Consultant with N.J. ties implicated as New Hampshire campaign trickster

By STEVE KORNACKI
PoliticsNJ.com

February 10 - A Republican political consultant with deep New Jersey roots is at the center of a dirty tricks scandal that has already cost a New Hampshire party leader his job.

The Virginia-based GOP Marketplace -- which links "campaigns and committees with telephone vendors online", according to its mission statement -- has been implicated in a plot to jam the phone lines of Democratic "get-out-the-vote" call centers in New Hampshire last November.

Allen Raymond, a 33-year-old former New Jersey Republican State Committee staffer, heads the group.

According to recent news reports, GOP Marketplace was paid $15,600 by the New Hampshire GOP on November 1, and in turn hired an Idaho telemarketing firm to clog the lines of Democratic phone banks with "hang-ups."

The scheme, according to a Manchester, N.H.  police detective, led to a shut down of several call centers for two hours.  New Hampshire featured one of the nation's tightest Senate contests last November, with Republican Rep. John E. Sununu scoring a narrow 51-47% win over Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.

The detective told The (Manchester) Union Leader that officials at the Idaho company admitted their role when confronted, and said they had been hired by GOP Marketplace.  An official at GOP Marketplace was described by the detective as "evasive."       

Granite State GOP leaders at first denied any knowledge of the calls, but the party's executive director, Chuck McGee, abruptly resigned his job last Friday amid reports that he had not been telling the truth.

Kathy Sullivan, the New Hampshire Democratic State Chairwoman, sent letters to the U.S. Attorney and the acting New Hampshire Attorney General Monday asking them to investigate the phone-jamming charges.

"In the wake of the news about this criminal conspiracy to affect the election, and the resulting resignation of a top Republican official, there are several questions that must be answered," said Sullivan. "Exactly who knew about this? Who paid for it? The voters of this state deserve answers, and the only way to uncover the truth is through a complete and open investigation."

New Hampshire Republicans were quick to join the call for a full investigation.  "It’s not often that I can agree with the Democratic Party, but in this instance I do," said Jayne Millerick, the newly-elected New Hampshire GOP State Chairwoman. "In general I find this practice distasteful."

Raymond cut his political teeth in New Jersey, working for the state Republican committee as well as former Rep. William Martini.  He guided Martini's campaign to an upstart 1994 victory, and followed the congressman to Washington, D.C. where he served as chief of staff for two years.

After Martini was defeated for re-election in 1996 by Democrat Bill Pascrell, Jr., Raymond became a field representative for the Republican National Committee.  He served Research Director and Press Secretary of the New Jersey Republican State Committee, and founded his consulting firm three years ago.  He is also the Executive Director of the Republican Leadership Council, which is chaired by former Rep. Richard A. Zimmer.

Despite leaving the Garden State, Raymond has kept a hand in state politics.  The GOP state committee confirmed today that it had hired Raymond's firm in both the 2002 and 2001 elections, but denied knowing of any controversies surrounding Raymond's tactics.

A political phone bank scandal is not a new concept for New Jersey political observers.

In his 20-count indictment of former Essex County Executive James Treffinger last year, U.S. Attorney
Christopher J. Christie alleged that Treffinger's 2002 U.S. Senate campaign schemed to deceive South Jersey voters with misleading phone calls.

According to the indictment, Treffinger's campaign targeted two unnamed South Jersey candidates --
presumably state Senators Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park) and John Matheussen (R-Washington Twp.) -- and placed "attack ad" and "false negative" telephone calls to South Jersey voters in an attempt to smear the two.

The indictment cryptically referred to a political consultant who, it alleged, aided Treffinger in hatching and executing the plan.

The Consultant's identity has been a matter of fierce debate and speculation.  Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), the Democratic State Chairwoman, issued a press release in the closing weeks of last falls' campaign stating that GOP operative David Murray was the GOP consultant named in the indictment.

But a letter from Christie subsequently cleared Murray, who has unsuccessfully sought an apology from Watson Coleman.

Raymond did work for Treffinger, according to a former campaign staffer, but declined to say whether he is the consultant named in the federal indictment.

"Do you want to talk to my attorney?" asked Raymond when contacted by PoliticsNJ.com today.. The consultant then promised a more thorough reply later in the day, but has not yet responded.

The U.S. Attorney's office "can not comment on anyone who is not identified in the indictment," said Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney.

Drewniak added that there is no established procedure for granting a letter of exoneration like the one Murray received, and said a request for one would most likely have to originate from the individual seeking the letter, or his or her attorney.

PoliticsNH.com reporter James W. Pindell assisted with this story.  Steve Kornacki can be reached at kornackinj@aol.com.