John Tsarpalas: Today’s podcast started off with a conversation between Tina Keats and myself talking about campaign negatives. After listening to this, I realized it is really two topics going on here and it was way too long for one segment.
So kind of like Dr. Ben Carson separating conjoined twins, I unraveled this conversation into two parts. Today’s podcast, Truthful Facts Aren’t Negatives, Commonwealthy #39, and then next week will be Responding to Political Attacks, Commonwealthy #40.
Today Tina and I are going to talk about negative ads. How do you challenge your opponent if you are being attacked or they are coming at you with negatives? How do you respond?
Tina, let’s just kind of keep it broad. We’ll talk about primaries, generals, and whatever; it’s kind of all the same as you said to me before I pushed the record button. So let’s just jump right in.
Kristina Keats: Okay, well the first thing about negative adverting is that a lot of people are really uncomfortable with it. They say things like, “I don’t want to do any negative advertising.” My response to that is, first off, you have to define what you are talking about.
If you are need in of letting the voters know a negative event or attribute of your opponent (for example, let’s say they were arrested for a DUI or they were arrested for having an underage drinking party in their house),that is not negative advertising. That is informing people of facts. And then it is up to the voter to decide whether they want that person representing them.
It is important to distinguish between untruthful things that people say and truthful facts. If you have a truthful fact (for example, DUI) and you want to inform the voters of that, the best way to do that is you need to get original documents. I am really big on original documents.
You get a copy of the court preceding. You are not going to use the entire thing in a mailing, but you are going to pull out the things that are important (the date, the number, the verdict, or whatever) and reproduce it so that people can see it. Then it is not just you saying that this happened; you are showing that this happened.
The document better be a hundred percent accurate. No forged documents. Don’t pull a (who was that guy?) Dan Rather who accepted forged documents on George W. Bush.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah!
Kristina Keats: If the document is real, you go to the original source. It could also be a newspaper article about something that happened. It’s always better to use a third party source when you are disseminating information. That even means positive information about yourself. If you can get somebody else saying it, it’s much better.
But it is important. I think too many people shy away from what is actual factual information the voters need by thinking that, “Well, that’s kind of negative to say that about them.” Not if it is true!
You have, I think, a moral obligation to let the voters know all of the negatives about your opponent. If you won’t do it, who will? And if it is truly a negative thing, like for example a race we ran where someone was running for school board and had an underage drinking party in his house while he and his wife were in Europe (they left their underage- that means under 18- children home alone), to me that is a relative issue that the voters should know.
If you don’t tell them, your opponent is not going to say, “Oh, by the way, before you elect me, you should know that this is my view of raising children. It’s perfectly okay to go to Europe and leave sixteen year olds home alone. No problem with that, right?” Well, there may be voters who say, “I don’t have a problem with that.”
John Tsarpalas: Well, and this was for a school board race, so this person is judging how children should be treated and taken care of.
Kristina Keats: Right! So when you are deciding we are going to go negative, be specific about what that means. There is a big difference between a negative mailing that informs voters of an important character or any other issue about your opponent and just making things up, which people have done.
“He didn’t pay his child support” and it turns out not to be true. If you say something that is unflattering and it is not true, that could be the end of your campaign.
John Tsarpalas: Well, we as principled people, people of our beliefs (limited government, conservative, Libertarian, or whatever you are) believe in honesty. One of the foundations of capitalism is honest transactions; it’s not about fraud. It’s not about bribery or corruption. That’s the other party.
In my mind, the Democrats are the party of corruption. I live in Chicago. Big government breeds corruption.
Kristina Keats: I will say that all politics is subject to corruption as everything is. There are corrupt business people. There are corrupt doctors and corrupt clergy. Every single walk of life has corrupt individuals.
The point here is as long as you are being honest about what you are putting out there, you have, I believe, a moral obligation to do it- to let the voters know. They may still vote for this person. The school board candidate that had the underage drinking party got elected. Well, partly because the people who I was advising at the time refused to send out what they considered a negative ad.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah.
