David Hall: Moneyman or straw man?

Sunday, August 22, 2010 at 11:45pm

If you’re not his relative, chances are you were surprised at the improbable victory of Goodlettsville-based father of five and contractor David Hall in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. Hall’s campaign was quiet, if not invisible, to most media and observers but for the mysterious polls it released, conducted by a company no one had heard of, the last of which showed the candidate with a 6 percent lead a week before Election Day, its prescience confirmed on Aug. 5.

Exactly how Hall’s campaign managed to topple those of well-funded conservatives Jeff Hartline and CeCe Heil, both of whom had major national endorsements and war chests in the hundreds of thousands, is unclear.

We do know how he didn’t pull it off: fundraising.

Despite what it reported in filings with the Federal Election Commission, it appears the Hall campaign ran on almost no money — in fact, it only reported raising $200 from individuals — relying instead on the concerted efforts of the Hall family and a substantial personal loan from the candidate, a contractor and political greenhorn whose reported income last year was below the poverty line.

Therein lies the strangeness of it all. Hall created the distinct appearance of a well-funded, professional campaign, even though the operation was far from it. There remain questions about where his money came from, what kinds of businesses he owns, and just how much of his campaign’s reported cash was actually real money.

As he enters the biggest political race of his life, against popular Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, Hall has remained quiet, issuing just two statements from Aug. 6 to 19 and making sparse public appearances, according to the public schedule on his website. Though his unorthodox strategy might not violate campaign finance law — a spokesman for the FEC would not comment on a specific case — it certainly distorts it.

No explanation for money

The modern-day candidate will often tout fundraising figures as a measure of his campaign’s success and ability to connect with voters. The bigger the number, the greater the candidate’s currency.

Along with its final primary poll, the Hall campaign bragged that “voter exit polling shows that David’s $200,000 in voter contact has put his campaign a full 6 percent above his closest competitors.”

But that money wasn’t real.

On his financial reports, the “in-kind contributions” — goods or services traded to a campaign for a dollar value — came in two bunches: $188,864.25 for phone banks and get-out-the-vote efforts, and $12,394.15 for a “campaign poll.” Initially the money was attributed to a company called “AHC Group,” or American Home Communications Group, a company Hall said he started after a failed 2008 run for state Senate during which he accumulated some basic polling “equipment.” (Incidentally, the company shares its initials with American Home Crafters, whose phone number matches the one used by Hall during his 2008 campaign but, according to state records, was dissolved in 1996.)

Instead of explaining to the FEC why the company that he said conducted his polling illegally contributed to his campaign, as the commission requested in a July 28 letter, Hall simply refiled the forms two weeks ago, inserting his own name in place of AHC and removing all mention of it from the campaign’s financial reporting.

Hall registered AHC Group with the Davidson County Clerk on April 1, just three days before filing his statement of candidacy with the FEC. It would be another three and a half months before anyone registered a web address for the company (there is a rudimentary website at www.theahcgroup.com). Hall makes no mention of the AHC Group on his personal financial disclosure, filed almost a month after he legally declared the business with the county clerk.

Asked to explain the omission, Hall first claimed that he hadn’t established AHC Group when he filed the disclosure. When he was reminded of the dates, however, Hall said he chose not to report his ownership of the company to the FEC because at the time it had yet to make any money. He also claimed the company has done work for other local candidates and is now bringing in revenue, although he declined to offer the names of any clients.

After an FEC letter asked him to explain the contributions, Hall simply replaced the company’s name with his own. That is perfectly legal, according to FEC spokesman Christian Hilland.

“They can give as much money as they want to to their own committees,” Hilland said, adding that in-kind contributions are often how candidates report along-the-way expenses.

But there remains the question of how Hall — working with his wife and five children, who were his campaign’s unpaid staff — came up with such a high dollar figure for those services.

Hall said AHC Group charges between 75 cents and a dollar per call to conduct polls by phone. His campaign released two polls during the four months of the primary campaign, the last of which was an exit poll of 753 voters. While there is no way to know how many calls Hall and his family made, it would have to be a staggering amount to — at AHC’s rates — rack up such a bill.

“That was a lump sum, it wasn’t just a poll,” he said. “It was a compilation of a considerable amount of different things we did for the campaign.” Hall refused to elaborate on those things, saying to do so would reveal “part of our ongoing campaign [strategy].”

“Just typical campaigning that most good campaigns do,” he added.

