A political action committee supporting New York 19th Congressional District Democratic primary candidate Pat Ryan has spent thousands of dollars on polls targeting rival candidate Antonio Delgado. Delgado’s campaign has called on Ryan to denounce what the Delgado camp is calling a “push poll,” but Ryan supporters say the candidate and the campaign had no responsibility for the poll commissioned by the With Honor Fund.
“We cannot coordinate with them. That’s illegal,” said Ryan campaign manager Tim Wagner. “We don’t know what they’re doing, we can’t talk to them, we can’t control what they do.”
The With Honor Fund is a PAC dedicated to getting veterans, regardless of party affiliation, into elected office. Ryan is a West Point graduate and former Army intelligence officer who served two tours in Iraq. The PAC is included on Ryan’s most recent endorsement list, released Monday, June 4. According to federal election records, the PAC has paid for two rounds of polling, both conducted by the Park Avenue public relations firm Global Strategy Group LLC. The first poll was conducted on April 24.
According to federal records, six of the seven candidates in the race are listed in the “support/oppose” line in With Honor’s financial disclosure firms. Records list five payments of $4,444 from the PAC to the PR firm for polling on each five candidates — Erin Collier, David Clegg, Gareth Rhodes, Delgado and Brian Flynn, all of whom are competing with Ryan in the June 26th Democratic primary. A sixth candidate, Jeff Beals, was not listed. It is unclear if the April poll was a negative “push poll” — a technique designed to spread negative information under the guise of an impartial survey. Staffers at two of the campaigns targeted in the April poll said that they were unaware of its existence.
But Delgado backers say that a second survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group — which was paid $14,000 by the With Honor Fund for the service — on May 29 was a push poll targeting their candidate. That assertion is backed by Tara Shafer, a Rhinebeck resident and Delgado supporter who took the survey. Shafer, a registered Democrat who frequently votes in primary elections, said the survey appeared to be conducted by someone reading a script. Shafer said the pollster started off with innocuous questions, listing all of the candidates in the race and asking who she was likely to vote for. Then, she said, it took a partisan turn. At one point, she said, she was asked if she would be more or less likely to vote for Ryan knowing that he was a decorated veteran, the son of a teacher and a Kingston native. When the pollster brought up Delgado, she was asked the same question, but with decidedly negative information about the candidate. Shafer said the poll taker hit on three main points, including describing Delgado as a lobbyist (Delgado is an attorney with a law firm whose services include lobbying, but he does not work as a lobbyist). Shafer said that the poll also implied that Delgado was an ally to major drug companies and had once represented a “subsidiary” of a company whose holdings included pornographic websites. Shafer said that the poll did not include any specific information about any of the candidates besides Ryan and Delgado.
“What became clear in taking this supposed poll was that someone was out to prop up Pat Ryan and slander Antonio Delgado,” said Shafer.
The poll came as six of the seven candidates in the race, including Ryan, signed onto a “positive campaign pledge.” The pledge commits signatories to “running positive campaigns and to stand together against negative attacks by outside groups.” In a statement released by the Delgado campaign KT Tobin, deputy mayor of the Village of New Paltz and a Delgado supporter, called on Ryan to speak out against the push poll.
“Six Democratic campaigns and numerous local activist groups came together yesterday to stand against these kinds of outside groups’ attempts to divide us,” said Tobin. “We call on Pat Ryan to denounce this and future negative spending by With Honor fund or any group, and reaffirm his commitment to running a positive campaign.”
Wagner denied the Ryan campaign had violated the pledge. Wagner noted that federal election law forbids any coordination between campaigns and PACs like With Honor. Ryan’s campaign, he said, remained focused on communicating a positive message with a new round of endorsements and an upcoming forum on gun violence.
“When Pat makes a pledge he stands by it,” said Wagner. “He pledged to run a clean campaign and we have.”