Senate Majority Project

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Heating Up in New Hampshire

This is not usually the season for sweating in New Hampshire, but several top Republicans (and their defense lawyers) might be closely watching a trial scheduled to start Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manchester, NH. Two top Republicans have already pleaded guilty to attempting to suppress the Democratic vote in a close race in which Sen. John Sununu beat former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. With pre-election polls showing Gov. Shaheen with a narrow lead, the Republican Party of New Hampshire arranged to have hang-up calls jam Democratic and union get-out-the-vote phone banks on election morning in an effort to block Democrats from voting.

One remaining Republican, James Tobin, has pleaded innocent to conspiracy charges related to the incident. At the time, Tobin was the regional political director for the NRSC, which was chaired by now-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. After the 2002 election, Tobin was hired by Ken Mehlman to work for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, and went on to become one of the campaigns top fundraisers. Tobin eventually resigned from the campaign when charges were filed in the case. However, his legal bills, which are approaching $1 million, are being paid by the RNC, currently chaired by Mehlman.

Besides Tobin’s personal involvement, other issues that might be resolved in the trial include who devised the plan, who paid for the calls and who in New Hampshire or in Washington DC knew about and approved the plan.

One co-conspirator has already admitted using NH Republican state committee funds to pay for the calls, but the committee reports show sizeable contributions from the RNC and NRSC. Tobin’s lawyers, who are being paid by the RNC, are seeking to exclude evidence of payments from the national committees to the state committee. This would effectively shield officers and operatives at those committees, including Sen. Frist and then-Chair Marc Racicot from having to answer difficult questions about whether their committees were involved in this plan, and what other states might have had similar RNC-funded schemes to suppress Democratic turnout.

Another theory points to donations received immediately before the election from two clients of Jack Abramoff, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs, CA, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Choctaw, MS, on October 28, 2002, along with a contribution from Tom DeLay’s Leadership PAC, ARMPAC.

There also might be more information forthcoming on the involvement of the Republican Leadership Council. At the same time Raymond was running the phone jamming scandal, he was also running the RLC. The RLC hired GOP Marketplace to place calls for them too, moving more than $200,000 to the firm in 2002 alone. In the 2002 cycle they were active in Montana, New Jersey, and other states. The RLC’s chair, Lew Eisenberg, was also finance chair of the RNC in 2002,

These were not renegade, overeager Republican loyalists acting on an uninformed whim. The people involved in this case were sophisticated Republican operatives employed by the national Republican Party. Links in the case threaten to go to the top leadership of the House and Senate Republicans and the Republican National Committee. Now the Republican Party is paying nearly $1 million on lawyers to bury the allegations and block revelations that might show its own role in the scandal. Hard to see how this is a good move for a Party that has already been tarred by arrogance and scandal.


By coincidence perhaps, Bill Frist will be in Manchester on Tuesday. Somebody save him a seat in the courtroom.