Just days before the election mailers arrived exposing the candidate’s crimes. She protected rapists, not women. She wrote a letter about a judge to reduce the sentence for a 3 year old’s rapist. Only, none of it was true.
The candidate –Orange County Board of Supervisor’s challenger Ashleigh Aitken — is in fact a girl scout leader, mother, and former federal prosecutor of sexual predators.
The mailer, which disclosed its funding source only as “Californians for A Growing Economy and Safe Streets,”(CFGESS) was in fact funded by real estate developers with an interest in Orange County. They supported the incumbent Republican Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner, who has repeatedly sided with developers in local control matters.
Since the developers’ contributions were under $50,000 – like the $49,000 given by Michael Hayde, President and CEO of Western National Group in Irvine, who has developed 50,000 apartment units – no disclosure was required.
Voters in the Orange County Board of Supervisor’s 3rd District race were treated this week to one of the dirtiest last-minute election tricks I have seen in my 30 years monitoring elections.
Development interests that have benefited from votes by the incumbent Supervisor Don Wagner have hidden their true identities from voters as they target the challenger whose platform is cleaning up special interest deals.
Loopholes in campaign finance disclosure laws made it plausible. The chutzpah of developers made it possible, as well as that of the incumbent Don Wagner, who claimed that he could not weigh in to correct the record because he was prohibited from saying anything about the “independent effort,” which was in fact funded by long-time Wagner boosters.
The Supreme Court has ruled money and speech are equal, but it does not mean that special interests should be able to lie about candidates and hide their identities from average voters, particularly at the end of races when there is no time for fact checkers to be heard.
To protect its rights, the Aitken campaign issued a cease-and-desist letter about the defamatory remarks that explains why the claims in the mailer are totally false and demanded a retraction.
“CFGESS’s mailers falsely claim that Ms. Aitken ‘wrote a letter supporting a powerful judge’ who reduced the sentence of a criminal,” Aitken’s attorneys noted. “CFGESS’s statement was made with reckless disregard for the truth of its statement. In the first place, no such letter exists. The alleged letter, which CFGESS’s mailer cites to, is in fact a resolution of the Orange County Bar Association (“OCBA”) Board of Directors….The OCBA is a voluntary organization of lawyers who practice in Orange County, and the resolution was a product of its 23 member Board of Directors.”
“Moreover, the resolution never supported Judge Kelly, the judge referenced in CFGESS’s mailer,” the letter went on. “In fact, the resolution specifically states that the OCBA ‘takes no position on the propriety or impropriety of Judge Kelly’s rulings or comments.’ In fact, Ms. Aitken has personally condemned Judge Kelly’s ruling on several occasions.”
Not surprisingly the developers’ group has issued no correction in media outlets as demanded. Whether the case proceeds or not, it will certainly not be decided before Tuesday’s election.
It’s appalling that the developers will do anything to re-elect Supervisor Don Wagner, including blanketing a community with outright lies. These tactics are despicable and should outrage every woman and man in the community where Ashleigh Aitken lives and her children are growing up.
Will the truth be known by voters before they vote? Will fake news determine another real election?
Our laws need to keep up with the shamelessness of these times.
Lower disclosure limits are needed so that the true donors’ identities are made plain and clear on any attack mailer issued in the final days of an election.
Statements in 11th hour mailers that prove to be lies should come with severe financial and legal consequences for the parties involved.
Documentation for the sources of last minute assertions should be published on a website and linked in the correspondence so the public can check for itself the primary source material being relied on to make damaging and potentially false allegations.
Politics was always a contact sport, but it’s become a dangerous and deceptive one that needs new guide rails to assure the safety and security of all those who participate in the process. First and foremost: the voters.
Jamie Court has been a consumer and campaign watchdog for 30 years in Los Angeles. He runs a nonprofit nonpartisan group that does not take positions on candidates and elections. The views in this oped are his own.
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