Benicia City Council directs city attorney to take action against push poll

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Benicia City Council directs city attorney to take action against push poll

By JOHN GLIDDEN, October 3, 2018 at 5:55 pm

BENICIA — Fearing an outside group or person is attempting to negatively influence the City Council elections, councilors took action Tuesday night.

The council in closed session directed City Attorney Heather McLaughlin to contact the California Fair Political Practices Commission in response to a series of calls residents received that some say smeared one of the council candidates.

“When an outside force appears to be engaging in activities that are outside of the ordinance and not disclosing who they are — I think we have no choice but to move forward,” Vice Mayor Steve Young said in the meeting.

Several residents, including Young, have received a phone call from Research America, Inc., asking to conduct a survey about the City Council, senatorial and gubernatorial contests. However, Young says that most of the questions centered on candidates Kari Birdseye and Lionel Largaespada.

“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 in a Sept. 20 letter published by the Benicia Independent. “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.’”

A representative with the data collection company Research America previously confirmed to the Times-Herald that the business was hired to conduct the survey by EMC. Representatives with that group didn’t return calls for comment.

McLaughlin was also directed Tuesday to contact Research America, Inc. and EMC Research about the survey, and ask for a copy of the questions asked and provide information on who paid for the poll.

At issue is the alleged failure of the companies to disclose who paid for the poll — a violation of the Benicia Municipal Code.

Many have called the survey a push poll. Such polls are meant to sway public opinion instead of recording objective information from those surveyed.

Councilman Tom Campbell also spoke during Tuesday’s meeting stating that residents support having fair elections in town.

Campbell, who spearhead a campaign reform initiative in 2009, said he got 1,200 signatures during that time with only five people expressing doubt about the initiative. The rest supported the item, he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people want the same thing. They want to be fairly informed of who is actually backing a candidate. They want the elections to be clean, and they want people, who spend money on elections, to disclose how much money they spent,” he said Tuesday.

Campbell further said that if Research America and EMC won’t provide answers that are necessary for the city to go to court for those answers.