Category Archives: 2014 Elections

GUEST POST: It’s one thing to experiment with voters, quite another to experiment with candidates, too

by Dr. Daniel Carpenter

Professor Carpenter is Allie S. Freed Professor of Government and Director of the Center for American Political Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. Dr. Carpenter mixes theoretical, historical, statistical and mathematical analyses to examine the development of political institutions, particularly in the United States.  

The piece is cross-posted and first appeared on Talking Points Memo at the Editor’s Blog here, as The Hottest Thing In Political Science This Week!”

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My colleagues and I at Harvard are discussing this and thinking about how to discuss the issue with our graduate students. I teach the intro to political science course here and we’ll be talking about it for weeks if not years to come. I do think that Montana and California state officials need to chill out a bit. The universities are cooperating and I doubt very much that the academics here meant to “interfere” in any way maliciously with Montana’s election system.

That said, I wanted to raise a point that I see missing in a lot of this week’s discussions: that it’s one thing to experiment with voters, quite another to experiment with candidates, too. (See point 4 below.) This is not to say that what the Stanford-Dartmouth crew did is necessarily wrong or unethical. We still lack a lot of information there and we need a calm debate that avoids becoming a witch hunt. It is to say that it differs a bit from the usual turnout experiments in a particular way.

On the study itself, I’m still digesting things, but I see four issues here, in decreasing order of clarity:

(1) The unauthorized use of the Montana state seal in mailers. Unless I’m missing something, this just wasn’t smart.

(2) The miniature disclosure (rather implicit) that people were part of a study. I can see that the Hawthorne effect is there to worry about, but state-of-the-art is to make this very clear, sometimes to include it as a treatment condition.

(3) The question of whether Stanford should have also approved the experiment. (This is often an issue with multi-center clinical trials.) Dartmouth appears to have approved it, and now the Stanford spokesperson and their official letter says the University would not have approved it. (This as of Wednesday morning; the facts here could change.) This raises the question of appropriate venue-shopping and is another point on which to instruct our graduate students. If their name is going to be associated with an experiment, Harvard IRB should probably be in on the approval even if the experiment has already been approved by another school.

(4) The fact that the candidates were unwittingly part of, and affected by, the treatment. This is where I disagree with Chris Blattman and John Patty, at least for the moment. Blattman is right that we all “intervene” in the lives of our subjects (so too with observational research). But I think part of the discomfort here comes less from the fact that we’re intervening in the lives of voters and more in the fact that we’re intervening in the lives (or prospects) of the candidates.

So suppose I’m a candidate running for selectman in Massachusetts (these are non-partisan elections) and Team Bonica estimates that I’m left of Che Guevara while my opponent is in the center. Unlike the Gerber-Green-Larimer turnout experiment, there really isn’t neutrality to this information. Especially the way that people read graphs, the probability that the information has zero tilt for the treatment group is knife-edge. The treatment directly affects those outside of the subject pool. (Of course there is always a plausible indirect effect with social contagion or what we later learn from the experiment, but the key here is direct effects.)

And of course there’s a positive externality here. Even with perfect or cluster-based randomization, people inside the sample can take the treatment information and run outside the sample with it, e.g. to the news, and that news coverage can then have an independent effect on the outcome.

In other words, if I’m in a non-partisan election and someone decides to place me and my opponent on an ideological scale along with major national (partisan) politicians and mass-mail the evidence all over the state, you can say that the election has become a lot less non-partisan.

Now we could respond that this is simply revealing information, and that campaigns do this all the time. But there are two countervailing arguments that suggest that it’s more than this. First, given an election that may not otherwise have lots of internal and external spending, it’s far less clear that this intervention is innocuous. At some level, this is the point that Sen. Tester is making about interfering with non-partisan elections. We could respond that voters deserve information about candidates that may reflect on their partisan leanings, but for better or worse, Montana has designed a system in which they wish elections to have as little partisan influence as possible. The crucial feature of this system is that the candidates do not run with party labels attached to their names, either in the campaign or on the ballot.

