US Congresswoman 'Shrugs' at Vote-Buying Charges
Exclusive: Former Republican Governor Says New Mexico State Officials Investigating Rep. Heather Wilson Vote-Buying Charges; Says Republican U.S. Congresswoman 'Shrugged' at Allegations When Confronted With Them
News Director of Albuquerque's KKOB Offers New Reason for Spiking Stories; Anchorwoman Who Resigned in Protest Dismisses New Excuse, Says Powerful Station Buckled Under Pressure from Wilson's Campaign
BRAD BLOG Obtains Scripts of Original Spiked Radio Reports...
[Story Summary: Via extensive BRAD BLOG interviews, New Mexico's former Republican Governor repeats and adds fresh details to his allegations of Republican vote-buying by Congresswoman Heather Willson, tells us that the AG and SoS offices are now investigating the charges, and says he recently confronted Wilson, in person, about the allegations and was "stunned" by her response. KKOB's News Director Pat Allen offers a new reason as to why he spiked reporter Laura MacCallum's stories on the scandal and she dismisses the argument as being without merit. We also post the scripts of radio station KKOB's yanked stories, which led to MacCallum's resignation from the station last week.]
32-year award-winning news veteran and New Mexico's ABC field producer, Laura MacCallum, quit her job as afternoon anchor at Albuquerque's 50,000-watt blowtorch KKOB-AM 770, after she read an email from her News Director, Pat Allen, which said, among other things, "if there was anything to it the bloggers would have picked this up, let alone other news agencies."
Allen was referring to MacCallum's on-air investigative reports covering allegations of a vote-buying scheme by New Mexico's U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson at a recent Republican Delegate Convention. The 1st Congressional District Congresswoman is vying for her party's nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated this year by outgoing Pete Domenici. MacCallum ran the stories about the charges on KKOB several times, in several different variations --- including several different interviews and sound bites from both the former Republican Governor of New Mexico, David Cargo, an eye-witness to the story, and a current spokesman for the state GOP, Scott Darnell.
The stories ran, five different versions in all, over a two day period before they were spiked by station management allegedly after pressure from Wilson's office. The BRAD BLOG has obtained the scripts of those original spiked reports (posted at the end of this article), though the complete audio is said to have been "dump[ed]...to make room for new stuff," according to Allen tonight.
In the email to MacCallum, sent last week by the News Director after he'd received several phone calls from Wilson campaign spokesperson, Whitney Cheshire, he informed his afternoon drive news anchor that he'd "pulled" the stories from the station's on-air news rotation. After reading the email from Allen, MacCallum told us she became livid. "I probably had flames coming out of my ears," she explained this afternoon during a long phone call. She immediately resigned in protest.
The BRAD BLOG has now spoken at length to Allen, MacCallum, and NM's former Gov. Cargo, as well as several others involved with the story and/or looking into it for further details. Suffice it to say, contrary to Allen's memo, "the bloggers" have now picked this up, and, according to MacCallum and other sources, so have several of those "other news agencies" that Allen referenced in his email.
Moreover, Cargo tells us today that the charges of felony vote-buying are now under investigation by both the Secretary of State's office as well as the state Attorney General. Further, he told us of his confrontation with Wilson about the allegations some weeks ago. Her response to the charges left the former Governor "stunned"...
A New Reason Offered for Spiking the Stories
Allen confirmed that he had, in fact, heard several times from Wilson's representative, Cheshire, as the stories were rolling on KKOB on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 26th & 27th.
Although she had complained about the stories, Allen says that Cheshire's calls weren't the reason he'd pulled them. He told us that he removed the stories because MacCallum hadn't obtained comment from Wilson or her campaign. He hadn't mentioned that particular reason in his memo, however. Instead, he gave several other explanations for spiking the stories. Nor did he mention that point to reporter Dennis Domrzalski, whose well-sourced scoop on MacCallum's resignation offered a number of details of what allegedly occurred at the February 17th GOP Delegate Nominating Convention in Bernalillo County, NM, according to three different sources.
MacCallum was quick to note, when we told her of Allen's response, that she had every intention to get comment from Wilson, and that her first series of stories had already included statements from an interview with state GOP spokesperson Scott Darnell. That first series ran four times on the night of February 26th and during morning drive on the 27th. Stories including interviews with Cargo ran in the afternoon on the 27th, when Allen then called MacCallum to ask her to contact Wilson's camp for comment. Before she could do so the next morning, her stories had already been pulled off the air by Allen for reasons detailed in his email on the morning of the 28th.
Though Allen's memo to MacCallum never mentioned lack of comment from Wilson as the reason why he pulled the stories, he now says that was the reason.
