Who’s pulling the strings at Sunshine State News?

When Sunshine State News reported that it had commissioned a poll showing Marco Rubio with a commanding 43-29-23 lead over U.S. Senate rivals Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek, respectively, something about it just didn’t seem right. It wasn’t just the huge Rubio number — something that isn’t reflected in any other poll (Rasmussen excluded.) There were other odd things. For one thing, this is the photo the “news” site ran with its poll report:

Sunshine State News finds a great pic of Marco Rubio. His rivals? Not so much...

If I didn’t know better, I’d think these guys were trying to make everyone who isn’t Marco Rubio look stupid …

I wasn’t the only one to feel a funny vibe. The folks at The Buzz reported on the poll, but they noted that Sunshine State News doesn’t disclose who funds its polls … or who funds Sunshine State News …

You know what else was funny about the poll? The metrics just seemed all wrong:

…”Rubio’s lead at this stage in the race is due to his fairly broad appeal across the political spectrum, primarily among GOP voters and independents, the latter of which is what’s really hurting Crist,” said Jim Lee, president of VSS.

“Among independents, Rubio even leads Crist narrowly, 38 percent to 36 percent,” Lee said. Meek garners just 16 percent of independents.

Rubio captures a solid 70 percent of GOP voters versus just 21 percent for Crist and 6 percent for Meek, the poll reveals. Among Democrats, Meek won a modest 45 percent of the vote, with Crist at 35 percent and Rubio 14 percent.

Really? Rubio has broad appeal, and is more appealing than Crist with Independents? Really? In every other (non-Rasmussen) poll I’ve seen, Rubio, if he does have a lead, is leading within the margin of error … and it’s because he’s pulling the lion’s share of Republicans, while losing Independents and pulling no more than 5 or 6 percent of Democrats. The idea that 14 percent of Democrats favor Rubio — a really extraordinary figure if you think about it — or that Rubio at this stage has broad appeal is just bizarre … I mean, he’s definitely trying to broaden his appeal, with those gauzy TV ads … but really? Even the highly Rubiophilic Rasmussen poll, which gave him a big (40-30-17) lead over Crist and Meek right after the primary, but which didn’t even go as wild as Sunshine State News, put Crist ahead by 9 points among independents

Then there’s the new Sunshine State News poll. The upshot is uncontroversial enough: finding that Republicans lead Democrats in the “generic ballot” for Florida Congressional races. But peep the write-up, and tell me if anything sounds off to you:

With all 25 congressional seats up for election this fall, Florida Democrats may be in an uphill fight to hold onto the 10 districts they have, a Sunshine State News Poll finds.

A survey of likely voters statewide shows that 47 percent would vote for the Republican in their congressional district. Just 39 percent said they would vote for the Democrat and 7 percent would opt for “another party.”

The remaining 7 percent said they were undecided.

The results of the Voter Survey Service poll mirrors findings in other states. Nationally, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Republicans holding a 49-40 edge on the “generic” congressional ballot.

The emerging preference for GOP congressional candidates, coupled with the expected low turnout among Democrats Nov. 2, could spell trouble for at least three Democratic incumbents in Florida.

Three Democratic districts represented by Allen Boyd, D-Tallahassee; Alan Grayson, D-Orlando; and Suzanne Kosmas, R-New Smyrna Beach, are rated as “tossups” by the Cook Political Report.

Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, also is facing a tough Republican challenger in the 22nd Congressional District, which the GOP held from 1980-2006.

None of the state’s 15 GOP-held districts are considered to be in danger.

The trend favoring Republican candidates is reflected in how respondents identified themselves in the VSS poll.

When asked their party affiliation, 45 percent answered “Republican” and 41 percent answered “Democrat.” That’s a reversal of party registration rolls, which break 44 percent Democratic and 43 percent Republican.

“Obviously, a lot more people are self-identifying as Republican this year,” said Jim Lee, president of VSS.

Lee added, “We think the 4-point margin (45-41) is right. More people thinking of themselves as GOP voters.”

Whether that translates into any Republican takeovers this fall remains to be seen. But the calculus is definitely working in the GOP’s favor, since Republicans are typically more inclined than Democrats to turn out to vote.

