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What Was Phonegate?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2016
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Phonegate was a scandal for the Republican party that occurred in 2002. It revolved around a Senate election in New Hampshire, in which dirty tricks were used to impede the Democratic candidate. The term Phonegate is a reference to any number of other government scandals which use the suffix –gate in a reference to the Watergate scandal.

In 2002, the Republican Senator from New Hampshire, Robert C. Smith, was not re-nominated by his party, following what many perceived as an abandonment of the party during the 2000 Presidential election cycle. In his place, the Republican Representative John E. Sununu was nominated.

During this election, the Democratic challenger to Sununu was the former Governor of New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen. She was well-liked by many people in New Hampshire, and part of the reason Smith had been tossed out in favor of Sununu was how far ahead she polled against Smith. Even with Sununu as the Republican candidate, the race still appeared to be very close.

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Leading up to the election, the Democratic Party in New Hampshire, as well as the firefighters’ union, prepared a large phone-bank operation to help get likely-Democrat voters rides to make it to the polls. The Democrats working the phone banks reported that they were receiving incoming calls in an incredibly high volume, which would cease after about five seconds. This made it nearly impossible for the phone banks to function properly, resulting in them being unable to arrange rides for voters. The unraveling scandal revolving around this act would be referred to as Phonegate.

The Democratic Party reported the incident to police, who eventually discovered the calls were coming from out of state. This allowed them to bring in a federal agency, which continued the investigation. Eventually the calls were traced to a phone-bank company based in Idaho, Mylo Enterprises. It soon came out that the New Hampshire GOP had hired someone in order to actively disrupt the Democratic Party’s phone banks, a clear cut case of election tampering.

The executive director of the state GOP, Charles McGee, eventually resigned over the issue, as well as lying to reporters when questioned about what had happened. The story unfolded that McGee had decided, perhaps as a result of his military background, that the best strategy would be to disrupt “enemy communications” in the run up to the election. After failing to find a company that would do what he wanted, he eventually was put in touch with GOP Marketplace by James Tobin, the field director for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The company was run by Allen Raymond, from New Jersey, who had links to other questionable phone scandals revolving around past campaigns. Raymond eventually pleaded guilty to a number of charges relating to Phonegate in mid-2004, and McGee followed soon after. In the course of the hearing, a third man was mentioned, who was alleged to have had close relations to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

The third man involved in Phonegate turned out to be James Tobin, who resigned and was indicted later that year. Convictions followed, and the case continued to receive national attention, eventually tying in with other scandals, including the scandal around Jack Abramoff. Connections also surfaced between Tobin and the White House, which the Democratic Party continued to investigate, although no further charges have been brought.

Although criminal proceedings in Phonegate have slowed down since 2006, there have been requests made to give more attention to the investigations. In mid-2006 a Democratic Representative from Michegan, John Conyers, requested that the Attorney General name a special prosecutor to investigate Phonegate in more depth.

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