Benicia City Attorney investigating outsider election smear campaign

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor: Vice Mayor Steve Young and many others who received the call have been perfectly clear about the smear tactics of the “push poll” callers who have spread misinformation and lies about candidate Kari Birdseye.  Kari’s opponents have publicly raised questions about whether there even was a bias (see  Largaespada’s and Strawbridge’s highlighted comments  below).  For a detailed and accurate description of the blatant bias, see Steve Young: Benicia voters should be wary of fake polls.  Kudos to City Attorney Heather McLaughlin for looking into this.  Learn the truth about Kari Birdseye at BirdseyeForBenicia.com.  – R.S.]

Benicia officials looking into push poll incident

By John Glidden, October 1, 2018 at 7:01 pm

BENICIA — City Attorney Heather McLaughlin has launched an investigation into whether the city’s campaign ordinances were violated after several residents reported receiving a survey call about the current Benicia City Council candidates.

McLaughlin confirmed last week that she will be meeting with the City Council in closed session on Tuesday about possibility initiating litigation in response to the calls.

The calls came to light after Vice Mayor Steve Young wrote a letter, first posted on the Benicia Independent website, stating he received one of the calls from Research America, Inc, a data collection company which has multiple branches throughout the United States.

Young said the call originated from a Saratoga phone number, and the pollster said she would be asking questions about the City Council, senatorial and gubernatorial contests. However, Young alleges that only questions about the council were asked.

He further said that the person asked a few questions about Christina Strawbridge, and none about William Emes, however, “there were lots of questions about Lionel Largaespada and Kari Birdseye.”

“The statements about Mr. Largaespada were uniformly positive and stated how, for example, he would use his small business background to improve the City’s economy and relations with its businesses,” Young wrote. “The statements about Ms. Birdseye were the opposite. Among these statements were ‘She wants to shut down Valero, costing hundreds of jobs,’ and ‘She will bring radical left-wing politics to City Hall.’”

Young said the call was a push poll. Such polls are meant to sway public opinion instead of recording objective information from those surveyed.

Reached by phone Monday, a Research America employee, who declined to give his name, said the company was paid to “collect data as an opinion poll only.”

He also denied the poll was meant to sway voters. However, the employee confirmed EMC Research paid for the poll. A representative of the company couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

McLaughlin said her investigation centers on whether the pollsters disclosed who paid for the campaign poll.

“It is a little hard to say what section (the polls) are violating since we don’t know enough about the poll,” she wrote in an email, first reported by the Benicia Herald. “If the poll is paid for by a candidate there are rules for that. If it is paid for by an independent committee there are rules for that. All of it basically boils down to disclosure. They should be disclosing who is behind the poll.”

In a letter posted online, Largaespada said he had “no involvement whatsoever with this poll.”

“I do not know who is conducting it, and it was done with no input or permission from me,” he wrote. “ I have heard from many residents about the poll, and I have heard many different opinions on how it was conducted – ranging from Steve’s claim that it is biased towards me, to residents who found it equally balanced, to others who thought it was negative-sounding towards me. As with most topics, people have differing reactions and take always based on their own beliefs and opinions. 

Largaespada said he is against push polling as it doesn’t benefit anyone.

A blog post on Birdseye’s campaign page, “When they go low, we go high,” said the campaign had nothing to do with the poll.

“However, the telephone pollster offered lies about me and flattering comments about one of the other candidates,” she wrote.

Birdseye followed up by responding to Largaespada’s comments about the poll.

“The favored candidate has publicly denied involvement. I believe him, but then he claims that the poll wasn’t necessarily biased,” she wrote. “He suggests that people hear what they want to hear.  But many Benicians have reported that the push poll is an obvious attempt to smear my good name.”

Strawbridge also said she does not favor push polling.

“It has no place in our town’s election process. That said, during most of the elections I have participated in, there has been influence coming from both outside and inside Benicia. At times the facts have not always been true for or against a candidate,” Strawbridge wrote in an email to the Times-Herald on Monday. “Since I was not surveyed  and there have been conflicting reports about the content of the questions , more information is needed as to the who and the what of the poll.”

She further said forums are a great way to find out where candidates stand on important issues.

Financial records submitted by the three campaigns last week to the Benicia City Clerk’s Office show that none hired EMC or Research America to conduct the poll.

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