"This comes down to one key point to me. That is, if we're going to run this kind of story, that are making these allegations, we have to at least call all the sides," he said, "and she didn't do it."
Allen claims, and MacCallum confirms, that they spoke by phone the night before he sent the memo. She says she told him during that conversation that she'd be more than happy to contact Wilson for comment.
"I told him sure, I'll do that. I'll call her tomorrow, I told him," adding that the phone call with Allen came late Wednesday night at around 6:30pm. "I was already [at the station] late, it was past my shift," she told us. When she came to work the following morning, she found his email memo, notifying her that he'd pulled the stories which would have otherwise run during the morning drive news rotation.
"I read the email, I read it again, and I said 'I don't believe this shit.' I forwarded it to my husband and said I am outta here." She says she was livid. "You don't pull stories off the air because a politician gets pissed," she told The BRAD BLOG.
Reporter Domrzalski, who broke the story on Monday, told us that when he'd spoken to Allen before running his article, the News Director hadn't mentioned anything about the story being pulled because MacCallum --- the New Mexico Broadcasters Association's "Newscaster of the Year" in 2006 and an Associated Press award winner for "Best Newscast" in the same year --- hadn't yet contacted Wilson for comment.
Domrzalski said he'd spoken to Allen Monday morning, before running his story. "He didn't mention anything about not having Wilson's comments...He talked about the story being uncorroborated, but didn't refer at all to not getting comment from Wilson's side."
Indeed the emailed memo from Allen to MacCallum, posted originally, in full, by Domrzalski in his story, details reasons other than contacting Wilson, to explain why the story was pulled:
From: "Pat Allen"
Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 09:22:27 -0800
i pulled the cargo stories. i'm troubled by his motivation as he was not selected as a delegate. unless there is an official investigation of criminal wrongdoing related to these meetings then the story is going nowhere.
it's also a very inside politics story that i don't think has much importance to our listeners.
also, don't you think if there was
anything to it the bloggers would have picked this up, let
alone other news agencies?
this is the kind of story that has to be fully developed and verified before it can air.
pat allen news director 770 kkob radio, Albuquerque
When we asked Allen about the apparent contradictions in his story, and about his emailed assertion that he was pulling the stories because there had not yet been "an official investigation of criminal wrongdoing," he explained, "Perhaps I didn't word my email as clearly as I should. I wanted to make it clear that we needed all sides of the story."
When asked why we, as reporters, should wait for an "official investigation" before working a story which might, in fact, actually help lead to such an investigation --- as the story now apparently has --- Allen said, "Your point is well taken."
MacCallum, however, believes the reason they pulled the stories was due to pressure from Wilson's people, who had called at least twice to complain about the story. She's says this wasn't the first such ethical conflict of interest she'd noted at the station during her tenure, and added that she previously filed a complaint with the Poynter Institute, a professional journalism organization, over a prior transgression at the station. "This is not the first time they breached an ethical issue at KKOB," she said.
[UPDATE: MacCallum explains the previous alleged ethical lapse by KKOB, in her full statement on this matter, now posted here at f-brilliant.]
Allen strongly denied that there was any political agenda behind pulling the reports. He says that he merely believed they needed corroboration, even though the charges came initially from former two-term Republican Governor David Cargo. MacCallum herself had also been at the delegate convention in question and was able to corroborate much of Cargo's allegations herself.
"I don't want to run stories that are not based on fact, that are hearsay," Allen told us. "I don't have an agenda either way. If there's something going on, we'll report. This is a great issue for bloggers and talk radio, but nobody corroborated this story to my satisfaction."
Nonetheless, the stories ran on KKOB, five different versions, nine times in all, before Allen decided to pull them. MacCallum kept hard copies of the scripts for the stories, posted at the end of this article. The scripts do not, unfortunately, include the text of the actual sound bites from Cargo, and state GOP spokesperson Scott Darnell. In the copy that she read, at least, there is no reference to Wilson.
We've asked Allen for copies of audio versions of the full reports. He says he believes they may have been erased already, but that he'd get back to us if he could find them. When we checked again with him late this afternoon, via email, to see if he was able to locate them, he wrote, "i may still have the copy but i know we don't have the audio of cargo...we dump audio as to make room for new stuff. the copy may still be in the file, i'll check tomorrow."
Former Governor Confirms Vote-Buying Allegations Again
In reply to KKOB News Director Allen's comments, that he was bothered by a lack of corroboration for the story, we pointed out that so far there were three sources making the claim, including MacCallum herself, since she was in attendance at the delegate convention where Gov. Cargo was unanimously elected as Ward Captain, before learning about the "crazy" situation that seemed to be unfolding before his eyes.
