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Do McMahon "volunteers" get paid?

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published October 17. 2012 4:00AM

Were any of the rabble-rousers in the rallies at Monday's Senate debate in New London on the Linda McMahon campaign payroll?

I wonder, in part, because of a conversation I had over the summer with a young man carrying a McMahon sign during the OpSail festivities in downtown New London. He disclosed that he was paid by the campaign, but clammed up when I asked some follow-up questions.

I remembered him Monday night while assessing the big crowds rallying outside the Garde Arts Center before the debate.

The Murphy supporters, who included representatives of many local unions, seemed to come from a wide spectrum of the community, young and old, different ages, different races.

Those carrying McMahon signs, though, were much less demographically diverse. Indeed, they were predominately young people. That alone kind of surprised me.

It wasn't only me, though, wondering whether the McMahon supporters were being paid. A television reporter asked the candidate directly about it after the debate.

"All the folks came on their own volition, as far as I know," McMahon said.

Given the, well, squishiness of that response I decided to try again and ask the campaign on Tuesday. I called campaign headquarters, identified myself and said I had some questions about Monday's debate. All the media staff were busy, I was told, much too busy to take a phone call, but I could email campaign spokesman Todd Abrajano.

Abrajano usually answers email messages within the hour, I was told. He didn't reply the rest of the day.

A campaign filing with the Federal Election Commission shows dozens of people being paid "wages" in relatively small amounts, anywhere from $70 to several hundred dollars at various times during the summer. Maybe one was the sign carrier I met at OpSail?

Or maybe those are wages for people who make coffee at campaign headquarters or answer the phone to tell people from the media that everyone is too busy to talk to them.

A spokesman for the FEC did tell me there is nothing wrong with paying campaign workers to carry signs or otherwise advocate for a candidate.

Still, it seems that there is an implicit suggestion that people holding a candidate's signs at a political rally are there because they personally believe in and support what that candidate stands for. The notion that they are being paid leaves a sour taste.

I think all serious debate-goers were distressed Monday by the way the spirited and raucous atmosphere of the outdoor rally spread indoors, disrupting the actual event.

The debate disruptions, from applause, boos and even catcalls, started with McMahon supporters. By the end, though, Murphy supporters had chimed in, too.

A Murphy campaign spokesman told me Tuesday they had no paid supporters in the house.

I hope the McMahon campaign wasn't paying debate hecklers either. And I trust that hiring sign carriers is not what she means when she says she is a job creator.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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