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GOP Advisor Guilty - Election Day Phone Jamming
Blethen Maine Newspapers
Tobin guilty in phone jamming
By KEVIN WACK, Portland Press Herald
December 16, 2005

 CONCORD, N.H. — A Maine political adviser who was once a rising star in national Republican circles was convicted Thursday on two counts of helping to jam New Hampshire Democrats' phone lines. James Tobin, a 45-year-old Windham native who lives in Bangor, was acquitted on the most serious charge - conspiring to violate voting rights - but a federal jury found him guilty on two counts of telephone harassment that carry a total maximum prison sentence of seven years.

Tobin, wearing a conservative gray suit and glasses, shook his head in disagreement as the first guilty verdict was read. He showed no emotion and did not respond to questions as he and his wife, Ellen, left the Warren B. Rudman Courthouse, flanked by lawyers.

Federal prosecutor Andrew Levchuk said the probe into the 2002 phone-jamming scheme is continuing, but declined to comment on who still might be under investigation.

The Justice Department released a statement Thursday saying the verdict sends an important message about ensuring the integrity of the nation's election system.

Defense lawyer Dane Butswinkas would not say whether Tobin plans to appeal. "We have no comment, just as we have throughout the trial," Butswinkas said.

The 12 jurors took about 13 hours over two days to find Tobin guilty of conspiring to harass people over the telephone and aiding and abetting phone harassment. After their decision was read, the defense asked that the jurors be polled, and each said they agreed with the verdict. They declined to comment as they exited the courthouse.

The trial came more than three years after New Hampshire Democrats and a Manchester firefighters union that provides rides to the polls were flooded with hang-up phone calls on Nov. 5, 2002.

The phone-jamming scheme was called off after about two hours, but Democrats testified during the trial that their Election Day communications were thrown into disarray.

Prior to Tobin's trial, two other Republicans pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government. Chuck McGee, who in 2002 was executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, testified that he dreamed up the idea. But he said it was going nowhere until Tobin referred him to Allen Raymond, a former colleague of the defendant who was then running a telemarketing firm called GOP Marketplace LLC.

McGee testified that he told Tobin the essence of the phone-jamming plan, but there was no evidence presented that Tobin knew about details such as the decision to tie up phone lines that voters could call to request a ride.

Raymond, who is hoping to have his five-month prison sentence reduced, testified that he talked to Tobin about the phone-jamming plan at least once before Election Day and three times afterward.

The two major political parties put contrasting spins on Thursday's verdict.

"This trial cast a stark light on the Republican culture of corruption that has infected our state," read a statement from Kathy Sullivan, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Warren Henderson, chair of the New Hampshire State Republican Committee, countered, "We're gratified to finally see an end to the case and satisfied that justice was done. . . . the New Hampshire Republican Party deplores and condemns this and every act of election abuse and voter fraud."

Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist who has written about dirty tricks in politics, predicted the verdict will discourage others from attempting similar schemes.

"What's important is that it was a verdict that dirty tricks are not acceptable, even in politics, which most people think of as dirty," he said.

Amy Fried, who teaches political science at the University of Maine, said the phone jamming would have been less scandalous in some parts of the country. "But I think in Maine it does count as a scandal," she said, "because Mainers are used to very clean politics."

Tobin, whose father, David, is a former state representative from Windham, once worked as a staffer to former U.S. Sen. William Cohen. He has also served as an adviser to Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

In 2002, Tobin was responsible for overseeing the campaigns for Republican Senate candidates in the Northeast. Two years later, he was New England campaign chair for President Bush, but he resigned shortly before the election when he was implicated in the phone-jamming investigation.

A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, which has acknowledged spending more than $700,000 on Tobin's legal defense, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Although the convictions carry maximum penalties of seven years in prison and $500,000 in fines, Tobin is likely to serve far less time under federal sentencing guidelines.

U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe scheduled Tobin's sentencing for March 21.

Staff Writer Kevin Wack can be contacted at 282-8226 or at:

kwack@pressherald.com

Commentary:
The "tradional family values" party is having a damn hard time staying out of jail.