The head of a Knoxville political consulting firm has acknowledged to the TBI responsibility for an automated telephone survey asking voter opinions of state Sen. Stacey Campfield while declaring there was no intention of harassing those getting the calls or attacking Campfield, his attorney said Monday.
Ben Farmer, owner of Cyragon, LLC, spoke “in a very lengthy interview” to a TBI investigator last week and explained that the survey was a matter of “internal testing” of the firm’s surveying system that went awry through a “computer glitch” that caused many of the 2,000 targeted voters to receive multiple calls, said G. Turner Howard III, Farmer’s attorney.
The TBI has been investigating the “robo poll” at the request of District Attorney General Randy Nichols in response to an initial request to the TBI from Campfield. A TBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency has not turned over its final report to Nichols and declined further comment because the matter is part of “an ongoing investigation.”
Campfield said Howard’s explanation for the calls was “ridiculous” and that Farmer’s acknowledgment indicated political motives. Farmer is a supporter of Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has declared himself an opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary. Briggs’ first campaign financial disclosure shows $7,000 in payments to Cyragon.
In his latest campaign finance disclosure, state Sen. Stacey Campfield lists former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale as providing an in-kind contribution valued at $1,000 to Campfield’s re-election campaign.
That’s because, Campfield said in an interview Wednesday, Ragsdale was reported as giving $100 to Richard Briggs, who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in next year’s Republican primary. In-kind contributions are those made other than in cash or check. Typically, they involve things like furnishing food for a reception or providing a room rent-free for a campaign event. Campfield says he believes Ragsdale, by donating to Briggs, effectively made an even bigger contribution to his campaign.
“I think it was a gift to me that he was endorsing my opponent,” Campfield said. “I’d honestly say that’s worth $1,000 to me. … Most people know the things that Mike Ragsdale represented and supported when he was in office … (and) that’s a clear distinction between my opponent and me.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Sen. Stacey Campfield both say they are being urged to run against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander in next year’s Republican primary, but have no intention of doing so.
“I’m not exaggerating, I get a dozen emails a week asking me to run,” Ramsey told reporters. “The tea party groups are out there looking for an opponent and I think they’ll have a hard time finding one against Lamar.”
The Senate speaker said he doesn’t even want the job.
“Why would I want to step down and be a United States senator?” Ramsey said. “He’s one of one hundred. I’m one of one.”
Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he has also received frequent entreaties from conservatives urging him to challenge Alexander, but tells them he is “happy being a state senator.” Campfield is up for re-election to his seat next year and already has Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician, running against him.
“I’ve had people ask me, but short of them coming up with millions of dollars to get the message out about how wonderful I am, no, I’m not running,” he said.
Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, stirred a flurry of interest recently when a tea party blog reported he canceled an appearance at an Alexander event because he was upset with the incumbent’s vote on an immigration bill. But a spokeswoman told the Tennessean that Green and Alexander are friends and he missed the event for family reasons.
Ramsey said he talked with Green, counseling him against opposing Alexander because “I know what it’s like” to be hugely outspent in a campaign — a reference to his unsuccessful run against Bill Haslam for governor in 2010 — and “I think he’s doing too good a job in the state Senate.”
After a conversation with Sen. Stacey Campfield, District Attorney General Randy Nichols said Wednesday he is asking the TBI to proceed with an investigation into whether state anti-harassment laws were violated by automated calls to voters asking their opinion of the senator.
Campfield told Nichols, according to interviews with both men, that he believes the calls were intended to make people mad at him and that a possible source of the calls was Ben Farmer, who owns Cyragon LLC, a political consulting company that has been paid $7,000 by the campaign of Richard Briggs, an announced opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary.
Briggs said he had nothing to do with the “robo poll” made late last month. Farmer has acted as a consultant to his campaign, he said.
Nichols said that preliminary inquires left it apparent that some people receiving the calls “felt they were harassed” and “we’re going to go a little deeper into it to see if we can determine who caused the calls to be made.”
Some people reported receiving repeated call backs – as many as 37 – and Campfield contends the calls appeared programmed to keep calling back the same number until the respondent gave an unfavorable opinion of Campfield.
State Sen. Stacey Campfield has requested a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into an automated telephone poll last month asking voters about their opinion of him, saying the survey may have violated anti-harassment laws by making repeated return calls to the same households.
The Knoxville Republican said he met with a TBI agent, providing him with information, including emails from people saying they got multiple calls — 20 or 30 in some cases — that began with a declaration that “Citizen Opinion Research” was conducting a “quick one-minute survey” of voter opinions on Campfield.
TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm confirmed that Agent Darren DeArmond met with Campfield and accepted the information. TBI officials, in turn, took the information to Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols. Under state law, a formal TBI investigation must be requested in most situations by a district attorney general.
Nichols said he asked that TBI do some more preliminary research — contacting some people who sent emails, for example, to ascertain how many calls they received and when.
“Some of the information we got we need to verify a bit,” said Nichols. “It’s way too early to put a world of resources into it. … We need to figure out if a crime was committed.”
Nichols said that repeated phone calls could be a violation of anti-harassment laws. He said there was one mention of someone receiving 37 calls during an evening.
