(Chuck Muth) – A few weeks ago, Citizen Outreach sent out some automated phone calls urging citizens in the Elko area to “press 1” to be connected to Republican state Assembly candidate John Ellison and ask him if he supported a proposal by fellow GOP Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea to tax groceries. And we’re sorry.
We’re sorry that Mr. Ellison responded in such a wimpy, whiny, dishonest way.
For the record, here’s exactly what the message we delivered via those automated phone calls said:
“This is a critical taxpayer alert from Chuck Muth and Citizen Outreach.
“Last week, Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea proposed a new $500 million tax on groceries. That’s right, rather than force government to tighten its belt and fund only truly essential government services, Assemblyman Goicoechea now wants to tax your milk and butter and eggs and cheese.
“More troubling, Mr. Goicoechea also recently endorsed John Ellison to represent you in the Nevada state Assembly. Does Mr. Ellison agree with Assemblyman Goicoechea that you should have your fruits and vegetables taxed? Press 1 now to be connected to Mr. Ellison and ask him.”
Now let’s be clear about what was done here, how, and why.
First, we disclosed upfront and clearly exactly who we were. We did not do these calls anonymously.
Secondly, Citizen Outreach – whose motto is “putting the public back in public policy” – exercised its free speech right to communicate with citizens about an important public policy issue and make it easy for those citizens to contact and communicate with a candidate for public office who would be in a position to vote on that issue.
In this case, the public policy issue involved a tax hike proposed by the leader of the political party Mr. Ellison belongs to and who strongly endorsed Mr. Ellison in a letter-to-the-editor published by the Elko Daily Free Press just a few days earlier.
And since Mr. Ellison had refused to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising to oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes, asking whether or not he supported Assemblyman Goicoechea’s grocery tax was certainly a legitimate question.
And how did Mr. Ellison respond?
In a campaign ad appearing in the High Desert Advocate on September 2, Mr. Ellison wrote: “For those of you who have gotten the automated call this week, I want to apologize for the nuisance and lies.” And in a story appearing in the paper that same day, Mr. Ellison referred to the phone calls as “disgusting.”
In another story appearing in the Elko Daily Free Press on September 3, Mr. Ellison accused us of making a “false accusation” and characterized our effort to engage the public in this important public policy discussion as “mud and filth.”
But as anyone who can read plain English can plainly see from the text of the recorded call, we didn’t accuse Mr. Ellison of anything. There were no lies; there were no false accusations. We simply raised a question.
And again, it was a legitimate question because Mr. Ellison has refused to take a firm stand opposing tax hikes.
Since when does simply asking a legitimate question of a public official seeking to represent citizens in the state Legislature constitute “mud and filth”? And what’s “disgusting” about citizens contacting candidates to ask them about issues that are a serious concern?
But it gets worse.
Instead of contacting us directly and simply answering the question, this so-called conservative’s first reaction was to…run to the government and complain.
“Ellison said he isn’t standing still over the telephone campaign,” the Free Press reported, “and has contacted several agencies, including the Nevada Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State’s Office.”
And according to another candidate he spoke with, Mr. Ellison even called the FBI!
All because a grassroots citizens’ group exercised their free speech rights and made it easy for citizens to contact a public official and candidate? Really?
And according to a story in the Advocate, Mr. Ellison was “flabbergasted when after complaining to the Attorney General’s offices he was told that robocalling giving out his business phone number was legal and protected free speech.”
Now, about “all” those phone calls.
In the Free Press story, Mr. Ellison claimed the “telephone campaign against him has affected his electrical business.”
“To disturb a business, that’s wrong,” Ellison said, estimating he had “received 200 phone calls” which “cost Ellison Electric business and disrupted the household at night when the number automatically switches to the house.”
Um, there’s no nice way to put this or to sugarcoat it:
First: Why were the phone calls directed to Mr. Ellison’s business?
Because that’s where HE said people should call him!
That’s right. If you go to the Secretary of State’s website (http://nvsos.gov/index.aspx?page=337) you’ll see that Mr. Ellison himself listed his work number as the contact number for his campaign.
It’s also the same number he has listed on the “Candidates” page of the Nevada Republican Party website (http://www.nevadagop.org).
So if his business number is the number Mr. Ellison gave out for people to use to contact him about his campaign, why then is he complaining that people actually used the number he provided for just that purpose?
That aside, let’s address Mr. Ellison’s claim that he got 200 phone calls which supposed disrupted his business “because people needing emergency service called someone else when they couldn’t get through to Ellison Electric.”
Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Ellison.
Apparently Mr. Ellison isn’t aware that modern technology allows us to track those who press “1” for statistical purposes – and for reasons just like this when someone complains they received 200 calls they simply did not receive.
In fact, we know exactly how many people pressed “1,” what number they pressed “1” from, and how long they stayed on the phone.
Wanna guess how many calls Mr. Ellison actually received over a two day period?
Nine on August 31.
Seven on September 1.
Here are the details (the exact phone numbers have been redacted for privacy reasons):
The third column is the exact time the individual pressed “1” to be connected to Mr. Ellison, and the last column reports on exactly how long the call lasted.
So looking at the last column, we see that on August 31, Mr. Ellison’s phone was tied up all of 16.7 minutes and on September 1 his phone was tied up for all of 15.2 minutes.
Please, Mr. Ellison, tell us again how many people “needing emergency service” were unable to get through?
And finally, recall that Mr. Ellison also claimed that calls “disrupted (his) household at night when the number automatically switches to the house.”
Now take a look at the second column. Notice that the last “press 1” call he received on August 31 was at 16:40 – which is 4:40 pm to us non-military folks. And on September 1, the last “press 1” call came in at 12:23 pm.
Sorry, but it’s simply not true that any calls were forwarded to his home at night. Not…one.
Ordinarily I would have let this matter slide by.
But Mr. Ellison falsely accused us of lying, adversely affecting his business, and harassing him at home. And as we’ve demonstrated here, none of that is true. So I just can’t allow Mr. Ellison to get away with besmirching the good name of our organization and our grassroots supporters.
Nor was I prepared to have a public official and legislative candidate get away with calling citizen participation in our democratic process “disgusting” and falsely claiming we attacked him with “mud and filth.”
If this is how Mr. Ellison acts in response to a mere sixteen constituent calls before he’s elected to the Legislature, one can only imagine how he’ll treat them after safely ensconced in office. Indeed, if anyone owes anyone an apology in this matter, it’s Mr. Ellison. To the citizens of Elko he wants to represent.
Considering how he’s conducted himself so far, don’t hold your breath waiting.
(Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach)