Two Arlington residents have filed a complaint with the Virginia Department of Elections, reporting that a telephone poll conducted in early October asked questions about the competitive County Board race but did not disclose who authorized or paid for the survey.
The residents, supported by the Arlington County Democrats, said in the complaint “based on the push-poll nature of the questions, and the way they were articulated, we suspect that Michael T. McMenamin ... was responsible for these calls.”
McMenamin, a Republican who is running as an independent, said his campaign hired a pollster to run such a survey on Oct. 6 but he provided the firm with a script that identifies the poll as being paid for by his campaign. That pollster, Campaign Marketing Strategies, has assured him that the script was followed, McMenamin said Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if it was a mistake,” he said. “If they can provide us with a phone number, the vendor can go back and track it down... This is my reputation. We do everything correctly and I take this very seriously.”
Jack M. Zetkulic and Federico E. Cura filed the complaint Tuesday after getting telephone calls three weeks ago. Cura could not be reached, but Zetkulic, a retired Foreign Service officer who used to set up observations of elections in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, said he happened to be working at home that day when a call from Chesterfield, Va., came to his home phone.
The caller mispronounced the names of the two Democrats, Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol, as “dor-say” and “cris-tall, like the cheap champagne,” said Zetkulic, who is married to Arlington School Board member Nancy Van Doren.
Zetkulic, who describes himself as an independent and a “reformed Republican,” said that when he tried to correct the caller, she brushed him off.
“What was really striking to me is how they were [asking] leading questions and [making] false dichotomies,” he said. “It was ‘Would you choose between essential services like schools, etc., as opposed to building low-income housing.’ ... Or ‘Would you support building schools on our limited parkland [or] green space?’ ”
The last questions, he said, asked whether he was positive or negative on County Board member John Vihstadt, who like McMenamin is a Republican who ran as an independent. Another asked “which of the candidates do you support,” although voters are able to choose two candidates in the Nov. 3 election.
“That’s when I asked who’s paying for this, and they hung up on me,” Zetkulic said. He dialed the number back and got a recording that simply said the call was on “local political issues, and was not a sales call.”
“This is not what I would call a fair poll,” he said.
Democrats Cristol and Dorsey said they heard from others who received very similar calls.
“I think we’ve had a healthy debate in forums and in public, and this is not entirely befittting the issue-based conversations we’ve had in public, at least,” she said.
Dorsey said the only poll he cares about comes on Election Day, but disclosures “are a fundamental part of campaign law and you’re required to ensure that not only your disclosures but your campaign finance reports are open. It’s surprising that a three-time candidate for office would do this.”
Democrats scoured McMenamin’s campaign finance reports, including the one that just became public Tuesday, seeking evidence of the poll but McMenamin said he had just gotten the invoice and paid the $2,086 bill in the past few days.
Kip Malinosky, the chairman of the Arlington Democrats, said McMenamin’s campaign has been “an exercise in deception from the start,” citing his decision to run as an independent, one of his campaign mailers that implied an endorsement from the non-partisan Civic Association and McMenamin’s objection to being recorded at a recent candidate forum.
State officials have previously said they have a policy of not hearing or ruling on alleged campaign law violations until after the election, in to order avoid the appearance of affecting the election. If a violation is found, the penalty is $2,500.