Mitt Romney's campaign, which was hit last month by negative phone calls in New Hampshire and Iowa, asked the Iowa attorney general yesterday to investigate whether a new set of phone calls made by a group promoting Republican rival Mike Huckabee violated state law.
In a letter to Attorney General Tom Miller, the Romney campaign said the calls to Iowa voters from Delaware-based Common Sense Issues Inc. appeared to violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which requires political callers to disclose their identity or face a fine of $500 per call.
Bob Brammer, a spokesman for Miller, said the attorney general would review it. Romney's campaign said the automated calls promoted Huckabee and criticized whichever candidate the recipient favored.
"It is particularly offensive that a Mike Huckabee advocacy group would resort to a shadow effort using large sums of unregulated soft money to attack candidates by name with these reprehensible calls," Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades said in a statement. "Governor Huckabee cannot just stand by and feign outrage as these coordinated attacks are made in his name and for his benefit."
Huckabee, who is trying to set an upbeat tone for his campaign and who now leads Romney in some polls in Iowa, said Monday that the calls should stop.
"Our campaign has nothing to do with the push-polling and I wish they would stop," the former Arkansas governor said while campaigning in Iowa. "We don't want this kind of campaigning because it violates the spirit of our campaign. I don't want to become president because I disabled the other candidates, I want to become president because I am the best candidate."
Patrick Davis, executive director of Common Sense Issues, said yesterday that the group has conducted the calls, set up a pro-Huckabee website, and has done grass-roots organizing in Iowa. He said the group hopes to run TV ads and launch get-out-the-vote efforts on Huckabee's behalf.
"We like Mike Huckabee because we think he's the strongest candidate on our issues on either side of the aisle," Davis said. The group, he said, opposes gay marriage, believes in limited government and gun owner rights, and wants a strong national defense that can combat "radical Islam."
Davis said the group did not coordinate with the Huckabee campaign.
Rhoades said the group does have ties to Huckabee.
"The money men and organizers behind this effort headed a major Huckabee fund-raiser less than one month ago, and the executive director is a former associate of Huckabee's campaign manager," Rhoades said. "Relying on the resources of an out-of-state soft money organization to run your ground game is awful politics and voters are right to be annoyed by this kind of conduct."
The group registered earlier this year as a 501(c)4 nonprofit corporation with the Internal Revenue Service, according to the Associated Press. It also has registered as an independent expenditure group with the Federal Election Commission. Its president is Harold "Zeke" Swift, listed as a member of the host committee for a Cincinnati fund-raising event for Huckabee.
Last month, Romney and his Republican rival John McCain asked New Hampshire's attorney general, Kelly A. Ayotte, to investigate mysterious phone calls to New Hampshire and Iowa voters that strongly questioned the former Massachusetts governor's Mormonism and spread positive information about McCain's military service.
The calls were linked to a Utah marketing firm called Western Wats, but the firm's employees said they could not disclose their clients.
James Kennedy, a New Hampshire assistant attorney general, said yesterday that the investigation would take several weeks.
Scott Helman of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.