'Dirty tricks': Robot calls spruiking Hardaker backfires
An automated calling campaign, funded by a wealthy Hamilton businessman, that plugs Julie Hardaker and other council candidates has prompted an investigation by electoral officials.
TalkingTech owner Ray Stark has confirmed using his automated mass calling technology to weigh into Hamilton's election on behalf of his favoured candidates.
Mr Stark's Concerned Citizen campaign has pushed for a cleanout of councillors he blames for decision-making on the V8s and the city's current $397 million debt.
He told the Waikato Times his mass-contact campaign began on Thursday night when 6200 households were called, with the balance to have been called by today.
"We'll reach, with the database that I have, 18,400 [residential Hamilton ] phone numbers, all land lines," he said.
"I'm just encouraging people to vote, to use their democratic right, that's all I'm doing."
Mr Stark said 60 per cent of people - about 3700 of the 6200 calls made - answered and 57 per cent listened to the entire 33-second message. That directs listeners to his Concerned Citizen website for a list of the candidates he has endorsed.
"The numbers I've got come from a legitimate database, from the right people, and there'll be no numbers on there that's a 'do not dial' number. It's cost me quite a bit of money to get those numbers. I know some won't like it but that's democracy.
"The only negative response I'm getting is from sitting councillors. I think they've underestimated my campaign from day one. They just thought that I was some sort of lunatic, and to a certain degree, I might be.
"I haven't heard them apologise for the mess they got this city in."
He was considering a further blitz next week, allowing people to hear his picks for council and mayor if they choose to.
Roger Hennebry yesterday made a formal complaint to Hamilton electoral officer Jude Pani, claiming endorsed candidates were receiving an electoral advantage and should have to account for that spending under their own campaign limits.
"I consider this a serious breach and I expect those candidates to be informed, I also expect [any] breach of the Electoral Act to be enforced by the electoral officer," he said.
Dave Macpherson said he wanted a ruling from the electoral officer on the spending liability, and said the campaign "would leave most Kiwis feeling dirty, because you're trying to buy an election".
Ewan Wilson called Mr Stark's intervention "an American-style dirty tricks campaign".
He, too, wanted to know whether Mr Stark's spending had to be accounted for by the candidates.
Mrs Pani confirmed she had begun investigating the Stark communication campaign but it would be up to police whether they prosecuted.
Ms Hardaker said she had not authorised Mr Stark's endorsement.
"I know the electoral officer has received a number of communications about that. Certainly, I've not endorsed anything but I'll wait for the electoral officer's decision."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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