The mystery of the EH Fusion Party’s robocall effort in the closing days of the campaign for East Hampton Town offices may not be resolved, but the consultancy responsible for disseminating the party’s final pitch to voters shed some light on that odd wrinkle in this year’s unusual election campaign.
Former supervisor Larry Cantwell told The Star on Election Day that he had received several calls from residents who told him that they had received a robocall, an automated call that plays a prerecorded message, urging residents to vote for EH Fusion Party candidates, and that his mobile phone number appeared as the calling party on recipients’ phones. Mr. Cantwell retired after two terms as supervisor at the end of 2017.
David Gruber, the EH Fusion Party’s candidate for supervisor and a former chairman of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee, speculated that Groundswell Communications, the Alexandria, Va., firm that the party had engaged to conduct the calling campaign, had previously had the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee as a client, “probably for Larry’s campaign, and confused the accounts.”
Groundswell Communications did not return multiple calls and emails from The Star, but a representative did reply to Mr. Gruber’s inquiry on Monday. “Your account was created at least six years ago,” Melissa Zamora of Groundswell Communications wrote in an email to Mr. Gruber, with the first calling activity on July 26, 2013. That year, Mr. Cantwell, the longtime East Hampton Village administrator, ran unopposed for supervisor.
The original caller ID provided by the Democrats was associated with Christopher Kelley, the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee’s campaign chairman. “Broadcasts” were launched under that caller ID through Nov. 1, 2013, she said. “The account went idle for some time and was not in use.” The next broadcast, she said, was on Sept. 8, 2014, and now bore Mr. Cantwell’s mobile phone number. “It was during this time that the caller ID was changed.”
Mr. Gruber said in an email to The Star that he had done no campaign work for the East Hampton Democrats in 2014, which was not an election year in East Hampton. “I have no idea what they used Groundswell for in 2014,” he said. He also noted that Ms. Zamora’s email proves that Groundswell Communications had, in fact, performed work for the East Hampton Democrats, contradicting an assertion made last week by Cate Rogers, its current chairwoman.
Groundswell Communications’ data retention policy does not allow the company to retain “certain records that far back,” Ms. Zamora told Mr. Gruber, “so we are unable to pinpoint exactly when the change to your account was made.” She referred to “confusion with regard to your political affiliation” in explaining that Groundswell Communications officials “didn’t know if you were enrolled as a Democrat or with a certain political party.” Mr. Gruber, she said, is “tied to the initial account that you set up.”
Ms. Zamora suggested that Mr. Gruber establish a new account for any future campaigns “under the party in which you’re affiliated so we can keep caller ID, data files, sound files, and any other relevant program information separate to avoid any confusion.” In her email to Mr. Gruber, she referenced The Star’s efforts to obtain a comment, but said that company policy prohibited that.
Mr. Gruber responded that he was unaware that the account was assigned to him, rather than to the Democratic Committee, from which he had separated to form the East Hampton Reform Democrats and later the EH Fusion Party. He indicated to Ms. Zamora that, as he was now running against Democratic Party candidates, it should have been clear that Groundswell Communications was not acting on the Democrats’ behalf.
“As should have been perfectly obvious,” Mr. Gruber told The Star, the use of Mr. Cantwell’s number in the EH Fusion Party’s robocall campaign “was an innocent error all the way around. It could not possibly have been to my advantage to mislead anyone in this way and, as I truthfully reported, I did not give them this number or have any idea that it was attached to the account.”