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Former Merrimack Dem Charged in Election Phone Jamming Scheme

A Merrimack man and former Democratic candidate for state representative, Michael Drouin, is accused of jamming the cell phone of a GOP candidate during a special election last year.

Drouin, 30, was indicted this week by the grand jury convened in the Hillsborough Superior Court — South on one felony count of interference with election communications connected to the April 13, 2021, Hillsborough District 21 special election to replace House Speaker Dick Hinch (R-Merrimack).

Drouin allegedly took out a Craigslist classified ad offering a free trailer in the Nashua area and listed the cell phone number for Merrimack Republican Bill Boyd in the ad. Boyd eventually won the election to replace Hinch, who died from COVID-19, beating former Democratic Rep. Wendy Thomas with 2,531 votes to Thomas’ 2,144.

“That election day was chaotic,” said Rep. Joe Sweeney (R-Salem) who was with Boyd that day. “(Boyd) was getting dozens of calls asking about this free trailer.”

Boyd had already posted his personal cell phone number to Facebook on election day as part of an effort to get voters to the polls. Boyd was anticipating hearing from voters who needed a ride, and instead got call after call from people asking about the free trailer, Sweeney said.

Boyd declined to comment on the charges when reached Wednesday. Drouin did not respond to a request for comment.

On the day of the election, Sweeney filed a complaint with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, which had the ad removed from Craigslist. Investigators zeroed in on Drouin as the ad’s creator, though he initially denied he was behind the free trailer stunt. When investigators told Drouin they had evidence linking him to the ad, Drouin then claimed he created the ad as a “poorly timed” joke. Sweeney said that excuse does not fly.

“Him trying to play it off as a badly timed joke seems insincere to me,” Sweeney said.

Drouin now faces up to three and a half years in prison if convicted, as well as the prospect of being barred from voting in New Hampshire. Drouin ran an unsuccessful campaign for state representative as a Democratic in 2018, though he has reportedly dropped that affiliation and is now labeled as an independent. He is currently an alternate member of the Merrimack Conservation Commission.

Sweeney said Election Day shenanigans like Drouin’s are unusual in New Hampshire. 

“I can’t think of a similar scenario where someone puts up a candidate’s phone number to mess with him on election day. I really don’t know what this guy was thinking,” Sweeney said.

The charges come at a problematic time for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, which has been plagued by charges of election interference and dirty tricks in the past few months.

During the run-up to this year’s midterms, for example,  Democrats were hit with a cease and desist order from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office over illegal mailers. Those mailers, paid for by the state Democratic Party, solicited absentee ballot requests be sent to a non-existent government agency. It also included false claims about voter histories, according to the order issued by Attorney General John Formella.

“In light of our conclusion that the NHDP has caused voter confusion given the incorrect return addresses to clerks on its mailers, the incorrect direction to non-existent ‘boards of election,’ and the incorrect voter domicile information, the NHDP is hereby ordered to cease and desist any and all activities which violate the law by causing voter confusion in the future,” Formella wrote.

And just last month, Fomella’s office said Democrat Steve Marchand lied about his role in a political scheme targeting his opponents in Portsmouth.

Marchand, a progressive Democrat who once served as Portsmouth mayor and sought his party’s nomination for governor, was issued a letter of warning to Marchand for his involvement in Preserve-Portsmouth.com and other websites that targeted sitting city council members in the last municipal election.

Marchand’s bogus website was built to mirror a legitimate site with a similar name, Preserve Portsmouth, and purported to support the same city council candidates the original site endorsed. But it falsely described them as far-right Trump supporters. According to documents obtained by the Attorney General’s Office, Marchand wanted to depress voter turnout among Republicans to benefit Democrats on the ballot.

Democrats are also accused of sending illegal mailers supporting MAGA Republican candidate Bob Burns in the Second Congressional District GOP primary.

The Reynolds DeWalt Corporation, a Democrat-aligned mail firm based in Massachusetts, sent the four mailers promoting Burns in the GOP primary, helping him defeat mainstream GOP candidate Mayor George Hansel of Keene. Burns, who won 33 percent of the vote, beat Hansel by fewer than 1,800 votes.

According to a complaint filed by the state GOP, the mailers were illegal because they “failed to identify in the mailers who sent them, including a failure to provide ‘paid for by’ disclaimers on multiple mass mailings.”

