Un-disclosed material–the polluted plight of the political candidate

Posted on Thursday 1 May 2008

The recent Earth Day and all of the fashionable hype about “going green” have made me aware that there is a lot of stuff contaminating our air. Our air has become defiled and politicized. No I didn’t miss the keys. I don’t mean “polluted”. Politicized is what I said. Our air is “politicized”, which may be referred to by some people as yet another form of pollution. Right now we can’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about the presidential candidates. We can’t read the newspaper–even The Texas Spur–without seeing political unrest implied through articles, letters to the editor, or political ads. And, now it seems, we can’t even open our mail or drive down the street without being affronted by politics. The stench of politics is pervading our air, or should I say air waves.

About 10 days ago my husband and I received a letter petitioning for specific candidates in our local school trustee election. Now I know that there is nothing wrong with someone promoting someone else, or even themselves, for an elected position. But all good intentions aside, when I received this letter, it was unsigned and mailed without a return address. It registered negatively in my mind, because I really dislike it when people write opinions and don’t have the nerve to accept responsibility for their statements even if I agree with them. I guess, since I am a journalist who tries very hard to be responsible in my own writing, I feel that, when a written opinion appears without a name, it loses credibility, and also, because of the newspaper advertising I run, I know that any form of political advertising is governed by the Texas Election Code. The letter, which many in our community received, was in clear violation of the Election Code. The law requires that political advertising must contain a disclosure statement on communications supporting or opposing a candidate for election to public office. Now if you are going to run for office or campaign for someone who is, it is best to help instead of hinder this due process of election etiquette and rules

I have only been able to speak to one of the three candidates mentioned in the letter I received, and the candidate didn’t know who mailed the letters. The candidates should note from the Election Code that if someone else is doing something for you, that person is your agent. Even if the ads are unauthorized by the candidates, it is still in violation of the election code since the person/persons, are acting here as a political committee. According to an attorney I spoke with at the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) in Austin, the person/persons who sent the letter are required to file a campaign finance report with the commission if more than $100 was spent preparing and mailing the letters. There’s a reason our lawmakers, elected officials themselves, have come up with the laws governing our Election Code.

While driving around town in recent days, I have also noticed several signs in yards touting three different city council candidates. Two of those candidates’ signs are in violation of the Election Code because they do not have a “Right-of-Way” Notice printed on the sign. The “Right-of-Way” notice, according to Section 255.007, of the Election Code should contain the exact language: “NOTICE; IT IS A VIOLATION OF STATE LAW (CHAPTERS 392 AND 393, TRANSPORTATION CODE) TO PLACE THIS SIGN IN THE RIGHT-OF WAY OF A HIGHWAY.” Yard signs are included if they are meant to be seen from any road. The notice requirement assures that a person responsible for placing signs is aware of the restriction on placing the sign on the right-of-way of a highway. And, incidentally, violation of this law is considered a criminal offense.

I’ll admit that ignorance is bliss, and Lord knows I have found myself making uninformed statements and committing other journalistic faux pas, and those blunders are actually how I learned the aforementioned information contained in this very blog.

So, my advice to anyone running for public office, don’t jump off in the deep end of the political ring until you read the fine print of disclosure statements lest you drown in the pool of politicized air. And like Barack Obama has now learned, you might also want to go ahead and muzzle your pastor or have a politicized air filter installed in his mouth.

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