But polls aren’t that expensive. Brendan Finucane, an early candidate in the Republican primary for the 5th District who dropped out and supported Hartline, reported spending $5,500 on polling in March. And two Nashville political operatives who have recent campaign experience — one Democrat, one Republican — said polling and associated costs would not reach $200,000 for a campaign such as Hall’s.

“We were just stating what we did,” Hall said, insisting he based his figures on current market data.

Hilland said there is a FEC rule that requires campaigns to hold onto all receipts and invoices, including for in-kind contributions, for three years in case of a future audit.

Appearance vs. reality

“So it made him appear like he had more resources in his campaign than he did,” said Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.

But in this case, the traditional measure of a candidate’s corporeality didn’t much matter, Oppenheimer added.

“Despite this, he didn’t get any attention,” he said. “I think the thing that amazes people is that there were candidates on the Republican side who had some visibility who didn’t beat this fellow. It in part says when people don’t know who the candidates are, things like positions on the ballot, having a very common name that sounds familiar — affect voter decisions.”

Hall seems to have understood that. By his own accounting, his campaign had 50 volunteers holding signs at polling locations, both during early voting and on Aug. 5. At campaign events, he would park his bus — for which he paid $1,725, initially reported as in-kind contributions but paid for with real money after the FEC cried foul — next to Bill Haslam’s, for instance, offering the appearance of a major candidacy where there was little more than a man and his family working out of their house.

“He had more volunteers at the polls than any of the other Republicans in the 5th District primary,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper.

State Sen. Joe Haynes, who beat Hall in 2008, said “every poll was covered” with a Hall volunteer during that race, even though Hall ran a similarly spartan, family-style operation.

Bill Hobbs, a Republican operative who worked on the Hartline campaign, said he was impressed by the apparent size of the Hall campaign. “Typically you’ll see a lot of yard signs on a campaign because a lot of people are supporting them,” he said. “I think in this case, the campaign just bought a lot of yard signs to give that impression.”

Hall said he plans to try to raise money in the general election. It is not clear whether the state GOP will provide financial assistance to the Hall campaign; chairman Chris Devaney, who did not know Hall prior to his primary victory, said the party is still evaluating where to spend its money.

“However, we’re going to have a significant get-out-the-vote effort that will definitely include the 5th District,” he said.

20 Comments on this post:

By: PLSNashville on 8/23/10 at 5:33

If he's below the poverty level, how would he loan himself $60k+ to the campaign? Seems like he's running a scam, claiming to loan money so he can pay himself back IF he ever raises money (which I seriously doubt).

By: tafjr19@aol.com on 8/23/10 at 7:13

This article misses the point. How did this man win the election with no visibility?

By: TharonChandler on 8/23/10 at 7:28

I've always believed that any common man could become the favorite of the voters and that is what 'democracy' is supposed to be. We have heard some in Tennessee, such as outsider Phil bredesen, that have stated one must 'be born into the role'; which is perfectly stupid.

By: localboy on 8/23/10 at 9:55

nit nit nit pick pick pick

By: TharonChandler on 8/23/10 at 10:03

The only way that 'money raised' could be a signal of the candidates vitality would be in his ability to 'buy votes'; which has always been illegal; supposedly. The Integrity in the race would be in any Popular candidate neither raising Nor spending money.

One reason they maight 'loan themselves some money' is to get the 'matching funds' too often associated with public government.

Re: "No explanation for money;

The modern-day candidate will often tout fundraising figures as a measure of his campaign’s success and ability to connect with voters. The bigger the number, the greater the candidate’s currency."

By: tv8527 on 8/23/10 at 10:03

I will happily vote for him .Jim cooper voted for national health care & bailouts. He's got to go.

By: AmyLiorate on 8/23/10 at 11:36

Jim needs to go.

Hall may be the only way to do it.

By: global_citizen on 8/23/10 at 12:22

Two things helped David Hall. One, his name was at the top of the ballot. That may account for as much as 50% of his votes. Secondly, David Hall is also the name of a local radio personality and by proxy, David Hall the candidate may have benefited from that name recognition.

In any case, it's pretty moot. Jim Cooper is not in any danger of losing his seat no matter who the Republican on the ticket is.

By: pswindle on 8/23/10 at 12:54

Well, Well Well another crook in the making.

By: 123betonme on 8/23/10 at 6:19

Sounds like a true homegrown candidate who is just working hard to raise his own support. It's probably just the FEC rules that make everything so confusing.

