Democrats to sue GOP over phone-jamming

CONCORD — The state Democratic Party says it will file a civil suit against the Republican State Committee and its former executive director this week over a telephone-jamming operation that interfered with their election day 2002 get-out-the-vote drive.

Democratic party legal counsel Finis Williams said the party will seek an injunction in Merrimack County Superior Court ordering the state GOP “not to engage in illegal activities” in the upcoming election. It will also seek monetary damages.

Democratic State Chair Kathleen Sullivan said the suit will name the Republican State Committee, Allen Raymond and Charles McGee. The two men have been charged by the U.S. Justice Department with conspiring to jam the telephone lines at five Democratic Party offices and the headquarters of the non-partisan Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association, in violation of federal law.

Raymond, the former head of Virginia-based telemarketer GOP Marketplace, pleaded guilty to the federal charge on June 30.

McGee, the current director of the state chapter of the lobby group Citizens for a Sound Economy, is scheduled to enter a plea on July 28. He has declined comment.

The federal government alleges that McGee, in his role as the GOP’s top state staffer, had the state committee pay Raymond’s firm $15,600 specifically to jam the Democrats and firefighters’ telephone lines. Federal law says it is a crime to conspire to make harassing interstate calls “without disclosing the caller’s identity and with the intent to annoy. . .or harass any person at the called number. . .”

McGee resigned as state GOP executive director the day after The Union Leader first reported in February 2003 that Manchester police had alerted the U.S. Justice Department to the operation.

State GOP Chair Jayne Millerick said at the time that the state committee had hired GOP Marketplace for $15,600, but for telemarketing services to encourage people to vote Republican, not to jam opponents’ telephones.

The alleged scheme occurred prior to Millerick assuming the state GOP chairmanship. During the 2002 campaign, she headed the party’s own end-of-campaign, 72-hour get-out-the-vote drive.

According to federal prosecutor Todd Hinnen, Raymond subcontracted with a firm in Sandpoint, Idaho, to make continuous computerized calls. The calls were intended to last all day, but were curtailed after two hours, at the insistence of then-state GOP Chair John Dowd, Hinnen said.

At Raymond’s plea hearing on June 30, Hinnen told U.S. District Court Judge Joseph DiClerico Jr., that in late October 2002, Raymond “received a call from a former colleague who was then an official in a national political organization. The official indicated that he had been approached . . . by an employee of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee with an idea that might give New Hampshire Republican candidates an edge over New Hampshire Democratic candidates in the upcoming election” — jamming their phone banks.

The employee was identified by the government last week as McGee.

Hinnen alleged that McGee and Raymond spoke several times by telephone and planned the operation. He said GOP Marketplace spent $2,500 of the $15,600 it had received from the GOP to hire the Idaho firm to actually carry out the computerized calling.

Hinnen told the court that after about 90 minutes of phone jamming early on the morning of Nov. 5, 2002, Raymond returned an urgent call from McGee, “who informed him that the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee (Dowd) had directed the employee to halt the phone jam operation. . .” because the chairman “had been concerned that it was illegal.”

Contacted yesterday, Dowd said he was interviewed by justice department officials last year, and, on their recommendation, declined all comment.

At the Raymond plea hearing, Hinnen then added to the mystery surrounding the scheme. He told the judge that the day after the election, Raymond called the official who had initially contacted him “and was informed that the check that had been made out to GOP Marketplace and drawn on the New Hampshire Republican State Committee had been forged.” Raymond, at the hearing, agreed to the accuracy of all of Hinnen’s statements.

Hinnen said the official who acted as the intermediary “initially denied any knowledge of the scheme, but finally admitted” that he had recommended the Republican State Committee call Raymond and had “encouraged” Raymond to “help the employee execute the election day phone jam.”

Democratic Party attorney Williams charged yesterday the GOP violated the state constitution, “which says that you have a right to vote and no one can interfere with that right. And there is something called a civil conspiracy here, where, together, people can conspire to do unlawful acts.”

He said the monetary damage sustained by the Democrats “is not major. The suit is more to address the fact that we don’t want them doing this again in the future and we want them to find out who is involved and who ordered this done.” Sullivan said the suit will be formally announced at a news conference, perhaps as early as today.

“It is time for political integrity to return to our state once again,” Sullivan said. She said the GOP should explain “why it interfered” with “countless” Granite Staters’ right to vote.