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Marsy's Law backers mum on spending

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 31. 2018 9:35PM
Henry T. Nicholas, co-founder of Broadcom, is seen in one of the tunnels running under his former California home. He is the founder of a campaign for victims' rights called Marsy's Law for All, named after his sister who was murdered in 1983. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Supporters of the campaign to pass a victims' rights amendment to the state Constitution plan to spend up to $2 million to convince the New Hampshire Legislature and the voters statewide to grant their approval.

But with Election Day seven months away, nothing specific is known about the spending to lobby lawmakers. And if that effort succeeds, even more money will be spent to try to convince voters to support the Marsy's Law amendment (CACR 22).

Also unknown are many aspects of the national Marsy's Law for All organization's finances. The group has been promoting this cause for a decade in more than a dozen states at the behest of its chief benefactor, California billionaire businessman Henry Nicholas.

A co-founder of the Broadcom Corp. high-tech empire, Nicholas was moved to pursue this following the tragic death of his sister, Marsy, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983 while attending the University of California at Santa Barbara.

According to public documents, Nicholas has enlisted virtually identical teams of out-of-state vendors to carry out these voter campaigns in other states, some from conservative Orange County, California and Las Vegas and many with close ties to national Republican Party political figures.

They work with the staff or consultants who get hired on the ground in each state.

Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Criminal Justice Center at Stanford University, said lobbying for and then passing ballot measures in California is such a cottage industry that there are units like this one that bond together in campaign after campaign to advocate for "tough on crime" measures.

"These hired groups develop relationships and experience in these campaigns that is invaluable. Frankly, some of them are so gifted that many players working on a particular question will sometimes race to hire them first," Weisberg said.

"I would be surprised if you didn't see the same template used in New Hampshire."

As the New Hampshire Union Leader first reported, Marsy's Law state director Amanda Grady Sexton has hired an "A team" of lobbyists, media consultants and legal advisers to help make the case to lawmakers.

The group is a veritable Who's Who of those practiced in the art of legal persuasion, including:

Chuck Douglas: The former Republican congressman and ex-Supreme Court justice has signed on as a legal adviser who is not involved in lobbying.

Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group: A four-person lobbying team led by former New Hampshire House staffer and longtime GOP strategist Bruce Berke, whose clients include the N.H. Association of Chiefs of Police, the Professional Insurance Agents Association and Verizon.

Demers, Blaisdell & Prasol: The principal of this firm, senior Democratic operative Jim Demers, is lobbying, and his firm also represents Walmart, Comcast and the associations of state troopers and local police officers.

Dennehy & Bouley: The principals in this four-person team are seasoned Republican presidential campaign aide Mike Dennehy and Concord's Democratic Mayor Jim Bouley, and their varied clients include Concord Hospital, 3M Company and Special Olympics.

Grimbilas Strategies: Jodi Grimbilas runs this independent firm that represents CVS Health and Cisco Systems among others.

Elevare Communications: Rich Killion, a GOP campaign consultant who works for the Senate Republican Majority PAC, is doing consulting for the effort and has also registered as a lobbyist.

All these individuals either declined to comment, didn't respond to the request or referred all questions to Grady Sexton.

She said these lobbying expenses will be disclosed four times a year in accordance with state law. The first report covering January through March spending on lobbyists is due April 26.

Grady Sexton has not disclosed what she's paid as state director of the campaign.

It will be reported in the June filing of the Marsy's Law N.H. political action committee.

The Spradling Group, led by former WMUR political director and Manchester Police Commissioner Scott Spradling, was hired to do communications for the campaign, but is no longer in that role. He has registered to lobby and continues to speak with legislators as he's asked to.

"I'm still very much a supporter of the entire initiative; I'm just not doing communications for them anymore," Spradling said.

The leading opponent of the Senate-passed amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, has hired as its lobbyist Legislative Solutions, a five-person team led by former Senate Majority Leader and ex-GOP congressional candidate Bob Clegg.

Jeanne Hruska with ACLU N.H. confirmed Clegg's firm was paid $12,000 ($4,000 a month) from January through March to lobby against Marsy's Law.

"We very much believe in transparency with regards to this and would hope the opposition would feel the same way," Hruska said.

"The executive director, our legal director and myself have all been represented on a myriad of issues before the Legislature and that includes Marsy's Law."