Kristina Keats: So they lost. That meant somebody who, in my opinion, did not have the character serve on the school board was on the school board. So that is the consequence. If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get out there. They are not going to do it. So that’s the important thing.
So be very careful that what you are putting out is truthful and necessary and relates to the office being held. And that’s a judgment thing.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, it’s a judgment thing. Let me jump in here. But here’s how I like to handle things. Find it somewhere where it was printed, where it was a story, a news story, or even a blog. Find somewhere where you can cite. It’s important to name the source (“As said in the Wall Street Journal,” “As said in the Picayune Gazette”, or whatever it happened to be.) Cite it. Put a little footnote and at the bottom cite it as a source.
Kristina Keats: Or a legal document. If they defaulted on a loan or anything, you can get the document. Those things are public record. Make a copy and cite it. Since everybody has internet now, you can have the entire document on your website. Or you can have a reference to it and then say, “If you’d like to read the entire document…”
John Tsarpalas: Right, with links to those articles, correct.
Kristina Keats: Right, link it to the original source. If you got it from the county records office or the newspaper, you an link it to that source.
John Tsarpalas: Correct.
Kristina Keats: But you shouldn’t make allegations for what you have no documentation. “I hear that…” Harry Reid was the perfect example on Romney. “A friend of mine told me he never paid his taxes.”
John Tsarpalas: Right. That lie was out there and it never really got cleaned up. And Romney paid every tax imaginable I imagine.
Kristina Keats: Right. I don’t believe in engaging in that kind of negative, where you put out, “Well, I heard he beat his wife.” It’s very hard. “When did you stop beating your wife?” “Well, I never beat my wife.” How do you prove a negative? If your wife is there, she can say, “Well, he never beat me.”
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, right. And it’s ridiculous to go down that rabbit hole.
Kristina Keats: Right. But these are harder. And that’s the next part of it. So we’ve talked about you doing not negative, but informed information about your opponent that your opponent would never put out, if that’s what you want to call it.
John Tsarpalas: How about finding information on your opponent? Yeah, you are going to do some googling. You probably should go to your local library archives and dig around.
That reminds me of the story of the guy that was running back in Wilmette and he was running on civility. And yet he had gotten into a fist fight with his neighbor. We tried to find the stories and they had been cut out of all the local newspapers in the archives.
Kristina Keats: Right. Was that the one where he took down, tore his neighbor’s fence down because the neighbor wasn’t letting him walk on his property? That one?
John Tsarpalas: No, there was a guy that got in a fist fight.
Kristina Keats: I missed that one. I must not have been involved in that one.
John Tsarpalas: You were. You just don’t remember. I remember doing it with you. And I remember going to the library and the article had been cut out of the local paper there that was archived. It was gone. We actually found it at the historical society. They didn’t go to that archive and cut out the story. They had tried to clean it up by cutting it all out. This was pre-Internet days.
Kristina Keats: Yeah. See that’s going to be harder. Since really the mid-nineties organizations have been archiving on the Internet. So that will be harder and harder to do in the future.
John Tsarpalas: Correct. Right. So anyway. What I wanted to touch on is in Commonwealthy podcast #36, Candidate Watchdog Winner with Jason Carini. This is a young guy who ran for his county treasurer’s office.
What did he do? He started doing a whole bunch of Freedom of Information Act Requests on the office and all the emails. He found that that county treasurer had not collected anyone that was delinquent for their business taxes to the tune to a million and a half dollars that weren’t collected.
Kristina Keats: Why not?
John Tsarpalas: She was too lazy to do it!
Kristina Keats: She was lazy.
John Tsarpalas: She was lazy! But she had been in office twenty-three years and just had gotten lazy. So he found this.
Kristina Keats: Was she talking about it in the emails?
John Tsarpalas: He found it not only in emails, but also going through government documents like budgets and things. Somehow he put this together and it was true. He actually confronted her at a town hall debate situation and she said, “Yeah, that’s true. I haven’t collected those.”
Kristina Keats: At least she’s honest!
