Tory MPS used U.S. telemarketer
Revelation contrary to claim made by PM that only Liberals hired American firms
More than a dozen Conservative MPS hired a U.s.-based telemarketing firm in the last federal election campaign, contrary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s claim that it was only the Liberals who employed American calling firms.
The revelation comes as a political embarrassment to the governing Tories, who are on the defensive in the growing robocall controversy and had tried in the House to embarrass their critics.
Among those who used the American-based firm, Front Porch Strategies, in his own re-election bid was Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, who is Harper’s parliamentary secretary and has been the government’s designated frontman in warding off questions over the robocall affair.
There is nothing illegal with a Canadian political party hiring an American firm to conduct its political telemarketing, but the Tories have tried to weaken the credibility of their rivals, the Liberals, by claiming they turned to foreign companies to do the work.
Last week, Del Mastro’s attack on the Liberals backfired when, in the House of Commons, he accused the Liberals of employing a U.S. calling firm. In fact, the Liberals say they used a Canadian company with the same name and there is no connection between the two firms.
Harper also went on the attack, suggesting it could be the Liberals’ own calling firms that were making misleading calls from the U.S.
“We’ve done some checking,” Harper told the Commons on Thursday.
“We’ve only found that it was the Liberal party that did source its phone calls from the United States.”
On Saturday, Andrew MacDougall, associate communications director to the prime minister, drew a distinction to what Harper meant by his comments. He said Harper was referring to the Conservative Party of Canada, which he said used Responsive Marketing Group (RMG) to do its work “all out of Canada” for phone techniques aimed at identifying Tory supporters and getting out the vote on election day.
Macdougall said when Harper spoke in the House about the Tories and U.S. firms, he was “not speaking to individual campaigns” run by Conservative candidates.
Records show that Front Porch Strategies, based in Columbus, Ohio, conducted telephone work for 14 Conservative candidates in last spring’s federal election. The firm was founded in 2006 by Matthew D. Parker, who has done extensive work for Republican politicians in the U.S.
On its website, the company describes itself as “an award-winning international voter contact and constituent communications firm.”
“Our passion is helping Republican candidates, elected officials, and conservative causes win by personally connecting them with voters and constituents,” says the company.
“Whether you are running for U.S. Senate, Parliament, city council, or simply trying to communicate better with the people who put you in office, our team at Front Porch Strategies will work tirelessly and effectively to help you accomplish your goals.”
The firm boasts of its success in the Canadian election last year that delivered Harper’s Conservatives their longsought majority government.
“In May’s Federal Elections, Front Porch Strategies won all 14 of their races,” the company says on its website.
Front Porch Strategies offers a range of service to its clients, including: “automated phone calls” to provide quick “mass communication” for political campaigns; “live” phone calls in which a real person makes the call to “advocate” for a politician; and “teleforums,” in which thousands of people can join a town-hall type conference call to hear a politician make his pitch.
Jim Ross, the Canadian consultant for Front Porch Strategies, said Saturday that 14 Conservative candidates made use of the company’s teleforum services to provide “telephone town halls” during the last election campaign.
Ross served as campaign manager for St. Catharines, Ont., MP Rick Dykstra, who he said, made use of the service in the last election.
But Ross was adamant that these calls were not connected to the robocalls scandal, in which Elections Canada is investigating whether voters were harassed and also given false information about a change in their polling stations.
“There’s no way to mislead someone with this,” he said, adding that those contacted would know right away what the call was about.
“We wouldn’t do something like this on election day. The point is to allow voters and potential voters an interactive way to discuss things with their member of Parliament without having to leave their home,” Ross said.