By: TracyTarum on 8/23/10 at 7:12

First off, in the interest of full disclosure, I was a competitor of David Hall in the Republican primary. I got to know David Hall and his wonderful family very well, and my family has had dinner with his family. I can assure you, after in-depth conversation with this man, he's a GENIOUS political strategist! The way he won this campaign is with very little money, and a lot of work, yes…but mostly an incredible strategy! As for the $200K plus, yes, it was all in-kind, and the way it was done and reported was BRILLIANT! It was a psychological game, and was accurate. As for the writer, Stephen George, had you bothered to do any research, or actually question Mr. Hall or the FEC, you’d know that he didn’t merely “change AHC to David Hall,” and there is nothing remotely close to improper.

David set up AHC as a SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP, and the only reason a question was raised was due to the fact that the “C” in AHC was assumed by the FEC to be “Corporation.” And, since corporations cannot donate to campaigns, they flagged him. Long story short, it turned into a “pissing contest,” and David, having a campaign to run, and no time to argue with an illogical government agency, told them essentially “fine, I’ll change it to David Hall, but it’s a sole proprietorship.” David Hall is a GOOD, HONEST, MORAL man of integrity. He sang with the Gaither Homecoming Tour for years (for you atheists, that’s a Christian music group, that spreads what you consider death and destruction; the Word of Christ). If you find something David ACTUALLY did wrong, then call him out on it. Until then, why don’t we stick to facts, instead of having to resort to the old Democratic playbook; lies and destruction, primarily perpetrated by their willing and able cohorts in the media (namely, in this case, The Nashville City Paper).

As for his strategy, how he won, I would LOVE to tell you, because it’s AWESOME! However, I gave him my word I would not, so I am sworn to secrecy. Besides, my goal all along was to GET RID OF JIM COOPER; if not me, then whoever won the primary. That was David Hall, and I will assist him. Please join me! Visit his website for ways to help.

Tracy C. Tarum, Patriot!

By: ElRaydio on 8/23/10 at 7:13

question - Does anyone know what FEC violations Cooper would be able to accuse Mr. Hall of if the monetary value of the services he provided through his company would not have been disclosed?

By: PelosiCountdown on 8/23/10 at 8:03

GLOBAL CIT - If your assumption is correct, showing up for the general is all this guy will have to do and Cooper is toast. No money needed.

ELRAYDIO - Not disclosing the value of in kind services given to a campaign would
generate legitimate lawsuits or worse. Cooper was probably hoping Hall wouldn't disclose it because then he would have real dirt to throw. Looks like the way it turned out is that Hall was just following the law and now Cooper will have to create his own dirt if he wants to make this race a dirty one.

Either way, with Cooper's votes, he has already lost....tick-tock!

By: jman84 on 8/23/10 at 8:41

David Hall is a genuine conservative. Why else would the press distort him like they are? The answer is plain and simple. His opponent is in a heap of trouble. If he wasn’t, then why would the lame stream media attack the man like this? He is a man of integrity and does not play the game of politics like the other guy in the race likes to play. David Hall has run one of the best campaigns I have ever seen, with a campaign staff that is extremely dedicated to help see our country change for the better. He is giving quite a bang for his buck. David Hall knows how to use limited resources to get things done, unlike our current congressman. He will fight against the Obama agenda and will help put a stop to all of the spending that is going on in Washington. David understands your problems and my problems. He will help to get this country back on track and help in the fight to repeal Obamacare. The United States is the greatest nation on earth. We cannot dive into the direction of socialism like we are currently heading. David Hall will be an outstanding congressman to represent our great state and nation. You could also ask yourself, as Ronald Reagan once asked, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Is there more or less unemployment than there was four years ago?" If you answer these questions, you will find that David Hall is your clear choice.

By: VoteConservative2010 on 8/23/10 at 10:37

It is good to see the media against David Hall. He must be doing something right. I have read about the alleged investigation by the FEC which amounted to nothing more than a clarification of what "C' meant in AHC. Not much of an investigation! David Hall is a man of character and integrity. He has put his name on the line to make a difference and serve the people of the 5th District. It is these types of witchhunts and defamation of character that keeps good people from entering the political arena. David has not only accepted the challenge that comes taking on the political establishment starting within his own party and now the liberals- his political strategy seems to be working. He is showing the political establishment that common sense and hard work is what the voters are looking for in a candidate not the traditional well-funded, polished politican who has created the debacle we are dealing with now. I am looking forward to seeing a man elected who has not sold out to the political establishment, who has stood his ground on the issues that define our foundation, and who will not compromise his principles to satisfy a political party. David Hall is a conservative person who will serve the citizens of the 5th district. With the Congressional approval rating hovering around 23%, I think our current political leaders have a good reason to fear their seats. If you are part of that 77% who are not happy, now is the time to make a difference. Send a common sense, conservative to Congress.

