UPDATED: Reporters under fire in GOP gubernatorial primary after push-poll allegations surface

04/22/2015 08:13 PM

Accusations of a push poll conducted by a Republican gubernatorial candidate quickly evolved on Wednesday into a blistering critique of parts of Pure Politics’ coverage of the 2015 gubernatorial election and some impromptu reporting tips from a campaign manager.

Former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner’s campaign released on Wednesday a nearly eight-minute audio clip of a purported push poll conducted on behalf Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin.

The pollster, before asking the respondents’ opinions on each subject, said Heiner voted as a councilman to prohibit concealed-carry weapons in government buildings, supported tolling roads to fund road projects and accepted federal subsidies for his residential farmland. The caller then asked for which candidate they would vote.

Doug Alexander, Heiner’s campaign spokesman, called on Bevin to “come clean and explain to voters why he is engaging in the same tactics he’s been complaining about for weeks” regarding attack ads from Citizens for a Sound Government, a 501(c )(4) group backing Heiner.

Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, said the team was testing issues against Heiner, not push-polling.

“I reject the notion that asking questions about actual, provable, documented facts from Hal Heiner’s own positions in the past, asking voters what they think about that, that’s not a push poll,” Hartman said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “That’s asking voters what they think about the issues.”

The call, released by the Heiner campaign in a news release, can be heard here:

But while he said Pure Politics has “been pretty fair in this race,” Hartman heaped criticism on the cable news outlet’s coverage of a handful of stories, from Heiner’s past vote barring concealed-carry weapons in Louisville’s City Hall to the emergency of CSG.

“The answer that he gave you guys (on his concealed-carry vote as a councilman) was pathetic, and even more pathetic was that there was seemingly no follow-up asked,” said Hartman, who called Heiner “a coward” for not disavowing CSG’s attack ads.

“He (Alexander) said, ‘Well yeah, I mean he (Heiner) voted against that or he voted to reinstate an ordinance that was already in place, and other Republicans voted with him on the Metro Council, but as governor you should just assume he will adopt the opposite position of what he voted the only time he was able to vote on this issue.’ That there was no follow-up asking whether his position on the issue has actually changed is pretty remarkable.”

Hartman added, “I’m not in the media business in terms of actually reporting news, but they essentially acknowledged changing their position and there was no follow-up question.”

Here’s what Alexander actually said in a previous statement to Pure Politics on Heiner’s concealed-carry in City Hall vote:

“As a long-time gun-owner, Hal Heiner is a passionate supporter of the 2nd Amendment and is 100% opposed to efforts by President Obama and the federal government to restrict our 2nd Amendment rights. The Metro Council vote was a unanimous vote that included 10 other Republicans who voted for re-enacting the law that kept concealed carry weapons out of City Hall. As Governor, Hal Heiner would support lawful concealed carry in the Capitol Building.”

When CSG first began airing its negative attacks against Bevin and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Pure Politics asked Heiner about Comer’s accusations that he’s funding the group assailing his opponents. Heiner paused momentarily before declining comment, but later approached Pure Politics to respond.

Hartman was apparently watching that exchange in person and was upset that the news outlet did not include Heiner’s initial reaction.

“You, Kevin, yourself asked him about these ads when they started,” Hartman said. “He stepped out of the room and called his consultant and asked. I have a recording of him in the lobby of the first debate calling his consultant and saying, ‘What should I say about this?’ after he gave you three minutes of stuttering and stammering silence and had to step out and then step back in after he called his consultants to speak on the record about this issue.”

“I guarantee you that with the vast majority of media outlets in the state, if Matt was asked a question — which this has never happened because Matt’s capable of speaking on-the-record about anything the campaign does — but if Matt was asked a question like that and had to step out of the room, call his consultant and then come back in and offer his on-the-record commentary after he was coached, that would be a huge news story,” Hartman continued. “It didn’t even get a mention, didn’t even get a one-sentence mention, and I think that’s crazy.”

Heiner’s pause when asked if he had donated to CSG, for the record, lasted less than 30 seconds. Pure Politics did not monitor any of the candidate’s telephone communications afterward.

Despite the diatribes, Hartman assured Pure Politics, “I’m not criticizing your coverage.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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