For starters, the write-up neglected to mention that the NBC/WSJ poll reflected a 9-point GOP lead among “likely” voters — but a 43-43 tie among registered voters. I suppose you can excuse that, since the conventional wisdom throughout the media is that Republicans are poised to blow the Democrats entirely out of Congress in November. And if you strain, you can look past the “expected low turnout among Democrats in November,” which is a hell of a presumption to make. But none of the GOP seats is considered unsafe? Does that include the 25th District, where David Rivera is trying to hold onto a toss-up seat against Joe Garcia?

Even leaving that aside, and that’s a big “leave,” what really stood out for me is that the SSN poll respondents self-identified as Republicans in numbers far in excess of the actual voter registration in Florida, which is 41.6 percent Democrat, 35.9 percent Republican and 22.4 percent “other/none.” That means this poll is by definition, weighted towards the GOP (meanwhile, according to the Division of Elections, Florida voter registration has actually grown more Democratic since the 2008 elections, not less.) Worse, despite the fact that anyone can look up the registration percentages (here, I’ll even link to them for you so you can look at them yourself…) the “reporter” who posted this story told Sunshine State News readers that the actual, not the self-identified, but the ACTUAL voter registration split in Florida is “44 percent Democratic and 43 percent Republican.” That’s just factually inaccurate, and such an obvious error, it seems to me that it would have to be either ridiculously careless, or intentionally intended to mislead. Where did he get those figures? Why not just look them up?

And who is doing these polls? In the fine print of GOP generic ballot story, we find out the following:

This survey was commissioned by Sunshine State News and conducted Sept. 1-5 and Sept. 7 by Voter Survey Service, a division of Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna Polling and Research in Harrisburg. Calls were automated, meaning that voters were contacted using a pre-recorded set of questions instructing voters to complete the survey by pressing their telephone key pads to score their answers; no live interviewers were used. The universe includes a random sample of likely voters from a statewide voter registration list of registered voters who have prior vote history in either the 2008 or 2006 general elections, with most interviews conducted among voters who voted in both elections. A vote-intensity screen was also applied to gauge interest in the upcoming general election, with interviews being exclusively conducted among those who indicated they have an “excellent,” “good” or “fair” chance of voting, while those who indicated their chances of voting were “poor” were disqualified. Interviews are also monitored to ensure a representative sample of the state’s voters are interviewed proportionally based on demographics like geographic region, age and gender consistent with what we believe will be the likely voter turnout model on Nov. 2. Results are sometimes statistically weighted to reflect under or over samples within various demographic groups. The margin of error for a sample size of 1,016 interviews is +/- 3.07 percent at the 95 percent confidence level, but higher for sub-groups of respondents.

Let’s just stop at the first part, leaving aside the interesting sampling method. Who is Susquehanna polls? Well. … They’re a Republican polling firm run by a former lobbyist. From the company’s website:

Pennsylvania-based Susquehanna Polling and Research (SP&R) is a leading survey research and political polling firm for both candidates for public office (GOP only), as well as numerous corporate clients including trade associations, public relations firms and the media. Voter Survey Service (or VSS), a division of Susquehanna Polling and Research, has conducted hundreds of polls in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Delaware and Maryland as well as other states and nationwide. Founded in 2000 in Harrisburg, Pa, the firm now includes 4 political associates with 50 years of combined polling experience, 40 survey research interviewers expertly trained in conducting all types of surveys, and a team of political consultants. SP&R also has its own telephone call center and conducts all its own polling with no outsourcing.

President Jim Lee has 15 years of polling experience and a background as a former lobbyist. From 1996-2000, Jim was employed as a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. From 1993-96, Jim worked as a special projects coordinator for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. In 1990, Jim graduated from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., with a B.S. in Political Science and was the 1989-90 recipient of the Elmer B. Staats Endowed Scholarship Award. Jim is a member of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC). Jim is married to Kelly M. Reed, of Tower City, Pa. They have two daughters.

Susquehanna Polling and Research is also the official pollster for WHTM ABC27 News in Harrisburg, PA, and a pollster for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. In addition, SP&R’s polling has been quoted in numerous publications and media programs including:

The Sean Hannity Show on Fox News and MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews;
The Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck radio programs;
The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Times and other publications.

What is a supposedly non-partisan news site in Florida, which ironically enough, describes itself as “fair and balanced” (specifically, “We’re committed to shining a light on Florida politics and business in a fair and balanced way” — let the irony of that marinate for a minute…) doing commissioning polls from a Republican polling firm? And by the way? Their other newspaper client, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review? They’re the Richard Mellon Scaife-owned right wing rag in Pennsylvania, whose main interest is debunking global warming.