John Tsarpalas: She was honest, but lazy! So this man not only created but found really important information to the people of that county. Heck, she hadn’t collected taxes. This is her whole job! She’s not doing her job. So he defeated her handily.
Kristina Keats: People don’t have any sympathy for businesses who don’t pay their taxes.
John Tsarpalas: Right. He also went way beyond. He was kind of unbelievable. He started looking at businesses that hadn’t paid their taxes and the owner’s homes if they had yard signs up for her.
Kristina Keats: And did they?
John Tsarpalas: And they did! He started putting this out. They are supporting her because she’s not collecting the taxes.
Kristina Keats: Right! That’s the whole point. It’s a wonderful story to encourage people to be creative about how you are going to run for office. Every single individual human being in unique. You have to figure out what your strengths are and hump for the weaknesses of your opponent. You are the only person who can do that (you and your team.)
That’s a fabulous story if you are running against a “entrenched incumbent” who would never get thrown out because she’s been there for twenty-three years. Well, yeah!
John Tsarpalas: That is a good story. So anyway, that’s one way you can come up with stuff. It takes work. This is something if you can find some volunteers that are maybe not the type that are going to knock on doors for you or make phone calls, but they are researcher people that can do some digging around. You can put them on this kind of work of digging around on your opposition.
There’s also, for attacking, I have touched on this just once somewhere before and that’s a push poll. We didn’t talk about a push poll. Should I define what that is?
Kristina Keats: Yeah. I mean, it’s a different kind of negative.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah. Well, a push poll is under the guise that you are polling. You would have pollsters or people on the phone calling people. Or sometimes it is an automated call.
Kristina Keats: Yeah, in this day and age.
John Tsarpalas: It’s often automated.
Kristina Keats: It’s automated and why not?
John Tsarpalas: But the question is phrased something like (and this is going to be an extreme I am about to cite), “Would you be voting for John Doe if you knew that he once embezzled $100,000 from a business he was working for?” And all that is trying to do is tell you he is an embezzler. It isn’t really wanting the polling information back. So you could use that.
Kristina Keats: Right. The ones I’ve seen more often (and this isn’t in school boards, but in state rep) is when they’ll call and they’ll say, “Would you vote for Joe Blow if you knew that he did not support a woman’s right to choose, even in the case of incest and rape?”
John Tsarpalas: Right. And that plays in these urban areas.
Kristina Keats: And that may not be true. That may not be Joe Blow’s position, but it doesn’t matter. They’ve put it out there that Joe Blow.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And their universe is they are usually calling younger women or women that they’ve identified as liberal or abortion is their issue.
Kristina Keats: In my experience, they just call all women. They just assume all women are pro-choice.
John Tsarpalas: Well, in urban areas. That’s not true in rural areas. But that is what they do in the suburbs of Chicago.
Kristina Keats: That is where they do it. Because I used to get calls even though I was a Republican primary voter. They’d make those calls. It’s kind of stupid. It’s so cheap. It costs them two cents. So what?
John Tsarpalas: Right. Be prepared to put out the truth about your opponent. Quit thinking of it as negative. “I am not going to go negative.” Oh, and here’s something we didn’t even touch on. Here’s a huge thing we are forgetting. Have a third party do the attacking, somebody else. Not you, not your campaign.
One of the things that is happening with Super PACs in this world is the Super PACs are doing the attacking on the opponent. And then it can’t be linked back to that candidate directly.
Kristina Keats: And you can do that at the local level. The best is especially using those cheap media (robo-calls, social media, etc.). Don’t have your campaign doing it; have someone like just a housewife sitting there putting stuff out.
One of the things that we’ve had happen against us is where you form an organization, you fund it with a couple hundred dollars, and then do robo-calls that are attack robo-calls. I am not for doing stuff that is deceptive. It has been done against us.
An example is a robo-call came out of Colorado into Illinois directed at Republican primary voters. The call was broadcasted at 10:30 at night. The message claimed to be from the Republican candidate.