John Patty, a former colleague at Harvard whose creative mind I very much admire, has argued that non-partisan elections are not really so non-partisan. If he means that non-partisan elections do not have zero partisanship, he’s trivially right. You can, for instance, be a registered Republican and run for one of these offices. But these elections differ dramatically from elections for the state legislature, and once you look at the longer history of non-partisan elections, it’s clear that Progressives and Populists who put these institutions in place meant to minimize partisan influence in the selection of particular judicial and administrative officials.

So in a state whose institutions intend to minimize partisanship in one set of elections (judicial) and not others (the state legislature), it’s not clear that political scientists should feel entitled to engage in mass provision of party-tinged information in one (judicial) case just because campaigns do it in a whole bunch of other (largely legislative or executive) cases.

And second, the risk is to people outside of the subject pool. Suppose the following. I want to know whether the reputation of business owners affects the sale of the products of the companies they own. There are two major pizza shops in a town. I gather (publicly available) information on (a) the criminal histories of their owners and those owners’ family members and/or (b) what people said about them online. Then I randomly distribute summaries of this information to the residents of the towns in which they have their market.

Whether this is ethical is a question that would have to be considered. But in thinking about whether it was ethical — i.e, if I’m on the IRB — I would want to consider the effect not only on the subjects (pizza consumers) but also on people identified in the treatment mailings (pizza shop owners). This alone makes the experiment quite different from intervening in the lives of participants in a study of poverty and violence of the sort that Blattman cites. In those cases and in the Gerber-Green-Larimer treatment, for instance, publicly recognizable figures are not part of the treatment, and/or the treatment does not make those figures more or less publicly recognizable.

I’ll conclude that I don’t think it helps anybody to pursue a witch hunt here, and there is a risk of politicians, social scientists and others piling on a group of young scholars. I’m writing warily on that score, but I’m writing nonetheless because some of the recent commentary (published as well as what I’ve heard around the water cooler) suggests that the only thing that plausibly went wrong here is the mis-appropriation of the state seal. If that is all that political scientists learn from this episode, I think we’ve fooled ourselves.

Evidence of Past Deceptive Practices from Mailergate Profs Uncovered

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that one of the three “researchers” involved in mailergate has a history of shady, deceptive, and unethical “research” practices.  The article noted:

…a previous study co-authored by Mr. Dropp, who is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth, in which more than 1,000 email requests were sent to Texas legislators in 2010. The emails appeared to come from Texas citizens, but were actually sent by the researchers to measure the legislators’ response rates.

“It crosses an ethical line to create fictitious people and use government resources for people who don’t exist,” Mr. Krosnick said. “There’s a habit here of lying to people.”

You can read the whole article here.  I’ve downloaded the PDF on Dropp’s fake email experiment here in case he takes it down: dropp_peskowitz_jop

Of course, we still don’t have answers on whether the “research” from this debacle is for Stanford and Dartmouth – or for CrowdPAC – or both.  Stanford isn’t saying.   Instead, as Mike Dennison reported, a Stanford spokesperson would say only that,” Any connection between CrowdPac and the project that produced the Montana mailer is part of the school’s internal investigation of the project.”

We also still don’t know if Stanford is a shareholder or holds any position in CrowdPAC, which raises additional ethics questions the school has yet to address.  I’ve previously outlined the ethical questions raised by the silicon valley start-up’s connection to mailergate here. 

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said yesterday “she believes this is the first time in Montana history that a campaign mailer has been retracted,” MTPR reported. 

Two city councilors from Montana’s capital city, Andres Haladay and Katherine Haque-Hausrath last night sent a letter to Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon condemning the fake voter guides:

Montanans take the non-partisan nature of our judicial elections very seriously.  In fact, Commissioner Haladay recently defended a portion of Montana’s Judicial Code of Ethics that prohibits candidates from seeking, accepting and using partisan endorsements.  The Federal District Court of Montana, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and United States Supreme Court all recognized that allowing such partisan identifiers in the midst of an ongoing election would be disruptive to the entire process.

