Last month I was on the receiving end of a push-poll/fundraising call from Newt Gingrich's organization, American Solutions. Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com read my post and said it "sounds like a clear cut example of fundraising under the guise of a survey ('FRUGGing')". The Marketing Research Association considers FRUGGing unethical, because
The use of a poll to conduct fund raising has raised the distrust of the public to a point where they refuse to cooperate with researchers trying to obtain the opinions of any number of issues, including political campaign, and government: federal, state and local research. In a country inundated with telemarketing and direct mail fund raising it is more and more difficult for marketing and opinion researchers to get accurate data.
Although I declined to give Newt's group any money, I must look like a sucker for conservative groups peddling fake surveys. On Wednesday, May 20, the phone rang around 8:25 pm and the caller asked for me by name. She worked for Infocision (the same company that made the calls for Gingrich's group), and she asked whether I would participate in a brief survey for David Bossie's group Citizens United.
As I always do when I receive any political call, I grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. More details are after the jump. You be the judge of whether Bossie's group is also FRUGGing.
First, I asked the caller to repeat the name of the organization and spell Bossie's name for me. She described it as a "non-profit." I asked whether it was a 501(c)3 organization or a 501(c)4, and she didn't know. I asked whether donations to this organization were tax-deductible, and she said no. I later confirmed that Citizens United is a 501(c)4.
She said she'd like to play a short message from David Bossie before going on with the survey. I agreed to listen. (The fundraising call for American Solutions started with a short message from Gingrich.)
Bossie was talking quickly in the recorded portion of the call, so I couldn't get everything he said in my notes. He asserted that Barack Obama has the "most left-wing, socialist agenda in the history of this country." With bailout after bailout and a policy of printing money, Obama is leaving a "millstone of debt" around the necks of our children, etc.
I was told that with the help of "good friends" at Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, Citizens United is helping turning the tide against liberal extremism. He also mentioned a monthly newsletter, which I think was called Obama-Biden Watch, designed to appeal to "conservatives like you."
When the caller came back on the line, I asked, "Is this a survey?"
She assured me that yes, it's a survey. Then she asked the only question in the so-called survey. I asked her to repeat it so I could get it verbatim. "Which is more damaging to America: Obama's massive tax and spending increases, or his inexperienced, naive and weak foreign policy agenda?"
Note: this kind of wording is obviously useless for research purposes, but it's a clever way to prevent people like me from giving the "wrong" answer. The FRUGGing call from Gingrich's group had asked a yes/no question, with callers instructed to wrap up the call when the respondent gave the wrong answer.
After I answered the question, the caller said Citizens United is planning to run nationwide ads featuring Newt Gingrich. Would I be willing to co-sponsor an ad with a gift of $100 or $200? If I did, they would send me a copy of Newt and Callista Gingrich's documentary film, Rediscovering God in America. I could find out more about the film at www.citizensunited.org.
I declined, and the caller warned that "we're barely gonna recognize this country" if we don't do something. Could I help with a smaller gift of $50 or $75? If so, she could still send me Newt's documentary. (She didn't mention that you can buy the film for just $19.95 plus shipping and handling through the Citizens United site.)
I declined to make any donation, and she wrapped up the call. You won't be surprised to learn that she didn't ask me for any demographic information that would be collected in a real survey.
I wonder if any journalist will ever ask Gingrich or Bossie why their organizations use fundraising tactics that abuse the survey process.