Oct. 11 2015 07:46 PM

Some candidates for city council take stand to oppose "smear tactics"

After weeks of negative mailers and robocalls from a shadowy nonprofit organization, one Lansing City Council candidate has taken a stand to oppose the tactics — and she’s asking the others to join her.

Emily Dievendorf, one of four candidates vying for two at-large seats in the November election, presented a petition and statement to other candidates last week at the Eastside Neighborhood Organization candidate’s night.

So far, these candidates have signed Dievendorf’s pledge: Adam Hussain, a challenger to Third Ward incumbent A’Lynne Boles; At-large challenger Harold Leeman Jr.; incumbent Carol Wood; and First Ward incumbent Jody Washington.

Not signing it are: Boles, Mielock and Spitzley.

Here’s the language candidates were asked to sign.

Money and bullying should NOT decide who represents Lansing citizens. Candidates for public office and voters deserve better than campaign smear tactics intended to distract us from the real issues. People in Lansing are struggling. We have serious work to do.

We, the undersigned candidates for Lansing City Council, commit to focusing on issues over personal rivalries.

We call on Capitol Region Progress to immediately cease flooding Lansing voters’ mailboxes with deceptive mail pieces, and to stop making illegal robocalls to voters’ homes.

Furthermore, as candidates for public office, we believe in ethics and transparency. To that end, we demand Capitol Region Progress disclose who is funding these negative campaign tactics, so that Lansing citizens know exactly who is attempting to influence elections.

“I offered the pledge not because I am under the impression that negative smear campaigning is illegal or because I believe this one letter will change the law, but because it is a leader's job to cast a vision and set an example,” Dievendorf said on why she decided to push the issue. “Lansing can and should do better than the petty personal rivalries and character attacks we have all come to consider business as usual in our city. Just as these campaign tactics have been deemed legal, taking strong stands and starting conversations on the damage and distraction that lack of transparency creates can move us toward laws and policies that respect the intelligence and integrity of our citizens. At the very least, the current candidates for public office can sign the pledge to commit to focusing on the real issues. Only when and if these ads cease will voters have an honest opportunity to know and choose those who will represent and serve their best interests.”

Mielock, Washington’s challenger, had already left when Dievendorf presented the pledge. She did not respond to an email inquiry about signing the document. Dievendorf said Mielock saw an invitation on social media to view the document.

Spitzley, who was at the meeting, declined to sign. Here’s how she responded in an email to City Pulse:

“You are correct in that I did not sign the document last night for the following reasons:

1. I am already on record as opposing this type of negative campaigning. When the first negative add appeared in my mailbox (I live in the 3rd ward) you called me and I strongly opposed this type political strategy. I told you then, as I told the folks at the Eastside Neighborhood Organization's candidate forum last night that my campaign will never knowingly or actively participate in this type of political activity. As I have said countless times, my vision for the City of Lansing should be what the voters evaluate me on.

2. As I stated last night, unfortunately these activities are legal, and have withstood scrutiny by the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court which in 2010 as part of a review of the McCain-Feingold Act held that these type of 501(c)(4) organizations are legal, not required to disclose their donors or the dollars they have received. This activity is also protected under the 1st amendment governing freedom of speech. As a lawyer, I take very seriously both the ruling by the Supreme Court and the United States Constitution.

3. There are however parameters that come with the law and any group who participates in these activities must be held accountable to the laws that govern them. As such I support the process undertaken to file a complaint with the FCC.

4. Signing a petition is a political activity and carries no weight or force of law and like the negative adds and robocalls take time and effort away from the real issues that affect Lansing residents that I am committed to working through Council and with the current administration to solve.”

Hussain and Washington have been targeted by Capitol Region Progress with mailers and robocalls. Some residents in the Third Ward, where Hussain is seeking election, filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission last week alleging robocalls they had received violated federal rules.

“What has been allowed to transpire throughout this election cycle, and in previous ones, can't continue,” Hussain said. “My fear is that qualified, dynamic candidates are opting to not run because they don't want to subject their families to these type of defamatory attacks. The entire region is being impacted negatively and I admire all of the candidates who have chosen to publicly stand against this type of nonsense.”

Boles, who has not signed, has previously told City Pulse she would not call on Capital Region Progress to stop its activities, citing their First Amendment rights.