By: jessls on 8/24/10 at 6:53

The negativity in this article is uncalled for. If a candidate can win against such incredible odds, he must know what he's doing. David Hall is an honest, hardworking man, and we need him in Washington!

By: politicker on 8/24/10 at 9:04

He's "below the poverty line", and he's defeated opponents with heavy political clout and funding.

Umm.... isn't that a good thing? Since when did we start rallying around super-funded and super-established candidates? That's not what democracy is about, that is rule by the few.

I'm rooting for the guy who can pull off a campaign without the good ole' boy network, because voters actually LIKE him.

By: mabee22 on 8/24/10 at 2:09

David Hall sounds like the kind of man needed in Washington - someone able to think outside of the box (or outside of the Washington Beltway) to find creative ways to accomplish a goal. I am sickened when I think of my hard-earned money being thrown into the wind by the bucketful (with absolutely nothing to show for it) by a Congress made up of the type of "well-funded, professional" campaigners that the author of this article seems to admire.

The quote by Bill Hobbs was laugh-out-loud ridiculous: "Typically you will see a lot of yard signs on a campaign because a lot of people are supporting them. I think in this case the campaign bought a lot of yard signs to give that impression." Hello? Purchasing yard signs does not automatically get them placed in yards and on privately owned land next to major roadways. The only way I know to accomplish that is to get the owner's permission, something I personally would not grant unless I was 100% in support of the candidate. Judging from the amount of signs I have seen around town, David Hall has the unwavering support of many.

This brings me to my last point regarding the comment by Bruce Oppenheimer regarding the supposed lack of attention David Hall has received. David Hall, in fact, did receive a tremendous amount of attention by the most important people of all - the voters of District 5. After all, he was the candidate of choice over a field of eleven. The bottom line is that we need people like David Hall in Washington who can get things done without resorting to the predominant "just-throw-more-money-at-it" tactic that has gotten our country into this current financial disaster. David Hall is a refreshing, common-sense alternative to Jim Cooper.

By: IfCooperWinsImM... on 8/28/10 at 12:37

David Hall won the Primary, principally because there were so many Republicans. His results were 4000+ out of 28000+. My fear is that the situation in the General in November will dilute the vote for Hall more than for Cooper. Cooper won 90% of the votes in his 26000+ vote against two (one a wingnut and the other positionless) opponents.
There are going to be Conservatives voting Independent because of Lou Dobbs and Libertarian/Green because there's no logic in some folks. I believe that Cooper will get another two years in office unless there's some SERIOUS campaigning on the part of Mr. Hall. Debates, if he can handle them, including ALL the candidates are the most likely way to defeat Cooper. And we must defeat every Progressive that;s running.
If the House and Senate remain as they are, we will become the USSA by 2012.
That's the Union of Socialist States of America.

Life, Liberty and Property are most at risk when the Legislature is in session - Daniel Webster

By: shey69 on 9/13/10 at 11:35

I came across this article while trying to find out who called my house from a restricted number and conducted a political poll (American Home Communications). Most of the questions starting with "if you knew Blank about Blank ..." did not allow for any answer other than "would you be More likely or Less likely to vote for them" and, if you refused to answer, it would repeat the question. My impression of this "survey" or "poll" was that it was not intended for collecting data, but to share information or rumors about candidates. Also the Poll appeared to repeat a question then change which number to push for the two answers. I wanted to report the company for political wrong doing- there must some type of law about what polling companies can and cannot do. Where do they get the phone list? registered voters? if so there has to be a regulation.

I must agree with Mr Halls greatest fan and Friend "TracyTarum" he is a Genious political strategist. I remember his phone calls before the primary. Secrecy (you said it yourself TT), subversive methods (owns his own polling company), swapping money around so you can't see where it is coming from- I prefer transparency. This man David Hall is very scary, I don't care which side of the fence your on.

If you were thinking about hiring AHC for your polling needs- DON"T they are not a legitimate polling company- if they were, they would be interested in the real facts and ask their questions accordingly.