We believe these fliers clearly violate the spirit of Montana’s election laws, and likely violate the substance of our laws.

 

Wheat has Broad Range of Support for Supreme Court

As Billings attorney James Healow writes in the Billings Gazette this week:

Montana is a dark red state, teeming with hundreds of experienced attorneys armed with unassailable, rock-ribbed conservative credentials. If Justice Wheat were truly a runaway activist liberal tool of the trial lawyers, somebody who’s actually fit for the job certainly would have stepped up to the plate. Instead, we see those qualified conservative guys endorsing Wheat, for example, Ken Peterson, a Republican, Mormon, career insurance defense lawyer (and a great guy, by the way).

Former Republican State Senator Ken Peterson (R-Billings) has a letter to the editor himself in the Billings Gazette this week explaining why he’s endorsed Mike Wheat for Supreme Court.  Peterson also curtly fact checks the lies Wheat’s opponent is spreading about him:

He said Wheat sided with a Canadian power company on eminent domain. Actually, if you read the Supreme Court case you will see that the case deferred to the Legislature on that issue. The Legislature passed HB 198, which clarified that there was a right to eminent domain in that situation. I carried that bill and it was passed by a Republican majority legislature and allowed to become law by a Democrat governor. Also, Wheat never sued anyone as a state senator. He did through his broad varied legal career represent persons and entities that believed they had a legal cause against some other person or entity. He also defended persons and prosecuted persons accused of crimes.

I do not always agree with Wheat on issues, and I do agree with Lawrence VanDyke on his position on intelligent design, but I believe Mike Wheat is sound in his legal opinions and is the best qualified of the candidates.

Ed Kemmick at the Last Best News also endorses Mike Wheat for Supreme Court Justice this week.  Ed says his two most satisfying votes this election were his NO vote for LR-126 and his vote for Wheat for Supreme Court Justice.  You should go read Kemmick’s whole piece here. 

As Kemmick points out, VanDyke has tried to counter his utter lack of experience practicing law in Montana (Wheat has 36 years, VanDyke has just over 1) by saying it is his supposed “Constitutional” experience which he claims is more meaningful.   But as Kemmick points out, Chuck Johnson looked into how many cases before the Supreme Court were actually Constitutional cases.  “The answer: since 2006, in only 34 cases—out of 6,202—did one of the parties give notice that a constitutional issue was at question.”

It’s also worth pointing out here that VanDyke has also tried to counter his utter lack of experience practicing law in Montana with a claim that he as Montana roots, and claims to have grown up in Bozeman. His family may have moved there as in infant, however, VanDyke actually left Montana in his early teens to attend a small, isolated boarding school in rural Canada.

He actually graduated from this private religious live-in high school school, called Western Christian College, in 1991. The boarding school is in Dauphin, Manitoba after it moved form Weyburn, Saskatchewan in 1989.  I don’t  know whether the school is accredited or not.  I also don’t know if this is where Lawrence got the “theology degree” he touts here-the high school does offer one.

 

Questions Emerge About Potential Conflict of Interest Between Mailergate and Silicon Valley Start-up

Other Oddities Come to Light

mailergateThere are a few interesting developments today in the evolving mailergate scandal in which Stanford “researchers,” along with a researcher at Dartmouth College, sent 100,000 fake “voter guides” into Montana, with the look and feel of official state voter guides. You can see the fake voter guides at the Flathead Memo here.

First, it appears that one of the Stanford professors has a for-profit side venture called CrowdPAC https://www.crowdpac.com/about   This obviously raises questions about about a potential conflict of interest between mailergate and Assistant Professor Adam Bonica’s for-profit silicon valley startup company.

Bonica co-founded CrowdPAC with a former aid to British Prime Minister David Cameron named Steve Hilton. CrowdPAC is funded by blue chip venture capital funds and appears to have both republicans and democrats involved in various capacities.

