Thursday, April 9, 2009

The politics of Fraud and Libel

Our culture considers libel and fraud as some of the most pernicious of actions. Yet, we are bombarded with political libel and fraud on television, the printed media, radio and on blogs. The most recent local example being Greg Kirsch's post titled, "Draft McShane" on NW Citizen.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, this sort of abhorrent behavior damages the fundamental trust of the community which has profound effects on our ability to build civic capacity (unity) and essential political influence at the state and national level.

The lack of civic capacity results in a lack of funds for important
community projects that re-build or enhance our local economy and public health. For example, the Bellingham Waterfront Revitalization project.

Jim Moore, of the Harvard law blogs tells readers: "A person's career and contributions is undermined by libel in a near instant."

"But somehow, in media space, and in its subset, cyberspace, we allow libel and fraud to go largely unaddressed. And in the political arena of media and cyberspace, we allow it almost unbridled freedom."

I agree with Moore that watch dog groups and citizen complaint filers are no longer able to hold the line. (click the title of this post to view Moore's post).

In fact, if a local citizen files a complaint with the PDC or another watch dog agency, they are ridiculed by the media and held out publicly as an individual who should be ridiculed, humiliated and censored. Members of the media do not remove old or erroneous posts once an agency has found a candidate guilty. The negative posts float around on the Internet for years, harming
the complainant's reputation and good name.

Candidates and campaign supporters who have allegedly violated campaign or ethics law routinely use the media to destroy the reputations of individuals who seek to keep campaigns and elected officials honest and ethical.

More disheartening is the brazen stance of the abusers. The abusers are more likely to be invited to speak in front of national organizations and media than to be criticised or charged with a crime.

There are numerous examples of political libel cases - for instance, the libel case of Congressman Eric Massa, D-NY (Massa v. Dickert) and Sanford Dickert, a political consultant. Dickert filed a suit to restore his good name after being allegedly libeled by Eric Massa.

Dickert posted the following statement regarding the filing of the suit and the subsequent capitulation of his former employer:

"While this is a significant battle to have won, the war for my good name is not over yet. Unfortunately, Eric Massa did not retract or concede the false and inflammatory accusations he made about me that hit the press during the 2006 campaign. The impact of these unfounded accusations still reverberate in my personal and professional life long after the campaign ended."

At the conclusion of the suit Massa and Dickert posted the following in an attempt to mop up the negative effects of the false and inflamatory accusations.


"Sanford Dickert, the New York based political consultant, and Eric Massa, the Democratic candidate for New York’s 29th Congressional District, are pleased to have amicably resolved the litigation which arose during Eric Massa’s 2006 Congressional race in which Sanford Dickert served as Campaign Manager. Eric Massa narrowly lost that race to the incumbent, but is well underway with a reinvigorated effort to take the seat in 2008.

Sanford Dickert and Eric Massa express mutual regret that issues arose. Eric Massa has since learned that the allegations regarding Sanford Dickert were unfounded.

Eric Massa regrets and acknowledges the unrealized benefit to Democratic political campaigns as a result of Sanford Dickert’s absence from organized political activity during the pendency of this litigation.

To the extent that misunderstandings in the heat of the campaign were wrongfully interpreted or misunderstood by anyone, Eric Massa offers his regrets to Sanford Dickert and is prepared to use his good name to remediate the foregoing and any harm caused to Sanford Dickert’s good reputation.

In a demonstration of mutual support and common purpose, both men give their unqualified endorsement of each other. Sanford Dickert reaffirms his political support of Eric Massa and Eric Massa appreciates Sanford Dickert’s support and wishes Sanford Dickert well in his continuing capable national service to Democratic candidates and campaigns.

Sanford Dickert has Eric Massa’s full confidence, particularly in matters pertaining to on-line advocacy, Internet fundraising and on-line campaigning and is happy to recommend Sanford Dickert and his political and technological expertise.

Both Eric Massa and Sanford Dickert wish each other well in all of their future endeavors and look forward to the Democratic party having success in the 2008 elections and beyond."

Sanford Dickert spent $50,000 to recover his good name. Is a filing a libel suit the only way to control political libel? What other recourse is available to a llibeled member of the community who wants to clear their good name and the damage posted by members of the media, radio and the Internet community?

I don't claim to have an answer to the question. But I wholeheartedly believe it is a relevant question.

For instance, KGMI radio talk show host Ken Mann accused Tim Paxton and I of filing a Public Disclosure Complaint that wasn't about PDC errors. He told listeners that he is deeply offended by the actions of activists who file campaign complaints. What does that say about Mr. Mann?

Does Mr. Mann have the character and integrity to run for public office? Only time will tell - but I have serious reservations about his suitability for public office. After all, elected officials have to work with individuals who may or may not agree with them about a number of issues. Do we want someone in office who publicly denounces members of the community who are attempting to keep politics ethical?

Mayor Dan Pike was found guilty of violating state and federal campaign laws. At last count, complaints were filed by four individuals. Three who live in our community. The three local filers were accused of political stunts. The fourth, I have no information about. Either does anyone else.

Which raises an interesting question: who is the guilty party? The person who filed a citizen complaint or the candidate/elected official who is attacking the complainant's good name?

Who committed the crime? Is it impolite to point out that a candidate is allegedly breaking the law?

Over on NW Citizen, Mr. Kirsch appears to be obsessed with politically libeling County Executive Pete Kremen and former Whatcom County Council member Dan McShane and Dan's wife, Lisa.

John Servais, the Adminstrator of NW Citizen used to be the editor for a local newspaper. As a result, he knows the definition of libel, so why is he allowing Mr. Kirsch's post, "Draft McShane" to remain up on NW Citizen?

Is this behavior acceptable to the community at large? If so, what does that say about us as a community?

Does it mean the community supports the use of political libel and fraud? That we take some sort of perverse pleasure in libeling and humiliating our neighbors and community leaders?

What effect does the practice of political libel and fraud have on our ability to recruit qualified candidates for public office?

What effect does the practice of political libel and fraud have on a libeled individuals ability to search for and find future employment?

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts and observations.

No comments:

Post a Comment