining industry. The last question – the kicker, I guess – was something like, ‘Would you support Terry Dunn, who is aligned with the liberal AARP,’ and the last question mentions Obama in some context.
But, you know, this is really just the latest tactic these folks are using. The smear campaign has been ongoing since I first stated publicly (nearly a year ago now) that the PSC should hold formal rate hearings. I thought – and still believe firmly – the proposal makes a great deal of common sense, considering that we haven’t held such hearings in more than three decades.
Whoever is behind these lies is spending tens of thousands of dollars just because I said we ought to make sure our utility rates are fair.