“Now, if that’s the case, that’s something we need to take a look at,” he said. “I suspect it might be some kind of computer error.”
After getting the followup information from TBI, Nichols said he will make a decision on whether to request a full-blown investigation.
Campfield and Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in the 2014 Republican primary, both say they had nothing to do with the calls.
Campfield said he believes many of the callbacks were to people who gave him a favorable rating in the poll, and the callbacks continued until the call recipient gave him a negative rating.
Briggs said that “just as speculation” he thought the poll might have been conducted for some local media outlet.
Voters in state Sen. Stacey Campfield’s district have been bombarded with automated phone calls asking their opinion of him, but both the Republican lawmaker and his primary challenger say they had nothing to do with the survey.
Campfield and Richard Briggs, a physician and Knox County commissioner who has declared himself a candidate for Senate District 7 in the 2014 Republican primary, said they have heard from people unhappy with the calls. In many cases, there were apparently repeated callbacks.
“It was OK to respond once, but I didn’t want to respond 20 times,” said Pam Jordan, a retired KUB employee who said she began receiving repeated calls starting at about 6:30 p.m. Monday and continuing until 8:23 p.m.
If she hung up on the call, there was an immediate call back, she said. If she responded, there would still be another call perhaps five minutes later, Jordan said.
She declined to say which of five options she chose from those presented for an opinion on Campfield, who has stirred controversy both with bills filed and comments made as a legislator.
Tennessee state legislators found themselves in the middle of Turkish protesters at one point during a 10-day tour of Turkey and Azerbaijan that ended last week, according to state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
“They were really a lot like the Occupy Wall Street crowd, or Occupy Nashville,” said Campfield, adding that he had talked with several of the protesters, who were in a peaceful mode when encountered by the Tennesseans in Istanbul.
“They had the same type of arguments” in complaints about capitalism, interrelated with what the protesters saw as unwarranted development of a city park, said Campfield, one of several legislators making the trip sponsored by the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast. On his blog, the senator posted multiple pictures and travelogue-like commentary on the trip. The pictures include shots of marching protesters and vehicles that had been battered or burned.
Excerpt from a Bloomberg article on the culture clash between young and older Republicans over same sex marriage: Even in Tennessee, which banned gay marriage by constitutional amendment in 2006 with the support of 81 percent of voters, there are signs of change. Vanderbilt University released a poll May 12 showing 49 percent of those surveyed favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions. Among those under 30, support ran at 69 percent.
“The whole country is moving toward gay rights broadly,” said John Geer, chairman of political science at Vanderbilt, who oversees the poll. “Tennessee is part of that, not in the same place as Massachusetts but moving in the same direction.”
And young adults are driving the change. John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, said surveys of millenials — people born between 1980 and 2000 — showed they either favored recognizing same-sex marriage or said they didn’t care by a ratio of 3-to-1.
“This is saying that 26 percent of young Americans don’t believe it should be recognized,” Della Volpe said. “This demographic group that we are polling is the largest generation in the history of America, larger than Baby Boomers, most are of age and they will continue to become a more important force in elections.”
…(State Sen. Stacey) Campfield, in an e-mail response to questions, said he questioned the premise that attitudes on the issue had shifted.
”When put on the actual ballot, homosexual marriage has seldom passed on its own and I think has only passed by ballot initiative in small-population, liberal states,” he wrote. ”As for youth polling, young people often say and do things completely different when they actually grow up, get a real job, begin paying taxes and start trying to raise a family.”
”If we left all decisions up to youth polling,” he wrote, ”’beer pong’ would be an Olympic sport.”
LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (AP) — A former Democratic candidate for the state House has filed notice that he will appeal the dismissal of his libel lawsuit against state Sen. Stacey Campfield.
Campfield, a Knoxville Republican, blogged before the 2008 election that he had heard candidate Roger Byrge had multiple drug arrests, and that the mug shots were “gold.” It was later determined the arrest record belonged to Byrge’s son.
Circuit Judge John McAfee, a Republican, last month found that Campfield had gotten it wrong on his blog, but he agreed with defense attorneys that the lawmaker did not know the information provided by House Republican leadership was false when he posted it.
The elder Byrge lost his House bid by fewer than 400 votes and later filed the $750,000 lawsuit in Campbell County.
University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro defended the Knoxville campus’s spring “Sex Week” program under critical questioning Thursday from state Sen. Stacey Campfield in a legislative hearing.
“In my professional opinion, it is very, very important on a university campus to have some sex education going on,” DiPietro told the Knoxville Republican at one point, adding that if a single unwanted pregnancy or sexual assault was prevented as a result, that would justify the program.
“I have to go back to the First Amendment,” he said. “I have a professional obligation to preserve the First Amendment. I’m sorry.”
Campfield replied that he, too, supports freedom of speech under the First Amendment, but the issue is “forcing students to pay for speech they find objectionable.” He cited as an example a “transgender cross-dressing show” during the April week of events.
“If someone wants to dress up like a duck, God bless them. But I shouldn’t have to pay for it,” said Campfield.