Weeding through campaign messages
While candidates are stating their policy positions through mailings, interviews and debates, independent groups are also spending heavily to convince you to take their side. But knowing what side an organization is on and understanding its interests are two different things and finding out more can be a big challenge, thanks to loophole in election law. YNN's Nick Reisman reports.
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NEW YORK STATE -- As Republicans and Democrats battle for control of the State Senate, third party independent expenditure groups are trying to influence the outcome. The groups can spend millions on mailers and TV ads, but who exactly is behind the high priced campaigns are often left a mystery.
“It doesn't matter if they're a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate or an Independence Party candidate. It's just that you don't know who's up there sending out mailings to your mailbox. You open them and you don't have any idea who these people are and you should,” said Barbara Bartoletti, League of Women Voters Legislative Director.
The state United Teachers Union is reportedly spending big to influence the elections. The union's political action committee, called Vote COPE, is already running an ad blasting Sean Hanna, a Republican assemblyman running for Senate in Monroe County against Democrat Ted O'Brien.
“Some of them are just based in other states or random parts of the state and send mailers out without any identification,” said NYPIRG researcher Bill Mahoney.
Meanwhile, a group called Common Sense Principles is sending out mailers attacking Democratic Senate candidates in Queens, Westchester and Monroe County. There's no clear indication as to who is funding the effort, which started back in 2010 and ramped up once again this election cycle. Good-government groups say these tactics aren't anything new.
Mahoney said, “There are have always been some. It's impossible for us to say for sure how many there actually are because they don't need to register like a regular committee.”
But in addition to how they're getting and spending their money a secret, the groups stick to a common theme: They won't explicitly tell voters who to vote for or against, exploiting a loophole in a Board of Elections guideline adopted on September 12.
“Even under the weak regulations, which the board of elections proposed, once those are finalized, these groups wouldn't even need to file anything with the board under those because as long as they're not saying anything like vote for a candidate, they're exempt,” Mahoney said.
Spending from independent expenditure groups on what amounts to negative advertising can boost their preferred candidate, but it doesn't necessarily keep voters from becoming cynical.
Bartoletti said, “It also makes voters angry and ultimately, we fear drive voter turnout down.”