So one new question that has emerged is whether Bonica was using the fake voter guide experiment he sent in Montana, in which he wanted to test how his partisan scores drive voter turnout and behavior, not for academia but for his for-profit venture-capital backed side venture, CrowdPAC.

We also need to know if Stanford is a shareholder or holds any position in CrowdPAC.  This is surprisingly common–in fact sources close to the industry say Stanford loves to brag about its role in creating Silicon Valley companies like CISCO Systems and Google.

Here’s what CrowdPAC does and how they make money doing it.

Bonica’s company sells data complied with algorithms for quantitative measurement of political ideology.   Bonica built a model for CrowdPAC that uses algorithms based on political contributions, consumer data, and Twitter and social media “scraping” technologies to unlock all of this.  Want to find a list of candidates who support cyanide strip mining or oppose GMOs?  Supposedly CrowdPAC will sell it to you.  It’s like Moneyball for political candidates or groups, with a little bit of Kickstarter thrown in.

CrowdPAC plans to make money in three ways:

1-Selling consulting services, presumably to SuperPACs like CrossRoads GPS.

2-Taking a percentage of donations it solicits.  For example, it finds me a list of candidates who oppose trapping, and then gives me a confidence rating that they will actually vote as if they really are a friend of animals.  And for this service, CrowdPAC will take a piece of the donations that I spend with those candidates–all through their own CrowdPAC online portal.  Think Kickstarter for politics.

3-Selling ads on their sites.

If the research were for Bonica’s for-profit company, that would explain why it didn’t go through Stanford’s Independent Review Board.  Stanford has confirmed “…the study did not follow Stanford’s protocols that would have required a review by the Standford IRB.”

Whether this is being done to line the pockets of a silicon valley start-up or to publish academic research, is unethical to make Montanans guinea pigs and meddle in our Supreme Court race. The Western Association of Political science featured a post that condemned the experiment.

Political scientists told Talking Points Memo in a report released Monday morning that the “study” was:

“malpractice” and “improper and unethical” because, by introducing the ideological position of non-partisan candidates, the flyers could — intentionally or not — influence the results of the elections.

“It’s basically political science malpractice. That’s what I’d call it,” Jennifer Lawless, professor of government at American University in Washington, D.C., told TPM. …there is a difference between trying to have generalizable results and playing electoral god.”…Jeffrey Tulis, associate professor of government at the University of Texas-Austin, told TPM in an email after being alerted to the study: “My initial reaction is that this quasi-experiment is improper and unethical.”

Thanks to Granite State Progress, Dartmouth College now says it too will launch an internal investigation into the fake mailers after local New Hampshire media began reporting on the scandal. 

MTguineapigfightersAs James Conner at the Flathead Memo writes however, internal investigations will not be enough here.  Secretary of State Linda McCulloch and Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl are both launching investigations into the fake mailers. Sen. Jon Tester sent scathing letters to the presidents of both colleges and has called for an investigation into federal mail laws that might be in play here.

There are still too many unanswered questions.  I’ll add a couple to the questions on Conner’s list.

Why was Adam Bonica in Montana earlier this year trying to sell his for-profit services through CrowdPAC at a FollowtheMoney.org conference in May of 2014?

Why did the site montanans4justice.com, which until yesterday had posted a graphic nearly identical to the fake voter guide mailers, suddenly scrub that graphic from the site?

The only the difference was that the Montanans4Justice graphic and the fake voter guides is that Montanans4Justice used little pictures of the candidates heads showing how close or how far a candidate’s head was to Obama.  But as soon as the mailergate story broke, the graphic on Montanans4Justice was obliterated from that site.

As the Flathead Memo reported, the anti-Wheat site “Montanans4justice was registered on 3 September 2014 by an anonymous party.”  And even though the graphic was removed as of this posting, it still contains references to the exact same partisanship metrics used by the mailers and the supposed “experiment” –CrowdPAC’s DIME method, as well as criticism for Wheat and praise for VanDyke.  [this time I got screenshots, see below.]  CrowdPAC launched the same day. 