John Tsarpalas: Right. It was just out to tick everybody off by calling in the middle of the night.
Kristina Keats: The next morning the phone rang off the hook with Republicans calling the Republican candidate. “I am not going to vote for you. How dare you call me at 10:30 at night?”
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Kristina Keats: It wasn’t our candidate who had done it; it was the opponent. It probably is illegal to misrepresent and say you are the Republican when you are not. The problem was it was broadcast by a company out of Colorado. It didn’t even have to disclosure to the finance part because it only cost like fifty bucks.
John Tsarpalas: Oh, so it was so cheap.
Kristina Keats: It was below the limits of requiring to be reported. I am not suggesting that people do that. I am warning you that somebody could do it to you. Then it is really hard to respond because it takes you a while to figure out what happened. But just be aware that something like that could happen.
John Tsarpalas: Yes, and does.
Kristina Keats: It does. In that case, what would be a good response is to do a robo-call at the right hour. Start it out with a question like, “Did you receive an annoying last night about [candidate’s name]? It was not sent by us. It was sent by our opponent. We apologize for his rudeness, but it had nothing to do with us. It is probably illegal what they did, but we can’t prove it. It was sent from an out of state…” You explain what happened, but do it in under twenty seconds. People won’t listen to longer than that.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah. Back to using a third party for attacks. Say you are running against a Democrat and you’ve got a local Republican organization that can be your attack dog for you or there is a group that can do this for you. It’s much better than your campaign group doing it.
Kristina Keats: Or form a group.
John Tsarpalas: Or form a group.
Kristina Keats: Citizens for Fiscally Responsible School Boards.
John Tsarpalas: Right. I have been involved in forming groups to be attack dogs that were separate. And they were separate from the campaign. We use those groups so that it didn’t come from the candidate. It didn’t come from the organization. We just did the negatives from somewhere else.
Kristina Keats: Right.
John Tsarpalas: That group filed and that group reported. All of that was on the up and up, but there was no way they could link it or trace it back to the campaign.
Kristina Keats: Right. The voters get that the Super PACs are supporting specific candidates essentially.
John Tsarpalas: Right. It doesn’t have to be a Super PAC is what I am saying. It can be a little teeny PAC.
Kristina Keats: It could be a little tiny thing funded with four hundred bucks.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And it could even be an issue advocacy group that is a 501(c)4, putting out, “Did you know that so and so voted for more air pollution” or whatever the issue is.
Kristina Keats: Well, it can even be an outside group that is supporting even in the name of the group that they are supporting you.
John Tsarpalas: Correct.
Kristina Keats: That can happen.
John Tsarpalas: Well, that is where all the abortion things come from. They come from the EMILY’s List of the world and liberal groups. It is never happening.
Kristina Keats: Right. That is a really smart way to do it.
John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay.
Kristina Keats: I think we have pretty much covered it, don’t you think?
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I think we’ve exhausted it. I think the important take away on what Tina and I discussed today is be prepared to tell the truth and let people know things that might not know about your opponent that are important or relevant to the race. The school board member who had an underage drinking party, the candidate who was running on civility who had a fist fight with his neighbor- these are germane to what they are saying.
So think about what you can find out about your opponent and where you can find it. And when you find it, is it relative to the campaign and what’s going on? If it is, then you probably have an obligation to the voters to put it out.
Think about the best way to get that message out. Is it print? Is it a phone call? Is it simply a press release? Is it just put on your website? Lots and lots of different media and mediums to get things out. So think about that and what’s the best way to get the information out to the public.
I hope you enjoyed today’s discussion. Next week we will be back with Commonwealthy #40, Responding to Attacks, which is part of this conversation that we just had. As I said in the beginning, I edited segments of it out and put together all about how you respond when people are putting out things about you, whether they be truthful or untruthful. How do you handle it? That’s a complicated subject as well.
So I hope you’ll come back next week. In the meantime, if you’ve enjoyed this segment, please go to iTunes and write us a review. A review will really help us. We’ll talk to you next time. Thanks for listening.