A Super-PAC has entered the 19th District democratic primary in support of Pat Ryan, enlisting a firm to call voters and test negative information about one of his opponents, Antonio Delgado, and gauge their reactions.
With Honor Inc., a recently-formed Super-PAC that supports both Republican and Democratic candidates who are veterans, paid Global Strategies Group LLC $17,500 for the polling, according to FEC filings. Global Strategies outsourced the actual calls to Kalamata Research.
With Honor Inc. confirmed they were behind the polls.
Ryan and Delgado are among seven democratic primary candidates in New York’s 19th District, which encompasses the northern Hudson Valley, Catskills, and areas east and west of Albany. The winner of the primary will take on current Republican Congressman John Faso in November’s mid-term elections.
Super-PACs such as With Honor are separate entities from the campaigns they support, and the two are not legally allowed to coordinate. Unlike organizations that coordinate with candidates, Super-PACs can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, as well as corporations, which are barred from contributing directly to campaigns.
In the calls, a pollster first asks the district resident whether they have a negative or positive opinion of all seven democratic primary candidates, according to two district residents who received the call.
The caller, who seems to be reading from a script, then drops favorable information about Pat Ryan and negative information about Antonio Delgado — both residents who got the call said the caller mentioned Delgado’s employment at Akin Gump, an international law and lobbying firm.
The caller then again asks the respondent if they have a negative or positive opinion of the candidates, according to the two district residents. Information of any kind — whether positive or negative — was not supplied about the five other candidates.
Tara Shafer, a Rhinebeck resident who received the call, said she picked up her landline when a 1-800 number called.
The caller, after asking for her initial opinion of all the candidates, called Ryan “a decorated war hero” and “the son of a school teacher” before asking her opinion of the candidate a second time, Shafer said.
The call “shows me someone is purposefully propping up Pat Ryan and purposefully slandering Antonio Delgado,” she said.
The pollster did not reveal what organization they were calling from, Shafer added.
Shafer, a Delgado supporter, had taken telephone polls on political races before, but said this poll was markedly different.
“This seemed so outrageously stilted,” she said. “[It] had to do with building up one candidate, interspersing other candidates to make it look more legitimate, then slandering another candidate.”
Jehed Diamond, a Delhi resident, also received the call.
Diamond — who said she did not favor either Delgado or Ryan — found one of the statements about Delgado “highly offensive,” she said.
The caller began the statement with, “Antonio Delgado does not hold the same values as the rest of the Hudson Valley,” before claiming negative information about Akin Gump, Diamond said.
“I said, ‘I would need to know a lot more information,’” Diamond recounted. “I wanted to make my own comments about the question (to the caller), so I said thought it was incredibly biased and misleading.’”
Some of the statements made against Delgado appear to be misleading. For instance, though Delgado worked for Akin Gump for years, he appears to have stuck to the litigation side of the firm, as opposed to doing any lobbying. Delgado was never a registered lobbyist in the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, or in New York state, where he worked, according to lobbying disclosures from the three entities.
“[Delgado] was not a lobbyist and has never been a lobbyist,” according to Delgado spokesman Brendan Welch.
The calls came days after Ryan and five of the other six candidates signed a pledge promising not to engage in negative campaigning against the other democratic primary candidates, though the calls were not made in coordination with the campaign.
When contacted, a representative of With Honor said she did not believe the calls broke the pledge.
Don Levy, the director of the Siena College Research Institute, a renowned non-partisan polling firm called the calls a “push poll” — a poll that uses loaded or manipulative questions.
“It is a type of push poll that is relatively insidious, because it masquerades as an objective poll,” Levy said.
He contrasted it with polls given by Siena, wherein no additional information is given about the candidates, so the respondent’s answers are not influenced.
Levy speculated the calls might have two objectives: either to produce a poll showing Ryan as leading the race, or to research what negative information would be most damaging to Delgado.
Levy was familiar with Global Strategies, the firm With Honor was using for the polling, saying it was a well-regarded democratic consulting and strategy firm.
“[Global Strategies] is not a pollster in the same way that we are, because they have an agenda,” he said. “They get hired to gather data and do their best to assist their client to get elected. And they’re good at it.”
Ellen Zeng, With Honor’s democratic political director, said her organization supports veterans, both democratic and republican, and seeks to “fix polarization and gridlock and dysfunction in the Capitol.”
She called Ryan “a great candidate.”
“He’s the only veteran candidate in the race, and he’s got some really strong ideas about how to fix our country,” she said.
When asked what With Honor was trying to achieve with the polling, she responded, “not much.”
“We’re just trying to figure out the lay of the land, and also to try to figure out who’s the strongest general election candidate,” she said.
“At the end of the day, the primaries are very important, but we also want the strongest general election candidate, and we’re just testing that out right now,” she added.
Of the $17,500 paid by With Honor to Global Strategies, $3,500 was to support Ryan, and $14,000 was to oppose Delgado, according to FEC filings.
The calls do not go against Ryan’s pledge against negative campaigning, Zeng said.
“It has nothing to do with the pledge,” she said.
Tim Wagner, Ryan’s campaign manager, said since it was illegal for the campaign to coordinate with any Super-PAC, they had no control over what With Honor did.
“We signed a pledge to stay positive,” Wagner said. “When Pat makes a commitment, he stands by the commitment.”
When asked if the campaign does not like what the Super-PAC is doing, Wagner responded: “We hope no one goes negative.”
The Ryan campaign has not gone negative against any of the candidates, he added.
Citizen’s Action, a government watchdog group that has endorsed Delgado, came out against With Honor’s financial involvement in the race, but there was no mention of the polling calls in their press release.