If you’re new to this scandal, you can read the list of problems I have  with this here.  There is more good information on the Flathead Memo, as always.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 6.42.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 6.41.15 PM

 

GUEST POST: A History Lesson about Montana Voters  

by Carol Mackin

In 1920 the Montana Legislature was controlled by Democrats who were controlled by the Amalgamated Copper Company.  The company wanted to get rid of the Open Primary, which voters had passed by a vote of 78% in 1912.  It was a brutal fight that was finally decided by the MT Supreme Court.  Montana voters kept their Open Primary but they took revenge.  They elected a Republican woman, Jeanette Rankin, who had never held public office, and put her into the House of Representatives.

2014: Republican memories seem short.  Corporate-controlled factions are trying to arm-twist the Montana Republican Party into closing the Open Primary.  But, Republican candidates may suffer at the polls for complying with corporate whims.  Democratic State Legislator Amanda Curtis is the perfect choice for U.S. Senator.  And the voting climate is right to give a woman the edge just as it did in 1920.

Carole Mackin is the Website Administrator for the People’s Power League in Helena 

http://www.peoplespowerleague.info

Update on Mailergate, and How You Can Take Action

mailergateThe question that everyone wants answered right now is: who paid for two Stanford “researchers” and one researcher Dartmouth College to send 100,000 fake “voter guides” into Montana, with the look and feel of official state voter guides.  You can see the fake voter guides on the Flathead Memo here. Stanford has apologized, Dartmouth has been silent.  Stanford is also claiming it to have been a part of a political science “study” to see how injecting partisanship into our non-partisan Supreme Court election would effect voters.

There are a few strange circumstances surrounding this whole thing, and we need answers. First, understand that what the mailers actually say isn’t “Paid for by Stanford and Dartmouth” but rather, “Paid for by researchers at Stanford University and Dartmouth College.”  This is an important distinction.  It means, perhaps, that the University staff might have  gotten funds for the project from an outside source.  That happens very often  as corporate influence grows in academia. Stanford and Dartmouth faculty, as is the case in many major universities, often work for hire and make good money doing it.  We know that Stanford and the Hewlett Foundation apparently paid for some of this research, but we do not know if they funded all of it or which parts.

Say I am a professor of political science at one of these schools.  I learn that Stanford University prohibits research funded by the tobacco industry.  No problem.  I have my own company for that.  I accept the funds not through Stanford, but through my private research or consulting firm, and yet I still allow Phillip Morris to say the research I did “was conducted by Stanford Professor Dr. Jane Smith.”  See how this works?

This very thing, in fact, caused a big controversy a few years ago between former Governor Brian Schweitzer and a law professor at the University of Montana.  She published a “study” in which she concluded that the tax climate in Montana was bad for business.  Unfortunately, the study was not commissioned or funded by the University but by a private group, the Tax Foundation, which consists of a bunch of right-wing economic imbeciles who spend 40 hours a week worshipping Ronald Reagan.  I think this is how many major schools are able to take advantage of corporate money.

We don’t know whether these Dartmouth and Stanford researchers were using such funds, but it is something that I am looking forward to finding out.  What if a conservative think tank funded the project?  It would be a wholesale corruption of academia and of politics; actually, it’d be corruption by academia of politics.

Although it’s  too early to tell what’s going on,  the #mtpol crowd took to twitter today to rail against Dartmouth and Stanford, as if these universities had launched a full scale invasion against Montana.   We should all take a deep breath.  The state of Montana will still be here Monday, ill conceived though the mailer may have been. Even Jon Tester got into the act, sending a letter to the Postmaster General demanding that he investigate whether federal law has been broken, and sending a letter to  Stanford’s President John Hennessy and Dartmouth’s president Philip Hanlon, seeking answers.  This comes on the heals of a Linda McCulloch press conference yesterday which kicked things off, which she followed up today by filing a formal complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices.

