Republican mayoral candidate Rick Hamilton used words like “disgusting” and “pathetic” Friday to describe anonymous phone calls made over the past two days that cast aspersions on him and his family members.

Standing on the Howard County Courthouse steps in front of an assembly of about 40 local Democrats and Republicans, Hamilton put the blame for the phone calls squarely on Kokomo Mayor Matt McKillip, an accusation McKillip denied.

“As a father, I am sick and I am angry. And as a family, we are disgusted that a member of our family has been viciously attacked,” Hamilton said.

But Hamilton, supported by Democratic mayoral candidate Bob Hayes and Bill Carter, campaign manager for Democratic mayoral candidate Andy Castner, had hardly finished his condemnation of what supporters are calling “push polls” before McKillip responded.

“Our campaign has not, nor will we ever do push polling,” McKillip campaign manager Phil Williams said. “Any survey research we have done tests facts. Mr. Hamilton owes the good people of our campaign an apology.”

An apology won’t be forthcoming from Hamilton, who vowed never to appear alongside McKillip “in any sort of public forum,” including the April 25 debate scheduled for Republican mayoral candidates at the Main Library.

According to one relative of a Kokomo Tribune staffer, a caller asked whether the person answering the phone was supporting either Hamilton or McKillip in the upcoming primary.

When the individual responded they supported Hamilton, the caller then began asking a series of questions and to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, whether a particular statement might affect their opinion of Hamilton.

According to several individuals familiar with the calls, the statements made implications concerning Hamilton’s business background, his leadership of the Kokomo-Howard County Chamber of Commerce and his move from a home in the county to a residence in the city last year.

According to the sources, the last question was prefaced by the caller asking whether the individual being called was “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” If the individual indicated they were pro-life, the caller made an allegation concerning one of Hamilton’s family members which the Tribune has chosen not to print.

The calls were apparently placed by a firm called Central Research Services; contacted by phone number with a New York City prefix, a woman who identified herself as a supervisor at the firm confirmed the company was doing polling in Kokomo.

Asked who commissioned the polls, the woman said she wasn’t privy to that information, and referred the call to the company president. A message left for the president was not returned Friday.

No campaign expenditures were listed for Central Research Services on any of the pre-primary campaign reports filed this week (the deadline for the reports was Friday), and Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Stephenson said he believed no one in his party had anything to do with the calls.

Without direct knowledge of who made the calls, Hamilton insisted McKillip was behind them.

“I don’t think Lewis Freeman paid for it,” Hamilton said, referring to the third Republican candidate in this year’s primary. Asked if he had proof of the source of the calls, Hamilton said he did not.

“Where would I get that? You don’t have to touch the sun to know it’s hot,” he said.

Hayes called the calls “evil,” and said such politics are directly responsible for voter apathy and distrust.

“But the bigger issue is that a man and his family were smeared needlessly,” Hayes said.

Likewise, Carter said the calls were “the most despicable act I’ve ever seen in politics in 40 years. ... You don’t attack somebody’s family, somebody’s children, my God.”

Bob Stephenson, chairman of the Howard County Democratic Party, said he is alarmed at the new levels of political activity at the local level.

“We have seen it at the national level,” Stephenson said. “All of a sudden we have [political action committees] in town.

“It is ruining local politics,” he continued. “It makes it difficult for either party to recruit good candidates. There are personal attacks and no one is accountable for it.”

Robert Vane, communications director for the Indiana Republican Party, said the state organization does not condone the use of push polling as defined by the American Association of Political Consultants.

The AAPC’s Ethics Committee addressed this issue in December 1995, agreeing unanimously that so-called push polls violate the AAPC’s stricture against “any activity which would corrupt or degrade the practice of political campaigning.”

Staci Schneider, spokeswoman for Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter, said potential push polling violations would depend on how it is done.

“There are two laws that deal with telephone solicitation,” she said. “There is the telephone privacy law where a person can elect not to receive sales calls. Dialers using an automated call are required to have a live operator ask if the person would object to the message being called.

“It would be hard to determine if the alleged push polling taking place in Kokomo is a violation of state law without a specific complaint,” she said.

Schneider said the Attorney General’s office has not released an opinion on push polling at this time.

There have been two complaints filed with the state against Central Research Services, she said. Both complaints have been closed and she couldn’t release any additional information.

What’s a push poll?

On May 23, 1996, the American Association of Political Consultants received a letter signed by 31 of the nation’s top public opinion pollsters condemning the increasingly common practice of “push polling,” where phone calls aimed at voter persuasion are dishonestly presented as surveys of public opinion. The AAPC board joined the pollsters in condemning this practice as a clear violation of the AAPC’s Code of Ethics and a degradation of the political process.

The AAPC board notes that so-called “push polls” are not really polls at all. In their letter, the bipartisan group of survey researchers drew the distinction correctly, as follows:

1. Legitimate polling firms open each interview by providing the true name of the firm or the telephone research center conducting the interview. Practitioners of so-called “push polling” generally provide no name, or in some cases make up a name.

2. In a true opinion survey, research firms interview on a small random sample of the population to be studied, typically ranging from up to a thousand interviews for a major statewide study to as few as 300 in a congressional district. With “push polls,” the objective is to reach a very high percentage of the voters.

3. The interviews conducted by real polling firms generally range in length from at least five minutes for even the shortest of tracking questionnaires to more than 30 minutes for a major benchmark study. So-called “push-poll” interviews are typically designed to last 30 to 60 seconds.

4. While real pollsters do sometimes give interviewees new information about a candidate, the intent of this process is not to shift public opinion but to simulate potential campaign debate and to asses how the voter might respond. So-called “push polls” are designed specifically to persuade.

5. To our knowledge, there is no overlap whatsoever between legitimate polling firms and firms that conduct so-called “push polls.”

The AAPC acknowledges that voter persuasion by telephone is a legitimate campaign practice. What it condemns is advocacy phone calling that:

1. Masquerades as survey research;

2. Fails to clearly and accurately identify the sponsor of the call; or

3. Presents false or misleading information to the voter.

Source: American Association of Political Consultants

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