Fair Campaign Practices Committee Promotes Honest & Fair Campaigns for 24 Years
Motivating Candidates to Tell the Truth by Exposing Falsehoods
WHITE PLAINS, NY (July 31, 2015) – During election season, what we see is not always what we get. Campaign assertions are sometimes disingenuous and inaccurate. In 1991, the League of Women Voters of Westchester (LWVW) formed the Westchester County Fair Campaign Practices Committee to do something about the many false and misleading charges tainting political campaigns. Twenty four years later, the Committee continues to play an important watchdog role in the races leading to this year’s general election on November 3. This impartial committee’s mandate is to promote a climate in which candidates for public office conduct honest and fair campaigns. Exposing falsehoods to voters enables them make informed choices at the polls.
The majority of American voters believe that candidates are not being honest. According to a bipartisan survey commission by the Project on Campaign Conduct cited on ThisNation.com:
· 59% of voters believe that all or most candidates deliberately twist the truth
· 39% believe that all or most candidates deliberately lie to voters
· 43% believe that most or all candidates deliberately make unfair attacks on their opponents. Another 45% believe that some candidates do
A 1972 Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans claimed they had a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in the people holding or seeking political office. In 2013, this figure went down to 46%. “In order to reverse this trend and restore trust in our political candidates, we need to make it beneficial to them to be deserving of that trust,” says Susan Schwarz, outgoing chair of the Committee.
The Fair Campaign Practices Committee has heard more than 100 complaints since 2006; approximately half from Republican candidates and half from Democrats. These complaints were submitted by candidates from all over the county, during races at levels of government ranging from Town Board Trustee to Member of Congress. “Unfair practices can be subtle, such as lawn signs with Vote for Judge Jones, instead of Jane Jones for Judge, implying that the challenger is the incumbent,” explains Committee Chair Vic Goldberg. “Others are blatantly false and defamatory. One candidate’s campaign flyer depicted several newspaper mastheads alongside negative comments about the opponent, implying that the quotes were actual facts verified by these publications.” The Committee holds candidates accountable for the assertions in their materials, even if they are produced by political parties or other supporters.
Candidates in Westchester who believe that their opponents have employed unfair practices, such as making misleading, false or unsubstantiated election statements in campaign material, may file complaints with the Committee. During the hearing, each side has an opportunity to support or rebut the accusations and respond to questions. Findings of fair or unfair campaign practices are issued by the Committee, which then informs the candidates and news outlets. As it happens, the number of unfair findings issued since 2006 are about equal for Democratic and Republican candidates.
The Committee has no power of enforcement. Rather, it trusts that dissemination of its findings by the media and the reading of those findings by the voting public will influence candidates not to resort to unfair practices.
The League of Women Voters of Westchester formed the Fair Campaign Practices Committee to instill accountability in campaign statements and literature, and to raise the level of political debate. While the LWVW provides supportive services and fills vacancies, the Committee acts as an independent body. Currently it has sixteen voting members as well as ex-officio members representing official political parties – Republican, Democratic, Independence, Conservative, Working Families, Green and Reform. Ex-officio members participate in the open hearings and closed deliberations, but do not vote.
The manual of the Fair Campaign Practices Committee principles and procedures for filing complaints can be viewed at www.faircampaignpractices.org. Serving on the Committee are Victor J. Goldberg of Scarsdale (Chair) Paul Atkinson of Pleasantville, Elizabeth Bermel of Ossining, Gisele Castro of White Plains, Miriam Cohen of New Rochelle (Committee Coordinator), Daniel S. Franklin, Jr. of Pleasantville, LaRuth Gray of New Rochelle, Susan Pace Guma of Bronxville, Lee Kinnally of Hastings on Hudson, Robert C. Kirkwood of Pleasantville, Polly Kuhn of Somers, Philip M. Maley of Irvington, Harry Phillips of Hartsdale, Joy Rosenzweig of Chappaqua, Susan Schwarz of Tarrytown, and Evelyn Stock of Scarsdale.