Basic questions abound and need answers.  For one thing, how can a learned professional who is an expert in politics and government not understand the nature of a mailer that links a candidate in Montana to president Obama, who is at 27% job approval?  How could they not understand the basic rules of political practices?  Conversely, why would anyone think that a single mailer, which most people glance at and then toss along with 30 other political mailers that arrive at their home, create a measurable effect to be studied in a lab?  I assume that these professors were going poll voters who received the mailer, and compare it to a poll of voters who did not, and then see if the mailer had any effect on the recipients.  It just seems kind of silly, given the amount of mail flying around on the judicial race, that these researchers could somehow test the efficacy of the mailer of their choice.  Finally, what of the ethical question at the root of this? Namely, should a University be using a state as a petri dish, meddling with our political process and causing real-world results to the citizens of Montana?  Doesn’t that cross the line? And what if these professors are, in fact, getting paid by a right-leaning entity so that the Stanford and Dartmouth names are stamped on this effort, to disguise it as a research project?

Unfortunately, both Dartmouth nor Stanford refused say precisely where the money came from.  That’s not good, and it entitled us to speculate wildly. I also wonder whether the Stanford University and Dartmouth College faculty senate have even heard of this controversy, or if so, whether they will take action.  They need to get in the game and should probably do an investigation of their own.  Recall that it was the faculty senate, not the President, that forced Stanford University to ban funding and grants from Big Tobacco for research and development, and to divest the endowment from tobacco stocks. How can Cowgirl Blog readers take action?  Give the presidents of Stanford and Dartmouth a shout, and ask them why they are treating our voters like guinea pigs.

President John Hennesy
Dartmouth College President Philip Hanlon

President’s.Office@Dartmouth.edu Phone: 603-646-2223

And, let the faculty senates know what’s going on. Russell Berman is Chair of the Stanford University Faculty Senate.  He can be reached at:650 723 1069 / 650 723-1068

berman@stanford.edu

Dean Michael Mastanduno is the Chair of the Dartmouth College Committee of Chairs of the Arts and Sciences Faculty michael.mastanduno@dartmouth.edu 603-646-3999

It might be good to send them both some of the local media reports for background.  Here’s the most recent.   They should also be asked to demand that these professors disclose who paid for this disaster.

Judy Goldstien is Chair of the Department of Political Science at Stanford.  She is also a member of the Faculty Senate judy@stanford.edu (650) 723 0671

John Michael Carey is Chair of the Department of Government at Dartmouth john.m.carey@dartmouth.edu 603-646 1130

It is important to know that Prof. Adam Bonica, one of the authors of the study, is a member of Chair Judy Goldstien’s Political Science Dept.  It would be good to ask her why Bonica is meddling in Montana’s elections? Did she know about this?  What will she do about this?  Does she know who paid for it?  Kyle Dropp is under Professor Carey.  What does he know about Kyle Tropp’s meddling in our elections?

Richard P. Saller is Dean of School of Humanities & Sciences and  he is an ex Officio member Faculty Senate

The Stanford Department of Political Science is part of the  School of Humanities.  He needs to be asked the same questions posed to Dept. Chair Judy Goldstein.

 

UPDATED 10-24: Two involved in Stanford fake voter guide scandal are fellows at right-wing think tank

More info has emerged on the 100,000 fake voters guides from Stanford and Dartmouth that flooded Montana this week, which were falsely presented as an official state mailing and urged voters to make a partisan decision in the non-partisan supreme court race.  Stanford University claims the mailers were part of an “experiment” on our elections, which is about an unethical as you can get.

Cowgirl tiptsters also report that Stanford University is affiliated with the conservative think tank the Hoover Institution, and what do you know–two of the people behind this experiment, Adam Bonica and Jonathan Rodden, are both Hoover Institution Fellows.

It’s also important to note that the Stanford Office of Sponsored Research (this is actually the name, no snark) doesn’t review studies for objectives or methodology, only for costs.

