Clinton, Gupta & CNN: A Clarification of Intent

Newly discovered SEC information on Opinion Research is below.

. . . . . . . . . .

Tom Blumer's original observation that "Clinton-friendly CNN and its new partner
appear to have the opportunity, and motivation, for manipulating its polling topics
and results" is correct.

It is not illegitimate to raise questions and suggest scenarios re Vinod Gupta's CNN
connection, when this connection stands both to (1) unfairly benefit a presidential
candidate who already is on Gupta's philanthropic payroll to the tune of $9M and to
(2) influence the outcome of an American presidential election.

Resolving these questions is a full-time project that will likely require the time, money,
and investigative resources of a major news organization. My point in presenting this
at MyDD and DailyKos was to corral into one place as many of the disparate nuts
and bolts of information as possible, making it easier for readers concerned with, say,
democracy to do their own research and to pressure media institutions like the New
York Times and Washington Post to to follow up on this.

Here at MyDD, bowiegeek asks whether I "believe that Gupta would even try to pressure
[Opinion Research] to skew poll numbers for CNN now, while he's under intense media scrutiny."

I would argue that Gupta doesn't have to "try" to pressure ORC, at all. The "soft pressure" is
already there -- in the air, so to speak -- by virtue of Gupta's very public and lavish support of
the Clintons. Indeed, Gupta's record with the Clintons specifically obliges him to institute a
zero-tolerance policy with ORC against polling bias in Hillary Clinton's (or any other candidate's)
favor, including meaningful penalties for violations; and to communicate this to the media and
the public. Gupta should also recuse himself from discussing presidential polling with anyone
at ORC. Such protections would not be an absolute bulwark against polling manipulation --
but they are the minimum required to assure the public that it should have a measure of
confidence in CNN's presidential polls.

As a rejoinder to my argument that Gupta "used his company to go out and buy CNN's
presidential pollster the month before Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy," bowiegeek
writes that "infoUSA purchased Opinion Research...with the approval of the Board." But it's
not at all clear how strong this small board is. There are only eight directors besides Gupta --
and Gupta, by all accounts, is a bit of a cowboy who is used to getting his own way. Indeed,
the current financial mismanagement lawsuit being brought against Gupta by infoUSA
shareholders includes the complaint that the board is not doing its job.

It's worth repeating that infoUSA bought ORC in December 2006 for a sum that represented
more than 30% of its net sales for 2006 -- and yet, except for four buried press releases,
ORC appears nowhere on infoUSA's Web site. Definitely a red flag on transparency.

A lack of transparency generally goes with a desire to control, and information in the SEC report
ORC filed when it was acquired by infoUSA does nothing to upset that balance.

The SEC report shows that ORC was initially merged with Spirit Acquisition, an infoUSA shadow
company that, it appears, was set up to facilitate the sale. The 2-person board of Spirit consisted
of Vinod Gupta and Fred Vakili -- infoUSA's Web site lists Vakili as infoUSA's "Chief Administrative
Officer & Corporate Secretary."

At the merger, ORC's articles of incorporation and bylaws were replaced by Spirit's articles of
incorporation and bylaws.

ORC's 7-member board of directors was replaced by Spirit's board -- which is to say, Gupta
and Vakili.

And, as I noted earlier: Two weeks after the sale was completed, infoUSA announced that
it had reorganized OCR into two groups -- corporate marketing research and government
research -- and that the head of each group would report directly to Vin Gupta.

Obviously, these kinds of hardball maneuvers are not unprecedented in corporate mergers
and acquisitions. But here, they leave little doubt that, whatever other strategic benefits
infoUSA may have hoped to gain from Opinion Research, Vinod Gupta was determined
to control ORC utterly.

Including its presidential polling for CNN.

Tags: 2008, CNN, Hillary Clinton, MSM, polling, president (all tags)


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