The Attorney General’s Office contacted Reynolds DeWalt about the mailers before the primary. It refused to tell the attorney general who paid for them. The company is represented by the law firm of Hillary Clinton’s former attorney Marc Elias, the attorney responsible for funding and disseminating the “Steele Dossier” that helped feed the claim of collusion between Russia and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Longtime Dem Marchand Busted by AG for Bogus Campaign Website

The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office said Democrat Steve Marchand lied about his role in a political scheme targeting his opponents in Portsmouth.

Marchand, a progressive Democrat who once served as Portsmouth mayor and sought his party’s nomination for governor, will not face criminal charges, the office said in a letter. Instead, it issued a letter of warning to Marchand for his involvement in Preserve-Portsmouth.com and other websites that targeted sitting city council members in the last municipal election.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Peter Whelan, one of the Portsmouth councilors targeted.

Whelan, Councilors Susan Paige Trace, Ester Kennedy, Greg Mahanna, Petra Huda, and Mayor Rick Becksted were all targeted by anonymous websites, fliers, and robotexts operated by Marchand, according to Myles Matteson with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office.

“It was shameful. There were robotexts sent by the thousands,” Whelan said.

Trace said the attorney general’s investigation revealed there was an effort to mislead the voters of Portsmouth.

“It’s about being transparent and behaving in an honorable manner,” Trace said.

All of the candidates targeted by Marchand were defeated. Current Portsmouth Mayor Deaglan McEachern declined to comment, as he had not seen Matteson’s letter.

“I didn’t have any interaction with the (Marchand) in my campaign,” McEachern said. “I have no idea what the former mayor was doing or not doing.”

Marchand did not respond to a request for comment. His attorney, Joseph Foster, is currently out of the country and unable to be reached.

Marchand’s bogus website was built to mirror a legitimate site with a similar name, Preserve Portsmouth, and purported to support the same city council candidates the original site endorsed. But it falsely described them as far-right Trump supporters. According to documents obtained by the Attorney General’s Office, Marchand wanted to depress voter turnout among Republicans in order to benefit Democrats on the ballot.

Marchand initially lied to investigator Anna Croteau when she questioned him about his part in the campaign, according to Mattson’s letter.

“When she first asked about Preserve-Portsmouth.com, you stated that you had heard of the website. You denied you had ever claimed responsibility for the website but noted that other people had been saying you were responsible for it,” Matteson wrote.

However, Croteau already had screenshots of a text conversation in which Marchand took credit for the content of the websites.

“To be very clear, I am the one to create the content,” Marchand wrote.

Matteson’s letter states the Attorney General’s Office has records of Marchand’s communications with at least four other people about the campaign, in which he stated the goal was to create guilt by association aimed at the targeted candidates, linking them to Trump in the mind of Portsmouth voters.

“(i)s really meant to help get Democrats who gave Becksted and others a vote in 2019 to really think about what they are doing in 2021,” Marchand wrote.

Whelan suspects the true purpose of the campaign was to get rid of council members who oppose development in the historic sections of the city. Marchand’s record as mayor includes changing zoning ordinances to make development easier, Whelan said. Whelan wants to know who Marchand was working with and for, and who funded the operation.

“Somebody spent a lot of money to do this,” Whelan said.

The attorney general’s report found that while Marchand would have violated campaign finance law by not disclosing who was behind the websites, fliers, and robotexts if it could be proved that he acted in concert with others. However, Marchand claimed, eventually, that while he acted alone in creating the content he did not set up the websites. Matteson noted the claim he acted alone was the last of many explanations Marchand offered to investigators.

New Hampshire law on campaign finance transparency allows a narrow exemption for individuals engaged in advocacy. Marchand was cautioned, however, that if he continues to engage in similar campaigns he could lose the exemption and face possible prosecution.

Last year, Portsmouth Democrat Committee Chair Shanika Amarakoon and New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley issued a statement condemning Marchand’s campaign.

“We cannot let our local elections be undermined by national-style political tactics. The city councilors who were attacked, after all, are our neighbors. While we may not agree with all of their decisions, they did not deserve this attack, and we do not stand for it,” Amarakoon and Buckley wrote.