Is It Honest, Slick or Fraud?

An ad on CNN urges you to call 800-571-9534 for a Presidential preference poll and gives you a choice of five Republican candidates.

For more than three decades I have been involved in quantitative research (many polls, large and small) and qualitative research (focus groups). I've created, designed and conducted research projects, consulted and evaluated for others, and testified as an expert witness in court on methodology. In short, I've probably been involved in two thousand projects.

So whenever I hear about a poll, I wonder if it's genuine. Often, telemarketers use phony polls as a tool. For example, you might get a call saying. "We're taking a survey. Do you want to save money on auto insurance?" The "yes" response gets a telemarketing pitch for an insurance company. The "no" response gets a hang-up, sometimes with a "thank you." Nowadays everything is automated, so you only get a live person if you express interest by saying something or pressing a button on your phone. Regardless, telemarketing polls to sell something make it more difficult to conduct legitimate polls to seek and measure opinion.

After watching the ad on Fox, I knew this ad was not a genuine poll. That's because if you ask someone to call in, the sampling is hardly random. It would be biased toward those who feel strongly enough to call. Ads on Fox are not cheap. I knew this had to be about getting money from the caller. This phony "poll" was a come-on of sorts.

I suspected it was for a bona fide conservative organization prospecting for new donors, but I wanted to see if it were a hustle for a group suddenly formed to exploit interest in the Republican primary and raise money for opportunists. In such situations, money is raised to pay those who create the ad and those who receive commissions on the cost of air time for the ads. Then the telemarketing firm gets a major cut, to pay for its expenses, its supervisors, and the phone bank team. Whatever is left goes to pay administrative costs, and very little often goes to the stated cause. I was curious where the money might be going.

I calling the 800-number several times, so I can give you the permutations.

When I called the number, a recorded message said: "Thank you for calling to take our presidential poll. Please select the candidate that you feel should be the GOP nominee. Please press "1" for Ted Cruz. Press "2" for Donald Trump. Press "3" for Ben Carson. Press "4" for Carly Fiorina. Press "5" for Marco Rubio."

If you do nothing, you eventually get: "Sorry, I did not understand you. Please select the candidate that you feel should be the GOP nominee. Please press..." etc.

If you do nothing again, you get the above, "Sorry, I did not..." message with another sentence added: "Enter the number of the option using your keypad."

If you enter a number, you then hear a message that starts: "Thank you. Before we record your opinion, we have a very important message from Reigniting the Promise. Reigniting the Promise still believes that America's best days are ahead of us..." And the long message goes on and on. It touches a number of hot button issues.

If you had picked Ted Cruz, the message includes repeated mentions of Ted Cruz by name and helping Ted Cruz. However, if you picked one of the other four candidates, you get the same long message but with no mention of Ted Cruz and also no mention of the candidate that you picked, instead the message mentions helping "conservative candidates." In other words, it sounds like your candidate is a "conservative candidate" who will be helped.

So, if you're a Cruz person, you're told the money will supportTed Cruz. If you're for someone else, you are not told the money will support Ted Cruz.

That was the tip-off to me that this was an operation supporting Ted Cruz. So, I did an Internet search and found out "Reigniting the Promise" is the SuperPAC for Ted Cruz. Legally, Ted Cruz and his campaign are not directly connected to Reigniting the Promise. But his supporters created and run it, and it is mainly funded by extraordinarily wealthy donors.

After the pitch, I heard: "Press 1 to make a contribution." If you press nothing, you are re-solicited about "restoring the constitution." If you had pressed "1" earlier to designate Ted Cruz as your choice, you are pitched again for Cruz.

if you press 2 to decline a contribution, You receive another pitch: "A donation is a lot to ask" and you are re-solicited. If you press 2 again, you hear "Thank you, goodbye."

I spoke to two telemarketers at this telephone bank and one supervisor.

The first telemarketer had opened the conversation with, "Can you contribute $75 or $100?" The second telemarketer had opened the conversation with, "Can you contribute $50 or $75?" Perhaps they are experimenting with different amounts. Generally, these telemarketers are paid based on how much money they raise. They start with a higher amount, but I'm sure if I said "$25" they would have accepted that, or tried to talk me upward. Once on their list, I would have been re-solicited every few weeks.

The first telemarketer said he could not respond to my questions, then kept changing his story on whether the money went to support Cruz. The second telemarketer said the telephone bank was raising money for Cruz. To both people I stressed these questions: Why would someone supporting one of the other four candidates want to contribute money to support Cruz? Wasn't it deceptive to not tell supporters of another Republican candidate that the money was to help Cruz get the nomination? If this were disclosed, wouldn't those taking the "poll" then decline to give money?

The second telemarketer put a supervisor on the phone. He said he could not answer the questions but would ask another supervisor who was not then available. In the meantime, he offered to refund money. I told him I had not given any money but was concerned about the deception. He simply responded, "This is a telemarketing company working for Ted Cruz."

Ted Cruz is an honest and honorable guy. I can't imagine that he would condone raising money from a supporter of a competing candidate by hiding the fact that the money would then be used to support the candidacy of Ted Cruz. The SuperPAC independently supports Sen. Cruz, but Sen. Cruz and his official campaign do not control his SuperPAC. Sen. Cruz probably doesn't even know what is going on with the SuperPAC and certainly nothing about how it raises funds.

Obviously, the telemarketing firm knows exactly what it is doing. This ad campaign is an effort to link an alleged Republican presidential preference poll with giving money to support the candidacy of Ted Cruz. Cruz supporters are told the money will help him. Supporters of another candidate are not told the money will help Cruz. The more money that is raised, the more the telemarketing firm makes.

Do you believe this operation is:

"HONEST" (press 1)
"SLICK" (press 2)
"FRAUD" (press 3)