Also the Flathead Memo had obtained Stanford’s canned talking points on the election experiment scandal. So you can read them here.  Note that the talking points do not disclose who paid for the study.  Was it the Hoover Institution or one of their affiliated funders?  The “researchers” did not respond to multiple requests to disclose who funded the mailers.

Big Sky Words has more on the specific people behind the fake mailers. After he posted the names I was able to google them and found they were Hoover Institution Fellows.   The more you peek under the thin veil of pond scum, the more you see this looks less and less like a legitimate study and more and more like a right-wing ploy to influence our elections.

Out-of State Universities Seek to Influence MT Elections, Call it “Academic Experiment”

Send Deceptive Mailers Posed as Official State Voter Guide Linking Non-Partisan Candidates with Obama

Some troubling information has come to light today.  Stanford and Dartmouth universities have appartently produced a fake “voter guide” to instruct Montana voters to make a partisan decision on the non-partisan MT Supreme Court race.

The mailers, which are posted at the Flathead Memo here, also use the Montana State seal to provide the (false) impression that the mailing is an official state publication and paint our non-partisan supreme court candidates on a spectrum of who is most like Obama and who is not.  The Flathead Memo’s James Conner writes that the mailer:

resents information in a way that invites voters to conclude that researchers at two of America’s most prestigious universities want them to know that Mike Wheat is a very liberal man; almost as liberal as that black devil in the White House. Given the context, only a fool would conclude the card is intended to help Wheat.

The schools claim that the fliers are part of a study “on the impact of information about candidate positioning on turnout and ballot roll-off” in nonpartisan elections.

There are serious ethical problems with using our elections as a science experiment.  I’ve detailed some of them here:

1.  First, it simply not ethical to deliberately seek to influence the outcome of our elections to “see what happens” as a school political science experiment. The Montana Supreme Court race is our state’s most important statewide race this election cycle - and the outcome of the race could shift the balance of the court as a whole.

I suppose these professors from California and New Hampshire may think their little experiment is quite interesting.  They may think it is okay meddle in our elections because we live “out in the middle of nowhere,” because we don’t make a lot of money, and because we have a small population.  But these are our lives.  This is our Supreme Court. And it’s wrong to to use an election that has profound impacts on the lives of the people of our state as an academic experiment.

The Montana Supreme Court makes decisions that have real and very serious consequences - decisions about whether women have a constitutional right to medical privacy, whether discriminatory marriage and anti-equality laws will be allowed to stand, and on our constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.  We live here, and we have to live with the decisions our Supreme Court makes.

2. Here in Montana, we the people have decided as a state that we want our Supreme Court elections to be non-partisan.  Apparently, Stanford and Dartmouth decided that the research questions of some of the professors at these schools outweighed the concerns Montanans had with partisan elections.

The Cowgirl Blog has obtained information on the research aims of this deceptive and unethical meddling.  It looks like the plan was to give our non-partisan candidates a partisan score, then to study the impact on turnout and outcome of making our non-partisan races partisan.  I guess they don’t care what we really think.  They probably think of us as a measly amount of inconsequential people in a flyover state.  Summary here.  Longer research paper here. 

It is unethical for these out-of-state universities to decide to paint our non-partisan candidates in a partisan light as an experiment to see what happens when our wishes as a state for non-partisan elections are violated.  Putting non-partisan races on a partisan spectrum also of course influences electoral outcomes, by making them more likely to come out along traditional partisan lines.

3. The third concern here is that is unethical for these universities to conduct their little experiment by disguising it as an official state publication, plastered with the Official State Seal of Montana.   Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices and Montana’s Secretary of State today called for an official investigation into the deceptive mailers. 

4. Apparently, the political scientists at Stanford and Dartmouth do not comprehend the impact of taking a non-partisan race in a conservative leaning state and painting one of the candidates as about as close to Obama as you can get and the other candidate as less like Obama–when Obama polls at 20% or whatever in this state.

If there is truly any political science professor anywhere who doesn’t understand how doing this will impact the outcome of an election, they should be immediately fired.  And predictably (by everyone except the imbeciles behind this “experiment”), the Montana Republican party, which has sued to make our Supreme Court races more partisan, is already touting how helpful these mailings are to their goals. 