Allen says that, contrary to Domrzalski's report, Cargo hadn't actually made the claims that had been reported.
But when we spoke directly to the former Governor by phone late this afternoon, he repeated the charges, almost precisely as reported by Domrzalski, and in no uncertain terms. He also offered a great deal of additional detail.
As well, he tells us that he's now received calls from both the NM Secretary of State's office, as well as the office of the Attorney General, and that both are currently investigating the vote-buying charges.
He reiterated to us what he had told Domrzalski: that he was told by a number of attendees at the convention that registration fees had been purchased for them, and that people were being "paid $35 an hour" to attend on behalf of candidates Wilson, and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, who is vying for the Republican nomination to run for the Congressional seat that Rep. Wilson is vacating to run for the U.S. Senate.
Cargo explained that when he noticed the unusually large number of attendees in his ward --- there were 59 people there this year, when normally they have from 9 to 15 or so, almost all of whom he knows --- he asked everyone to write their contact details on a piece of paper for the record.
"I noticed that 50 of you people have never been here before," he announced. "I said 'I'm gonna pass around a tablet, to get your name and addresses,'" but the people he hadn't recognized demurred. They didn't want to give their contact information. "They said we're gonna be here for two hours and that's it. 'We're just here for these two hours'," they told him.
Later, he says, "there were about six people standing in the hallway talking. And I didn't know 'em. And I know everybody usually. They said 'What a convention', and I said, 'Yeah, what a mess!' and they [complained by saying] 'and we paid filing fees for these people.' And I said 'you did?,' and they said 'Yeah, why?' And I said 'because that would be a fourth degree felony! You can't pay for votes!' And then they scattered like a covey of quail."
"I thought that was pretty unusual that there was people on staff that didn't realize you couldn't pay people for this. You can't pay for votes. I wouldn't want them on my staff," the two-term Governor, first elected in 1966, added.
Later, he tells us, "Two kids, about twenty years old, said 'we were paid to come over here.'"
"I thought Jesus. This is really bizarre. I thought maybe they were staff members, just monitoring the vote, but they weren't! I thought this is the most peculiar thing I've ever heard of in my life!"
"When I spoke to other people, they were saying the same thing," he claimed. "They were saying that people were being paid $35 an hour and that they were paying their filing fees, as well."
He went on to say that he was told the radio station heard from someone at the state GOP who questioned why Cargo would make such a charge.
"They talked to a guy who works for the Republican state central committee, and they said Dave Cargo thinks there was some irregularities at the convention," and the official then said, according to Cargo, "How could he? We paid his way in!"
Cargo not only denies that point, but adds that he actually paid twice to attend. Once when he sent his filing fee several weeks before the convention, and then again at the door since he'd forgotten he'd already paid. When a party rep later called him to ask him what they should do with the second payment, he says he told them to "keep it as my donation."
"One: If it were true that they paid my registration, I'd be awfully chagrined to hear it. And the second thing is, [the state party rep who claimed they'd paid his filing fee] committed an illegal act! He admits that they are paying for people to attend!"
MacCallum said when we spoke to her before the Governor that she was contacted by an irate GOP party official after the initial stories, quoting state GOP spokesman Scott Darnell, had run.
"Tuesday evening after the stories ran," she said, "I got a call from Adam Feldman, Director of the state GOP. He called me and screamed at the top of his lungs at me for running the stories."
"I said, why are you so upset? I said it's not smart of you to call journalists and give them shit over the phone," she told us.
"I asked if he heard the stories, and he said no, someone else heard them and told me about them."
"I told him 'Don't you ever call me again and complain about a story that is true.' He got so pissed off at that point, the he just hung up on me. He didn't say the story was not true, he just didn't want it run. Period."
"He was angry...He was furious," she says.
Blogger Says It's a "Non-Story"; Former Governor Says State AG and SoS Now Investigating
New Mexico blogger Heath Haussamen is critical of both Domrzalski's reporting, and apparently ours. He refers to us, without name, as he quotes the headline from our report on this last night. But, he writes, he will not link to either us, or a NM Democratic Party press release, which also mentions our report, because he "won’t spread these rumors any further unless I find facts worth reporting."
The dubious Haussamen suggests no laws were broken. He claims to have spoken to unnamed "law-enforcement sources" who told him that "even if the allegations were true, they don’t believe the law was violated. The statute that prohibits vote buying applies to actual votes at the polls, the sources said, not votes on sending delegates to a state party convention."
