Public-Interest Polling

Jacksonville Times-Union story, September 17, 2007, pp B1 and B3

Alan F Kay

PETER WILLOTT/St. Augustine Record Alan Kay of St. Augustine has spent $21,000 of his own money to commission and publicize a poll he says shows Americans' desire to impeach President Bush.

Man's money follows his beliefs

He made his fortune in business
and now uses it to support his social causes.

By DEIRDRE CONNER, The Times-Union

ST. AUGUSTINE - Alan F. Kay is willing to go there.

Just the word "impeachment" is a hot potato that few in politics are willing to touch. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi kiboshed the idea as soon as she took office.

But Kay hopes she'll reconsider.

The St. Augustine man spent $21,000 to commission and publicize a poll that he said shows more than 40 percent of Americans would like to see the president and vice president impeached.

His survey may never make the front page of The New York Times or The Washington Post. But if the poll, released last week, gets into the hands of congressional Democratic leaders, it will be worth every penny to Kay.

There are a whole mouthful of adjectives to describe Kay, most of them self-imposed: militarist, millionaire, mathematician, inventor, peacenik, octogenarian.

He made his fortune in business, first working for a military surveillance and analysis contractor that made technological advances, then founding AutEx, a company that was building business-to-business computer networks by the late 1960s. By the 1980s, he was devoting his life - and his net worth - to social causes.

Kay, who will be 82 next month, believes too few in power have learned lessons from history, especially the American occupation of Japan, where he worked as a military interpreter after World War II.

For more than a decade, Kay focused his time and money on an organization he founded, Americans Talk Issues.

He authored a book titled Spot the Spin: The Fun Way to Keep Democracy Alive & Elections Honest and wrote another treatise outlining his plan to save democracy through better polling, which would create a consensus for policy decisions. He "fell in love with the American people" and commissioned dozens of public interest polls.

"It was so valuable, I wanted to keep putting money into it," he said.

Kay is the first to admit that his latest poll, a telephone questionnaire of 1,088 people by a professional research firm, may appear biased. Around 70 percent of those polled said they believe the president is violating the Constitution, in response to a long question that, in part, read "the role of the courts and the judiciary are diminished in this process."

Similar to responses in other national polls, 69 percent of those surveyed oppose a presidential pardon for Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice presidential aide convicted in the CIA leak case.

According to demographic information collected, Democrats were slightly over-represented among its respondents. That came as a surprise to Tony Parker, president of The Parker Group, which conducted the poll but didn't write the questionnaire. The poll was based on random digit dialing and balanced geographically, he said, both industry standards.

Kay said he consulted with long-time Republican pollster Fred Steeper to help remove political bias from the questionnaire and took all of his suggestions.

Steeper declined to comment specifically on this poll.

The idea, Kay said, was to keep surveys balanced by having one Republican pollster and one Democratic pollster help draft them. Kay and the two hammered out a questionnaire until they were satisfied - it often took many drafts, noted Steeper, who usually was the Republican half.

Steeper was a principal polling consultant for both Bush presidents as well as presidents Nixon and Ford; he now is semi-retired. He worked for many years with Kay, who had requested his services when he commissioned past surveys, which mostly focused on issues big-name polling firms wouldn't pick up. There were nearly 40 of them, he estimated.

"What's unique about Alan is ... I've never known any independently wealthy person who's done that with so many varied issues," Steeper said.

The survey released last week was the first poll Kay commissioned since 1999, he said.

"I swear I'm not doing another one," he said.

But Steeper isn't as sure Kay will be able to resist.

"Something else will catch his interest," he said.

deirdre.conner@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4504

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