5. There are also several questionable elements to the mailing–elements which are not particularly credible or scholarly and call into question whether the piece can actually be considered with a straight face part of any legitimate academic exercise.

First, according to information Cowgirl tipsters obtained from the U.S. post office, the bulk mail permit used to send these mailers belonged to:

 Progressive Direct Mail Advertising, Inc
2089 West 2300 South
Salt Lake City, UT  84119

For a mailing on behalf of an entity called:

Everest College
3280 West 3500 South, Suite A
Salt Lake City, UT  84119

If the mailings were really from Stanford and Dartmouth, why did they come from Everest College, which is part of an online for-profit education conglomerate and the subject of a recent federal bailout scandal. 

6. There are a couple of reasons this mailing is clearly intended to influence and elections and not provide academic assistance to voters. Urging Montanans to “Take this to the polls” on “Election Date: November 4, 2014” clearly makes this an electoral mailing and not a public service mailing.

There is also something odd about to whom the mailing was sent.  I’ve talked to several tipsters whose households received multiple copies.  When you get non-householded political mail like this, you often finds it comes from an unethical  mail house consultant who is billing on a per-piece basis. Which is something a consultant is only incentivized to do with mailing lists that are very very large in size – much larger than would be needed for an academic study sample size. UPDATE:  I’m told that Stanford now admits it sent 100,000 mailers in the Supreme Court race.  That’s a $50,000 dollar mailing injected into a race where both candidates have raised under $200k.

7. Another question that hasn’t been answered is whether and how montanans4justice.com part of the project.  This site uses the same “how much is a candidate like Obama” theme – only it uses little pictures of the candidates heads (note how close Wheat’s head is placed to Obama’s.  My question is whether this site is part of the Stanford and Dartmouth “study” and if not who is paying for it.

Finally, it needs to be disclosed who paid for these mailings.  Were they funded by the universities directly?  Through grants?   Who funded the grants? The people of Montana deserve to know.

 UPDATE: Those behind the mailer are fellows with the right-wing Hoover Institution, which is affiliated with Stanford.

 

Flathead Memo: Out-of-State Group Sends Fake Voter Guide to Deceive MT Voters

Another disturbing development in the Montana Supreme Court race today as more comes out on the radical right-wingers working to elect Lawrence VanDyk. VanDyke has practiced law in Montana for only one year (compared to Mike Wheat’s 36) having briefly worked for Tim Fox, but quitting in a huff because he didn’t want to work on the cases he was assigned.

An out-of-state group has produced a fake “voter guide” to instruct voters to make a partisan decision on the non-partisan MT Supreme Court race.  The mailers, which I have posted here, also use the Montana State seal to provide the (false) impression that the mailing is an official state publication.  The Flathead Memo has an analysis up on the mailer here, which you’ll want to go read.  James Conner writes that the mailer:

resents information in a way that invites voters to conclude that researchers at two of America’s most prestigious universities want them to know that Mike Wheat is a very liberal man; almost as liberal as that black devil in the White House. Given the context, only a fool would conclude the card is intended to help Wheat.

 

I’ll have updates as more information becomes available.  James Conner has the mailer posted so you can see it on his site.

Powerful New Ad Shows Why We Should Not Let GOP Legislators Take Our Voting Rights

“The Right to Vote is the Basis of Freedom.” Lance Cpl. Tomy Parker, Ronan, MT

It’s pretty telling that the GOP-controlled legislature put LR-126 on the ballot to restrict our voting rights.  Vote no on LR-126, and spread the word about the republicans who voted for it.

Every single Republican state senator voted to restrict our voting rights. Every single one.

The treasurer of the committee that has been formed to advocate for L-R126–the ballot measure that would eliminate election-day registration and result in thousands of Montanans being unable to vote–is a woman named Shelby DeMars, who also happens to be Ryan Zinke’s campaign spokesperson.