MONDAY Sept. 28 — The mailing of absentee ballots, which happened Friday in Lansing, also coincided with robocalls in the First and Third wards.
And those calls may have violated federal rules on pre-recorded political calls. The Federal Communications Commission, in a September 2012 memo, stated that political calls had to identify the sponsoring business at the beginning of the call, as well as provide a telephone number for those who received the call to call back. Neither robocall had those two required items in them.
At the end of each call, the recorded voice identifies Capitol Region Progress as the sponsor of the call. That organization is 501(c)4 organization. That means it is categorized as an educational organization by the IRS. However, it need not report who funds it — making it difficult to identify who is paying for the robocalls and other political activity in the area.
In addition to the calls, Third Ward voters received a mailer from the group on Thursday accusing Hussain of being a puppet of his mother, Washington. It also criticizes Hussain for sending his kids to another school district over “political disagreements” with the Lansing Schools.
Forms filed by the organization with IRS list Moreno Taylor, operations manager of Grassroots Midwest, a bipartisan political consulting agency based in Lansing, as the president of Capitol Region Progress. Taylor has not returned phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Adrian Hemond, who is a principal in Grassroots Midwest, declined to comment on the organization’s relationship with Capitol Region Progress, and also declined to discuss his role in recording the robocall against Hussain. He did acknowledge Taylor had received City Pulse’s inquiries and discussed them with him.
This is not the first time Capitol Region Progress has intervened in local political races. Last year, the group attacked Ingham County Commissioner Deb Nolan and the year before that, Brian Jeffries, a former At-Large Lansing City Council member. All of the people who have been targeted by the group have also had very public disagreements with Mayor Virg Bernero and his administration policies.
Last year, Bernero denied direct involvement with the group in an email to City Pulse.
“As to Capitol Region Progress, I’m not a member or an officer of the organization and I don’t direct their efforts, but I do appreciate their advocacy for a stronger Lansing region,” he wrote.
In the First Ward, the recorded voice of an unidentified woman accuses Washington, a one-term incumbent, of allegedly voting against grant money for Lansing parks and “standing in the way of Lansing’s progress.” The call also accused her of “looking down” on voters.
Washington is squaring off with political newcomer Shelley Davis Mielock. Mielock has Bernero’s backing.
Reached over the weekend, Davis Mielock called the Third Ward robocalls “unfortunate,” but declined to condemn the attacks call because she didn’t know the rules and regulations well enough to feel comfortable commenting.
On Monday Washington issued the following statement on the robocall to City Pulse:
“I am not going to dignify this shadowy front-group with a response to their annoying illegal robocall. People in the First Ward know I'm working hard to make our neighborhoods cleaner and safer, and they know that I've played a leading role in bringing new investments and jobs in our side of Lansing — and that's why I'm endorsed by numerous community leaders, including Barb Byrum, Andy Schor, our police and firefighters, and many more. People are sick and tired of dirty politics, and I'm confident that First Ward voters will make their voices heard on Election Day. “
In the Third Ward, voters were greeted to a message voiced by Hemond, of Grassroots Midwest, attacks Hussain because his child attends the Okemos Public Schools and he has been critical of the Lansing Schools leadership.
Hussain is challenging two-term incumbent A’Lynne Boles. Boles, like Davis Mielock, has the backing of Bernero.
Hussain told City Pulse his child attends Okemos schools because that’s where his wife works. He said figuring out how to get his child to a Lansing school, while he works in Waverly schools and his wife in Okemos, was a “logistical nightmare.”
Boles whose daughter attends a private, religious school in Lansing, declinedto condemn the attacks in her race.
“I would not ask them to give up their First Amendment rights any more than I would ask some one who came down to City Council and was standing at the podium,” she said.
She said “the next piece could be against me” and noted she has called for a “positive campaign.”