Burr Consultant’s Dual Roles Fall Into Gray Area

Posted July 8, 2009 at 6:14pm

Paul Shumaker, the lead consultant for Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) re-election campaign, has agreed to pay $1,250 out of his own pocket to cover the cost of a recent survey conducted by his private polling firm because of concerns about how the Federal Election Commission might view the Burr campaign’s use of the survey data.

Shumaker said he would be submitting the expense to the Burr campaign to be listed as an in-kind contribution on the Senator’s upcoming FEC report.

The controversial survey was conducted on June 15 and 16 and commissioned by Carolina Strategy Group, a private Republican automated polling firm and marketing company that Shumaker runs with two business associates.

The goal of the automated poll was to take the opinions of Tar Heel State voters on the need for checks and balances in federal government, Shumaker said this week.

He said he commissioned and released the poll through the Carolina Strategy Group because he felt some Democratic groups, specifically Public Policy Polling, an automated polling firm also based in North Carolina, were painting a false picture of the current political environment in the state.

“I felt like because of the misrepresentation of data by Democratic groups, there needed to be information injected as to the environment in North Carolina because the political environment in North Carolina is changing dramatically,— he said.

But two of the first five questions in the poll asked respondents about Burr’s Senate race. One of those questions asked respondents who they would vote for in a hypothetical matchup between Burr and one of his potential Democratic challengers, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.

Shumaker said he chose the polling questions and added the ballot test to the survey because “nobody pays attention to any of these things if you don’t put in the ballot test.—

He pointed out that PPP had been earning a substantial amount of attention in the early part of the cycle by releasing monthly polls that included ballot tests between Burr and various Democratic candidates.

The question of whether the Carolina Strategy Group poll might be counted as an in-kind contribution to Burr stems from Shumaker’s dual roles as Burr’s campaign manager and as head of the automated polling company.

The FEC regulations dealing with a campaign’s allocation of polling expenses state that “the purchase of opinion poll results by a political committee or other person not authorized by a candidate to make expenditures and the subsequent acceptance of the poll results by a candidate or a candidate’s authorized political committee or agent … is a contribution in-kind by the purchaser to the candidate … and an expenditure by the candidate.—

The rule also states that “the acceptance of any part of a poll’s results which … prior to receipt, has been made public without any request … by the candidate-recipient or political committee-recipient, shall not be treated as a contribution in-kind and expenditure.—

Shumaker said Wednesday morning that the poll was not an in-kind contribution because it was not bought or accepted by Burr’s campaign. He also pointed out that he immediately released the poll to state and national media outlets, including Roll Call, when the survey was completed, and as such, it should not be considered an in-kind contribution.

But Shumaker’s dual role with the company and as the person who makes campaign decisions for Burr puts him in an unique position.

“If the evidence was a high-level person paid by a campaign went out and did a poll and had other people pay for the poll, I think that would raise questions about whether it is an in-kind contribution to the campaign,— said Larry Noble, a former general counsel for the FEC who now works as at the law firm Skadden, Arps. “If they gave the information to the campaign prior to releasing it, it would definitely increase the likelihood that it would be considered an in-kind contribution.—

Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center said: “It does raise the question of an in-kind contribution in that outside agents seem to be underwriting a service which will benefit a candidate that the campaign manager is working for. Obviously the devil is in the details on this [but] … you would think the FEC would want to take a close look.—

In a subsequent interview with Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon, Shumaker said he continues to believe that the survey and its release to the public on June 17 conformed with FEC rules, but he also acknowledged that his unique position left enough of a “gray area— for an argument to be made that the poll could be considered an in-kind contribution.

“Everybody could argue both sides of it … because of the dual hats that a lot of people wear when it relates to knowledge and the information that you gain in that process,— he said.

As such, Shumaker said he would pay for the cost of the poll himself and submit it to the Burr campaign as an in-kind contribution.

“To me the simplest and easiest thing to do is to make an in-kind contribution,— he said.

In addition, Shumaker said he would, “put a firewall up as it relates to [Senate] campaign-related questions— that the Carolina Strategy Group tests. The company remains focused on “the structural issues that are shaping the state,— he said.

But Shumaker also called for more scrutiny of the funding source behind Democratic groups like PPP.

“We need to have the discussion of who is paying for the PPP polls,— he said. “Clearly they are on a mission; clearly it’s costing them money to do it.—

PPP spokesman Tom Jensen said PPP is transparent when it comes to its polling.

“The bottom line is that nobody external is paying for our polling unless we note that,— Jensen said. “We’ve never gotten a dollar from [Sen.] Kay Hagan [D-N.C.], we’ve never gotten a dollar from anybody looking to run for Senate next year in North Carolina, and if we did, we would note that.—