by Joe Shea
November 1, 2014
GOP'S 'INTIMIDATING' MAILER TESTS CREDIBILITY OF LOCAL NEWSPAPERS
BRADENTON, Fla., Nov. 1, 2014, 9:30pm ET -- A Republican PAC's mailer that outs non-voters in neighborhoods across the country is enraging voters in Florida who say the mailers are "intimidating," and elections supervisors are calling the mailers "threats."
The mailers from the National Association of Realtors lists non-voters in the recipients' neighborhood by name and address and says a second mailer will reveal the names of those who failed to vote on Nov. 4.
"We are providing the names of your neighbors and their voting record. The next time we send this mailer we will include information on who voted in this upcoming November election," the mailer says, according to media reports.
It is one of the rare mistakes Republicans have made in a year that seemed to have everything going for them, including disputed leads in key U.S. Senate races that pollsters say appear likely to go the GOP's way.
Nonetheless, it is not clear whether voters will feel pressured to vote, and do, due to the mailers and the potential for embarrassment, or will react against the Republican authors of the mailers, or will vote Democratic rather than be bullied into voting for Republicans.
Meanwhile, some newspapers like the Orange County, Calif.-based McClatchy chain's Bradenton (Fla.) Herald, which has endorsed Republicans for decades in Florida's local, state and national races, buried evidence of Republican involvement as Republican officials suddenly became alarmed about voter outrage following the revelation.
On Friday, the Bradenton paper headline story mentioned the mailer's Republican origins early in the first paragraph - the eighth word, in fact - but hid it on Saturday, when it was also a front-page headline.
In its front-page story Saturday, the word "Republicans" didn't appear until the 8th paragraph and was the 267th word, on Page 11A, the "jump page," where readers often fail to follow.
The paper has heard from a number of outraged voters about its coverage, it said, and that coverage initially made the GOP's backing of the PAC mail evident. And in its Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014 edition, available late Saturday on its home page (bradenton.com) the Herald condemns the mailer and those who sent it - but never mentions Republicans:
"Shame on the Orlando-based political action committee known as Citizens for a Better Florida Inc. for sending offensive mailers to some Manatee County registered voters. This disreputable organization has no qualms about threatening to reveal to neighbors who voted this election season," the paper says.
With the mid-term elections coming up Nov. 4 and the U.S. Senate majority hanging in the balance, open and dramatic coverage of the Republican mailer seems to have been discouraged at the Herald.
But the Herald alone deserves credit for breaking the story in the first place, and at least at the beginning of their coverage properly assigned blame for the mailer to Republican activists. And I am curious why the story they gave us hasn't gotten other national attention?
Not so, though, for the similarly Republican-leaning Sarasota, Fla., Herald Tribune, which on Friday, like the Bradenton paper, made it a lead story.
"In 2012, the conservative Americans for Prosperity [a Koch Brothers creation] used a similar tactic in Virginia, while the liberal MoveOn.org used it in races nationally to get sporadic voters to the polls," political reporter Jeremy Wallace wrote in Saturday's editions of the Herald Tribune.
Wallace also noted that the sponsoring group, the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee, abruptly made two $20,000 donations on Wednesday, when the story broke in the Bradenton Herald, to both the state Republicans and Democratic party organizations - apparently to present an appearance of bipartisanship.
But the paper changed its "teaser" on the home page Saturday from "Mailers threaten to rat out non-voters" to "Mailers threaten to out non-voters," the kind of editorial choice that reflects an editor's leanings.
It also may have changed its political writer's column to eliminate any mention of gifts from the PAC to Florida's Republican Governor, Rick Scott.
That may have been done at the behest of the 11th-richest member of Congress, Sarasota Ford dealer Vern Buchanan, who is in a battle with popular BFL star Henry Lwrence, a three-time winner of the Super Bowl and a Pro Bowl selection. Sarasota Ford's advertisements may bring in more than $1 million a year to the paper.
Wallace has not responded to comments about the apparent change, and it could not be independently confirmed. The Bradenton Herald story on Saturday did tie Scott to the group's contributions - on Page 11A.
The Realtor PAC gave an organization called "Citizens for a Better Florida" a little less than $1 million to cover costs of the mailer, Wallace reported.
Headquartered, as many PACs are, at a CPA's office in Tallahassee, information from the Florida Division of Elections shows it has made $2,222,167.66 in donations since 2008.
Much of its money, according to the reports, has gone to an an Orlando Realtors group called ORRA SGS, which in turn has supported a long roster of Republican candidates from Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, a big-busted, bombastic blonde who is running for re-election this year, to various statehouse Republican legislators.
I should be the first to say that when others tell me they have not voted I do not try to hide my outrage and disappointment.
My first published work, "Why We Should Vote," was posted in a Monroe, N.Y., polling place when I was 12 years old.
I believe voters do have an obligation to make hard choices and cast their ballots, and that anything that legally persuades them to do so is fine.
Yet I find it ironic that Republicans, who through new Voter ID laws in many states have worked to suppress minority voters, should try to shame anyone into voting.
Joe Shea is founder and Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter, the world's first online daily newspaper, is a frequent voter and is a press spokesman for Democratic Congressional candidate Henry Lawrence (D-FL16). Write him at email@example.com using the Subject header "AR SHEA," please.