The ACLU N.H. paid these three employees $16,072 for lobbying work done during all of 2017.

Marsy's Law supporters maintain that Albert "Buzz" Scherr with the University of New Hampshire School of Law should register as a lobbyist because he's testified at hearings against the amendment and reached out to individual lawmakers to oppose or offer dramatic changes to it.

"So, I offer to speak with any and all of you about the alternative proposal - to explain my constitutional and practical objections to the current CACR 22 language; to explain the legal and practical benefits of a shorter alternative; and address any other concerns," Scherr wrote in an email to all legislators sent out last month.

Scherr is a former member of the ACLU N.H. board and is acting as an unpaid volunteer along with retired Supreme Court Justice Carol Ann Conboy, who has expressed strong reservations about lawmakers endorsing Marsy's Law.

"I'm not receiving a nickel to speak out on this, and it's highly entertaining to hear the other side raise the question given the big money they are throwing around," Conboy said.

Hruska denied the national ACLU is providing any financial support to this anti-Marsy's Law effort.

"We haven't gotten any money from the national ACLU to work on this issue," Hruska said. "They do provide us with some financial support as an organization, but none of that is to advocate on either side of Marsy's Law."

Grady Sexton and officials with Marsy's Law declined to comment on when they would begin the voter phase of this campaign, which would likely include mailings, TV, radio and digital ads and other forms of voter contact.

"We do not comment on internal strategy issues, as relate to your other questions," said Henry Goodwin, national spokesman for Marsy's Law for All, who was communications director for Republican Walt Haverstein's run for governor in 2014.

Goodwin said the national campaign does not release what it pays those working to direct this national campaign, such as chief spokesman Gail Gitcho, who was Mitt Romney's national press secretary during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

"As you know, private organizations do not make salary information public," Goodwin said.

If past is prologue, it seems clear what this campaign will look like. All Marsy's Law campaigns that have reached the voters in other states have followed a similar pattern.

In 2017, they deployed nine lobbyists and two public relation firms to convince Oklahoma lawmakers to put Marsy's Law on the ballot this fall.

Here's a thumbnail sketch of some of the national vendors Marsy's Law consistently uses:

Red Rock Strategies of Las Vegas: Its principal, Scott Schreid, has identified himself in the past as the "national political director" of Marsy's Law for All. The firm was paid $114,200 in Montana and $105,367 in North Dakota. He was political director for Romney's presidential campaign in Nevada in 2012.

Bieber Communications, a Santa Ana, Calif., direct mail company: Marsy's Law committees paid the firm $103,676 in North Dakota and $112,817 in Montana according to campaign finance records. In 2012, principal and Republican Jim Bieber told the Orange County Register he could never work for a Democrat or a liberal candidate. "In this industry, you have to plant your foot and stay there. I would never accept work to take out a Republican elected to a partisan office," Bieber said.

. Tiberius Stratagem: The Newport Beach, Calif., entity did political consulting for Marsy's Law in several states. Searches of the name turn up nothing, but the business address is the law office of Scott Baugh, a former Orange County Republican chairman who is challenging GOP U.S Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, his onetime friend and mentor.

Marsy's Law state campaigns paid Tiberius Stratagem $26,000 in Montana and $23,707 in North Dakota.

According to campaign records from other Marsy's Law ballot campaigns, much of the drive to the voters is spent on paid media. In the November 2016 campaign in Montana, $1 million, or half the budget, went toward TV and radio ads and another $400,000 went toward web advertising.

What is different about this race is the national campaign's decision to have New Hampshire's effort run by Grady Sexton, the director of public affairs for the Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

In other states that role has often gone to a GOP operative as in Montana where the Marsy's Law director was Chuck Denowh, a former executive director of the Montana Republican Party.

Managing last fall's overwhelming Marsy's Law win in Ohio was Trevor Vessels, a media consultant and former Republican congressional aide.

During a recent interview, Grady Sexton said she's pitched to the national campaign a more grass-roots design for New Hampshire.

"We do have a general campaign plan in order to be funded to be pitched to the national campaign. Much of that is going to build upon the existing infrastructure already here in New Hampshire, the 13 crisis centers that have been in existence for 35 to 40 years," Grady Sexton said.

"These have the best community relationships with voters, businesses and the like. It's hard to compare us to the other states."

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