A pernicious part of government malfeasance and waste stems from the abuse of mail sent directly to constituents. Sent at tax payer expense, these mailers are a way for incumbents to get their names in front of voters. As evidenced in Orange County, it’s quite the racket.
But in New York State, these mailers have become something altogether more tawdry, absurd, and disturbing. In the recent democratic gubernatorial primary election between Governor Andrew Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon, direct-to-mail advertisements were at the heart of corrupt politics yet again.
Days before the election, and just before Rosh Hashana, a mailer – paid for by the New York State Democratic Committee – went out to about 7,000 households in New York City implying that Ms. Nixon was anti-semitic.
“With anti-Semitism and bigotry on the rise, we can’t take a chance with inexperienced Cynthia Nixon,” read the mailer. It goes on to accuse her of being “silent on the rise of anti-Semitism” and falsely accused her of supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS).
Considering the landslide in which Nixon lost, it might seem like water under the bridge, at least relative to the sorry state of affairs that encompasses politics today. But the story only gets stranger.
Immediately, Jewish leaders in New York City spoke out against the slander, including the Rabbi of the synagogue Nixon and her family attends – Ms. Nixon is herself the mother of Jewish children – but the damage was done. Although Cuomo said it was a mistake, denied knowledge of the mailer, and offered to send out a mailer of Nixon’s own design, it was of course too little, too late. The consequence of this dirty ploy was nothing. What’s to stop any candidate or group from doing the same thing?
Worst of all, the mailer was, as mentioned, paid for by the Democratic State Commmittee. The very party under which Nixon ran was not only taking sides, but engaging in smear tactics to preserve the status quo, and protect the incumbent party.
Cuomo of course denied knowledge of the mailer, and inexplicably said the mailer was sent out by the State Democratic Committee without his campaign’s approval. Yeah. Right.
And still worse, just days before the incident, The New York Post received a pitch from an “andrewcuomo.com” email address about Nixon’s supposedly insufficiently Jewish or flat-out anti-Semitic views. Still worse, The Post was able to report that Cuomo’s righthand man, Lawrence S. Schwartz, signed off on the mailer.
It boggles the mind to think that Cuomo didn’t know about it – or that his people didn’t know about it – and that it was simply, somehow, an anti-Semitic slur of a mistake. What’s deeply disturbing – and honestly, depressing – about the entire affair is that it’s just par for the course. Cuomo won, got away with it, and nothing will come of it. The incident functions as an example for anyone out there who may be looking to gain a small, but possibly significant last minute edge. Of course, Cuomo didn’t win his race because of this mailer. But in the vein of Richard Nixon bugging the Democratic National Committee, or Bill Belichick videotaping coaching signals or deflating footballs, it’s the egomaniacal desire for a small advantage gained at the cost of a coverup that undermines the integrity of an entire system.
And as PBS’s recent documentary Dark Money exposed, beyond incumbent’s abusing the mailer system, now so-called Dark Money groups are getting in on the very same game.
In one example, three days before a 2008 GOP primary, a group sent out mailers saying that one candidate secretly admired a serial killer. From the Intercept:
“Big, out-of-state money therefore can flood into small races in the last weeks before an election with total anonymity, paying for the sleaziest ads and mailers imaginable, produced by organizations created solely for that purpose.”
“For instance, as the film depicts, three days before the 2008 GOP primary, a group calling itself Mothers Against Child Predators sent out bulk mailings suggesting that John Ward, an incumbent Republican state representative, was a secret admirer of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, simply because he opposed the death penalty. Ward then was defeated by a little-known, more conservative challenger. Mothers Against Child Predators, having served its purpose, vanished, with Montanans having no idea who was behind it.”
Clearly, there needs to be some kind of 7 to 14 day window before an election in which these kinds of mailers cannot be sent. And clearly, it’s absolutely ridiculous that anyone can hide behind a non-profit – cough Michael Weinstein – and fund whatever causes they want. Especially if that money is meant for AIDS patients. Yet here we are, and so it goes.