CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The former New England chairman of President Bush’s re-election campaign pleaded innocent in federal court Monday to charges he helped jam Democrats’ get-out-the-vote phone lines on Election Day 2002.

James Tobin, 44, of Bangor, Maine, faces two criminal counts each of conspiring to make harassing telephone calls and aiding and abetting telephone harassment. The operation also involved a ride-to-the-polls phone line set up by the nonpartisan Manchester firefighters’ union.

Tobin, who was northeast political director of the Republican Senatorial Committee at the time, was indicted Dec. 1 after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. He faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted.

Tobin is free on personal recognizance and prosecutors agreed he did not pose a flight risk or a danger to the public.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge James Muirhead ordered him to surrender his passport and any weapons Monday and said he should report to pre-trial services, just like any other criminal defendant. Muirhead threatened to jail Tobin if he gets so much as a speeding ticket before his trial begins Feb. 1.

“He’s no different than a street hooker in Manchester,” Muirhead said. “If he’s guilty, then I find his crime as offensive as any other crime.”

Disrupting the electoral process is an “outrage against the constitution,” Muirhead said.

Tobin stepped down as Bush’s regional campaign chairman on Oct. 15, when state Democrats said in a separate civil lawsuit they believed he took part in the phone-jamming scheme.

Tobin and his lawyers, Brian Tucker of Concord and Dennis Black of Washington, declined to comment Monday.

Tobin denied any involvement when he was first named, but said he was resigning for the sake of Bush’s re-election campaign. When he was indicted two weeks ago, he said he would fight to clear his name.

Kathy Sullivan, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said after Tobin’s arraignment she was glad the judge was taking the charges seriously.

“The court understands that this crime was outrageous and an attempt to undercut our electoral process,” she said.

She also criticized Tom Rath, the Republican National Committeeman from New Hampshire, for allowing a member of his law firm – Tucker – to represent Tobin. Rath did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Two other Republicans have pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy in the phone-jamming operation: Chuck McGee, former executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party; and Allen Raymond, a former colleague of Tobin’s who operated GOP Marketplace, a telemarketing service in Alexandria, Va. They are scheduled to be sentenced in February and March.

In past court proceedings, prosecutors have said McGee planned the phone-jamming operation and discussed it with a “high-ranking official in the New Hampshire State Republican Committee.” So far, that official has not been named or charged.

Tobin is accused of putting McGee in touch with Raymond after McGee complained he could not find a telemarketer able or willing to carry out his plan. McGee then wrote a $15,600 check, using state Republican party funds, to GOP Marketplace, according to court records.

GOP Marketplace in turn paid an Idaho telemarketing company $2,500 to place hundreds of computerized hang-up calls to five phone lines used by state Democrats and one used by the Manchester firefighters’ union, the indictment says. More than 800 hang-up calls tied up the phones for nearly an hour and a half, before the unnamed official ordered McGee to stop the jamming.

One of the races affected was the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu. It was considered very tight, but Sununu ended up winning by about 20,000 votes.

Tobin founded a communications and political consulting company in Bangor before getting into GOP politics. He previously served as national political director for publisher Steve Forbes’ presidential campaign.

AP-ES-12-13-04 1552EST

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