Dark money group launches mail campaign against Dunbar

Schor distances himself from DiSano’s ‘disgusting’ political attacks

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(This story was updated at 2:33 p.m. to include additional information about political mail that was sent in 2017.)

THURSDAY, Sept. 30 — Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said he had nothing to do with sexually suggestive political mailers that criticized his political opponent Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar. And if he had his way, the shadowy group responsible for the mail would stop the mudslinging.

“These sort of disgusting tactics have no place in politics,” Schor said today. “This election should be about ideas for Lansing’s future, not personal attacks. I don’t engage in negative campaigning and I’m calling on all parties to keep focused on the issues facing our city.”

Two offensive political mailers against Dunbar hit mailboxes across Lansing this week. One showed a photograph of Dunbar making a hand gesture in reference to oral sex, along with a message that labeled her a “failed comedian” and “failed politician.” It also referenced two unsubstantiated claims of sexual harassment levied against Dunbar, which she has denied. 

Another mailer criticized Dunbar for her past stance on police divestment and prior support for a Council resolution that last year had aimed to halve the Police Department budget. Both of them included Dunbar’s personal cell phone number and urged residents to call her with concerns.

“Let her know that cutting police funding is not a funny joke,” it reads.

Dunbar said she has no plans to change her phone number, though she acknowledged that her phone has been “blowing up” with angry calls — mostly from uninformed residents, she said.

Dunbar has also changed her tune on police divestment. She told City Pulse last week that her latest plans for public safety could instead lead to a budget increase while more cops are hired.

“My intention has never been to eliminate any officer that is working at LPD right now. I’ve actually been in favor of deploying resources more appropriately,” she also told FOX 47 News.

The political mail was funded by a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called Michigan Deserves Better, led by local political consultant Joe DiSano. DiSano has refused to identify its donors and told City Pulse in March that the sole purpose of the group was to oppose former Mayor Virg Bernero’s fledgling mayoral campaign. Michigan Deserves Better was also responsible for a series of full back-page advertisements (among others) in City Pulse that have labeled Bernero as “America’s Horniest Mayor.” After Bernero left the racet, DiSano  moved on to Dunbar.

The nonprofit group — not to be confused with the Super PAC with an identical name — is guided by a board with DiSano as its president, he said. While he won’t disclose any financial details, he maintains that “no money is coming in from outside the area.” He also said it has no ties to Schor or his reelection campaign. The IRS also doesn’t require it to report its spending.

Schor said he saw the mailers over the weekend but was not involved in their creation.

“Regardless of what others do, I'm going to continue to share a positive vision for the city's future, because that's what Lansing residents want and deserve,” Schor said in a statement.

According to IRS guidelines, DiSano’s 501(c)(4) can promote “social welfare” as described in federal law but it cannot be used for direct  support or opposition to any candidate for public office. It can also engage in “some” political activity, as long as that is not its “primary” purpose.

In 2014, DiSano signed a public apology for 2012 robocalls that allegedly accused Democratic state House candidate Phil DiMaria of taking “dirty pictures in his basement” and “using the internet to lure young girls into nude modeling sessions at his home,” MLive reports.

In that race, State Rep. Sarah Roberts also said she wasn’t linked to the robocalls against her political opponent. She said DiSano was hired by a third-party group with a personal vendetta.

In 2017, DiSano faced criticism for helping to create a mudslinging political mailer for 4th Ward City Council candidate Jim McClurken. That mailer included an image of six young men and women of different ethnicities and the phrase “Lansing’s criminals want Jim McClurken to lose.”

Some said the image was rife with stereotypes and fear mongering over criminals in Lansing. Former McClurken staffer Emily Dievendorf resigned from the campaign over the incident. She said the mailer was created without her knowledge or authorization.

"I had commited to community partners and funders that we would build and not divide communities," Dievendorf clarified this week. "I saw the mailer in my own mail and immediately addressed it and resigned when DiSano doubled down."

Then Lansing School Board member Peter Spadafore also declared that old McClurken mailer “offensive.” 

DiSano didn’t immediately return calls for this story.

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