Should misleading political mailers be illegal? | The Tylt
Should misleading political mailers be illegal?
The mailers are prominently marked as jury summonses, confusing many constituents. This isn't the first time the campaign has sent out similar mailers during the 2018 midterm cycle. Per The New York Times:
[T]he campaign has been sending fund-raising appeals marked as summonses to voters since at least May, when The San Antonio News-Express took issue with the tactic in an editorial.
It called on the Cruz campaign to “rethink” the mailings and said recipients receiving them might, at first glance, believe they were being sued or ordered to appear in court. The mailings were labeled “Official Kerr County Summons,” after a county outside San Antonio.
This isn't the first time Cruz has been roundly criticized for his campaign's mailers. When he was running for president in 2016, Cruz flooded Iowa with letters implying voters were at risk of losing their right to participate in the upcoming caucuses. The New Yorker reported:
On Saturday, Twitter came alive with pictures from voters in the state who received mailers from the Cruz campaign. At the top of the mailers, in a bold red box, are the words “VOTING VIOLATION.” Below that warning is an explanation:
You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.
Below that, a chart appears with the names of the recipient of the mailing as well as his neighbors and their voting “grade” and “score.”
A further explanation appears below the chart:
Voter registration and voter history records are public records distributed by the Iowa Secretary of State and/or county election clerks. This data is not available for use for commercial purposes—use is limited by law. Scores reflect participation in recent elections. [Emphasis added.]
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate condemned the mailer, saying at the time:
There is no such thing as an election violation related to frequency of voting. Any insinuation or statement to the contrary is wrong and I believe it is not in keeping in the spirit of the Iowa Caucuses.
Cruz has consistently argued in favor of continuing to use misleading mailers. In 2016 he told USA Today:
"These mailers are common practice to increase voter turnout," Schultz said in a statement. "Our mailer was modeled after the very successful 2014 mailers that the Republican Party of Iowa distributed to motivate Republican voters to vote, and which helped elect numerous Republican candidates during that cycle.”
Cruz, who has often joked that mailers "make good kindling," later told reporters that he would not apologize for his campaign's efforts to bring out caucusgoers.
"I will apologize to nobody for using every tool we can to encourage Iowa voters to come out and vote … Iowa, as first in the nation, has an incredibly important role in deciding who the next commander-in-chief of this country will be. We are going to continue to use every tool we can to encourage the men and woman of Iowa to come out, to caucus on Monday night and to stand together as one," Cruz said in Sioux City.
In the eyes of the law, Cruz is within his rights to send out these mailers. Per USA Today:
Cruz's move is legal, experts say. U.S. election law bars people from impersonating candidates, but it doesn't prohibit candidates from enticing voters to open a piece of official-looking mail.
And because "Ted Cruz for Senate 2018" appears on the third line of the return address, Cruz's campaign has complied with disclaimer rules required by Federal Election Commission or FEC.
"These Cruz campaign mailers are slimy but seemingly legal," said Paul Ryan, a top lawyer with the watchdog group Common Cause. "The FEC has long held that an accurate 'paid for by' disclaimer on a candidate communication is a complete defense against any allegation of fraudulent misrepresentation."
Texas State Representative Gene Wu disagrees though, saying the Cruz mailer violates the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. According to Wu, the act prohibits:
...delivering or distributing a solicitation in connection with a good or service that...represents that the solicitation is sent on behalf of a governmental entity when it is not; or...resembles a governmental notice or form that represents or implies that a criminal penalty may be imposed if the recipient does not remit payment for the good or service...