Mayoral candidates Andy Schor and Judi Brown Clarke have pledged to run clean campaigns. But someone conducting an anonymous telephone “push poll” apparently is not onboard, at least in Schor’s view.
“There’s zero legitimacy to it,” Schor said of the calls. “Push polling data is only done to tear down, tear somebody down. In this case they’re trying to tear me down with falsification. I think the people Lansing are smarter than that to fall for this dirty political trick.”
A push poll is a political tool used to sway a respondent’s answers in a particular direction.
Schor contended the push poll is designed to place Brown Clarke in a better light.
Brown Clarke views it differently. “I thought the questions reflected controversial votes that both of us made, including my vote against sanctuary cities and how that may affect whether or not someone would vote for me,” she said in an email. She said it also referenced her support of tax incentives for developers.
She said she received the call and “took the poll.” Schor said he has not heard the call.
Schor, a state representative, and Brown Clarke, a City Councilwoman, agreed last month at a joint event to eschew negative campaigning. They are among a field of five candidates in the Aug. 8 primary election. Two will face each other in the Nov. 7 General Election.
One person who received a call, northside community activist Dayle Benjamin, agreed that it asked the questions that Brown Clarke said it did about her.
Benjamin, who support Schor, said it also asked about Schor’s votes on police funding when he served on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners and on medical marijuana in the Legislature.
“It seemed skewed to promote the positive about her,” he said. “I knew right off the bat it was an anti-Andy thing.”
The call does not identify who sponsored the poll. Brown Clarke said, “it is not my poll and I did not pay for it.”
But political experts said while she may not have fielded the poll, it was likely her allies did.
“She’s way behind in the polls and the endorsements,” said political consultant Joe DiSano, who is not working for any mayoral campaign. “The only way to shake things up is for her to go for his jugular. For her to muddy him.”
Indeed, polling has placed Schor up over Brown Clarke by at least 15 points. And he’s amassed a bevy of local elected officials’ endorsements, as well as nods from organized labor and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. Brown Clarke lists no endorsements on her website.
“Given where the race is at, it makes sense for Judi Brown Clarke or her allies to put out a push poll rather than Andy Schor,” said Susan Demas, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.
“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the source is, it’s who benefits from it,” said DiSano.
Because the poll does not identify who is paying for it, and the number that was reported by those who received the call rings to an automated recorded message that runs a loop, it is raising concerns that this is the opening salvo in what will “probably become a very negative race,” DiSano said It’s also raises the specter of so-called dark money groups — unregulated, shadowy political “education” nonprofits. The groups can accept donations and spend them to advocate for political issues and perspectives but they don’t have to reveal their donors.
They’ve been an issue in past local elections. Last November at least three shadowy groups were expected to play a role in the mayoral race. That was before Mayor Virg Bernero announced he would not seek election to a fourth term.
One such dark money group that has emerged in this election cycle is No Secret Lansing Deals, which took aim at Bernero before he withdrew.
Its spokesman, TJ Bucholz, said the group had no role in the push poll and none in the coming election.
“All Lansing Secret Deals is focused on is asking these questions about the current administration and the relationships with the different businesses and developers in town,” he said.
After Schor announced he was running, Bernero, who had not yet pulled out, sent out a press release attacking a Schor for allegedly hiring Bucholz as his campaign spokesman. Schor said that Bucholz was volunteering and dropped him after Bernero’s attack.
Two other dark-money outfits, Reform Lansing and Capitol Region Progress, have been active in recent local races.
Capitol Region Progress is a registered political nonprofit with ties to the political campaign consulting group Grassroots Midwest, which went after candidates whom Bernero opposed. That involvement included robocalls as well as mailers. It has been quiet this year.
Reform Lansing formed last year.
Spokeswoman Angela Wittrock said it would register as a political nonprofit as well. It seems to have gone silent since Bernero announced he would not seek re-election. Wittrock said her group “isn’t engaged in electoral politics.”
Brown Clarke would not call for those behind the poll to step forward.
“While government should be transparent because it is public, I am not sure that same scrutiny can be demanded of a private entity or business. However, I can say transparency is generally a good idea,” she said in an email.
Schor called on the push pollsters to go public.
“If they want to falsify information, if they want to make claims about me. Let them do it. Let them step up,” Schor said. “Hold a press conference. Put something out.
“I’d love to have the opportunity to engage with any of those folks and have that conversation.”