"The political parties' delegate-selection processes are governed by their own rules, not state law," Haussamen writes.
Cargo disagrees, and claims the Attorney General's office seems to as well.
"The Secretary of State and the Attorney General called me, and they're investigating this thing," Cargo confirmed. "If state law says it doesn't pertain to political parties, what the hell does it pertain to? You can't buy votes!," he repeated again.
"The AG disagrees [that it's not illegal]," claimed Cargo, who added that he also believes it's possible that "these people, when they were doing this stuff, didn't know it was illegal."
Haussaman dismisses all of the reports as "rumors," calling the affair a "non-story." He writes that those in the "liberal blogosphere" who have been covering it are "disgraceful" and "shameful."
"As a journalist who is working hard to try to bring some integrity to the blogosphere, it makes me furious. Whatever their motives, those who have spread this rumor as though it’s fact should be ashamed," he wrote late today.
Haussamen seemingly lumps us into the unspecified inhabitants of the "national liberal blogosphere," even if a Clintonian parsing of his words reveal that he was careful to hedge his bets in regards to The BRAD BLOG specifically. We were, after all, exceedingly critical of the recent New Mexico Democratic Party Caucus disaster on Super Tuesday and, in fact, had linked favorably to Haussamen's coverage of same, in one of our reports on that particular mess.
He claims this evening that an unnamed representative of the Wilson camp has now denied the allegations of vote-buying. Even if yet another Clintonian parsing of the denial, as Hassamen reported it, said to be from an anonymous spokesperson, leaves quite a bit of wiggle room as well. "I spoke with the Wilson campaign, which flatly denied that it had paid anyone to attend the convention and vote for delegates who support the congresswoman," he writes.
When we spoke to Domrzalski last night --- a 27-year news reporter and host of two different local New Mexico television shows, according to his bio --- he made a specific point of letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that the Wilson spokesperson he spoke to before he ran his article, out-and-out "refused to deny the allegations" though he had pressed hard for such a denial.
We became aware of Haussamen's blog item on this story, because it was sent to us, via email, by KKBO's Allen this evening. He had forwarded it to us, after it had been pasted into an email sent to him by Wilson spokesperson Whitney Cheshire.
A voice message and email sent to Cheshire, asking for comment on all of this, have not yet been returned.
[UPDATE: Turns out Cheshire worked for Haussamen's blog until late last year, yet he failed to make that disclosure in the article described above in which he rails about the lack of journalistic ethics of others. Haussamen refused to add the disclosure, even now that we've called him on it. He has also refused to allow comments in reply over there from both Laura MacCallum and ourselves. Full details here...]
Cargo Confronted Wilson With Allegations Directly, Says She Didn't Deny, Just "Shrugged"
Governor Cargo says that he specifically confronted Rep. Heather Wilson about the vote-buying allegations at a Republican party function the Sunday after the convention, where she had asked him if he'd be willing to make some campaign appearances on her behalf.
When he raised the convention vote-buy charges with Wilson, he was stunned by her response. Or lack thereof.
He explained, "I asked her directly, in public, with [State] Senator Joe Carraro right there," about it. Carraro is running against Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White --- whose campaign is alleged to have been a participant in the scheme --- for the Republican nomination to run for Wilson's seat in the House of Representatives.
When the topic of the delegate convention came up, a fairly new process in the state, Wilson reportedly told him that she was pleased with the way it went. Cargo wasn't.
"I said it's not a good idea because you're driving party workers out of the party. In my ward, you lost 7 of the 9 people who are very active. You drove 'em all out. That's not very smart," he says he told her.
"And not only that, worse than that, there are plenty of allegations that they bought votes and paid for registration fees," he told her, in front of Carraro.
After that charge, Cargo says, "she never responded. She just went on to change subject to something about Iraq."
"Why she didn't [respond] I don't know. I like her, you know, I've known her for a long time, but I was floored. It was bizarre."
"If someone had said that about me, that I was buying votes, I'd have gone through the roof! But she just looked at me and shrugged."
Carraro, Cargo says, has now filed a complaint with the Sec. of State and Attorney General. It was too late for us to confirm, or get comment from either of those offices tonight.
"It's crazy! The whole thing is crazy!" the colorful former Governor continued. "If someone asked me, 'Did you buy votes?' Man, I'd come unglued! I wouldn't say let's talk about Iraq or something. I'd dispose of the thing right then and there."
"if there was anything to it the bloggers would have picked this up"
"I can assure you that what I did was not based on what the Wilson campaign said or did," KKOB's News Director Pat Allen took pains to point out when we spoke with him earlier today. He says allegations floated that the station was concerned about Wilson pulling advertising "was never part of the discussion," with Wilson's spokeswoman, Cheshire. "It never came up."