Back to Sunshine State News, whose headlines seem balanced enough, I guess, except when they’re not …

… and not sure who’s writing their polls, but they sure do seem to lean a certain direction…

Most intriguing, however, is the question of just who owns Sunshine State News. Before they launched, The Buzz referred to them as a “secret news operation,” and noted the evasiveness of the titular leader of the organization in explaining just who was signing his paychecks:

At the helm is John Wark, former bureau chief for the Tampa Tribune who has been living in Sarasotahandling free lance communication work the last few years.
With him is Lane Wright, a former Palm BeachCountytelevision person and Tim Epperson, a former Sarasota journalist. Wright registered the web site, Sunshinestatenews.com late last year.

They are coming “soon’’ to a web site near you, but the content and indeed the owners remain a secret.

“I’m being quiet about what I’m doing,’’ Wark said Thursday when visited by a St Petersburg Times Reporter. “There is nothing yet to talk about.’’

Wark is indeed listed on the Division of Corporations website as the managing partner of Sunshine State News LLC. But when the company was original formed, in November 2009, the name on the incorporation forms was Justin Sayfie (PDF), a former aide to Jeb Bush, who runs the widely read Sayfie Review, a headline compiling site that’s a must-read for Florida political junkies. But Justin, who’s a very nice guy, is a known, very partisan conservative. Sayfie told The Buzz in February he no longer has anything to do with Sunshine State News, and indeed, the company’s annual report, filed on February 5th, showed him being switched out as the registered agent in favor of a corporate filing company called Corporate Creations (PDF.)

So who really owns the outfit? Two days before the registered agent change was filed for Sunshine State News LLC, a company with a very similar name: Sunshine State News Holdings, was formed with the Florida Division of Corporations, (PDF) with a guy named David L. Perry Jr. as the registered agent. Who is David L. Perry Jr.? Well, based on the address, he could be this David L. Perry Jr., who’s a corporate lawyer at Holland and Knight, and who was a repeat John McCain donor in the last presidential cycle:

Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with donating money to John McCain. And after all, Politico.com is owned by the chairman of the Ronald Reagan Library (not that you’d know it from the tooootally unbiased coverage and editorial slant … (ahem…)

So does Sunshine State News Holdings own Sunshine State News? Is it intended to be a “fair and balanced” news site, or a stealth Republican rag? And can we trust their polls, given who’s conducting them?

A look at their list of “columnists“, including Brent Bozell, for God’s sake, makes it clear that this is a conservative news outlet, though they are failing to present themselves openly as such. They have several veteran journalists on board, but hell, so does Fox News (and Politico.) If they’re going to be releasing polls they expect other news outlets to take seriously, they ought to at least let folks know where they’re coming from, right?

I also noticed that the main advertisers on the site are Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Retail Federation — two business lobbying groups, plus the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists So at least we know where some of their money is coming from, and who their audience is.

For the record, the Reid Report is a total Democratic, progressive leaning political blog. Just to save the righties the trouble in comments. My point here is disclosure, something Sunshine State News appears to be deliberately avoiding. And that seems particularly relevant in the age of corporate “personhood,” where corporations are pushing ever more boldly into the political sphere, and where traditional newspapers are weak. Do we really want to start relying on corporate funded news, to report on our corporate-backed political leaders? And shouldn’t we at least know who they are?

I plan to keep digging. Until then, don’t look for the Reid Report to be reprinting SSN polls. They’re Rasmussen 2, as far as I’m concerned, and you should probably ignore them in favor of more credible sources of data.

This entry was posted in Florida, Media bias, News and Current Affairs, The Media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Who’s pulling the strings at Sunshine State News?

  1. Larry says:

    Terrific digging. You’ve got my retweet.

  2. JReid says:

    Cheers, Larry!

  3. J.B. says:

    It’s been clear from the get-go they are a shadowy right-wing consortium masquerading as a straight news outlet. I have also noted the consistently slanted wording of their “reader polls”. I’m glad someone is finally shining a light on these cockroaches – keep at it!

  4. Pingback: Sunshine State News’ Kenric Ward responds to voter demo questions (sort of) : The Reid Report

  5. Michael says:

    Wow, jealous much!?

  6. Nate says:

    Why is Dave Aronberg, Ron Saunders, and your partner Peter Schorsch pimping SSN?


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