Seacoast Online: Sen. Hill works to toughen push poll law

Posted: May 10, 2011 | News Items, Senator Hill, Veterans and Legal Affairs

YORK, Maine — After several of her constituents said they felt they had been victims of a “push poll” last fall that unfairly characterized her record, state Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, has filed legislation strengthening the law and significantly increasing fees for violators.

Last fall, when then-Rep. Hill was running for the seat she currently holds, the Maine Ethics Commission voted to authorize a staff investigation into whether a push poll had been conducted during the election season.

In a push poll, a pollster offers misleading information about a certain candidate with the intent of “suppressing or changing the voting position of the call recipient.”

Push polls are not de facto illegal in Maine, but do require the polling organization to undertake a number of steps, including identifying the organization sponsoring the calls and the candidate paying for it, if applicable.

While the staff ultimately determined no push poll had taken place in Hill’s district, “because of the tenor of the conversation that took place, I said to people who were upset, ‘let’s see what we can do to clean it up.'”

Hill’s bill would close a loophole in the current election law by changing the definition of push polling to give the commission staff further latitude in assessing whether a push poll has taken place, said Assistant Director Paul Lavin.

“This gives the commission staff the right to say to an organization, ‘show us the results you’re getting,'” said Hill.

Just as significantly, a person who violates the push-poll law will be assessed a fine of $10,000, up from $500 in the current law.

“I wanted to make it a real deterrent. It is totally alarming that the current law allows any group to call voters and spread false and misleading information with almost no consequences,” she said.

The bill is before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, which has already held a hearing and is expected to hold a work session on the bill sometime next week.

By Deborah Mcdermott