"We're the largest station in the state, so everyone" advertises here, Allen said.
When asked if he would have allowed the stories to continue to run if MacCallum had gotten comment from Wilson, he paused before responding: "I would have been 99% more likely to run the story."
MacCallum, who is still freelancing as ABC News' field producer in New Mexico, is now looking for work to replace her regular anchor job at KKOB. She was highly critical of Allen's lack of journalistic experience and standards, and disagrees that comment from Wilson --- which she wasn't able to get before Allen pulled the story on his own --- would have made any difference to him.
"They would have canned anything that would have harmed Heather Wilson," she said bluntly.
We emailed Allen tonight, after Cargo told us of the calls he'd received from the SoS and AG's office.
"Now that the SoS and AG both are investigating, will KKOB be reporting that? Since it would seem to meet the standard you mentioned in your email to MacCallum?," we inquired.
Allen replied in his usual no-capitals style: "have you confirmed that both the sos and ag are looking into these allegations? if they are, i'll report it."
We didn't get to ask him if he'd yet come to regret one of the comments he'd made to MacCallum, in his now-infamous email that led to her resignation, where he'd asked: "don't you think if there was anything to it the bloggers would have picked this up, let alone other news agencies?"
The BRAD BLOG can confirm that "bloggers," recently resigned news anchors, as well as several "other news agencies" have, indeed, now picked up the story.
We'll see where it all goes from here. So far, Allen appears to have been wrong, at least, when he wrote to MacCallum that "the story is going nowhere."
The scripts of Laura MacCallum's original stories which ran on KKOB-AM 770 on February 26th & 27th follow below. The text of the audio sound bites are not included in the scripts, and, so far, we have been unable to obtain the actual audio versions of the reports...
1) Aired Tuesday, Feb 26th @ 7:00pm & Wednesday Feb 27th @ 5:30am
Some attendees at the Bernalillio County Republican Delegate Convention are charging that a high-ranking U-S Senate candidate paid some delegates to be there...by the hour. And, that some people might have voted outside their congressional district. State GOP spokesman Scott Darnell says delegates have to be vetted...
GOP PROBS-1 :11 (outcue: "...particular county.")
He says anyone who has a complaint and evidence to prove that some delegates were paid to be there by a candidate, particularly if illegal activity was involved, must file a formal complaint with the state party's rules committee.
2) Aired Tuesday, Feb 26th @ 8:30pm & Wednesday, Feb 27th @ 7:30am
There are complaints about some of the Republican delegates and how they were chosen at the Bernalillio County Delegates Convention on February 17th. Some are charging that some of them were paid to be there and some were voting out of their congressional districts. State GOP spokesman Scott Darnell tells 770 KKOB there are safeguards...
GOP PROBS-2 :11 (outcue "...Bernalillio County.")
He says if anyone has complaints, they need to formally contact the State Republican party office and file a complaint which will be heard by the rules committee.
Here is the second batch that ran in Afternoon Drive on Wednesday, February 27th...
3) Aired Wednesday, Feb 27th @ 4:30pm
Yesterday we told you about what might be some delegate voting irregularities at the Bernalillio County Delegate Convention. Former Governor Dave Cargo tells 770 KKOB, he saw it first-hand at his Ward table...
1-GOP CARGO :10 (outcue: "...won't be back.")
Cargo says he heard delegates, who'd never been seen before at any party functions, talking about how they'd been paid to be there. He says he suspects the delegates loaded the votes to keep some candidates off the ballot.
4) Aired Wednesday, Feb 27th @ 5:00pm
Were some Bernalillio County Republican delegates paid to vote for specific candidates? That's something former Governor Dave Cargo tells 770 KKOB he has no doubt about...
GOP CARGO-2 :15 (outcue: ...political process.")
Governor Cargo says it's obvious to him that some candidates paid delegates so the ballots could be loaded in their favor, keeping other candidates from getting on the ballot.
5) Aired Wednesday, Feb 27th @ 5:30pm
Lots of chatter about the way Bernalillio County Republican delegates were chosen at their convention a couple of weeks ago. Former Governor Dave Cargo tells 770 KKOB many of them were paid by some of the candidates for their votes so other candidates didn't have a chance...
GOP CARGO-3 :13 (outcue: "...operate a convention.")
Governor Cargo says many of the supposed delegates told him they were being paid and didn't intend to get involved in Republican party activities...that they were only there to vote for whomever paid them to be there and would have no further involvement.