The blockbuster poll released on Monday that shows Williamson County businessman Bill Lee leading the Republican gubernatorial primary for the first time was conducted by a firm that has ties to consultants to the Lee campaign, new documents reveal.
When Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee announced his candidacy in April, 2017 he indicated that Blake Harris and Jordan Gehrke would be serving as general consultants for his campaign. The Tennessee Star has learned that Lee’s campaign team, and vendors, have direct ties to JMC Analytics and Polling, the polling firm that claims Bill Lee is leading in the Governor’s race. The Lee campaign did not disclose their connections to the polling firm as they have promoted the results of the supposedly independent poll, which calls into question the accuracy of the polling data.
“JMC Analytics and Polling independently conducted this poll for the Tennessee Republican primary for Governor,” the polling firm asserted in a statement on Monday when it released the poll showing Bill Lee leading the Tennessee Republican gubernatorial primary, just one week and three days before the August 2 primary election.
Lee faces Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) in that GOP gubernatorial primary election.
Blake Harris’ LinkedIn profile notes that he is a partner at company called Vertical Strategies. Lee’s other General Consultant, Jordan Gehrke, has a LinkedIn profile that notes he is a partner at Victory Phones.
The Detroit News reported in August 2017 that Vertical Strategies and Victory Phones are part of the political consulting empire built by Michigan based political mega-consultant, John Yob. Advictory is also listed as a company connected to Yob.
Vertical Strategies, Advictory, and Victory Phones all share the same 190 Monroe Avenue NW address in Grand Rapids, Michigan, based upon the contact information listed on their websites.
Bill Lee’s campaign has used Victory Phones and Advictory, two John Yob companies that are related to Vertical Strategies. In 2018 alone, the Lee campaign has spent $85,000 with Victory Phones and $245,990.30 with Advictory, according to filings with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. (see image below)
The poll released on July 23 showing Bill Lee leading the Tennessee Republican gubernatorial primary race with 26 percent support was conducted by JMC Analytics and Polling. JMC Analytics frequently uses Victory Phones as its auto-dialer when conducting its polls. JMC did not reveal the full crosstabs for the poll–in particular the crosstabs showing the different results for respondents who said they were certain to vote in the August 2 primary compared to those who said they were uncertain they would vote in the August 2 primary. Nor did JMC Analytics and Polling reveal the vendor that conducted the auto-dialing for this particular poll. Nevertheless, the previous connections to the Bill Lee campaign consultants raises serious questions as to the independence of this poll.
A filing with the Nebraska Public Service Commission shows that Victory Phones was the auto-dialer for a survey conducted by JMC Analytics and Polling in March 2018. You can see an image from that filing below:
The Tennessee Star has also been advised that at least one contract proposal for polling services by JMC indicated that it “works with and recommends Victory Phones” as a phone vendor for its clients.
JMC’s use of Victory Phones in the past, and possibly in connection with the Tennessee polling research, shows that JMC has a shared vendor with the Bill Lee campaign – a vendor in which one of the general consultants, Jordan Gehrke, is a partner.
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill said that the business connections between Lee’s campaign consultants and the polling firm that produced the “Bill Lee Leads Governor’s Race” headlines this week should make media and voters skeptical of the results.
“More importantly, the Lee campaign needs to provide substantive proof immediately as to whether or not the vendors owned by the campaigns consultants were involved in any way in this particular poll. If so, the poll that has already produces skepticism should be treated as a campaign stunt and Lee should consider whether he should retain the consultants who cooked up this illegitimate ‘independent’ poll or terminate them, particularly if they didn’t disclose their connections to him before they got caught,” Gill added.
The Tennessee Star contacted the Lee campaign late Monday night, and asked for answers to the following seven questions:
1. Did three vendors (Vertical Strategies, Advictory, and Victory Phones) that are tied to the Lee campaign consultants Blake Harris and Jordan Gehrke have any role in the JMC poll? (Records indicate Victory Phones frequently autodials for JMC polls)
2. Who handled the autodailing for this particular poll?
3. Was Bill Lee himself aware of the ties that his campaign consultants have with the polling company?
4. If their company was involved in this particular poll, was Bill Lee informed?
5. When Bill Lee was telling voters over the weekend that he is winning, was it because he had access to this poll before its release?
6. Did the Lee campaign directly or indirectly pay for the poll?
7. IF Bill Lee was not informed of the relationship between his consultants and the polling company, will he terminate them?
The Lee campaign has not yet responded.