Misleading and misdirection in election mailers is not new

The strategy is reminiscent of what Moxie Media did to unseat a state senator in 2010.

  • Thursday, October 25, 2018 9:55am
  • Opinion

Glen Morgan is a political conservative with a knack for annoying elected Democrats and their progressive allies.

Usually he does it by scrutinizing the bookkeeping of their political operations then filing complaints with the Public Disclosure Commission on errors he discovers, no matter how minute.

But this past week he ticked them off when he climbed into the electoral arena, badmouthed their endorsed candidates in a handful of contests and provided voters a name of a different Democrat to write in.

As of Tuesday, Morgan-led political committees had sent mailers into four legislative districts with heated races for House and Senate seats.

He’s loaned the effort $10,000. He got another 10K from Peter Zieve of Mukilteo, a gold-plated aerospace executive with a multiplatinum record of impolite politics. Zieve opposed the building of a mosque in Mukilteo and got fined by the state over allegations he discriminated against employees of his company, Electroimpact Inc.

The mailers all had a marked similarity. Names of the Republican and Democratic candidates were crossed out and the name of a different Democrat described as a “real progressive” was scrawled next to a write-in box.

Logos of unions and organizations such as Planned Parenthood are on the mailers. And there are lengthy endorsements from the Progressive Voters Guide compiled by Fuse, a statewide coalition of labor and social progressives.

The content is accurate – but not this year. Those endorsements and accolades were given in a past election cycle when those purported write-in candidates were actually on a ballot.

They’ve been loudly condemned by those in the Democratic Party and its extended family who fear the chicanery could divert votes from their candidate and cost them an election. They got a lawyer to file a complaint with the PDC.

“This is dirty politics at its worst and we are absolutely livid about it,” said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council. “These Republican political operatives must think their candidates can’t win unless they cheat and trick voters. It’s shameless and disgraceful.”

Aaron Ostrom, executive director of Fuse, called it “a new low for Washington. Republicans have become addicted to bald-faced lying and shameless deception, and it has to stop.”

Oh how quickly one forgets.

Eight years ago, the two organizations employed a master of misdirection who set the bar for deception and lying even lower to elect a progressive Democrat to the state Senate.

Actions carried out by the brain trust of Moxie Media in the 2010 primary proved illegal and led to a six-figure fine against the firm. It also spurred the state’s former attorney general to consider invalidating the election in which then-wunderkind Nick Harper ousted incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Berkey of Everett.

Harper, now the deputy mayor of Everett, was recruited by progressive forces frustrated with Berkey’s moderate leanings. Those forces, including unions and Fuse, then hired Moxie Media to run a roughly $280,000 independent campaign of television and radio ads, mailers and phone calls supporting Harper and opposing Berkey.

Days before the primary, the firm’s leader, Lisa MacLean, created two new political action committees for the purpose of building up support for Rod Rieger, the mostly unknown third candidate in the race. Rieger, running as prefers “Conservative Party,” had spent a grand total of $800 on his campaign to that point.

And through these two committees – Conservative PAC and Cut Taxes PAC – MacLean secretly funneled money to pay for postcards and robocalls to likely Republican voters in hopes of drumming up votes for Rieger.

None of this came out until after the election in which Berkey finished third, 122 votes behind Rieger. A subsequent PDC probe and lawsuit from then-attorney general Rob McKenna ended in a settlement; Moxie Media was fined $250,000, of which $140,000 was suspended, and ordered to pay $40,000 in attorney fees to the state.

Morgan said he reviewed the case several times and points out Moxie Media erred by not disclosing its role in those committees or the source of pledged money funding them. He said he’s open about what he’s doing.

“I did not do what Moxie Media did,” Morgan said. “Do they really think I would set up a PAC and go break the law? I know what the law says.”

There’s a whole bunch of elected Democrats, union leaders, educators and social progressives hoping he’s wrong.

If not, this strategy of misdirection could become more commonplace in Washington elections.

That would really be annoying.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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