Push polling unfair, says candidate
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
CARROLLWOOD -- The election is nearly two months old. But Democratic candidate Michael Steinberg, while accepting the outcome, continues to contest the process.
The Carrollwood Village lawyer, bested for the state House seat in District 47, says he was the victim of "push polling," a method of asking voters questions that are laced with innuendo.
After hearing about the poll six weeks before the election, Steinberg sued the Tarrance Group, a Virginia polling company the Florida Republican Party hired to survey voters across the state. Now, he says recent legal responses by Tarrance show the Republicans passed on misleading and, in some cases, untruthful information to Tarrance.
Steinberg doesn't accuse the winner, Kevin Ambler, of planning the poll. Nor does he believe the poll cost him the election, which he lost by a wide margin.
But he says there is a principle involved. He says -- and Common Cause Florida concurs -- that the Democrats and Republicans both are guilty of employing these polls.
"The only thing I can do is get an injunction to keep them from doing this to me again and hopefully send a message to the public what's going on here," said Steinberg, who has no immediate plans to run for office. "The problem with push polling is you can't do anything about it until the election is over."
He would like a judge to clarify when those paying for the poll need to identify themselves.
State election law says that sponsors do not need a disclaimer if they call fewer than 1,000 people, and when the average length of the call is more than two minutes. But, responding to an inquiry by Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas in 1999, the state Division of Elections was less clear on whether some polls, such as push polls, met that threshold.
According to Tarrance's response to Steinberg's lawsuit, the Republicans spent $7,700 just to poll District 47, which covers Northwest Hillsborough from Carrollwood to Keystone.
Towson Fraser, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, denied that his party uses push polls. Florida Democratic Party spokesmen did not return calls last week seeking comment.
Steinberg got wind of the negative polling in late September. Voters complained about participating in lengthy issue surveys that suddenly turned negative about Steinberg.
For example, the pollster asked the potential voter if they would choose Steinberg knowing he owned "a bagel business where customers were served by women wearing lingerie."
Other questions said Steinberg, who represents people seeking disability payments, "knowingly helped clients manipulate the Social Security system" and that despite having four separate liens against him for unpaid taxes, "he somehow has the money to continue to make large political contributions."
Steinberg says he regrets investing in the Bagel Boudoir but adds, "Being tasteless is not a crime."
The other questions are simply untrue, he says. It is false to suggest he manipulates the Social Security system, he says, and while he acknowledges having two tax liens against him, records show they were paid off in the early 1990s.
He wishes Ambler would publicly reject the negative polling. But Ambler says, "I didn't have any firsthand knowledge" of the calls. "I didn't think it was my place to comment."
-- Josh Zimmer can be reached at 269-5314 and firstname.lastname@example.org .
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